With all the excitment of Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Succos, Shemini Atzeres, and Simchat Torah, it’s very easy to miss the final parsha of the Torah, Vezos Habracha. It’s the one parsha that isn’t read on a Shabbos and it shares the week with the more well known parsha Bereishis. It’s a shame Vezos Habracha ends up getting overlooked because it has some powerful messages to tell.
Having a background in theatre, I learned a critical tool for script analysis. Know the END OF THE PLAY. Especially the last lines. It’s in those moments, those metaphors, the final image, the final feelings, that we learn what the play is all about. Sometimes the moment is cryptic and sometimes it’s disturbing, and if it’s a good play, it’ll leave you pondering and turning the moment over and over again. So, when was the last time you really looked at the final moment of the Torah?
The Final Line
And there has not ever arisen a prophet within Israel like Moshe, whom Hashem knew face to face… And for the entire strong hand and for the great display that Moshe performed in view of all of Israel. (Devarim 34:10-12)
Very nice. Moses did some great deeds, the Jews saw it. And to a lesser degree, the rest of the world saw it also. Moses was the best prophet ever. The End.
But hold on, as we like to say in yeshiva, “What’s the hiddish?” Or what’s such a big new idea that the Torah needed to tell us. We already knew Moses did great deeds and was the greatest prophet. What are these last verses really about? Well, Rashi says the final line is referring to a specific moment. He says the phrase, “In view of all of Israel,” is directly referencing Moses smashing the original tablets when he saw the Jews worshiping the Golden Calf way back in parshas Ki Sisa.
Now just so we’re clear, the original tablets were supposed to be outright miracles. They were carved by God, Himself, with fire. They could be viewed from any angle and read clearly, and the writing pierced the whole tablets while letters like a ס or a ם stayed perfectly in place. (Even though their centers would have fallen out if the writing pierced all the way through). However the biggest miracle of all had to do with its effect. From the 10 Commandments it is said that we can learn out all the rest of the 613 commandments. But from the original tablets, we could learn out the rest of the whole Oral Torah. And supposedly, once a Jew learned from the original tablets, there was no forgetting. Perfect retention and recollection every time.
Moses smashed those tablets to pieces, and the Torah not only praises him for it, not only calls him the greatest prophet to ever have lived and will ever live, but it praises him as the FINAL LINE of the Chumash! Talk about a hiddish!
When Going Back is Going Forward
So the obvious question is, why did God want us to finish the Torah by focusing on Moses shattering our most tangible connection to Him that we could ever have?
There are a myriad of reasons to explain why Moses did what he did, but I’m going to focus on the effect. On one hand we had the ability to study Torah once and have perfect recollection and knowledge. On the other hand the Jewish people would have to slowly and with toil, wrestle with the material just to understand it once. Then there would need to be a life time of constant review. How could this second option possibly be better?
There is no question that the emotional effect of a miracle on a person is ephemeral. We’ve all experienced extraordinary coincides and answers to our prayers. How many of them do we really remember and carry with us? The Jews at Sinai heard God speak and 40 days later they transgressed one of the two Mitzvahs they heard first hand. When Moses saw this, he instantly understood they would need a Torah of constant review and constant learning. And even though it must have pained him terribly, he also understood that these tablets, in the hands of this people would be dangerous.
Had the Jews not sinned with the Golden Calf, history would have been different. We would be a different Jewish people, with different tablets, on a very different level, and with a different Torah (though the essence of the Torah would have been the identical.) So now we have a different process. Which is not a bad thing. By constant review we look at concepts and verses from different perspectives as we grow older and wiser. We can teach the Torah and make it come alive for a different generation. We get to struggle with difficult concepts that force us to up our game to understand them. And when we do unlock those question (which usually just give us more questions) it gives us a satisfying and moving feeling of growth, connection, and wisdom. Would the alternative have been better? Probably. But this is what we needed.
The End is the Beginning
We end the Torah and immediately start reading it again, performing this very lesson. But before we move on to parshas Bereishis with new eyes, there’s one other lesson to consider about the shattering of the tablets. The event happens around the mid point of the Torah. There it looks like such a tragedy. But now at the end, the Torah is telling us it was a blessing. From this we learn that we can’t tell what’s a blessing and what’s a curse until time has passed. And if we truly have emunah, will eventually come to understand, it’s all a blessing.
So as we move on from one year to the next, hopefully we will all be able to have the clarity to see the blessings in our lives, in whatever form they come.