V’Zos Ha’Bracha: Light and Morality – the End of the Beginning

And Moshe was one hundred and twenty years old when he died, his eyes did not dim and his moisture did not leave him; and the Children of Israel cried for Moshe, in the plains of Moav, for thirty days… and a prophet in Israel never again rose like Moshe, who knew Hashem face to face (Devarim 34:7-10).

The end of a life; the end of an era; the end of the five books of Torah… Even the greatest of all men, who brought us out of Egypt, who split the Reed Sea for us, who brought down the mahn, brought in the slav (meat), brought up water from a well, and gave us the Torah (see Rashi to Devarim 32:48)… Even his time was up.

In his final hours, Moshe Rabbeinu blesses the tribes of Israel.  To Levi, the tribe into which he was born, Moshe says: וּלְלֵוִ֣י אָמַ֔ר תֻּמֶּ֥יךָ וְאוּרֶ֖יךָ לְאִ֣ישׁ חֲסִידֶ֑ךָ – And to Levi he said, Your tummim and Your Urim go to the man who is devoted to You (33:8). 

Here Moshe refers to the Urim v’Tumim, which was worn by the Kohen Gadol (High Priest), within the folds of the breastplate, when he served in the House of Hashem.  Upon the breastplate were twelve precious stones, engraved with the names of the tribes of Israel. 

וְנָתַתָּ אֶל-חֹשֶׁן הַמִּשְׁפָּט, אֶת-הָאוּרִים וְאֶת-הַתֻּמִּים, וְהָיוּ עַל-לֵב אַהֲרֹן – And you shall place in the Breastplate of Judgment the urim and the tumim, and they shall be on Aharon’s heart when he comes before G-d, and Aharon shall carry the judgment of the children of Israel on his heart before G-d, always (Ex. 28:30).

The Sages explain that when the Jewish People needed to know something of great import, the urim and tumim could be consulted to reveal the will of G-d.  The stones of the Breastplate would light up, signifying an answer to the question, or quandary, posed by the Kohen

The Gemara explains the source of its name: למה נקרא שמן אורים ותומים? אורים שמאירין את דבריהן, תומים שמשלימין את דבריהן – Why was it called the Urim v’Tumim?  Urim, because it illuminates (from the Hebrew word ohr, light) and explains words, and tumim, (from the Hebrew word tam, complete or perfect), because it fulfills its words, which will always come (perfectly) true (Yoma 73b).

However, it is interesting to note that in the blessing to Levi, וּלְלֵוִ֣י אָמַ֔ר תֻּמֶּ֥יךָ וְאוּרֶ֖יךָ לְאִ֣ישׁ חֲסִידֶ֑ךָ, Moshe puts Tumim before Urim – complete, pure, perfect, before light – even though it is called the Urim v’Tumim – light before complete, pure, perfect.

Why does Moshe switch the order?

R’ Shamshon Rafael Hirsch powerfully explains the reversal of order as follows (Devarim 33:8), “As a rule, Scripture places urim before tumim, whereas here it significantly mentions first the tumim, the representation of the highest spiritual perfection, and then urim, the highest degree of intellectual enlightenment

“For Scripture’s purpose here is to characterize the tribe that was privileged to be the bearer of the Urim and Tumim.  What is required, first and foremost of this tribe, is not intellectual brilliance but moral probity (integrity, honesty).  The everyday life of this tribe must not stand in contradiction to the moral standard that qualified it to become the bearer of the Urim v’Tumim in the first place.  Indeed, Scripture here goes on to describe the tribe not by its intellectual qualities but by its moral character…

“Herein lies the distinctive character of Judaism.  In Judaism intellectual gifts do not exempt a person from moral standards, and neither intellectual prowess nor membership in an intellectual profession frees one from the moral duties; rather, the indispensable condition for all intellectual distinction is scrupulous observance of the laws of morality.”

Here Moshe reverses the order, noting their carrying of the Tumim and Urim, to teach the Bnei Levi, and to teach all of us, a profundity that cannot be, should not be, and must not be ignored or forgotten.

It is not enough to be smart, to have the “light” of the Urim, the wisdom of Torah; it is not enough to have the capabilities to reach the highest heights of scholarship and intelligence… We must first be complete, pure, perfect, tamim, in our moral responsibilities.  We must do what is right before G-d and right toward fellow man. 

Perhaps we can use simple English to sum up the lesson of תֻּמֶּ֥יךָ וְאוּרֶ֖יךָ לְאִ֣ישׁ חֲסִידֶ֑ךָ – It’s not sufficient to be smart; we must be nice and good.

Without the Tumim, purity of man, there is no Urim, intelligence of man.

And so, though the Kohen wore the Urim v’Tumim within the folds of his breastplate, so that the Divine light (Urim) would give a complete answer (Tumim) to any quandary facing the nation, in his final hours, with his final blessing, Moshe reminds us all of who we are and who we must strive to be.

We must be Tamim in all realms of avodas Hashem, and from that temimus (purity), light (Ohr) and wisdom will follow.  This, then, is the truest form of אִ֣ישׁ חֲסִידֶ֑ךָ, the devoted and righteous one.

As we close Devarim and open up Bereishis, let us remember that the first thing Hashem created was Ohr, Light.  And Hashem saw the אוֹר, the light, כִּי-טוֹב, that it was good (Bereishis 1:4). 

And yet, from that first Divine light of creation, to Moshe’s Urim, the light of blessing, the entire Torah, from beginning to end, teaches us that to embrace the Ohr of Torah, one must always be pure and complete.

תורת ה׳ תמימה משיבת נפש – The Torah (Urim) of Hashem is tamim, restoring the soul (Tehillim 19:8). 

בברכת מועדים לשמחה וחג שמח,


  • Nancy
    Posted at 12:26h, 09 October

    How wonderful it will be for me to read Bereshis once again and catch something I didn’t get on the last reading.

  • Serge
    Posted at 22:55h, 09 October

    This is really enlightening, thank you Michal.