We always read this Torah portion on the holiday of Simchat Torah, the day we celebrate the conclusion of the annual cycle of reading the weekly portions of the Five Books of Moses, the Torah. Two weeks ago, on the Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we read Deuteronomy chapter 32. On Simchat Torah we finish the Torah.
The final verses of the Torah are truly moving and have always spoken to me in a very personal way. Moses dies and is buried by G-d somewhere in the Land of Moab where no one knows his grave site. This was very important, so that no one would turn his grave site into a shrine. Moses was a great man, but a man who was G-d’s messenger. He was not
G-d and it was important that no one would ever worship him as such.
Scripture then attests to Moses’ uniqueness as a prophet — “And there was never again a prophet in Israel like Moses whom G-d knew face to face.” G-d spoke to Moses directly, not in a dream and not through visions. None of our forefathers, as great as they were, had that same direct and immediate relationship with G-d.
Scripture then mentions “the signs and wonders that G-d sent him to do in Egypt . . . that Moses did before the eyes of Israel.”
There is a great sense of loss when Moses dies and Scripture attests to the fact that there was never and will never be anyone like Moses. But the amazing thing is that there is an heir to his leadership mantle. Joshua takes over immediately “for Moses placed his hands upon him.” Joshua is clearly not as great as Moses, and yet he is appointed to the same position — to lead the people of Israel.
None of us are Moses. Most of us don’t even fulfill our own potential. But we can rise to the occasion. We can do the job. We can make the best of what we are and move forward. Joshua did this and the people of Israel accepted him as their leader, knowing that he was not on the same level of Moses. They mourned Moses and they moved on.
And as if to say that the Torah really doesn’t end but always begins again, on the holiday of Simchat Torah, we read the first chapter of Genesis, just to continue the cycle, to prevent the sense of ending that leaving off at the end of Deuteronomy would create. Moses died but the Nation of Israel lived. G-d’s promises to Abraham are repeated again and again as we read through the Torah each year. The people of Israel will never die. (Am Yisrael Chai!)
Sondra Oster Baras
Director, Israel Office