Moses’ Blessing

33:1 Having concluded his final exhortations, Moses devoted his final moments to blessing the people, realizing that this was his final opportunity to do so. This is the blessing with which Moses, the man of God, blessed the Israelites just before his death.

2 He said: “See how worthy this people is of God’s blessing! When they were about to be given the Torah, God’s presence came from Mount Sinai to meet them, as a groom goes to greet his bride.1 He shone forth to them at Mount Sinai after having come from Mount Seir, where He offered the Torah to the Edomites. He appeared at Mount Sinai after having come from Mount Paran,2where He offered the Torah to the Ishmaelites; both of these peoples refused to accept it, whereas the Israelites accepted it joyfully.3 However, whereas a groom is customarily accompanied to his wedding by his entire entourage, God came to His “wedding canopy” at Mount Sinai to meet His “bride,” the Jewish people, with only some of the holy myriads of angels, for this was more than enough to glorify the occasion. From His right hand, so to speak, He gave them the Torah, a law that preexisted creation, when it was written as black fire on white fire.4Recalling the Torah’s primordial state, God gave them His law while speaking out of the fire enveloping Mount Sinai.”5

3 Addressing God as he continued to demonstrate how worthy the people were of being blessed, Moses continued, “Indeed, You Yourself showed extraordinary love for the tribes of Israel, considering them individually as important as distinct nations.6 All Your holy ones, i.e., the souls of all the Israelites—both before and after they enter physical bodies in this world—are in Your hand, i.e., Your safekeeping. The people are worthy of this love, for when You suspended Mount Sinai above them, threatening to crush them under it if they did not accept the Torah, they crowded at Your feet, under the mountain, willingly undertaking to bear the responsibility of fulfilling Your utterances, i.e., Your commandments.

Furthermore, they traveled through the desert in accordance with Your utterances, i.e., Your instructions, no matter where You told them to go.

And in the future, even when You will show favor to the gentile nations, enabling them to subjugate and oppress the Jewish people, all Your holy ones—the Jews—will remain ‘in Your hand, i.e., loyal to You and reliant on Your protection; they will ‘crowd at Your feet, so to speak, taking refuge in Your shadow and happily bearing the responsibility of fulfilling Your utterances, i.e., Your commandments, saying,

4 ‘The Torah that Moses commanded us is the legacy of the congregation of Jacob. We took possession of it as a palpable inheritance that remains ours under all circumstances,7 so we will never let go of it.

5 Thus, You will always be King over Yeshurun. Even when the totality of the people are gathered and the tribes of Israel are together, they remain united under Your sovereignty rather than break up into factions. Consequently, they are worthy of blessing.

(The inverse is also true: God is King over Yeshurun only when the totality of the people are gathered peaceably and the tribes of Israel are together without strife. But when there is dissension among them, it is clear that they are not then submitting to His sovereignty.)

6 Moses then blessed each tribe individually, addressing to God his specific requests for each one. “May the descendants of Reuben not bear collective onus for his sin of having meddled in his father Jacob’s marital affairs,8 and thus be allowed to both live in this world and not ‘die’ spiritually, i.e., be excluded from the afterlife. And may his people—his tribe—not be denationalized on account of that sin, but be counted among the number of the tribes of Israel.”

7 Concerning Judah, Moses said, When Judah was trying to convince his father Jacob to let Benjamin accompany the brothers to Egypt, he vowed that if he would not bring Benjamin back alive, then when he would die, he would forfeit his share in the afterlife.9 Even though Judah did indeed return Benjamin safely to Jacob, his vow could not be annulled until it was possible for it to take effect, i.e., until he died,10 and since then, no one has thought of a legal argument that could annul his vow. We have therefore heard Judah’s bones rolling around in his coffin all these years, indicating that he has been denied entry into the afterlife. But it was Judah, by confessing his sin with Tamar as soon as he was confronted with its consequences, who inspired Reuben to confess his sin,11 so if Reuben has been granted entry into the afterlife, all the more so should this same privilege be granted to Judah.”12 As soon as Moses uttered this prayer, Judah’s bones reassembled into a complete skeleton and were no longer heard rolling around inside his coffin, indicating that Judah had been admitted to the afterlife.

Moses further said, “O God, hearken to the voice of the leaders of the tribe of Judah when they pray in their times of distress.” This request was granted when God answered the prayers of Kings David,13 Solomon,14 Asa,15 Yehoshafat,16 and Chizkiyah.17 “Bring their leader home to his people in peace; may his hands do battle successfully for him, and may You be a help against his adversaries.” This request was granted when God assisted King Yehoshafat in the battle of Ramot Gilad.18

Moses did not bless the tribe of Simeon explicitly, because he felt that since they had played a leading role in the incident at Shitim,19 they were less worthy to be blessed than the other tribes. Nevertheless, he implicitly included the tribe of Simeon in his blessing for the tribe of Judah, in that the word for “hearken” [Shema], which opens Judah’s blessing, is the source for the name Simeon [Shimon].20 This connection between these two tribes was later reflected in the fact that the land inheritance of the tribe of Simeon was included in that of the tribe of Judah.21

Second Reading 8 Referring collectively to the tribe of Levi, Moses addressed God and said: “Your tumim and urim22 (which are worn by the high priest, as the representative of the entire tribe23) befit Your pious man, whom You tested at Masah24 and whom You tried at the waters of Merivah,25 and who, in both cases, did not lose faith in You when it appeared that the supply of water was finished.

The record of the tribe of Levi’s highest-ranking officiant, Aaron, was so impeccable that You had to find a pretext against him at the waters of Merivah by which to deny him entry into the Land of Israel, for it was only I who actually sinned in that incident, by striking the rock instead of speaking to it, as You had told me to, whereas Aaron’s only fault was that he did not prevent me from doing so. Nonetheless, You implicated Aaron, as well, for You hold the righteous to exceptionally exacting standards.

9 The tribe of Levi also proved faithful to You at the incident of the Golden Calf26 by answering my call to slay the guilty parties, even if they were their close relatives. Each Levite said of his maternal grandfather (if the latter was a lay Israelite and guilty of this sin), ‘I do not see him as my relative, but as someone whom it is my duty to execute’; neither did he recognize his maternal half-brothers, nor did he know his grandchildren, if any of them were lay Israelites and guilty of this sin: In every such case, the Levites disregarded their familial ties and executed the guilty.27

They are additionally worthy of blessing because, at the incident of the Golden Calf, they observed Your word by which You commanded us not to make or serve idols, and because during the entire trek through the desert, they kept Your covenant of circumcision, even though they were legally exempt from doing so.28

10 They will therefore teach Your ordinances to Jacob and Your Torah to Israel, for their proven zeal for performing Your bidding qualifies them for this task. The priests, the descendants of Aaron, will place incense before You and ascent-offerings upon Your altar.

11 If, in the future, anyone contests the exclusive right of the descendants of Aaron to serve as the nation’s priests, and this quarrel degenerates into armed conflict, then God, bless their army with the power to resist these contesters, and favorably accept the work of their hands alone in performing the priestly service. Strike the loins of those who rise up against them and their enemies, so they will be prevented from rising up against them again.

And if, in the future, a priestly family has to defend the practice of Judaism against an oppressive foreign regime, then God, bless their army with the power to vanquish them, and favorably accept the work of their hands in defending the faith. Strike the loins of those who rise up against them and their enemies, so they will prevented from rising against them again.” This prayer was answered when the Hasmoneans, a family of priests, valiantly battled the Seleucids, who attempted to restrict the practice of Judaism, resulting in the miracle of Chanukah.

12 Having mentioned the Temple service in his blessing for the tribe of Levi, Moses proceeded to bless the tribes of Joseph and Benjamin, for the priestly service would be performed in their territories: first in the Tabernacle, which was situated at Shiloh—in Joseph’s territory, and then in the permanent Temple, which was situated at Jerusalem—in Benjamin’s territory. Although Joseph was the older of these two brothers, and therefore his blessing should rightfully have come first, Moses first blessed Benjamin, the younger brother, since the status of the permanent Temple was superior to that of the temporary Tabernacle.

He said of the tribe of Benjamin, “God’s beloved one will dwell securely beside Him; He hovers above him all day long, i.e., once the Temple will be built, the Divine Presence will rest above the Temple site forever, and never relocate to anywhere else. He dwells between his shoulders, i.e., the Temple is situated on the next-to-highest point in Benjamin’s territory, just as the shoulders are situated high up on the body but still just below the head.”

Third Reading 13 Moses said of the tribe of Joseph, giving it ten distinct blessings:29 “May his land be blessed by God (1) with the delicacies produced by the rains of heaven and by dew; (2) with the water of the deep that lies below and rises to the surface to moisten the soil;

14 (3) with the delicacies that are the ‘produce’ of the sun, which ripens them; (4) with the delicacies ripened monthly by the moon;

15 (5) with the first-ripening fruits, which grow on mountains whose produce ripens early relative to that which grows on other mountains (and which, because of their preeminence—evinced by how their fruits ripen earlier than that of all other mountains—were created before all others); (6) with the delicacies of hills that produce fruit perennially, even during periods of little rainfall;

16 (7) with the delicacies produced by the land and its fullness; and (8) with the favor of God, who dwells in and who first revealed Himself to me in a thorn bush.30 May these blessings of agricultural fertility figuratively rest upon Joseph’s head,31 upon the crown of the one who was separated from his brothers when they sold him.”32 Indeed, the regions of the Land of Israel that were allotted to the descendants of Joseph are its most fertile.

17 (9) Glory has been given to Joshua,33 his preeminent descendant, who will be his ‘ox,blessed with sufficient military prowess to subdue all the nations presently occupying the Land of Israel. (10) May his horns be as beautiful as the horns of an aurochs. Oxen and aurochs are similar in appearance, but oxen are stronger and aurochs’ horns are more beautiful. I therefore bless him with the strength of an ox and the beautiful horns of an aurochs. With these horns, he will gore at once nationsfrom all the ends of the earth, each of whom acquired territory in the Land of Israel, due to its desirability and prestige. The ones who will be ‘gored’ are the myriads who will be slain by Joshua, who is descended from Joseph’s son Ephraim, and the ones who will be ‘gored’ are also the thousands that will be slain by a future descendant of Joseph’s son Manasseh.” This prophecy was fulfilled in Gideon, who slew 120,000 Midianite soldiers.34

Fourth Reading 18 Moses then blessed the five tribes, which, according to certain criteria, were the weakest.35 He said to the tribes of Zebulun and Issachar: “The two of you have forged a partnership, in which Zebulun plans to engage in commerce and share his profits with Issachar, who will thus be free to study the Torah unhindered by financial worry. I am therefore blessing Zebulun before Issachar, even though Issachar is older, since the merit of Issachar’s Torah study will be ascribed to Zebulun.

Therefore, rejoice, Zebulun, in your successful departure from your homes as you set sail to engage in commerce, and Issachar, be successful in your tents, where you will study the Torah.” This prayer was fulfilled in the Torah scholars from the tribe of Issachar who became astronomical experts, performing the complicated calculations necessary for sanctifying the new moon each month and intercalating the calendar when necessary.36

19 By determining when each month will begin,the scholars of Issachar will call the tribes of Israel to the Temple mountain to observe the pilgrim festivals at their proper times. Thus, due to their efforts, the Israelites will there offer up proper sacrifices—i.e., sacrifices offered up at their proper time. Issachar will be able to achieve such expertise in the knowledge of the Torah because Zebulun—and through them, Issachar—will be nourished by the abundance of the seas and by the caches of valuable commodities hidden in the sand at the seashore.” Zebulun harvested the chilazon (used to dye ritual fringes37) and premium fish from the sea, and manufactured glassware from the sand.38

Furthermore, as a result of Zebulun’s business contacts with other nations abroad, non-Jewish businessmen will visit its territory on the seacoast, and out of curiosity will be summoned to visit the mountain where the Temple city is located to observe the Israelites’ religious rites. Impressed by the unity of Jewish practice, centered around the worship of the one God, some of them will convert, and there they will offer up sacrifices of righteousness.”

20 He said of the tribe of Gad: “Gad’s territory is located on the east side of the Jordan River. Blessed be He who expands the territory of Gad further eastward. Because he guards the border, may he dwell like a lion, tearing off the arm of his prey together with the head in one blow.

21 He saw that the first portion of our conquest, the area east of the Jordan River, befitted him, because he foresaw that there, east of the Jordan River, the burial site of the lawgiver—i.e., me, Moses—is hidden (for no one will know its exact location39), and it would therefore be a privilege to live in this region. This lawgiver went at the head of the people to lead them; he did what God considered righteous and executed His judgments in Israel.

As the tribe of Gad promised,40 he will certainly go at the head of the people when they cross the Jordan River to conquer the Land of Israel; he will thus do what God considers righteous and fulfill his legal obligations thathe has entered into with the rest of Israel.”

Fifth Reading 22 He said of the tribe of Dan: “Dan also guards the border, and therefore he must be as strong as a young lion. His border territory contains one of the four tributaries of the Jordan River, the Hermon stream, which flows from Mount Hermon,in Bashan (which is in the territory of Manasseh) and passes through the Paneas (Banias) cave (see Figure 1).

Although the tribe of Dan’s original and primary territorial allotment will be in the central west of the land, it will also possess this territory located in the northeast, because it will not be able to conquer all of its southern territory, and will thus need to seek other areas in which to settle. Part of the tribe will split off from the rest, who will remain in the south, and conquer the area along the Hermon stream, which descends from Mount Hermon, in Bashan (see Figure 2).”41

23 He said of the tribe of Naphtali, “Naphtali is satisfied by its territory with everything it can possibly desire, and is full of God’s blessing. Go and possess Lake Kinerettogether with its south shore, from which you will be able to catch an abundance of fish.”

24 He said of the tribe of Asher: “May Asher be blessed with sons. He will gratify his brothers by supplying them with oil used for cosmetics and with fruit-delicacies grown in his territory, and in return, they will gratify him with grain grown in their territories. Also, since the young women of his tribe will be exceptionally beautiful, he will be sought after by his brothers as they try to marry his womenfolk.

His land will produce so much olive oil that it will seem as if wherever he goes he will immerse his foot in oil.”

25 Addressing Asher directly, he continued, “Your mountains are the locks of the Land of Israel, protecting it from attack from the north, and moreover, they are rich in iron and copper.”

Moses then addressed the people as a whole: “Your valiant soldiers, who reside in the border towns of their respective tribal territories in order to guard their borders, are like locks of iron and copper, rendering the land impervious to invasion by it its enemies.

The days of your old age will be as idyllic as the days of your youth. And the flow of gold and silver into your land from other nations will be commensurate with your day-to-day faithfulness to your Divine mission.

26 Yeshurun, there is no deity among the nations like God! God, who figuratively rides the heavens, is your assistance, and no other deity can oppose Him, since with His majesty, He rides on the skies,

Sixth Reading 27 which are the abode for Him, the God who preceded all these false deities. Since He ‘rides the heavens,’ all the world’s mighty ones are figuratively situated below Him, so He always has the upper hand. He therefore expelled the enemy, Sichon and Og, from before you, and said to you, ‘Destroy them!’

28 Israel will therefore be able to dwell safely and individually, not needing to congregate together in fear of any enemy, just as Jacob blessed them that God would be with them in the land of their fathers,42 in a land of grain and wine. And not only will Jacob’s blessings come true, but Isaac’s as well, which begin with the promise that their land’s heaven will drip dew.43

29 But why should I bother to list all the details of your blessings? You have been blessed with everything! Fortunate are you, O Israel! Who is like you, O people whose salvation is through God, the shield who helps you, your majestic sword! Your enemies will lie to you, pretending to be your friends out of fear, but you will tread upon their heights.” This prophecy was fulfilled when the Gibeonites tricked the Israelites into making an alliance with them,44 and Joshua overcame the Gibeonites’ enemies.45

Finishing the Torah

Having finished his farewell address to the people, Moses miraculously wrote out 13 complete copies of the Torah, including the following 12 verses—crying as God dictated the last eight, which describe his death—and gave one copy to each tribe and one copy to the Levites, as described above.46 (From another perspective, God dictated the final eight verses of the Torah to Joshua, who finished writing the 13 scrolls after Moses’ death.)47

Moses’ Vision of the Future

Seventh Reading 34:1 Moses then ascended from the plains of Moab to the peak of Mount Nebo, facing Jericho. He miraculously scaled the entire mountain in a single step. From the mountaintop, God prophetically showed Moses all the future history of the Land of Israel, both its periods of independence as well as its periods of subjection to foreign powers, until the Resurrection of the Dead.48 He first focused on the area from Gilead to Dan, showing Moses those individuals of the tribe of Dan who would one day practice idolatry in Dan’s northern territory,49 as well as Samson, a descendant of Dan who would live in Dan’s central territory and battle the Philistines.50

2 God then showed him all the land of Naphtali in its prosperity and its ruin, including Deborah and Barak fighting Sisera and his army.51He then showed him the land of Ephraim and Manasseh in its prosperity and its ruin, including Ephraim’s descendant Joshua fighting the Canaanite kings52 and Manasseh’s descendant Gideon fighting Midian and Amalek.53He then showed him all the land of Judah in its prosperity and its ruin, including all the kings who would descend from Judah and their victories. He then showed him the area west of Judah until the western (Mediterranean) sea in its prosperity and its ruin.

3 He then showed him the area south of Judah, including the Machpelah Cave in Hebron, in its prosperity and its ruin. He then showed him the plain of the Jordan River in its prosperity and its ruin, including Solomon fashioning the utensils for the Temple there.54He then showed him the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees, until Tzoar, in its prosperity and its ruin.

4 God said to him, “This is the land that I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, in order that you report to the patriarchs after your death that I have fulfilled My promise to give it to their descendants. I would let you cross over into the land and eventually see the people fully settled in it, so you could then report this to the patriarchs, as well, after you die, but, as you know, I have already decreed that you must not cross over there.”

Moses’ Death

5 Moses, the servant of God, then died there, in Moab—figuratively by the mouth of God, i.e., in the same serene manner in which both Aaron and Miriam died, known as “God’s kiss.55

6 God then buried him in his preordained gravesite,56 located north of Mount Nebo, in the valley, in what was originally Moab but was now the territory of Gad,57 opposite Beit Pe’or. From another perspective, Moses’ soul transported his body down the mountain and buried it. He was buried specifically opposite Beit Pe’or in order that his gravesite atone for the sin that Israelites committed at this very location.58 No person knows the exact place of his burial site unto this very day.

7 Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died. His facial color59 did not pale after he died, nor did his body lose its natural freshness—i.e., it did not decompose.

8 Whereas when Aaron died, both the men and women mourned him, since he had exerted himself to promote marital harmony among them,60 when Moses died, only the male Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of Moab for thirty days. The days of weeping over the mourning for Moses came to an end,

9 and Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands upon him.61 The Israelites obeyed him, and they did as God had commanded Moses.

10 There never arose another prophet in Israel like Moses, whom God knew face to face, i.e., allowed to communicate with Him whenever he desired to do so.62

11 Nor did there ever arise another prophet comparable to Moses with regard to all the signs and marvels that God had sent him to perform in Egypt before Pharaoh, all his courtiers, and all his land,

12 nor with regard to the strong hand that Moses needed in order to carry the Tablets of the Covenant, nor with regard to the miracles Moses performed in the great, awesome desert, nor regarding the breaking of the tablets,63 which Moses did in view of all Israel in order to save them from God’s punishment,64 and for which he earned God’s approval.65