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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum

Zose Haberachah

"And this is the blessing that Moshe the man of G-d bestowed upon the Bnei Yisrael." (33:1)

The Midrash teaches us that prior to his death, Moshe Rabbeinu continued in the tradition which the Patriarchs had initiated. As Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov before him had blessed their sons before they took leave of this world, Moshe, likewise, blessed Bnei Yisrael, his spiritual children, before his death. The Midrash adds that the members of each ensuing generation began their blessing with the words with which the previous generation had closed. Hence, Avraham ended his blessing to Yitzchak with "nesinah," "giving," as is stated in Bereishis 25:6, "And Avraham gave all that he had to Yitzchak." Yitzchak followed suit by commencing his blessing to Yaakov with the words, "And may Hashem give you of the dew of the heavens and the fatness of the earth" (Bereishis 27:28). Yitzchak concluded his blessing with "Vayikra," "And Yitzchak calling to Yaakov and blessed him" (Bereishis 28:1). When Yaakov prepared to bless his sons, he introduced his blessing with the word, "Vayikra," "And Yaakov called for his sons" (Bereishis 49:1). He terminated his blessing with the words, "V'zos," "And this" is what their father spoke to them and blessed them" (Bereishis 49:28). Moshe continued the tradition by beginning his blessing with the identical phase, "V'zos ha'bracha," "And this is the blessing."

Chazal derive an interesting halachah from this Midrash. They rule that if one goes before the Amud to lead the congregation in tefillah and makes a mistake, the one who takes over/follows after him should begin in the exact place at which his predecessor finished. Since our ancestors commenced their blessings with the concluding words of their predecessors, we should similarly begin the tefillah where the previous baal-tefillah has concluded.

Horav Yaakov Neiman, zl, infers a remarkable insight from here. He comments that success or "blessing" in education -- be it in a rebbe/talmid or parent/child relationship -- is determined by a child following in the path forged before him by his parents. When a child continues to carry on and maintain the tradition for which his parents and ancestors sacrificed their lives, then -- and only then -- is the educational process considered to be successful. If, however, the new generation breaks ranks with the old, if they view their tradition and customs as old-fashioned, then we experience the converse of blessing. Parents and teachers must strive to imbue their children/students with an education that will survive the future, because it is grounded in the tradition of the past.

"And this is the blessing that Moshe... bestowed upon the Bnei Yisrael before his death." (33:1)

Moshe was acutely aware that the end was near; these would be his final words. In his last mandate to the people, he blessed them. All of the tribes to whom he had devoted so much of his life passed before him to receive their final blessing from the individual who had been more than leader and prophet - he was a compassionate father who had sacrificed himself for his children. He was a father who wished to leave this world with words of consolation, encouragement, and hope with which his children could face the future.

The Sifri states a number of reasons why a father should keep his rebuke for the final moments. By waiting until the end, the father will not find it necessary to repeat himself; he will not encourage ill feeling towards himself if his son does not take the criticism in the proper manner. Furthermore, the son will not be so hurt that he will leave his father.

This writer once witnessed a particularly poignant "final moments" between a father and his errant son. It happened a number of years ago when an elderly Jew was about to breathe his last breath. He was surrounded by his family, among whom was a son who had tragically gone off the "derech," left the ranks of the observant. Although he was a wonderful young man and a fine son, the non-observant lifestyle that he had chosen was a point of serious anguish for his father. Now, in his final moments, the father turned to his son and asked, "If I ask you to do something for me, will you do it?" "What is the question, Father? Whatever you ask of me, I will do," responded the son. "I want you to promise me that you will adhere to whatever I demand of you," was the father's response. "I promise, I promise," declared the son. The father was still not secure in his son's commitment. "Will you abide by your word regardless of the difficulty it may present for you?" asked the father. "Yes, yes! I promise to do whatever you ask of me," exclaimed the son.

"My son, you are apparently aware that your non-observance of Torah and mitzvos has caused me great distress. I understand that you love me and, obviously, as your father, I love you dearly. I cannot tolerate the fact that your lifestyle is antithetical to Torah dictate. I, therefore, demand that you do not recite Kaddish for me!" When the son heard his father's demand he cried out, "How can you do this to me? How can I not say Kaddish for my father?" "No!" retorted the father. "You gave your word. You promised that you will abide by my wish. This is my final wish. Do not say Kaddish for me!"

A short time later, the father passed on from this world. We can imagine the terrible frustration the son experienced. At the funeral, he stood near his brothers and listened tearfully as his brothers recited Kaddish for their father. He remained silent, broken, depressed and dejected - but he kept his word - he did not say Kaddish. The days became weeks and shloshim was over and still no Kaddish. Finally, about six weeks after his father passed away, the son came home from work, and, in a fit of rage, he began breaking dishes in his kitchen. His wife looked at him in shock, "What are you doing? Have you lost your mind?" she screamed at him. "I cannot take it anymore. I cannot continue with such a lifestyle. I must say Kaddish for my father!" As long as I am non-observant, I am bound by my promise. This is my last link with his soul. I have decided to repent my ways and return to the tradition in which I was raised," declared the broken-hearted son to his wife.

It was not easy, and it did not happen overnight, but the family eventually became observant. The son attended minyan daily and recited Kaddish for his father. His whole life and that of his family were entirely changed because of the father's deathbed request of his son.

"To Zevulun he said, 'Rejoice, O' Zevulun in your excursions and Yissachar in your tents.'" (33:8)

Zevulun and Yissachar maintained a unique partnership. While Zevulun engaged in the world of business, Yissachar devoted his entire time to Torah study. Zevulun supported his older brother in his life's endeavor, thereby creating a relationship that has been adopted by many Jews throughout the ages. The Yissachar-Zevulun partnership has been emulated by those whose time is devoted to the world of finance, while they sustain those whose life's work is the study and dissemination of Torah.

Horav Moshe Yechiel Epstein, zl, the Admor M'ozrov, takes note of the fact that Zevulun is mentioned prior to Yissachar. He suggests that although Yissachar distinguishes himself in the more noble endeavor, it is Zevulun who enables Yissachar to carry on his work. Therefore, Zevulun precedes Yissachar chronologically, since his sustaining power must be established in order to permit Yissachar's "important" endeavor to take place, His name is mentioned first.

The Ozrover cites the Midrash in the beginning of Sefer Badmidbar that says that the flag of the tribe of Yissachar was black, while Zevulun's was white. What is the significance of these colors and what is their relationship to these specific tribes? He explains that the color black alludes to the letters of the Torah which are written in black ink. On the other hand, the color white signifies the white parchment upon which the letters are written. Zevulun, who provides the opportunity and sustenance for his brother to study Torah, is like the parchment of the Torah. He "holds" the letters, for if there is no parchment, there is no Torah. Although the Torah is comprised of the letters, the parchment comes first in time. It is, therefore, mentioned first.

"So Moshe, servant of Hashem, died there... He buried him in the depression in the land of Moav.... Opposite Baal P'eor and no one knows his burial place to this day." (34:5,6)

Rashi comments on the seeming paradox that Moshe reported his own death - during his lifetime. One explanation suggests that the last eight pesukim of the Torah were actually written by Yehoshua, Moshe's faithful student, who succeeded Moshe as Klal Yisrael's leader. In the Talmud Bava Basra 15a, however, Rabbi Meier states that Moshe, indeed, wrote the last eight pesukim himself. He wrote them with tears. This may be interpreted in one of two ways: His eyes may have been filled with tears as his emotions regarding his imminent demise poured over. Alternatively, his writing fluid might have consisted of his own tears rather than of ordinary ink. The Maharsha explains that writing with tears has an advantage over writing with ink, in that writing with tears is not considered ordinary writing. Thus, it would not be considered paradoxical for Moshe to write about his own death.

Let us examine Chazal's words. Moshe wrote the entire Torah with ink. For the last eight pesukim he filled his "pen" with another -- very unique -- solution - tears. Horav Mordechai Rogov, zl, understands this Chazal homiletically. In truth, Moshe Rabbeinu did not really die. No one knows Moshe's burial place, because there is no burial place. He is still alive! The Torah asserts that every Jew who studies Torah represents Moshe's living legacy. Where did Moshe die? He died "there" in the land of Moav, opposite the idol Pe'or. Moshe dies in any place in which decadence reigns, where Jewish people sin in the most reprehensible manner. His legacy, the Torah, does not "live" in such a place. The Torah requires a specific prescription for living. When we do not follow the prescription, then we have no life. If, however, we study Torah and observe mitzvos, Moshe lives on. Thus, metaphorically, no one is aware of his burial place.

Shvilei Shmuel supplements the expression of this idea. He cites the Shaar Bas Rabim who relates an anecdote which underscores this concept. A small community in Europe sought to attract a prominent scholar to serve as Rav for their community. In an effort to persuade the distinguished Rav to join their community, the president of the shul erected memorial stones in the local cemetery with the names of great tzaddikim of the past. He hoped that when the Rav noticed the great personages buried in the community, he would be inclined to respond in the affirmative. The Rav was very impressed to see that the Taz and Magen Avraham were buried in the local cemetery. He, therefore, accepted the position.

Some time later, the new Rav found out to his consternation that the Taz was actually buried in Lemberg, while the Magen Avraham was interred in Kalish. He became extremely upset upon hearing that he was duped into accepting the position. He called the president and angrily asked him why he had fooled him. The president responded, "In Lemberg, they study the Taz. In Kalish, they pour over the halachic decisions of the Magen Avraham. Consequently, these Torah giants speak beyond the grave. Their words, their thoughts, are interpreted into a living Torah. No, they are much very much alive - in Lemberg and Kalish. Since no one studies Torah in our city, the decisions of the Taz and Magen Avraham may as well never have been rendered. In our city nobody really cares. In our community, the Taz and Magen Avraham are really buried.

Similarly, when Klal Yisrael studies Torah, Moshe Rabbeinu's grave remains unknown, since he is very much alive. Moshe Rabbeinu is synonymous with the Torah. His devotion to it earned him the title of "Mechokek," lawgiver. Until this day, whenever Torah is studied, Moshe's grave remains unknown - for he is alive in the hearts, minds and actions of those who study Torah.

We may suggest that this is the underlying reason we celebrate Simchas Torah with dancing and great joy, despite the fact that we read of Moshe Rabbeinu's death in the culmination of the Torah. It would seem that the retelling of the demise of our quintessential spiritual leader should not coincide with celebration and festivities. The answer lies in the concept stated above. The greater joy we express in the Torah, the more heightened our simchah that we once again have completed a cycle of Torah reading, the further Moshe is distanced from death. We celebrate his life, for his life was "virtual" Torah -something for which we should all aspire.

Dear Readers:

It is with a profound sense of gratitude to Hashem Yisborach that we complete the sixth cycle of Peninim Al Ha'Torah. What began as a community weekly parsha sheet has grown into a vehicle for spreading Torah-true perspective on a national and international level. We are humbled by the remarkable Siyata Dishmaya Peninim has been blessed with.

We hope that the recently published third volume of Peninim Al Ha'Torah will receive the same response as its predecessors. We pray to Hashem that all of our efforts on behalf of harbotzas Torah will equally be blessed.

Our heartfelt appreciation goes out to those who assume the weekly task of ensuring Peninim's success. Ahuva Scheinbaum is responsible for the production and preparation of the weekly copy. Her expertise and devotion to the project are a large part of its success. Mrs. Marilyn Berger, who edits the original manuscript, has once again shown her expertise for enhancing the written word. She has an uncanny ability for making the author look good. Rabbi Doniel Neustadt masterfully puts it all together, producing a copy which is both spiritually and esthetically pleasing. My daughter, Bracha, sees to it that the many copies that are distributed throughout the country are done so in a dignified and timely manner.

We owe a debt of gratitude to Baruch Berger and to the many others throughout the country who have taken it upon themselves to distribute Peninim in their respective communities. This past year we were fortunate to have Rabbi Menachem Hommel who, together with his brother, distributes Peninim throughout Great Britain and South Africa. We are endebted to Eli Goldberg of London and Adam Tanenbaum of the Shema Yisrael Network who prepare the Internet version of Peninim for world-wide distribution. May the mitzvah of harbotzas Torah be a zchus for them all to be blessed. Last, but not least, I acknowledge my wife, Neny, who painstakingly reviews the weekly copy before it goes to print. Her propensity for detail ensures an error-free copy. Her devotion, encouragement, patience and constant support are the factors which allow this project to continue and succeed. May we both merit to see much Torah nachas from our children.

Peninim on the Torah is in its 6th year of publication. The first three years have been published in book form.
The third volume is available at your local book seller or directly from Rabbi Scheinbaum.
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