Moshe’s Final Farewell
Moshe’s Final Farewell
In the Torah’s final parsha, Moshe is preparing to take leave of the nation he has been so devoted all of these years. He gives them blessings before taking his final departure. He then ascends a mountain and is laid to rest in an unknown burial place. Or is it? A careful reading of Moshe’s blessings may give us clues as to where he was buried. The significance of this is not so much about identifying the geographical location of his grave, as it is about teaching us a profound lesson in loyalty, brotherhood and redeeming unfulfilled dreams. Join us for a deep look at the Torah’s bittersweet ending.
Ami: Hi, everybody. Welcome back to Parsha Lab. This is Ami Silver, writer at Aleph Beta.
Beth: And this is Beth Lesch, also a writer at Aleph Beta.
Ami: Before we jump into the material, I just want to remind you all to subscribe to Parsha Lab so you can get all of our offerings and rate us five stars do that your friends can find us more easily too. So Beth, this week we're going to talk about V'zot Habrachah. We're at the final parsha in the Torah.
Beth: It's the end of the Torah and this is it.
Ami: It is the end. It's really exciting and a little bittersweet, no?
Beth: It's a little bittersweet. This is the grand climax.
Ami: Well, funny you should say that. Because we'd expect a grand climax here, wouldn't we? I mean, it's the end of the Five Books of Moses. I'm a bit curious what exactly we do find in this parsha.
Beth: So this isn't the grand climax?
Ami: Well, in broad strokes, Beth, tell me, you know, the two‑ three‑sentence summary of what's going on in Parshat V'zot Habracha.
Beth: Okay. I think I can do it in three. Sentence 1; Moses gives blessings to all of the Tribes. Sentence 2; God instructs Moses to ascend Mount Nebo and look out on the whole of the Promised Land where will never enter and he's going to die up there, on that mountain top. Third sentence; how the Torah extols for us the virtue of Moses and tells us that there was never a prophet of his stature, before or since.
Ami: Okay. Great. I would say, if I can just find the common theme among all three of those. These are the final moments of Moses' life.
Beth: Yeah, this is Parshat Moshe.
Ami: Right? God's showing him where his last steps are going to be and where he's not going to enter. The Torah is praising Moses after it tells us of his death. All those blessings you mentioned; why is Moses giving those blessings now?
Beth: Because it's his death day, just like we saw back with Jacob in Genesis, right?
Ami: Right. Like Jacob gave blessings to his children on his deathbed, Moses, before he departs from the world is giving blessings to all of the Tribes. Actually, in the very first verse of this parsha we see this emphasis on Moses' departure. I'm looking at Deuteronomy, Chapter 33, "V'zot habrachah," and this is the blessing, "asher beirach Moshe, ish ha'Elokim, et Bnei Yisrael," that Moses, the man of God, blessed the Children of Israel, "lifnei moto," before his death. This is setting the stage. Everything that's happening here, we're entering into Moses' last few breaths.
Now, what I want to focus on with you, Beth, is actually a bit of a continuation or addendum to some themes that Daniel and I actually discussed, way back in Parshat Matot‑Masei.
Beth: Matot‑Masei. Oh, that was a great one. That's the one all about Moses and his deathplace and how it relates to the half of the Tribe of Menashe and Reuben and Gad. Okay. I'm with you.
Ami: Okay. So Beth's with us. Let's just give a quick refresher to our listeners. I'm going to tell you again, in very general terms, what themes we developed in that podcast. You can go back afterwards and listen to it to fill in the blanks. We were, basically, focusing there on the story of the Tribes of Reuben and Gad approaching Moses, right before they reached the border of the Land of Israel. They say to Moses, you know what Moses? Going to the Land of Israel, I'm sure it will be great, but we really love this plot of land. It has good pasture land for our flocks and our hers and we want to settle here. Is that all right?
If you remember, Moses gets all angry. He accuses them of entering into the whole sin of the Spies, once again. The forty years of wandering have passed and now, these people, once again, want to say let's not go in the Land, it's better over here.
Beth: Right. He's worried that they're going to dissuade the rest of the people, that they've got this grand task ahead of them, which is to dispossess all the nations and he doesn't anyone making them lose their nerve now.
Ami: Exactly. Because they have a good selling point to the rest of the nation. Hey, guys. Look how great it is over here and let's just stay. That's basically what Moses hears them saying. But then we have this, sort of, breakthrough where they approach Moses.
Those words, "Vayigshu eilav," they approach him and they explain. You see, Moses, we're not just going to make this pretty little home over here. We're actually going to go to battle in the Land of Israel. We're going to go on the vanguard. We're going to fight ahead of everybody and make sure the Land of Israel is settled before we come back and make our home here. That, basically, ties it up in a neat package that Moses can go along with.
Beth: We're not ducking our duty. Far be it from us to dissuade the people from entering the land, we're going to be the ones leading them to do it.
Ami: Exactly. So what we actually saw there textually, was an interesting parallel between the story of Joseph and his brothers and the story of the Spies and this current story of these Tribes wanting to settle this land and making peace, so to speak, with their brothers. Showing we're not abandoning our brothers by wanting this plot of land, we're going to unite with our brothers in battle and settle the land that's best for us.
So the important part for this week's session, is that what we discovered there, in that parsha of Matot, is that unbeknownst at the time, the land that Reuben and Gad settle and the half Tribe of Menashe, the land that they settle actually becomes the burial plot of Moses. Moses ends up being buried in those lands that the two and a half Tribes requested to stay outside of the Land of Israel and settle. That becomes Moses' burial.
Beth: Israel Heights, right?
Ami: So Moses becomes buried in the suburbs of the land he always yearned to.
Beth: Ami, are we going to be talking about Moses blessing to the Tribe of Gad in this podcast?
Ami: What made you say that, Beth?
Beth: Well, I don't know. It's just there's some interesting language in that blessing, when Moses says something strange. He says, "Ki sham chelkat mechokek safun."
Ami: Okay. So you know what? Beth, since you're already bringing us there, let's read the whole blessing to the Tribe of Gad. It's Chapter 33, Verse 20.
Beth: "U'le'Gad amar," and to Gad he said, Moses said, "baruch marchiv Gad," blessed is the one who grants expanse to Gad, who makes space for Gad, "k'lavi shachein," he is going to dwell like a lion, "v'taraf zero'ah af kadkod," and he's going to tear the arm and even the head. So it seems to be describing Gad's strength when he's going to encounter an enemy, that he's going to be vicious and victorious.
Ami: Okay, Beth. So before we even go to the next verse, let's just look at those words for a moment. What enemy do we know that Gad is going to encounter? Remember what we saw in Parshat Matot. The Tribe of Gad said, we're going to go on the front lines of battle, when the nation goes to conquer the Land of Israel.
Beth: Okay. So that the Tribe of Gad is going be there leading the vanguard, as you say, to battle with and dispossess the seven Canaanite nations that are currently inhabiting the land.
Ami: So I'm bring this up as a possible interpretation. Again, we're reading (inaudible 00:07:06) in Biblical poetry and no one can tell us exactly what it means, but I'm drawing evidence based on the previous connections we found.
One more thing in this verse. "Baruch marchiv Gad," blessed is the one who expands Gad. What kind of expansion of the Tribe of Gad did we see?
Beth: That part's interesting to me. The marchiv Gad seems to me to be whoever enabled Gad to settle in a place that was spacious. Is that what you were thinking?
Ami: Well, I was thinking something similar, but it could even be expanding the territory in which this nation could even settle.
Beth: What do you mean?
Ami: Before the deal between the two and a half Tribes and Moses, these nations, all 12 Tribes, were going to settle in the Land of Israel. But now, all of a sudden, Gad comes with a request and they make an extension. There is an extension, there is an expansion built. The border of the land gets extended to include this nation.
Beth: So now, the total land that's being divided up amongst the Tribes is bigger than it used to be. So the idea is that everyone's getting a bigger portion.
Ami: Well, I was thinking of even more simply stated. A geographical location that should not originally have been part of their inheritance.
Beth: Right. That makes sense. Ami, as you see it, who's the marchiv? Who is the one who makes the expanse for that? Is that Moses, is that God?
Ami: That's a great question. I don't quite know. Is it Moses? Is it God, who granted permission? Is it Gad, the Tribe. The leaders of the Tribe, at the time, who asked for this portion. I'm not sure. All I'm noticing here is expansion and I'm noticing a ferocious, animalistic quality of power to this nation.
Beth: Yeah, I see that. All right. So what are we going to do with it?
Ami: Well, let's read the next verse and see what we find there.
Beth: Okay. So Verse 21. "Vayar reishit lo," he, presumably the Tribe of Gad, saw the first for himself. I'm not sure what reishit is referring to here. It could be reishit is that first plot of land, meaning they encountered the land east of the Jordan before they encountered the land west of the Jordan. So he saw that and wanted to take it for himself. I know that the Rabbis ascribe lots of different meanings to the word reishit. Reishit means Torah, reishit means our first fruit. It means a lot of different things. Reishit refers to Israel. I mean, I don't that any of that's going on here.
"Ki sham chelkat mechokek safun," because there, in that reishit, in that first thing, the portion of the lawgiver is hidden.
Ami: So explain, Beth, just that word mechokek, as lawgiver. What's the meaning there of lawgiver?
Beth: I'm seeing that it's coming from the root chok, a decree. So the mechokek is the one who laws the law.
Ami: Interestingly, it's also the same word chakuk, which means etched. Etched in stone. Laws are etched in stone. They're infallible rules that can't be changed.
Beth: Right. Okay. That's really helpful on me, because now I'm thinking back to Exodus, that there were two etchings of law into stone. The first etching was done by God, that was on the first set of Tablets. After that set was broken, Moses was asked to do the etching. So ultimately, the Tablets that the people are in possession of were etched by Moses. So Moses is probably the mechokek.
So then, at the end of the day, what the first previous verse is saying is, Moses, his portion is hidden there, in Gad's portion.
Ami: Well, once again, it could be referring to Moses. This might be the meaning of Moses' poetic blessing here. We don't quite know.
Beth: Right. Well, I mean, who's the other candidate for the role of the mechokek? It seems like that's God. If it's not Moses, who is in the reishit of Gad, the Tribe, then it's God, who is somehow, his portion is in the reishit, is in the portion of Gad. The God, Gad language is getting a little bit confusing, but either way, it sounds like it's a good thing. That Gad found something for himself and either Moses is hidden there or God, the Almighty, is hidden there.
Ami: So read on, please. Let's get to the end of the verse.
Beth: "V'yeisei rashei am," he, Gad, came to the heads of the people, "tzidkas Hashem asah, u'mishpatav im Yisrael," and what did he do? He did the righteousness of God and he did his justice with Israel. So it seems like vis‑à‑vis God he acted rightly and vis‑à‑vis Israel he acted rightly. It makes sense to me that vis‑à‑vis Israel he acted rightly, because offering to be the vanguard, to possess a territory that you're not even going to dwell in, to help your brothers in that way, that sounds like a very just thing to do vis‑à‑vis your brothers.
In what sense he did the righteousness of God, I'm not sure and to be honest, I'm a little confused. Because the time I read that story in Parshat Matot‑Masei, about Gad and Reuben making this request, Moses, can we please live on the east side of the Jordan? It didn't sound like it was a praiseworthy request. You know, it sounds like, okay, they're asking this thing. They don't want to live in the land, they want to have pasture for themselves. It's going to be better for their livestock. Okay. Fine. It's not the most praiseworthy thing, but they're making up for it by offering to be the vanguard.
Now, though, we're getting, I think, a different characterization that somehow what they did is super‑righteous. Ami, is that what you're seeing?
Ami: You know, Beth, it is an interesting question. Again, when we're dealing with poetry like this, we can just take our best guess and always be open to multiple guesses, I think. Potentially, it's speaking about settling the land, fighting on the vanguard. There was a dose of righteousness and could be an affirmation here. Moses is saying you really did the right thing.
Perhaps, if Moses is talking about them setting up a burial plot for him among his nation, maybe that is the righteousness that he is referring to. "Vayeisei rashei am," on the one hand, could be they came and approached the heads of the nation and made their request and made their deal and everything. It could be, "vayeisei rashei am," the heads of the nation or head of the nation came to them.
In any case, it could be that Moses is referring to them setting up a burial plot for him. It could mean he's referring to them fighting in the vanguard. He could be referring to both of those things.
Beth: Yeah, I hear that. So it's not clear exactly what the righteousness of God that they did is.
Ami: I agree with you that whatever it is that he's referring to, he's praising it as they did the right thing. They did the right thing by God and they did the right thing by their people.
Now, we're not the first people to think that this blessing might have in it a hint to Moses' burial plot. There is, actually, a Gemara in Tractate Sotah ‑‑ I believe it's in Page 13b or 14a ‑‑ it kind of, continues on that that's all speaking about the end of Moses' life. There's an opinion brought there that Moses was, in fact, buried in the plot of the Tribe of Gad, based on this verse.
Beth: Okay. So Ami, that's interesting, but it raises a question for me. Now, I'm just wanting to go back and look at the verses of that final chapter. That, you know, Moses is told to ascend Har Nevo, Mount Nebo and he goes up there and he dies. Then we're told that he was buried in the valley in the land of Moab and that no one knows where he's buried. Even to this day, no one knows his burial place.
So just a few questions. I don't know how many of them we can get into here, but he dies atop the mountain, but he's not buried atop the mountain, he's buried in the valley. So someone must have moved his body after he died, but no one knows where he's buried, ultimately. So either the people who moved him and buried him were blindfolded or there was some other kind of supernatural intervention. I don't know what's going on there. Or the person who buried him died with the information and never passed it on down.
Certainly, it doesn't say explicitly in the verses that is was in the land of Gad, but Ami, help me here. Does what the Torah refers to as the Land of Moab map onto the portion of Reuben and Gad?
Ami: So it does, because if you remember, the portions of Reuben and Gad were the lands that were conquered from the kings Sihon and Og. The Torah goes out of its way, back in the Book of Numbers, you know. Beth, if you don't mind, open up Sefaria or a book to the Book of Numbers, 21, Verse 21. So actually, the Torah goes out of its way, back in Parshat Chukat, where we hear about the battle with Sihon, to tell us. Now, I'm paraphrasing the Book of Numbers, Chapter 21, Verses 25‑26, that Sihon was the king of Amorites, but the Torah explains to us that Sihon conquered these lands from the first king of Moab and took all of his land. So all of the lands of Sihon, who was this great conqueror; he took the entire plot of Moab.
Beth: I get it. So maybe that's partially why it was such a big deal when Israel defeated Sihon and Og. So the land has been changing hands. It started out as Moabite land, then it became Amorite land and now, finally, Israel is taking over it and Reuben and Gad are settling there.
Ami: I think, interestingly, as you're, sort of, responding to, the Torah, here in Deuteronomy, when it's describing where Moses is going to be buried, it calls it Moab's land. It doesn't call it the land you took from Sihon. It doesn't call it the Amorite land.
Beth: Actually, Ami, now that I'm thinking about it, it doesn't seem like such a stretch to suggest that Moses was buried in Reuben, Gad land. Because that's the only land that used to belong to Moab, that's the only Moab land that's now inhabited by Israel. I think if we're going to bury to Moses somewhere, you're going to want to bury him where his people are. So that makes sense to me.
Ami: So there's this, kind of, interesting little interplay here between what is known about the place that Moses is buried and what is not known. The Torah says no one knows the place of his burial. At the same time, the Torah's dropping us a lot of hints as to the general region of his burial.
Beth: Right. You know, Ami, I think it's only now I'm starting to feel the full power of what you suggested in Matot‑Masei, that had Reuben and Gad not made their request that they did to settle in what is land of Moab, then Moses, where would he have been buried? He was never going to be allowed into the Promised Land, he was always going to be buried someplace outside. So the only option he would have had would have been to be buried all alone in a land that Israel is never going to inhabit. So instead, because they made their request, he gets to dwell with his brothers. So there's really something very redeeming about it.
Ami: Very much so. My read on this, kind of, hidden, little thread of stories here, is that there's a degree of redemption that these two and a half Tribes offer Moses, that none of them were really aware of at the time, but that we see the full effect of over the course of the following chapters.
Beth: That's intriguing, because I don't know? Where does the credit for the redemption go if they didn't even know what they were doing when they did it?
Ami: It's a good question, Beth. I think there is credit due for the brotherhood that they displayed at that moment. Let's disregard for the moment anything about Moses' burial and let's just focus on what they were doing. They did something that was, kind of, a remarkable act given the history of this nation. Here were Tribes, that had their own personal interests and were willing to put their lives on the line for the rest of their brothers and sisters so that the nation could settle its land and fulfill God's promise to them and they would claim their own territories. I wonder if in a sense, that very act of loyalty to family and to mission, in some way created this burial plot for Moses.
Beth: It doesn't go without saying that Moses had to be buried there. It was a reward for their actions after the fact.
Ami: And that somehow, both rewarded them and granted some degree ‑‑ again, some degree of redemption for Moses himself.
Beth: That's beautiful. I'm with you there. Where do we want to go with it now? What does V'zot Habrachah add to this story?
Ami: Well, Beth, I want to look at one more portion of text with you. It's actually also in the Book of Deuteronomy, but way earlier. That may make this link between Moses' burial and the request of the two and a half Tribes a little more explicit. I'm talking about a portion in Deuteronomy, Chapter 3, in Parshat V'etchanan. So now, just to refresh our memories. V'etchanan ‑‑ Moses is retelling the moment when he begged God, beseeched God, please, let me enter into the Land. Give me a chance. Take me to the Land that You've promised us. God says no.
Now, we're used to V'etchanan being the beginning of a parsha, so we don't really pay attention to what came right before it. So if you look in Deuteronomy, Chapter 3, you actually see Moses recounting the story of the battle with those kings, with Og and with Sihon. Then recounting the story of the two and a half Tribes coming to make their request to stay on the east side of the Jordan river and making their promise that they're going to fight on behalf of their brothers. Again, the word your brothers is used here, specifically; on behalf of their brothers, the rest of the nation, to fight and conquer the land before they settle their own.
Then immediately after that comes, "V'etchanan el Hashem b'eit hahi leimor." Moses says, you know what happened at that very moment? At that very moment when they made their request and they made that deal, that caused me to start begging God, please, God, let me into this Land.
Now, it's a funny thing. Because back in the Book of Numbers, when it happens, we don't see Moses making any requests, but here in Deuteronomy, when he's retelling the story, it seems to be an outgrowth of that encounter with Reuben and Gad. Who didn't want to enter the land, but showed their loyalty for their brothers to go conquer the land and then come back and settle in the east. Somehow, that combination of things, made Moses start to pray once again to God to let him in.
Beth: Right. So you're absolutely right. I've never read V'etchanan this way before. I started the first verse of the parsha and I don't usually look backwards. I'm just trying to figure out for myself, what is it about the request of Reuben and Gad that spurs Moses to utter this prayer? Is it that he is so inspired by their willingness to sacrifice for their brothers that he says, I don't know, I want to be there where most of the brothers are. I want to be there in that place where they sacrifice. That doesn't make a whole lot of sense.
Then there's this tension which is that Reuben and Gad specifically said we're giving up the opportunity to live in Israel and then Moses comes along and says, please, God, let me. I don't know, Ami. What do you think is the mechanism here?
Ami: I'm with you, Beth, in the questions. It's a bit strange. Now, I can put out a couple of possibilities. One, like you just said, yes, maybe seeing some Tribes who gave up the chance to be in the Land made Moses want it all the more so. God, here's your Tribes. You're okay with them not entering the Land. Can You just let me in? Maybe that's what was going on. But maybe, if we also just look at the meaning, the simple story that's being told, the verse that preempt V'etchanan, that come right before Moses' begging, are basically saying, God is going to take care of this battle for you. Just like God took care of the battle with Sihon and Og, so too, God is going to fight for you and conquer this Land.
So it seems like Moses is just now talking about how clear it is that God will give them a smooth entry into this Land and conquer it for them. Once he sees that, he's prophetically talking about God giving them full entry to the Land of Israel, he says how can I stay outside? Come on, God, just let me in too.
Beth: How do you think he feels about Reuben and Gad in that moment? I mean, on the one hand, he's obviously very impressed by their offer, but on the other hand, how can you not spite the person who had access to the only dream that you ever cared about at the end of your life and turned it down?
Ami: You know, it's a great question, Beth. The Torah doesn't tell us. The Torah tells us that he was very mad when they first brought it up and he wasn't mad after he realized what they were willing to do for it.
Beth: It tells us that at the end of his life, he had nothing but good to say about them.
Ami: Interesting. Because what we're, kind of, seeing here is two Tribes who threaten to defer a dream, threaten to vanquish a promise of entering the Land. Who then show that, no, that's not what they're doing at all; they're going to participate in conquering the Land. Yet, somehow, they're going to still stay outside of it. If we just, sort of, jump forward to Moses' death, we have a story of a dream deferred as well. We have a man who lived his life for a certain destiny that he wasn't granted.
So the question that that brings up for me is, like you said, he's praising the Tribe of Gad at the end of his life. Is he somehow making peace with his unfulfilled dream? Is he realizing what he was given through this whole kind of surprising and curvy and twisty story?
Beth: Yeah, interesting. In other words, we know, we have a data point from the Torah that tells us how Moses felt about Reuben and Gad at the end of his life or at least about Gad. What do we make of that data point? Does that meant that that is how Moses always felt about it, that he always felt good about their request? Or does it mean that he had complicated feelings about their request when it was first raised, but that he grappled with it and made sense of it and struggled with it within himself and grew to a place of, you know, being able to come to peace with it?
Ami: Well, what we're seeing from V'etchanan is that he wasn't satisfied right away. His first response was praying and begging and beseeching God to let him in the Land. So what I want to do with you, is just look in the verses a couple of verses after V'etchanan, right? Moses is begging to enter the Land. God says no, you're not going in the Land and quit talking to me about it. Now, just look at Verses 27, 28, 29. What does God tell Moses?
Again, Moses is telling us what happened after the Tribes made their request, that made Moses make a request, that God said no to. Then God tells him, "Alei rosh hapisgah," ascend to the top of the mountain, "v'sa einecha, yamah v'tzafonah, v'teimanah u'mizracha, u're'ei b'einecha," lift your eyes, look in all directions and see it with your eyes, "ki lo ta'avor et ha'Yarden hazeh," because you will not cross this Jordan river.
Then God says, command Joshua, give him strength, he's going to lead the nation into the Land. Then the last verse of that chapter, 29; "Vaneshev bagai mul Beit Pe'or," and we settled there, we sat there, in the valley ‑‑ do you remember we heard about a valley before, Beth?
Beth: Yeah, the valley is where Moses is buried after his death.
Ami: Moses was buried in a valley. "Mul Beit Pe'or," facing the house of Peor. Again, we're in Moab land, in a valley.
Beth: That language also comes up in the description of Moses' burial.
Ami: Right. So bring us to where you're referring to.
Beth: This is back in Deuteronomy, the last chapter of the Torah, the last day of Moses' life. Chapter 34, Verse 6. "Vayikbor oto bagai, b'Eretz Moav, mul Beit Pe'or," Moses was buried. Where is he buried? In a valley, in the land of Moab, opposite the house of Peor. This is the same language.
Ami: It's the same language and what he's describing in Chapter 3, is basically, God telling Moses you're not going into the Land. Go up to the mountain, see the Land and hang out with the people there. That same, exact language is used here in Chapter 34, to tell us this is actually where he is buried.
That's not all. If we look a few verses above, in Deuteronomy 34, in the last chapter of the Torah, it has a lot of this parallel language from V'etchanan. "Va'ya'al Moshe mei'Arvot Moav," Moses ascends, he's ascending a mountain, "el Har Nevo," to Mount Nebo, which we know as the place where Moses dies. "Rosh hapisgah" ‑‑ you have the same words used in V'etchanan, to the top of the mountain that's facing ‑‑
Beth: Nebo is the same as pisgah?
Ami: Well, a pisgah is a mountain top. In V'etchanan he's told go to the top of the mountain. In V'zot Habrachah we're told what the name of that mountain was, Mount Nebo. Here again, "Va'yareihu Hashem et kol ha'Aretz," God shows Moses the entire Land. That's exactly what happened in V'etchanan. Pick up your eyes, look at the Land, look at the Land you're not going to enter.
Beth: So there does seem to be a link here between Gad and Reuben's request, their ultimate habitation in this land that's now Land of Moab and then Moses' ultimate burial in this place. I see that link.
Ami: So we have these puzzle pieces. Again, especially when you get to V'zot Habrachah territory, it's convoluted poetry, it's hard to make sense of things. No one can tell us exactly what's going on. But what do you think? Does it seem like we have what to go on, that the Torah is trying to show us something here, about one event being related to another event?
Beth: Yeah, Ami, I'm with you here. I mean, for me the strongest part of the story is what we saw back in V'etchanan. You know, Moses' V'etchanan and I prayed to God. You know, coming right of that story about Gad and Reuben. But it is interesting to me that the textual connections you're bringing up, the fact that his is what Moses wants to speak to God about at the end of his life. This allusion to the lawgiver being buried there. There's enough here for me to intrigued, definitely.
Ami: So if we think we have enough evidence for intrigue, I'm going to just throw in just one more hint here that may not even be a hint, but we looked a lot at the blessing of the Tribe of Gad. What is the blessing of the Tribe of Reuben? The blessing of the Tribe of Reuben is really bizarre. It's in Chapter 33 of Deuteronomy, Verse 6.
"Yechi Reuven v'al yamot," may Reuben live and not die, "vihi m'tav mispar," and may his m'tav be numbers. What do you make of that?
Beth: Oh, boy. Look, the beginning of it sounds good; may Reuben live, may he not die. May his men be a number. I mean, that doesn't sound ‑‑
Ami: So the truth is this thing of m'tav mispar, there's a similar phrase that Jacob says to his children after the whole scene with Nablus. So it's a strange word. It's a phrase that appears a couple of time in the Torah, but it's just very intriguing to me that we see the word, "al yamot, vihi m'tav." Yamot, m'tav. That word meit, the dead, is sitting there in the middle of that word m'tav.
Beth: Yeah, that's what I was looking at. I mean, I was wondering does it mean and his dead ones will be a small number? Meaning may he live, may he live, there'll be a few corpses among him. I don't know.
Ami: So you should know the commentaries on this verse point in many different directions. Some say that it's saying, when Reuben goes out to battle in the Land of Israel, again, on the vanguard, let the dead be very few in number.
Beth: That sounds good. What else have you got?
Ami: Some say may Reuben always be counted among his brethren, among the Tribes. May he be a part of the count of the twelve Tribes. But I just want to throw in, you know, because this is Biblical poetry I'm going to poetic license. Okay. Can you give that to me?
Ami: "Vihi m'tav mispar," his dead one. Who died in Reuben's land?
Ami: Moses died in Reuben's land. Mount Nebo, the Torah tells us explicitly, was in the territories that Reuben claimed. I'm just wondering if we can add another layer of commentary to this poetic verse.
"Yechi Reuven v'al yamot," let Reuben live eternally, let him live and not die, "vihi m'tav mispar," let his dead one be counted, let his dead one get a number.
Beth: Let Moses be counted amongst his people, amongst the Tribes.
Ami: Let Moses never be lost to his people. Even in his death, that happens outside of the Land. Even in his burial that happens in some hidden place. He never makes it into the Land, but there's two Tribes who make sure that he gets absorbed into his nation.
Beth: Yeah, Ami, it's very beautiful. Definitely in the realm of derash here, but I went ahead and gave you permission. It seems to me that V'zot Habrachah is doing the same thing for us. Moses, for sure his legacy, his memory doesn't get lost. The Torah ends with him. his legacy is lifted up. I think if you would probably ask the average person on the street who were the most famous Biblical Jews you can think of? If not Abraham, Moses is at the top of the list. So for sure we end up holding on to him and counting him, even though, at the end of the day he didn't get to join us in the Promised Land. It seems like it was primarily a tragedy for him, but it wasn't a tragedy for his legacy.
Ami: Exactly. I'm wondering if, in some way, these Tribes set the stage for preserving his legacy in a way that ‑‑ who knows what it would have been otherwise. Is it possible that somehow Tribes who were willing to pursue their own interest and actually chose to not settle in the Land of Israel ‑‑ Moses, it was forced on him by God. But people who chose to settle outside the Land of Israel and yet at the same time chose to be united with their brothers ‑‑ they chose nation over land. They set the stage for Moses' legacy to be one that depends on nation and not on land. Moses is buried with his nation, but not in their land.
Beth: You know, I can't help but think right now; Rabbi Fohrman always asks the question, what makes a nation? The answer is children and land. Children and land make a nation. So to be a member of the nation of Israel you've got to have lot of people ‑‑ people make a nation ‑‑ but you also have to be in the Land of Israel. So then the question becomes, what if you identify as being a part of the nation, but you're not in the Land? Gad and Reuben were the first ones to pioneer that, to clear a path for that kind of possibility. They weren't thrown out of the nation just because they couldn't actually dwell in Israel.
Moses is right there in the same camp and, you know, Ami, there's six million Jews today in the same camp too. You know, on the one hand God is giving us this amazing, special place, flowing with milk and honey, where we're going to get to go and have sovereignty and be a nation. But what does it mean for you if you're not physically there?
Ami: So in a sense, you know, I think there's a lot to contemplate about this story, the end of Moses' life. I think there's a lot to meditate on here. But one thing that it speaks to, in my mind, is there are dreams that are fulfilled quickly, smoothly, there are dreams that take a very, very long time and there are dreams that are never fulfilled. The Torah seems to be giving us some kind of realm of possibility where a dream can be touched, if not completed in that moment.
It may be that it's going to take a long time, it may be that we've no idea what the next steps will be, but Moses is ultimately subsumed at the boundary, at the border, between outside and inside. Between those who live in the land and those who live just outside the land and at the same are innately and deeply connected to those living in the land.
Beth: I don't know. I have got to tell you, I'm distracted here because here we are ‑‑ I don't know if our listeners know this ‑‑ I'm sitting in Nashville, Tennessee, you're sitting in Rehavia. We're having this conversation about Torah and we're part of the same nation and we're all these miles apart. What are your deepest aspirations about what to be and what are mine and yet, we get to both claim identity to this nation and get together and learn Torah. It's, I don't know, more questions than answers, right?
Ami: So, Beth, you're basically saying that the Torah we are speaking here is created by a bridge between Nashville and Jerusalem.
Ami: A bridge between outside the Land and inside the Land and we're creating a Torah together.
Beth: Yeah, I mean, I'm Gad, Rueben, Moses right now.
Ami: Okay. Well, I really enjoyed this. Thank you, Beth. Thank you, listeners. I hope this got some thoughts stirring in you. If you have any further thoughts, questions, comments, we love to hear from you; firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks again. Enjoy the last parsha. It's a sweet one. Shabbat Shalom, listeners.