Torah Portion for week 53: Deuteronomy 33 – 34
V’Zot HaBeracha (And This is the Blessing)
This week’s portion is the last one in the yearly cycle, as it covers the final two chapters of the book of Deuteronomy. It is also the smallest section of all, at least according to the number of Hebrew words. It includes Moses’ final blessings and then his own death. Was the death of Moses the end of the story?
We have come a long way since the creation of the world in Genesis 1:1. In chapter 3, sin entered and caused a separation between humanity and God. Throughout the past year, we have journeyed with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and then forty years with Moses. As part of God’s ultimate plan, he made a covenant with Abraham. As we saw, this covenant included the land, but the land promise included consequences for disobedience. This was explained in various passages such as Deuteronomy 4. Yet, even when the consequences would result in exile, God promised to bring his people back to the land, as we saw in Leviticus 26, beginning in verse 44. These promises are important to remember as we read the final speech of Moses, and his blessings for the next generation.
In the same way, the Abrahamic covenant also promised that Abraham and his descendants would not only be a great nation, but that they would bless the whole world. We’ve seen this throughout our study as well. Specifically, one special descendant would come from the line of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He is the one who would crush the head of the serpent as we saw in Genesis 3:15; and he would be a prophet greater than Moses, as we read in Deuteronomy 18:15. Indeed, the entire gospel is foreshadowed in the Torah.
In this final passage, Moses is speaking to the generation that will enter the promised land. After listing the blessings for each tribe, Moses goes to Moab, to the top of Mount Nebo, near Jericho. There God shows all the land to Moses, but again reiterates that Moses himself will not be allowed to enter (because of the incident in Numbers 20:7-12, where Moses rebelled against God). Nevertheless, he dies at the ripe old age of 120. Moses was not a perfect man, but he was a man of faith whom God used in amazing ways. The eulogy in this week’s portion says the following:
And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, none like him for all the signs and the wonders that the LORD sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, and for all the mighty power and all the great deeds of terror that Moses did in the sight of all Israel. (Deut 34:10-11)
Joshua then becomes the new, divinely appointed leader. As the story continues, Joshua will lead the children of Israel into the land where there will be a new set of challenges. Throughout history, as today, challenges often come from the outside, meaning hostile neighbors. On the other hand, there are also challenges from within. Whether in the days of the judges (when everyone did what was right in their own eyes) or the split between the northern and southern kingdoms, the internal challenges were great. What was needed was a prophet like Moses – or rather, one greater than Moses – to provide a new exodus. Not just a physical one, but a spiritual one. The great Jewish prophets spoke of just such a future. Jeremiah even spoke of a “new covenant” (Jer 31). Indeed, the Torah, which we have just completed, and the entire writings of the Hebrew Scriptures point ahead to a prophet like Moses, yet one greater still. The author of Hebrews wrote, “For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses – as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself” (Heb 3:3).
We have now finished our study of the Torah. But, not really. We have barely scratched the surface. Each weekly portion contains much more than we could possibly cover in our limited space; what we have covered is but an introduction. We encourage you to continue to study on your own. The story is not yet over.