The Blessing, the King, and the Torah of Moshe
Yeshivat Har Etzion
series is dedicated
in memory of Michael Jotkowitz, z"l.
Please include in your tefillot:
Zecharia Shlomo ben Miriam Baumel - Kidnapped 11/06/82
Tzvi ben Penina Feldman - Kidnapped 11/06/82
Yekutiel Yehuda Nachman ben Sarah Katz - Kidnapped 11/06/82
Ron (Roon) ben Batya Arad - Kidnapped 16/10/86
Guy ben Rina Chever - Missing In Action since 17/08/97
Gilad ben Aviva Shalit - Kidnapped 25/06/06
Eldad ben Tova Regev - Kidnapped 12/07/06
Ehud Ben Malka Goldvasser - Kidnapped 12/07/06
Please say tehillim for
YHE alumnus Amit Schwartz,
Amit Yehuda ben Malka.
Please say tehillim for Taube Yehudit bat Tema Gesha.
Ve-Yishlach lahem meheira refuah sheleimah min ha-shamayim be-tokh she'ar cholei Yisrael.
The Blessing, the King and the Torah of Moshe
Rav Chanoch Waxman
Near the end of Parashat Ve-zot Ha-berakha, upon completing his blessing to each and every individual tribe, Moshe turns to the community as a whole. Addressing the nation by the poetic name Yeshurun, he utters the last words he will ever speak to the Children of Israel. He speaks the last words of Moshe recorded in the Torah.
O Yeshurun there is none like God,
Riding through the heavens to help you (be-ezrekha)
Through the skies in His majesty (u-begaavato)
The ancient God is a refuge above,
A support underneath are the arms everlasting
And He shall drive out the enemy (oyev) before you
And shall say, Destroy!
The fountain of Yaakov,
In a land of grain and wine,
Also the heavens shall drip down dew.
A people saved by the Lord,
The shield of your help (ezrekha), your sword majestic (gaavatekha)
And your enemies (oyevekha) shall submit before you,
And you shall tread upon their high places.
As indicated by the arrangement into poetic form and stanzas in the citation above, Moshes blessing is spoken in poetic style. It can be divided into three segments (33:26-27, 33:28, 33:29), each beginning by addressing or speaking of Yisrael, or its poetic variation of Yeshurun (33:26, 28, 29).
Moshes final prophetic blessing speaks of Gods military prowess in both its
opening and closing segments. In the opening of the blessing, in a play on the
term for chariot (merkava), God is depicted as
riding (rokhev) through the heavens (33:26) to
drive out the enemies of
thematic parallelism is highlighted by a crucial literary device. Both the
opening and closing segments of the final blessing include the terms help (ezra),
majesty (gaava) and enemy (oyev), or some variation thereof, in this
particular a-b-c sequence. God rides through the heavens to help
point of fact, the a-b-c parallelism between the opening segment and the
closing segment serves as more than just a literary means of emphasizing the
theme of Gods military might and dedication to the defeat of
The fountain of Yaakov,
In a land of grain and wine,
Also the heavens shall drip down dew.
Picking up on the reference to
God as a refuge above and a support underneath in the opening paragraph
(33:27), the middle segment of the blessing opens by declaring that God
guarantees the security and safety of
This conjunction of terms and images, of Yaakov/Yisrael, grain, wine, dew, and heavens should remind us of a similar passage found in Sefer Bereishit, a passage reporting the first blessing received by Yaakov/Yisrael. In blessing his son, Yitzchak declares the following:
And God should give you
Of the dew of the heavens and the fatness of the land,
Abundace of grain and wine
Moshe deliberately echoes the blessing of Yitchak given to Yaakov/Yisrael. Dew of the heavens, grain and wine abound (33:28). This of course should not surprise us. The provision forecast by Moshe and provided by God is not something new. Rather, it constitutes the accomplishment of the promise, the covenantal blessing, granted to the forefathers in general and the progenitor Yaakov/Yisrael in particular. As such Moshe echoes the language of that first blessing received by Yaakov/Yisrael.
Moreover, as pointed out by both the Ibn Ezra and the Ramban (33:1), Moshes prophetic blessing of the twelve tribes at the end of his life (Devarim 33:1-24) constitutes an echo, or perhaps a reenactment or continuation, of Yaakovs prophetic blessing of the twelve tribes at the end of his life (Bereishit 49:1-28). In point of fact, numerous linguistic parallels exist between the two sets of blessing (see Bereishit 49:22-26 and Devarim 33:13-17). Again, by no surprise, at the center of his final words, in his general blessing of the descendants of Yaakov/Yisrael, at the moment of recreation or continuity, Moshe draws on the first blessing received by the individual Yaakov/Yisrael in trust for his descendants.
something should surprise us. A closer look should make us realize that Moshe
seems to omit a key term. In his blessing to Yaakov/Yisrael,
in between his references to the dew of the heavens and an abundance of
grain and wine, Yitzchak wishes Yaakov/Yisrael the
fatness of the land. In glaring contrast, despite deliberately echoing
Yitzchaks words to Yaakov/Yisrael and mentioning
dew, heavens, grain and wine Moshe omits any mention of the fatness
of the land. To be more precise, Moshe indeed blesses
This question in turn raises a larger issue. As mentioned above and assumed throughout our analysis until this point, the passage under discussion constitutes the final part of Moshes blessing, the last words of Moshe. They are the means by which Moshe ends his part of Sefer Devarim, his career, his teaching of the people, and the means by which he seals his Torah. As such, we may duly wonder not just at Moshes particular choice of words, but also as to his choice of topic and overall purpose. Indeed, Gods power, protection and provision for Israel, or to use an alternative formulation, the future realization of Gods promise to the forefathers of successful nationhood in the land under divine Providence, certainly constitute suitable topics with which to seal the Torah. Nevertheless, this is not the whole story. What about Moshe himself? What constitutes the connection to Moshes career and his agenda in Sefer Devarim? If we may dare to ask, in what way do these words constitute a unique and suitable finish to Torat Moshe, the Torah of Moshe?
Let us begin by turning our attention back to the beginning of Moshes final words. As mentioned above, Moshe begins by addressing the people with a poetic variation of the name Yisrael, the term Yeshurun. As cited earlier, the exact sentence reads as follows:
O Yeshurun there is none like God.
Moshe declares Gods uniqueness. While admittedly part of the genre of poetic and prophetic blessing, Moshes declaration also constitutes a theological statement. God is unique, and by implication, He is the only real God. Again, by implication, it is God alone Who is the God of Israel. In other words, Moshes opening sentence stands in conceptual parallel to another time Moshe addresses Israel, the famed declaration of Shema Yisrael, Hear O Israel the Lord is our God, the Lord alone (6:4) (see Rashbam, Ibn Ezra 6:4).
In this light, Moshes declaration, the first line of the final segment (33:25-29) of Moshes larger blessing of Israel (33:1-29), also stands in parallel to the other time Moshe utilizes the name Yeshurun in his larger blessing, the closing line of the opening segment of the blessing (33:1-5). Right before delineating the individual blessing of each and every tribe (33:6-24), in what most probably constitutes a reference to the events at Sinai (Ramban 33:5), Moshe mentions the kingship of God over Yeshurun.
And He was King in Yeshurun
When the heads of the people assembled
The tribes of
In other words, Moshes
individual blessings to the respective tribes (33:6-24) are framed by the name Yeshurun and parallel declarations reminding Israel of
Gods uniqueness, i.e absolute divinity, and kingship
All this stands in marked contrast to the third and only other time the name Yeshurun appears in the Torah. Shirat Haazinu, the Song of Haazinu just spoken by Moshe (32:1-43), already contains the name Yeshurun. Comparing the people to a recalcitrant and rebellious animal, Shirat Haazinu depicts Yeshurun as kicking (32:15). In elaboration, the song states the following:
Then he forsook God who made him
And spurned the rock of his salvation
They provoked Him to jealousy with strange gods
With abominations they brought Him to anger
They sacrificed to demons, no-gods
Gods they had never known
To new gods who came newly up
Whom your fathers feared not
You neglected the rock that begot you
Forgot the God that brought you forth.
The contrast could not be clearer. Yeshurun forsakes, spurns, neglects and forgets God (32:15, 18). In His stead, the people turn to strange gods, abominations, demons, no-gods, gods they have never know, and even the newest contemporary gods (32:16-17). God is not unique, Gods divinity is not absolute and God is not the unchallenged King of Yeshurun.
To put this together,
comparing the appearances and contexts of the name Yeshurun
in Shirat Haazinu
(32:1-43) and in Ve-zot Ha-Berakha, the Blessing of Moshe that follows upon its
heels (33:1-29), yields something like the following. Whereas the Song of Haazinu depicts a state in which Yeshurun, i.e.
Turning from the theology
and religious state described by the two prophecies to the political and
military state described by the two poems strengthens this interpretation. As
stressed earlier, the first and third stanzas (33:26-27, 33:29) of the final
segment of Moshes blessing (33:26-29) both emphasize Gods military might and
But this of course
constitutes the polar opposite of the picture painted by Shirat
Haazinu. Like the Blessing of Moshe, the Song of
Haazinu twice refers to the enemies of
These two points of contrast between the Song
of Haazinu and the Blessing of Moshe, the
religious and military state of the nation, stand in particular causal relation
one to the other. As Shirat Haazinu makes abundantly clear, it is exactly the
deterioration of the peoples belief, their abandonment of God and subsequent
worship of idols, that leads to Gods anger and His
To take this a step further,
the causal relation sketched by Shirat Haazinu, between abandoning God and idol
worship on the one hand, and suffering at the hands of ones enemies on the
other, possesses a certain history. As emphasized in our analysis of Parashat Haazinu,
the process of forgetting God begins in a very particular fashion. The
kicking, the rebellion and idol worship of Yeshurun,
results from what Shirat Haazinu, terms the fatness, the satiation and
But Yeshurun grew fat and kicked
You are grown fat, you are thick with fat, you are covered with fat. (32:15)
As phrased in analyzing the Song of Haazinu, the process predicted by the song constitutes a three part process of satiation, idol worship and consequent suffering. By implication, negating the process predicted by Shirat Haazinu involves negating the very first stage, the satiation, the fatness of Yeshurun.
This brings us back to the Blessing of Moshe and full circle to the Moshes choice of particular words, his echo of the first blessing given Yaakov/Yisrael and his glaring omission of the sixth marker of Yitzchaks blessing, the fatness of the land (Bereishit 27:28). By now this should no longer surprise us. Admittedly, as mentioned above, the final segment of the blessing of Moshe, as well as the entire blessing in general, constitutes an echo, reenactment or recreation of the blessings given by Yaakov/Yisrael before his death. By no surprise, the language parallels the first blessing received by Yaakov/Yisrael. Just like Yitzchak, Moshe refers to grain, wine, land, and the dew of the heavens (33:28).
the Blessing of Moshe also possesses another aspect, a second dimension. It
also constitutes a negation of Shirat Haazinu, the opposite of its idolatrous and despairing
vision. As such it also negates the causal history of the satiation-idol
worship-suffering process that lies at the heart of the Song of Haazinu. Whereas Shirat Haazinu, in
a play on the motif of rich fare and animal fat that leads to the swelling of Yeshurun, refers to grain as the fat of kidneys of wheat
(32:14), the Blessing of Moshe blesses Yeshurun with
no more than grain (33:28). Whereas Shirat
Haazinu, in the very same line, in a continuation
of the rich and carnivorous motif, refers to wine as foaming grape blood, the
parallel line in the Blessing of Moshe wishes Yeshurun
no more than wine (33:28). And most importantly, whereas Shirat
Haazinu, dwells extensively upon the fatness
of Yeshurun, describing Israel as so satiated as to
have grown fat, as covered with fat and grown thick with fat (32:15), the
Blessing of Moshe omits any mention of the term or concept. Part of negating
the vision of Shirat Haazinu,
of speaking an anti-Haazinu, involves
negating the primary cause and start of the satiation-idol worship-suffering
process that lies at the heart of the song. Just as the Blessing of Moshe
defines an alternative vision of recognition of Gods kingship, success against
Reading the Blessing of Moshe as the opposite of the Song of Haazinu, raises an interesting challenge. While the Song of Haazinu presents a vision of the future where the Children of Israel stray after the foreign gods of the land upon entering the land and suffer in consequence, the Blessing of Moshe presents a contrasting vision, in which the Children of Israel, cognizant of Gods divine rulership, enter the land, vanquish their enemies and dwell securely therein. But this very conflict requires some explanation. After all, both visions are prophetic and both are contained in the Torah. How can they conflict? Or to put this more analytically, given the prophetic context of both the song and the blessing, the very concept of opposition seems problematic. The nature of the anti in the term anti-Haazinu requires some elaboration. In other words, what constitutes the relationship between these two prophetic and yet conflicting visions of the future?
possibly, we may be tempted to suggest a historical answer to the problem. We
may claim that the two prophecies, that of Shirat
Haazinu and that of the Blessing of Moshe, refer
to different historical periods. As such, the Torah contains both
the Song of Haazinu, the dismal
prophetic vision of satiation, idol worship and suffering, as well as the
Blessing of Moshe, the optimistic vision of recognition of Gods kingship and
Alternatively, as argued above and telegraphed by the choice of terms such as negation, opposite and anti, we may wish not to sidestep the tension, or even contradiction, between the Song of Haazinu and the Blessing of Moshe. Rather, we should look for a resolution to our problem in the different origins of the Song and the Blessing.
As we should remember, the vision of Shirat Haazinu originates in a divine command. God summons Moshe to the Tent of Meeting (32:14), informs him that the Children of Israel will stray after the foreign gods of the land upon entering the land (32:16), and commands him to write and teach the Song of Haazinu (32:19). The vision of Haazinu originates with God. In contrast, the Blessing of Moshe does not originate with God. Shortly after reporting Moshes speaking of this song (32:44), in a deliberate echo, the Torah turns to this blessing, that Moshe blessed (33:1). The blessing known as this blessing is not the song known as this song. It is uniquely Moshes, unprompted by divine command. It is his blessing, his vision and his alternative to the Song of Haazinu. In point of fact, the very issues of satiation and forgetfulness, some of the central motifs of contrast between the Song of Haazinu and the Blessing of Moshe constitute major themes of Moshes discourse in Sefer Devarim.
Let us consider one particular example. The latter part of Devarim 8:1-18, a lengthy memory passage urging the Children of Israel to remember God, the desert journey, Gods provision for them on their desert journey, and the commandments upon entering the land, reads as follows:
you forget the Lord your God
lest when you have eaten and are satiated,
and have built good homes and dwell in them. And when your
herds and flocks multiply, and your silver and gold are multiplied, and all
that you have has multiplied. And your hearts will be lifted up and you
will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the
The process of satiation and
forgetfulness, of forgetting the redemption from
And you shall say in your heart: My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth (8:17)
In place of this process of
satiation, forgetfulness, arrogance and self-worship, Moshe offers an
alternative. He demands memory, memory of Gods
But you shall remember the Lord your God: for it is He that gives you power (8:18)
In other words, the negation of satiation and forgetfulness, and the teaching of memory and the recognition of Gods power in their stead, comprise a central part of Moshes teaching.
put this together, the Blessing of Moshe constitutes Moshes reaction to the
Song of Haazinu. While the Song of Haazinu forecasts the forgetting of God (32:18)
in the face of the fatness, the material plenty of the land (32:14-15), the
Blessing of Moshe offers an alternative paradigm and vision. Despite inhabiting
a land of grain and wine, of the dew of the heavens (33:28),
To close the circle, we seem to have arrived at a metaphysical impasse. On the one hand, in the Song of Haazinu God declares His vision of the future. It is the depressing picture of satiation, idol worship and suffering. On the other hand, in the Blessing of Moshe, Moshe counters with his alternative and optimistic vision, an optimistic world of consciousness of Gods kingship, His power and His Providence. Yeshurun knows God and dwells securely in its land. But can Moshe truly teach other than what God has already spoken? If God already knows what will occur after Moshes death and has instructed Moshe to teach it, does this not mean that the story of Haazinu constitutes the only real possibility? How can Moshe suggest otherwise? How can he present the possibility of his blessing?
to say this constitutes a false dilemma. In Biblical theology, Gods
foreknowledge does not negate human freewill. Despite the prophetic nature of Shirat Haazinu,
the choice still rests with
this is not really the point. Rather, the truly dramatic point is about the
narrative flow of the end of Devarim and the
character of Moshe. Confronted with the imminent end of his career and life,
God informs Moshe that it has all been for naught. After his death, the people
will stray after the gods of the land, they will
abandon God and suffer horribly (32:16-17). His teaching has failed, they will
forget and his last divinely commanded mission is to inform the people of such
(32:19-20). While Moshe faithfully carries out Gods command and teaches the
people Shirat Haazinu
(32:44), he is not deterred nor does he desist from his teaching and his
Torah. One last time he rises before them to speak. Ever the man of God
(33:1) and servant of the Lord (34:5), he reminds the people that things can
be otherwise. They can remember, they need not forget. He presents an
alternative vision, a vision of consciousness of Gods kingship, power and
1) See 33:1 and the Rashbams comment. Now see 31:30 and read 32:44-52. a) Is the Rashbams comment the simple interpretation of the text? b) Reconsider the Rashbams comment in light of the central idea of the shiur above.
2) Read 33:1-5. a) See Rashi 33:2 s.v. va-yomer, mi-Sinai, ve-zarach, Ibn Ezra 33:1 and Ibn Ezra Bereishit 49:1. Formulate the different theories of Rashi and the Ibn Ezra as to the nature of the beracha. b) See Rashi 33:3 s.v. ve-heim, yisa, and Ibn Ezra 33:2-5. Try to formulate a unified reading of 33:1-5 for both Rashi and the Ibn Ezra. Note at least three differences. c) See Ramban 33:2-3 and 33:5. Compare and contrast the Ramban to both Rashi and the Ibn Ezra.
3) Scan 33:1-29. Now Reread 33:13-17 and see Bereishit 49:22-26. Now see Ibn Ezra and Ramban 33:1. a) Reread 33:28 and see Bamidbar 23:7-10, 21-24 and 24:5-9. Note the connections between the blessing of Moshe and the blessing of Bilam. c) Now compare Bamidbar 23:7-10, 21-24 and 24:5-9 to Bereishit 49:2, 7, 9, 24, 27. Try to formulate the connection between the blessings of Yaakov, Bilam and Moshe. d) Now see Bereishit 49:1, Bamidbar 23:10 and Devarim 31:29 & 32:20. Try to formulate the relationship between the prophecies of Yaakov and Bilam on the one hand and Shirat Haazinu on the other. Try to integrate the Yaakov/Bilam blessing aspect of Moshes blessing and the anti-Haazinu aspect of Moshes blessing.
4) Read 33:6-9. What is missing? Now see Bereishit 49:7. See Rashi 33:7 s.v. ve-eizer, Ibn Ezra and Ramban 33:6. Formulate at least three different theories to explain the omission.