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Parashat V’zot Hab’racha (Deuteronomy 33:1-34:12)

“He became King over Y’shurun when the numbers of the
nation gathered – the tribes of Israel in unity” (Deuteronomy 33:5).

V’zot Ha’bracha, the last parasha, or portion, in the Torah, is read only on Simchat Torah. It comprises two sections: Moses’ final blessing of the Israelites and the description of his death. Moses’ blessing of the tribes evokes Jacob’s deathbed scene (Gen. 49:1-28), with two important differences: Jacob’s sons have become large and mighty tribes, and Moses’ words contain no criticism nor hint of inter-tribal rivalry.

V’zot Ha’bracha prefaces the blessings with the well-known phrase, “The Torah Moses commanded us is the morasha, or heritage, of k’hilat ya-akov, the community of Jacob” (Deut. 33:4). Morasha, heritage, is one of two words often applied to the Torah; the other is nachala, inheritance. Its use here is a statement of inclusion and pluralism. An inheritance belongs to the heirs to do with as they see fit. A heritage, however, belongs to all generations past and future; the current generation only holds it in trust, which brings certain obligations.

The Babylonian Talmud engages in some wordplay, reading morasha as m’orsa (sh and s are the same letter form in Hebrew), or married (Pesachim 49b). This makes the Torah and the Jewish people a married couple, and means everyone, rich or poor, observant or not, has an equal share in the Torah. No one segment of the community can claim ownership of the Torah. Nachmanides (1194-1270; Spanish Talmudist, Kabbalist, and commentator) interprets k’hilat ya-akov, the community of Jacob, to imply the Torah belongs not only to those born Jewish, but also to any who casts their lot with the Jewish people. Moses’ final blessing, then, is a reminder the Torah binds us together as a people in both time and place.

Gut Yontif/Chag Sameach

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