V’Zos Ha’Bracha: Moshe’s Death & Chag Ha’Succos

Shabbos Chol Ha’Moed Succos 5783, Zman Simcha’sainu.  The menucha and oneg of Shabbos, the joy of Yom Tov, reflecting on the past days and looking ahead to the end of the chag.  The culmination of our Elul avodah, the Yomim Noraim of Tishrei, and Chag ha’Succos is the celebration of Shmini Atzeres/Simchas Torah.  Our entire avodah to ‘seek out Hashem where He can be found, call out to Him when He is close’ (Is.55:6), which began on Rosh Chodesh Elul, ends with the celebration of Torah on Simchas Torah.  

Though the final parsha of the Chumash does not merit its own Shabbos, and with the hectic nature of Simchas Torah it is possible, keviyachol, to forget that on this day the cycle of Chumash ends, V’Zos Ha’Bracha is a monumental and powerful sedra.  After blessing each tribe with its own unique blessing (as did Yaakov Avinu before his death, see Bereishis Ch.49), Moshe Rabbeinu ascends to the summit of Har Navo, where, at the age of one hundred and twenty years, he leaves this world for the next. 

After commanding Moshe to view Eretz Yisraelbut to there you shall not cross,’ (Devarim 34:4), Hashem takes Moshe’s neshama to the olam ha’neshamos, the olam ha’emes.  וַיָּ֨מָת שָׁ֜ם משֶׁ֧ה עֶֽבֶד־הבְּאֶ֥רֶץ מוֹאָ֖ב עַל־פִּ֥י הand there Moshe died, the servant of Hashem, in the land of Moav, by the word of Hashem (v.5).

In regard to the death of Moshe, Rashi tells us that the nation could not believe that their leader, a mortal closer to G-d than any other before or after him, would leave this world.

אַף כָּאן בְּמִיתָתוֹ שֶׁל מֹשֶׁה נֶאֱמַרבְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה“, לְפִי שֶׁהָיוּ יִשְׂרָאֵל אוֹמְרִים בְּכָךְ וְכָךְ אִם אָנוּ מַרְגִּישִׁין בּוֹאֵין אָנוּ מַנִּיחִין אוֹתוֹ, אָדָם שֶׁהוֹצִיאָנוּ מִמִּצְרַיִם וְקָרַע לָנוּ אֶת הַיָּם וְהוֹרִיד לָנוּ אֶת הַמָּן וְהֵגִיז לָנוּ אֶת הַשְּׂלָו וְהֶעֱלָה לָנוּ אֶת הַבְּאֵר וְנָתַן לָנוּ אֶת הַתּוֹרָה, אֵין אָנוּ מַנִּיחִין אוֹתוֹ, אָמַר הַקָּבָּה הֲרֵינִי מַכְנִיסוֹ בַחֲצִי הַיּוֹם  here too, by the death of Moshe, the pasuk says it happened ‘in the midst of that very day’, because the nation said: by this and that!  If we notice him ascend the mount, we will not let him do so!  The person who took us out of Egypt, and split the sea for us, and brought down the manna for us, and brought the flight of quail for us, and brought for us the well (of water) and gave us the Torah!  We will not allow him (to ascend the mount and die).  Said HKB”H: (you think you will stop him from dying?) behold he will (ascend the mount) and I will gather him in in the midst of the very day; not at night, in stealth and secrecy, but his ascension to death will be before the eyes of the entire nation, in the midst of that very day (Rashi to Devarim 32:48).

Even the great Moshe Rabbeinu, the one who spoke to Hashem ‘face to face, with a clear vision and not in riddles’ (Bamidbar 12:8), would not live in this world forever.  וּמֹשֶׁה, בֶּןמֵאָה וְעֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָהבְּמֹתוֹ; לֹאכָהֲתָה עֵינוֹ, וְלֹאנָס לֵחֹהand Moshe was one hundred and twenty years old when he died; his eye had not dimmed, nor had he lost his freshness (34:7).  Despite the vigor of his youth which did not leave him, his days in this world were over, his tafkid completed, and his mission accomplished; Moshe’s day of death had come.

It is not for naught that we read this sedra on Simchas Torah, the final days of the rejoicing of Tishrei and the culmination of Chag Ha’Succos.  What is the message and lesson of the Succah, a message we are meant to carry with us throughout the entire year?   Rav Avigdor Miller zt’l (1908-2001) writes, “Among all of the attitudes of the mind that every person must develop, he must also take time to think about this burning question: What does my state of existence in this world look like? 

“Now when a child is born he knows right away the state of his existence.  He’s here to stay.  If you tell him stories about people who die, he doesn’t really believe it, or at least it doesn’t apply to him.  He thinks he knows tzuras omdo b’olam, he’s ‘a permanent resident’ in this world.  Actually, almost everybody retains this juvenile attitude all his life.  Of course, he knows all about misah (death), but it’s very far from his mind.  He has ten thousand years left, at least.  That’s his recognition of tzuras omdo b’olam, he’s here and he’s here to stay.  

“It’s of utmost importance to ‘recognize the actual form of our existence here’ (Chovos HaLevavos): that we are only visitors.  This is a hotel and we are orchim; we spend a little time here and then we move on.  בַּסֻּכֹּ֥ת תֵּֽשְׁב֖וּ שִׁבְעַ֣ת יָמִ֑יםIn succos you shall dwell for seven days (Vayikra 23:42).  It’s a mitzvah that if used the way HKB”H intended, will have the most far-reaching results in our lives; not only on Succos but in Cheshvan and Kislev and all the rest of the year.  Sitting in the succah, if you learn how to do it, affects our entire attitude and our entire success in this world.  One of the most important features of the succah is that it’s a diras arai; a temporary dwelling… The purpose is to tell us ‘leave your permanent dwelling and dwell in the temporary dwelling’, for these seven days.  And in that little hut, in that flimsy home, you will be encouraged to reflect on the temporary nature of your existence in this world, on your actual tzuras omdo b’olam… We should (learn to) always feel that we are not permanent residents any place because the whole olam hazeh (this world) is temporary and fleeting… 

“And when you know you are not here forever, you will accomplish more, and enjoy much more in Torah and mitzvos because you know you are only here for a short time.  Because when you know you are here for a little less than 65 million years you think ‘maybe I should enjoy my time here with Torah and mitzvos, and maybe I should accomplish as much as I can?’” (Toras Avigdor, Succos 5783).  

Through the month of Elul, the Yomim Noraim and Aseres Yimei Teshuva, and through Chag Ha’Succos, we have been busy coming closer to Hashem.  How do we conclude these exalted days?  With the reading of V’Zos Ha’Bracha and the death of Moshe Rabbeinu.  Because even someone as great as Moshe was not here forever.  Even for Moshe Rabbeinuוְלֹאקָם נָבִיא עוֹד בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל, כְּמֹשֶׁה, אֲשֶׁר יְדָעוֹ הפָּנִים אֶלפָּנִים (Devarim 34:10) – this world is but a gateway to the next.  

And this is a message and lesson of the final pasukim of the Torah, and this is the message and lesson of Chag Ha’Succos.  We are mere visitors in Hashem’s hotel, and this world is a temporary station in our journey to the Olam Ha’Emes.  The flimsy Succah, where we dwell for seven days, is a mashal for our entire lives.  No one – not even Moshe – remains in this world forever.  

We must use our time – each and every moment – to prepare for our final journey, filling our days, and years, with Torah, mitzvos, chessed and maasim tovim, so that we may merit, halavay!, the obituary that Moshe merited: וַיָּ֨מָת שָׁ֜ם משֶׁ֧ה עֶֽבֶד־ה and there Moshe, the servant of Hashem, died.  Chazak chazak v’nis’chazek.  

הרחמן הוא יקים לנו את סוכת דוד הנופלת, אמן כן יהי רצון,


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