The musings of a previously unemployed Jewish Freemason. I write about the job search, about Judaism, and about Freemasonry.

Monday, October 1, 2012

V'Zot HaBerachah: The LORD Knew Face To Face

This is the final Torah portion in the Jewish calendar. Moses gives a blessing to each of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Actually, each is more of a prophecy than a blessing, but these are usually referred to in the literature as blessings, because they mirror Jacob's blessings.

Many Jews never hear this Torah portion, because instead of being recited during Shabbat services, it is recited on Simchat Torah, the holiday that celebrates the end/beginning of the Torah cycle. The first few lines of Genesis are also read, to show that Torah is cyclical rather than linear.

Kabbalists and other esotericists make a correlation between the tribes and the signs of the Zodiac. There is no consensus about this, especially because in one reckoning, Levi and Joseph are tribes, and in another reckoning, Levi is not considered a tribe, and Joseph is split into Ephraim and Manasseh. The orientation of the Encampment has Levi at the center, and has Ephraim and Manasseh in the West, with Ephraim at the cardinal point in the West. This arrangement is included in the arrangement of a Royal Arch Chapter.

Moses' blessing somewhat anachronistically regards Joseph and Levi as tribes (in parallel with Jacob's blessing), and even more interestingly, excludes the tribe of Simeon completely. By the time of the Deuteronomist, Simeon had been assimilated into the tribe of Judah. Another theory is that while Simeon and Levi instigated the brutal revenge on Shechem for the Rape of Dinah [Genesis 34], Levi repented and devoted himself to Divine service, while Simeon did not, and thus deserved to disappear. Also, the rabbis regard Simeon as the primary instigator of the plot against Joseph, and suggest that he would have murdered Joseph had it not been for the intercession of Judah, who instead suggested that he be sold to Ishmaelites as a slave.

After the blessings, Moses climbs Mount Nebo, where God shows him the land of Gilead as far as the regions that Dan will receive, the lands that will be given to Naphtali, Ephraim, Manasseh, Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea, the Negev Desert (negev in Hebrew means dry or south), the plain and the valley of Jericho, and two other cities. God explains that He is showing Moses the land the Israelites will inherit, but He will not permit Moses to enter the land. With that, God extinguishes Moses' life. The Hebrew says that Moses died al-pi YHVH (at the mouth of God) [Deuteronomy 34: 5]. God buries Moses in the clefts of the rocks at the summit of Mount Nebo, and no man knows where Moses' body lies. The Torah makes it clear that Moses was 120 years old, but still had vigor left in him (hence he was able to climb a mountain by himself) when he died.

The Israelites spent thirty days mourning the death of Moses, after which, Joshua son of Nun, who is described as having the spirit of wisdom in him (רוּחַ חָכְמָה, or ruach chochmah in Hebrew) as the result of Moses selecting him, becomes the person that the Children of Israel listen to. The Torah does not say that Joshua was their leader, merely that, due to his spirit of wisdom, they listened to him when he spoke.

The Torah notes that Moses was the only prophet in Israel whom God interacted with face to face, and that no other prophet was privileged to display the signs and wonders that Moses displayed. The rabbis have a hierarchy of prophecy with Moses at the apex, since Moses interacted with God face to face. God visited Abraham, which puts him next highest. God spoke to many prophets (and some whose prophet status is in question, like Balaam and Hagar). God visited some prophets in dreams, which the rabbis were far less impressed with.

It is customary in Torah study, when a student or group of students finishes studying a book of Torah, to say: chazak chazak v'nitchazek. This could be translated as "Be strong! Be strong! And may we be strengthened."
חזק חזק ונתחזק

No comments:

Post a Comment