VeZot Ha'Berachah -- Deuteronomy 33:1 – 34:12

facebook_coverdesign_vezothaberachahPlease note that Parashat VeZot Ha'Berachah is read during the Simchat Torah service, which will take place on Tuesday, October 25. This Saturday, October 22, is Shabbat Sukkot, during which we read a selection from Parashat Ki Tissa.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) once remarked: "Zion is in ruins, Jerusalem lies in the dust. All week there is only hope of redemption. But when the Sabbath is entering the world, man is touched by a moment of actual redemption; as if for a moment the spirit of the Messiah moved over the face of the earth."

How is this redemption achieved? For Heschel, redemption takes place through time, not space. "Quality time" is what matters in our lives, and it is through the Jewish calendar that we "do Jewish," embodying Jewish life and identity.

It is precisely through the appointed times (or moadim) on the Jewish calendar that we are best able to define our Jewish lives. We do so by abiding in the sukkah and taking hold of the four species, as well as by participating in the thrice annual pilgrimage festivals to the Jerusalem Temple during Passover, the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot), and Booths (Sukkot).

And when we "Rejoice in the Torah" during Simchat Torah, we simultaneously conclude and begin anew the annual Torah-reading cycle. Firstly, we read the Torah section of Parashat VeZot Ha'Berachah, recounting the Mosaic blessing bestowed upon each of the twelve tribes of Israel before his death. Echoing Jacob's blessings to his twelve sons five generations earlier, Moses empowers each tribe with its individual role within the Israelite community.

What VeZot Ha'Berachah then relates is how Moses ascended Mount Nebo to its summit, taking a peek at the Promised Land without ever entering into it. Moses’ burial place to this day remains unknown and the Torah concludes by attesting that "never again did there arose a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom G-d knew face to face...and in all the mighty hand and the great, awesome things which Moses did before the eyes of all Israel."

As we conclude the annual reading of the Torah, it is important to remember that every moment is a sacred encounter in the making when we truly value the sacral power of time.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's artwork includes the symbols and colors of the two tribes of Israel that we know survive today (i.e., the tribes that became Jews). The colors and symbols are drawn from Bamidbar Rabbah, part of our rabbinic literature (midrashim). The stones of the choshen, or priestly breastplate, are depicted in white, black, and red here, and represent the Tribe of Levi. The lion depicted on a sky blue ground represents the Tribe of Judah. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Kezayit: Moadim L'sim-wha?

What's this Kezayit thing? Read here.


MoadimLSimchaSome of our congregants were thrown off last week when Rabbi Glazer enthusiastically greeted them with "Moadim l'simcha!" Many community members looked confused -- "Moadim l'sim-wha?" -- and several asked for an explanation, which Rabbi Glazer happily provided.

In case you're still in the dark, though, we thought we'd share the explanation here. What's up with the greeting?

Literally translated, "moadim l'simcha" means "times for joy," but you can think of it as "happy holidays!" Yet this isn't a greeting that should be used for every Jewish holiday. Technically, it should be reserved for use during Pesach (Passover) and Sukkot; even then, it should only be used during the Chol HaMoed.

Chol HaMoed? Pesach and Sukkot both take place over multiple days. During Pesach in the Diaspora, the third through sixth days of the holiday (second through sixth in Israel), are called Chol HaMoed, which translates as the "weekdays [of] the festival." These days are regarded as the secular (or less holy) part of Pesach. Similarly, during Sukkot, the third through seventh days of the holiday (second through seventh in Israel) are also Chol HaMoed.

During both Pesach and Sukkot, then, it is most appropriate to greet fellow yidden with "Chag sameach!" ("Happy holiday!") during the beginning and end of the holidays (the first, second, seventh, and eighth days of Pesach, and the first, second, and eighth days of Sukkot) and "Moadim l'simcha!" during the intermediate days.

So there you have it! If you really want to show your Hebrew greeting chops, when someone greets you with "Moadim l'simcha!" during Sukkot, you should reply with "Chagim u’zmanim l’sasson!" This is a traditional response to the first greeting, and translates as "Holidays and times for celebration!"