This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H & my grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H & in Z’chus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandmother Channah Freidel Bas Sarah
-My great aunt Rivkah Bas Etta
-Miriam Liba Bas Devora
-Aviva Malka Bas Leah
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamah of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
וְזֹאת הַבְּרָכָה ~ V’Zos HaBrachah
שִׂמְחַת תּוֹרָה ~ Simchas Torah
“For Torah’s Sake”
|[33:8-10; 34:10-12] “And of Levi he said: Let Your Tumim and Urim should be for the man of Your kindness, whom You tested at Massah, challenged at the waters of Merivah. He who said of his father and mother, ‘I do not see them,’ and his brothers he did not recognize, and his children, he did not know [tend], for they observe Your word and Your covenant they guard. They shall teach Your ordinances to Yaakov And Your Torah [instruction] to Yisrael; they shall place the incense during Your Presence [lit., nose; alt., anger] the Burnt Offerings on the Altar…
And never again has their arisen in Israel a prophet like Moshe, whom Hashem had known face to face, as evidenced by all the signs and wonders that Hashem sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his courtiers and all his land, and by all the [acts of the] strong hand and all of the awesome greatness that Moshe performed before the eyes of all of Israel.”
|וּלְלֵוִ֣י אָמַ֔ר תֻּמֶּ֥יךָ וְאוּרֶ֖יךָ לְאִ֣ישׁ חֲסִידֶ֑ךָ אֲשֶׁ֤ר נִסִּיתוֹ֙ בְּמַסָּ֔ה תְּרִיבֵ֖הוּ עַל־מֵ֥י מְרִיבָֽה
הָאֹמֵ֞ר לְאָבִ֤יו וּלְאִמּוֹ֙ לֹ֣א רְאִיתִ֔יו וְאֶת־אֶחָיו֙ לֹ֣א הִכִּ֔יר וְאֶת־בנו [בָּנָ֖יו] לֹ֣א יָדָ֑ע כִּ֤י שָֽׁמְרוּ֙ אִמְרָתֶ֔ךָ וּבְרִֽיתְךָ֖ יִנְצֹֽרוּ
יוֹר֤וּ מִשְׁפָּטֶ֙יךָ֙ לְיַעֲקֹ֔ב וְתוֹרָתְךָ֖ לְיִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל יָשִׂ֤ימוּ קְטוֹרָה֙ בְּאַפֶּ֔ךָ וְכָלִ֖יל עַֽל־מִזְבְּחֶֽךָ
וְלֹֽא־קָ֨ם נָבִ֥יא ע֛וֹד בְּיִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל כְּמֹשֶׁ֑ה אֲשֶׁר֙ יְדָע֣וֹ ה׳ פָּנִ֖ים אֶל־פָּנִֽים
לְכָל־הָ֨אֹת֜וֹת וְהַמּוֹפְתִ֗ים אֲשֶׁ֤ר שְׁלָחוֹ֙ ה׳ לַעֲשׂ֖וֹת בְּאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרָ֑יִם לְפַרְעֹ֥ה וּלְכָל־עֲבָדָ֖יו וּלְכָל־אַרְצֽוֹ
וּלְכֹל֙ הַיָּ֣ד הַחֲזָקָ֔ה וּלְכֹ֖ל
הַמּוֹרָ֣א הַגָּד֑וֹל אֲשֶׁר֙ עָשָׂ֣ה מֹשֶׁ֔ה לְעֵינֵ֖י כָּל־יִשְׂרָאֵֽל
In the very last passage of the Torah, the Torah praises Moshe Rabbeinu for his incredible and unduplicatable services as Hashem’s messenger and prophet on behalf of the B’nei Yisrael. In summation, it references his accomplishments from Egypt through the wilderness, everything “which Moshe had done before the eyes of all of Yisrael” [Devarim 34:12]. This final expression, “L’Einei Kal Yisrael”-“before the eyes of all of Yisrael,” Rashi points out, is not a general description of Moshe’s deeds, but an allusion to a single act of his in particular, namely, his smashing of the Luchos, the Tablets of the Covenant, in response to Israel’s sin of the Cheit HaEigel, the worshipping of the Golden Calf [Shemos 32:19] (as Moshe Rabbeinu told them [Devarim 9:17], “VaAshabreim L’Eineichem”-“And I shattered them before your eyes”) [based on Sifrei 357, Shabbos 87A].
So, it is with this textual allusion referencing the smashing of the tablets, the Torah meets its close. Indeed, more than anything else, the allusion at this particular point in the Torah, the ending, is quite sobering. Thinking in terms of the Torah at large, one might suggest that the Book of our covenant should close on a more upbeat, encouraging or perhaps more tranquil note. Perhaps the Torah could have closed with one of the blessings to the B’nei Yisrael found earlier in the Sidrah, or maybe with just a more simple and pure praise to Moshe—you know, without the simultaneous dig against the rest of the nation. However, based on Chazzal’s understanding of those final words, the Torah closes with a steak piercing our hearts, this reminder of our people in one of it not its worst and most humiliating states. Why should that be?
Moreover, it is quite ironic that specifically at the completion of the Torah, there is this reference to the shattering of the Luchos which essentially symbolize the heart and core of the Torah itself; in other words, we cap off the Torah with a reference to the Torah’s utter disgrace and symbolic destruction.
To take it a step even further, this ending to the Torah is particularly awkward when one considers it about it terms of the context in which it is customarily read. We publically complete the Torah reading in the context of an enthusiastic, communal celebration known as Simchas Torah (during the festival of Shemini Atzeres; starting from the Geonic period, 1st century). The long anticipated completion of the Torah text, which we revel in with singing and dancing, was apparently intended to evoke this painful memory.
Why does the Torah leave us off with this bitter taste in our mouths? Why, at the celebration and completion of the Torah, are we reminded practically of the destruction of the Torah? What message was the Divine Author possibly trying to convey?
As negative and seeming controversial as Moshe’s destroying of the Luchos sounds, and don’t be mistaken—it was an inherently negative occurrence all around—Moshe is not only vindicated, but the aforementioned Rashi tells us that he is apparently praised for shattering them. Granted, it wasn’t a good thing that he had to do it—no “props” to us—but Moshe was correct in doing so. As far as Moshe was concerned, this otherwise controversial act was purely Ratzon Hashem, the Will of Hashem, at that particular moment in time. Indeed, Moshe’s deed was no act of treason. He through down the Luchos because the people worshipped and danced around the Golden Calf, and so, it was appropriate for Moshe to express this measure of anger on G-d’s behalf to the people in the time of His disgrace which they caused. The deed is perhaps somewhat shocking at the outset, but is readily understandable.
Accordingly, it is Moshe Rabbeinu’s apparent audacity that the Torah meant to hint to at its close. It is that which we’re apparently supposed to remember on Simchas Torah. The question is: Why? Why is this audacious act of Moshe’s the final memory and closing message of the Torah?
In order to get a better understanding of the greatness of this single deed and accomplishment of Moshe’s, we might consider a similar accomplishment that was achieved at the same scene of the crime, by the nation’s most chosen people, the men of Moshe’s own tribe, Sheivet Levi (the Tribe of Levi).
As is known, the tribe of Levi stands above the rest of the B’nei Yisrael, as they, quite like Moshe Rabbeinu, were chosen by Hashem to be His emissaries on behalf of the entire nation. They would serve in the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and eventually the Beis HaMikdash (Holy Temple), some as Kohanim (Priests) engaging in the various rituals and sacrifices, the rest providing musical accompaniment and other services with and for the Keilim (Holy Vessels).
But of course, Levi was not always the chosen tribe. In fact, many would argue that Levi was relatively deprecated among the tribes of Israel. One need not look further than the passage of the Bircas Yaakov (Blessing of Yaakov) where Levi is heavily denounced, with seemingly no redeeming or encouraging message at all [Bereishis 49:5-7]. True, from the start, we get a sense of an apparent uniqueness in Levi’s potential, as he, unlike the rest of his brothers, was not named by his mother, but rather by his father or perhaps G-d Himself [See Rashi to Bereishis 29:34]. But as per the Bircas Yaakov, it does not seem at all that Levi thrives spiritually or lives up that Divine potential. On the contrary, Levi, along with is older brother Shim’on, are subject to great blame for their misconduct throughout Sefer Bereishis.
Together, the two brothers Levi and Shim’on had the audacity and apparent shrewdness to wipe out the entire city of Shechem in response to the molestation of their sister Dinah [Bereishis 34]. Now, while most would and should argue that their actions for their sister were certainly justified, the brothers failed to exact this same measure of audacity on behalf of their other sibling, Yosef [Ibid. 37]. In fact, they’re directly faulted by Chazzal for the plans to murder Yosef (before the larger group of brothers decided to sell him instead) [Bereishis 37:18-20, See Rashi to Bereishis 49:5]. Indeed, their involvement in Yosef’s sale demonstrated that their brazenness all around was not powered by pure passion for justice and the fulfillment the Will of G-d, but by their own biased, personal idea of what was right. Accordingly, they are denounced by their father Yaakov who curses their anger and brazenness [Ibid. 49:7]—because it was divorced from true correctness and the Will of G-d. It was not for G-d’s sake, but for their own.
Compare and contrast Yaakov’s review of the brothers in Parshas Vayechi with that of Moshe’s here, in the final Sidrah of the Torah [Devarim 33:8-12]. They’re complete opposites. In Parshas V’Zos HaBrachah, there is nothing but praise, for Levi at least. Shim’on is absent from the text. The two men whom Yaakov dubbed “brothers” [Bereishis 49:5] are now separated. It is Levi alone who is credited with the service in the Temple, the tribe of Levi who can bring incense to appease G-d’s anger against the nation. Moreover, it is Levi whom Moshe says will teach the Torah to the B’nei Yisrael, “Yoru Mishpatecha L’Yaakov V’Sorascha L’Yisrael”-“They shall teach Your ordinance to Yaakov, and Your Torah to Yisrael” [Ibid. 33:10]. How did that happen? What changed? From where did they earn their stature? Where is Shim’on now?
It would seem, as Yaakov prophesied to Shim’on and Levi that they would be divided [Bereishis 49:7], by the time we’ve reached V’Zos HaBrachah, they are not together. But, which one of them separated himself from the other? Apparently, it was Levi who rose up. Unlike Levi who stood with Shim’on in the context of crime in the past, Moshe declares that it was Levi who no longer identified with family in the framework of wrongdoing [Devarim 33:9]; “HaOmer L’Aviv U’LeImo Lo Re’isiv V’Es Echav Lo Hikir V’Es Banav Lo Yada Ki Shamru Imrasecha U’Vris’cha Yintzoru”-“He who said of his father and mother, ‘I do not see them,’ and his brothers he did not recognize, and his children, he did not know [tend], for they observe Your word and Your covenant they guard.”
When was this reality truly manifest? Rashi explains [based on Sifrei 350] that it was during the Sin of the Golden Calf. When the people had forsaken the covenant with Hashem and Moshe asked who was truly for Hashem, it was Levi who stood up, and by Moshe’s word, did the seemingly most brazen and unthinkable act; they executed, among their own brethren, the individuals guilty for worshipping the molten calf [Shemos 32:26]. At this point, it was undoubtedly not a result of Levi’s own personal anger, but it was for G-d’s sake, for the Torah’s sake! Says Hashem, they are the chosen ones. Says Moshe Rabbeinu, they will teach the Torah to the B’nei Yisrael!
What is the message of Moshe’s shattering of the Luchos? It wasn’t a mere matter of “the people misbehaved” or that “they didn’t deserve the Luchos.” It was much more fundamental. Moshe’s shattering of the Luchos was demonstration of the different between two acts, one seemingly peaceful, united and arguably religious, yet a disgrace to G-d, and one so seemingly brazen and controversial, yet the immediate honor and Will of G-d. The B’nei Yisrael came together in harmony and perhaps with some measure of religious exuberance when they celebrated and danced around the molten calf, but it was not the Will of G-d! It was a disgrace to Him, containing tinges of idolatry. It was G-d forsaken! As wonderful as it might have looked to the people, they were essentially throwing down Hashem’s Torah to the ground themselves!
On the contrary, when Moshe Rabbeinu returns and, in the sight of the people, throws down the Luchos, destroying them, arguable the most antithetical act to the Luchos, yet he’s praised by G-d. Why did he throw them down? To intimate that the people clearly did not uphold the precepts symbolized by Luchos. In fact, they disgraced everything which the Luchos represented when they danced around the Golden Calf. What emerges is that ironically, that which most would consider an act of pure anger, misjudgment and sheer controversy against the Will of G-d, Moshe Rabbeinu did not hesitate to engage in, because, indeed, he was acting in pure accordance with the Will of G-d, for the Torah’s own sake! Thus, when Moshe shattered the Luchos which represented the Torah, he was actually upholding the Will of the Torah as he was reminding the people not to completely lose sight of what the Torah is all about amidst their celebration, which indeed, they had.
And now, at the culmination of the Torah, at the celebration of Torah, what would the Torah itself want to leave us off with? With this most crucial of reminders: There is no Torah without the covenant between us and Hashem. There is no covenant without our fulfillment of Ratzon Hashem. We could get together, sing, dance, and supposedly “celebrate the Torah,” but if it is not in the context of Ratzon Hashem, it is a disgrace to G-d. At that point, it is celebration devoid of Torah and Divine Presence. At that point, Moshe Rabbeinu teaches, we may as well throw down the Torah itself, because we will have essentially already done that, destroying it and stripping it completely bare of its significance and meaning. The tribe of Levi has risen above to stand “for Hashem” and have further conveyed this message. When we complete the Torah and prepare to truly celebrate it, their lesson has to become ours. In order to truly represent and fulfill the Torah, we cannot forget amidst our celebration, but we have to be audacious for Ratzon Hashem and stand up for the sake of Torah.
May we all be Zocheh to devote ourselves to Ratzon Hashem, act steadfastly for the sake of Torah, truly celebrate the Torah in the context of holiness and fulfillment of Ratzon Hashem, and Hashem should rest His Presence amidst our celebration with the coming of the Geulah in the times of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Chazak Chazak V’Nis’chazeik! (Strength! Strength! And we may be Strengthened!) Have a Great Yom Tov/Chag Samei’ach!
-Josh Eisenberg 🙂