Telephone Torah Study / September 19, 2013
We conclude the final two Torah portions of Deuteronomy, Haazinu-V’Zot Hab’rachah, this Thursday, September 19, 4-5pm. Haazinu (Deut. 32:1-52) includes Shirat Haazinu (The Song of Moses); and, V’Zot Hab’Brachah (Deut. 33:1-34:12) concludes with Moses’ death. Here are the last three verses of The Five Books of Moses:
Never again did there arise in Israel a prophet like Moses – whom Adonai singled out, face to face, for the various signs and portents that Adonai sent him to display in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his courtiers and his whole country, and for all the great might and awesome power that Moses displayed before all Israel. (Deut. 34:10-12)
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Dr. Ellen Umansky’s commentary on Haazinu ‘Images of God’ from the landmark work The Torah: A Women’s Commentary. Umansky is a noted Jewish feminist scholar and author of Four Centuries of Jewish Women’s Spirituality: A Source Book.
Parashat Ha’azinu troubles us with its extreme, opposing images of deity. Paradoxically, God is envisioned as comforting and frightening: the eternal guardian of Israel who eventually will redeem the people, and the jealous and judgmental deity who threatens to wreak vengeance on those who violate the covenant and turn to other gods. As Moses maintains, God is the giver of life and death, who heals as well as wounds (32:39- 40).
Thus, in his song to the Israelites contained in this parashah, Moses includes both a solemn warning that their lives as individuals and a people rest on their observing “faithfully all of the terms of this Teaching” (v. 46) and a final message of hope that God will one day deliver them from their enemies and they will ” long endure on the land” given to them by God (v. 47).
As a contemporary reader I am prompted to ask numerous questions. For instance, why in imagining God as comforter, does Moses use the image of an unmoving, unchanging rock (32:4, [5, 18, 30, 31)? Commentators view the metaphor of the rock as a vehicle for communicating the message that God’s righteousness and loyalty to Israel never waver, or for highlighting the superior, incomparable nature of Israel’s God. However, in spite of how the metaphor is used in the context of the Song, one could just as easily argue that this metaphor imagines God as a cold, unfeeling natural object, incapable of entering into a relationship with anyone or anything.
Rabbi Jonathan Stein’s commentary on V’Zot Hab’Rachah ‘The Divine Kiss’ from the Union of Reform Judaism (URJ) website:
Vezot Haberachah, the concluding parashah of the Torah, is centered around the death of Moshe Rabbenu, Moses our Teacher. Generations of Bible readers have wondered about the stated reason why Moses was prohibited from entering the Promised Land. The sin for which he is so punished, which occurred in Numbers 20:10-11 (for striking rather than speaking to a rock in order to bring forth water for the people), seems insignificant in comparison to his accomplishments and his obedience to God. Moses could have been taught the point that all people die just as well if he had been allowed to lead the people over the river and then had been allowed to die in the land of Canaan.
The Midrash discusses both this issue and Moses’ humanity in its commentary on Moses’ resistance to God’s decree. According to the Midrash, Moses begs God for favor and forgiveness for his sins. He tells God that he has been held to a higher standard and prays 515 times for a reversal of the decree. Moses pleads with God to make him into an animal and let him at least touch the land, but God refuses. God then relents a little and allows Moses to view the Promised Land. Other midrashim also contain the same general theme.
In contrast to the image of Moses begging to be turned into an animal, the Midrash grants Moses a beautiful death. At the end, God leans down from the heavens and ends Moses’ life with a soft, gentle kiss. This is derived from Deuteronomy 34:5, where it is written, “So Moses, the servant of the Eternal, died there, in the land of Moab, at the command of the Eternal.” The Hebrew reads, al pi Adonai, “by the mouth of the Eternal.” Hence the legend about God kissing Moses at his moment of death.
Please note: The next session in the Monthly Telephone Torah Scholars series : October 17th, Thursday, 4-5pm Click here for more details