SALT - Motzaei Shabbat, Hoshana Raba, 21 Tishrei 5779 - September 29, 2018

  • Rav David Silverberg
            In Parashat Vezot Haberakha, we read the blessings which Moshe proclaimed to Benei Yisrael just before his passing.  The Torah introduces these blessings by saying, “This is the blessing with which Moshe, the man of God, blessed the Israelites.”  Curiously, the Torah here refers to Moshe as “ish ha-Elokim,” marking the only instance where he is given this lofty appellation.  Rav Saadia Gaon explains this phrase to mean “sheli’ach ha-Elokim” – “the messenger of God.”  Apparently, Rav Saadia Gaon understood that the Torah added this title in this context in order to make it clear that Moshe uttered these blessings at the Almighty’s behest.  Although we do not find God commanding Moshe to proclaim these blessings, the Torah indicates that this is the case by noting that Moshe spoke these blessings in the capacity of his role as God’s messenger.  This explanation appears more explicitly in the commentary of Ibn Ezra, who writes that the Torah refers to Moshe as “ish ha-Elokim” to inform us that these blessings were spoken prophetically.
 
            This approach is taken also by Netziv, in his Ha’ameik Davar commentary, where he adds that the Torah found it necessary to emphasize this point in order to distinguish Moshe’s blessings from the other blessings given to Benei Yisrael.  As Netziv writes, Yaakov proclaimed blessings to each of his sons before his passing, and Benei Yisrael were later blessed by the gentile prophet Bilam.  The Torah introduces Moshe’s blessings by stressing that they were spoken by “the man of God” in order to impress upon us the special quality of these blessings.  As opposed to the blessings given by Yaakov and by Bilam, Moshe’s blessings were spoken through prophecy, and they must therefore be regarded as though they were spoken directly by God Himself.
 
            Interestingly enough, Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch presents the precise opposite approach.  He suggests that the Torah refers to Moshe here as “ish ha-Elokim” specifically because these blessings, as opposed to virtually everything else that Moshe spoke to the people, were not communicated via prophecy.  Rav Hirsch writes:
 
But just because this blessing was not God’s declaration but Moshe’s, this description of the personality who spoke here tells us that nevertheless these words are to be accorded an incomparably higher value than if they contained merely the speech of an ordinary man.  It was still “Moshe ish ha-Elokim” who pronounced the blessing here, still the man whom God deemed worthy to be in such close relationship to Him, and even if this berakha was perhaps not said “be-derekh nevu’a” [via prophecy] it was still in any case inspired by ru’ach ha-kodesh [divine inspiration].
 
According to Rav Hirsch, the Torah here seeks to emphasize that although Moshe spoke here from his own mind and heart, and was not communicating words he received via prophecy, his blessings are nevertheless valuable and precious.  Moshe did not convey these blessings as a prophet, but he pronounced them as a “man of God,” somebody who had devoted his entire life to serving God and fulfilling the mission God assigned to him, and this suffices to make his words significant and worthy of careful study and analysis.