Vezos Habracha – Mourning in Hashkafa

We have experienced over the past year and change the passing of Torah giants as well as world leaders. These are losses that have impacted people in a very deep way and have left marks that make us wonder what will be in the future, what is next, where are we heading? However, mourning for these tremendous losses can be put into perspective through one of the final pesukim in the entire Torah from the Torah portion of Vezos Habracha. “The Children of Israel bewailed Moshe in the plains of Moav for thirty days; then the days of tearful mourning ended” (Devarim 34:8).

The Ralbag learns from this pasuk that “it is improper to mourn a person too much, and even though he [or she] had the greatest of qualities possible. For we see that Moshe Rabbeinu with all his tremendous qualities in governing and greatness, still in all the Torah was not in agreement that they should mourn him for more than 30 days, which was the same mourning period for Aharon.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

Besides the great loss of a leader, of a person of tremendous character, an example for every single person to emulate, there is another element which should be addressed, if one internalized what it says in Iggeres HaRamban, “At all times you should think in your heart that it is as if you are literally standing before Hashem and His Holy Presence is upon you since His Honor fills the entire world…and you shall be bashful from all people,” and Rav Yechazkel Sarna zt”l, Rosh Yeshiva of Chevron, explained that after you accept the reign of your Creator upon yourself, to always be like a servant before his master, you shall also accept the reign of your friend upon yourself” like a servant before his master” because each person was created in the Image of G-D. We find in the sefer Reishis Chochma also the concept of subjugating oneself before his friend just like he would before one’s Creator. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

If that is properly internalized then a loss of a friend and especially a loved one, and all the more so the loss of great leaders should be something which is almost insurmountable to overcome. If one truly felt the respect the way one should feel for every single person appreciating the quality of everyone’s loss and especially one that has such an impact on your life, it makes sense that the mourning process over their loss would be long and hard. However, the Torah says there is a standard, a line to be drawn even for the greatest of people, those who are most honorable and respected, there is still a limit.

We see from here that it is totally natural and healthy to mourn for the dead but within limits and though it might be hard to get over such a grave loss understandably, but the Torah knows it is within our ability to be comforted.

Hashem’s consolation to us is that He is eternal and will always be by our side to sustain us and guide us, this is the ultimate comfort.

Vezos Habracha – Good Leadership: The Hallmark of the Jewish People

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One might think that the way to conclude the guide book of mankind would be to reinforce how important it is to observe it, or how awe-inspiring and exalted is its author, Hashem, The Holy One Blessed Be He. Yet the last 3 pesukim of the Torah talk about Moshe Rabbeinu, Hashem’s loyal servant, according to Rashi (according to the Ramban on Chumash the pasuk is in fact praising Hashem.)

The Torah concludes: “And there was no other prophet that stood up amongst the Jews like Moshe who knew Hashem face to face. For all the signs and wonders that Hashem sent him to do in the land of Egypt to Pharaoh and his servants and his entire land. And all the strong hand and all the great awe that Moshe did in the eyes of all the Jews” (Devarim 34:10-12).

Rashi on the last pasuk of the Torah says that “and all the strong hand” refers to the fact that Moshe “received the Torah in the tablets with his hands.” “And all the great awe” refers to “the miracles and mighty deeds [performed by Moshe] in the immense, awesome wilderness. Finally, “in the eyes of all the Jews” refers to “when he took the liberty of shattering the tablets before their eyes, as it says: ‘I shattered them before your eyes.’ The Holy One Blessed Be He consented to his opinion, at it is said: ‘which you shattered,’ ‘more power to you for shattering them!’” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

According to Rashi, the very last statement of the Torah refers to the smashing of the tablets. Why does the Torah conclude with referencing this lowly moment in our history? What message is being taught and why does it have to be taught now, at the very end?

The last Sifsei Chachamim on Rashi explains why Rashi feels he needs to add that Hashem agreed with Moshe deciding to throw down and smash the tablets. “He is coming to answer that now it is coming to praise Moshe, but is it a praise of Moshe that he broke the tablets? That is why he explained that Hashem acquiesced to this etc. Question: How does the Medrish know that ‘which you shattered’ could be interpreted as ‘more power to you for shattering,’ maybe the word אשר should be translated the way it is normally translated every place else? The Ramban already answered in the first chapter of Bava Basra 14b that we darshan a smuchin (a juxtaposition of two words next to each other in the Torah which can teach us a lesson or halacha), for it wrote earlier 10:2 אשר that which you broke and you placed, which implies the broken shards of the tablets were beloved by G-D. If their breaking would have been difficult in front of Him, He would not have said to place them in the Ark, for a prosecutor does not become a defendant. But because of the smuchin we darshan אשר as being a language of אשרי, happy is you. And see in his (the Ramban’s) piece in tractate Shabbos 87a, when it says a prosecutor doesn’t become a defendant I humbly believe it means that The Blessed Hashem commanded that the Ark should be placed in the inner chambers in order to be reminded of the Jewish merit of accepting the Torah and if it was sinful to break the tablets then they would have been a prosecutor to remember the sin of the golden calf, that for that reason the tablets were smashed, rather it must be that Hashem definitely agreed to them being smashed.”

Something doesn’t make sense here. If it must be that Hashem acquiesced to the smashing of the tablets because he would not have placed them in the Ark in the Holy of Holies lest they act as a reason to prosecute the Jews and not a merit to defend them, but isn’t the very fact that they are smashed a reason to remember the sin of the golden calf and to prosecute them? That was the whole reason why Hashem agreed with Moshe to smash them! So why wouldn’t it be used against them?

We must therefore say that even though  Hashem agreed with Moshe to smash the tablets, which were the symbol of merit for accepting the Torah, they must still be a symbol of merit even though they were broken, and would not have been broken if the sin of the golden calf had not happened. But because the leader of the nation took proper actions to reprimand his people and did not capitulate to their ideas or look the other way when there was a serious problem already happening, it is meritorious and is a symbol of excellent leadership, which will trickle down as an example of how to sacrifice for the cause of good.

This lesson is definitely worth concluding the entire Torah with, because it is teaching us that it is not the book itself which is sacred, rather it’s what is inside that counts. If we have leaders that are focused on doing what’s right for Hashem’s sake, at whatever cost, it will have a trickle down effect on the entire nation and bring merit to everyone which makes it very apropos for Hashem who acquiesced to this matter to conclude the Torah with this lesson.