Deuteronomy 33:1 – 34:12
(And this is the Blessing)
Moses blesses each of the tribes and then gives his blessing to the people as a whole. He goes up the mountain, gazes upon the Land and dies.
THE FIRST WORD of this final portion of the Torah, the first step on this last leg of the journey, is Zot, which is the feminine form of the word, “This.” In mystical language zot refers to the Shekhina, the immanent, sparkling Divine Presence that is hidden and waiting at the center of all manifest being. She is waiting to be discovered, embraced, honored, and redeemed, longing for us as we long for her.
Throughout our lives we receive the light, the blessing of Shekhina in flashes of terror or beauty. The light of the Infinite shines through this finite world. A veil is lifted. Our physical existence is unwrapped to reveal a splendor and brilliance that is the soul, the “innerness” of all things. These flashes awaken in us a yearning for Truth, an aching desire that tears our hearts open in surrender to the Beloved.
But then the veil drops, the light fades, and we are surrounded once more with seemingly dead and dense matter. We return to the task of manipulating the material realm even as the details slip beyond our control, and everything that we try to grasp passes away or changes.
MOSES CLIMBS THE FINAL MOUNTAIN of his life and blesses us “lifnei moto,” (Deuteronomy 33:1) as he faces his Death. Sogyal Rinpoche, in his book, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, says that Death is “… a mirror in which the entire meaning of life is reflected.” Moses looks into that mirror and opens to blessing. “For Love is as strong as Death.” (Shir HaShirim 8:6) In the presence of Death, those veils of the superficial and trivial drop away and the power of Love is revealed.
Each of us must climb that same mountain. And if we are to unlock the blessing, the transforming love that is in us, we must stand without flinching,in the presence of Death. “If a man tried to buy love with all the wealth of his house, he would be despised.” (Shir HaShirim 8:7) In the presence of Death all bets are off. When faced with Death we stop trying to buy love or prove ourselves. When reputation, wealth, success, and worldly power are stripped away by the reality of Death, the blessing that we give and receive is of the purest essence.
In facing Death we are given a key to the locked garden, the garden of our innocence. There, we address Shekhina directly. We call to the ultimate Reality that until this moment has been disguised beneath the layered garment of our lives, “Oh woman in the garden, all our friends listen for your voice. Let me hear it now!” (Shir HaShirim 8:13) Facing Death, we receive Life in its fullness. The blessing of Vezot HaBrakha comes as we open to the Divine Presence in “This!”: this life, this step, this breath, this moment. “Let me hear it now!” In facing Death, I open to receive the abundant Now. As I lay down my fear of Death, my arms are free to embrace and treasure each day.
Psalm 90, which is attributed to Moses says, “Teach us to treasure each day that we may acquire a Heart of Wisdom….” When we treasure each day and acknowledge how precious Life is, the Heart of Wisdom opens and expands, receiving into it the blessing that is our inheritance.
THE SPIRITUAL CHALLENGE
THE DEATH OF MOSES represents the ultimate and most profound spiritual challenge that God gives to each of us. The vast body of literature, poetry, and midrash that describe the death-scene and burial of Moses stand in contrast to the actuality of the stark and spare text in Deuteronomy that says he died (by the mouth of God) was buried, and that no one knows where his grave is. (Deuteronomy 34:5-6)
The fact that Moses’ gravesite is unknown, poses a major challenge in the development of Judaism. Religions tend to develop as the glorification of some great man. “He was so great and we are nothing. Let us worship him, or pray at his grave, or receive the merit of his goodness.”
But here the message becomes, “Don’t look to Moses… it is not really about him… The Torah is about YOU.”
ONCE DURING A MEDITATIVE JOURNEY I asked, “Show me where Moses is buried.” I was told, “It’s not out there. Moses is buried within you.” Upon hearing this, I sat very still, took a long slow breath and turned even deeper within. The moment I found stillness, a flower opened up inside my heart. The flower grew to fill me with its essence. Then Ruach HaKodesh, the “Holy Spirit” blew upon me, scattering seeds and fragrance into the world.
THE CHALLENGE FOR EACH ONE OF US is to plant and tend the seeds of prophesy. Each of us must stand up to Pharaoh, take our shoes off at the burning bush, receive the Divine Name, sweeten our bitter waters, and journey courageously through the wilderness. Each one of us must come to Sinai and receive Torah for ourselves.
And each one of us must face Death. Through that initiatory encounter we receive the fullness of Life and are able to finally give ourselves wholly to God. That complete giving of Self and receiving of Life is expressed in the image of the Divine Kiss. Moses dies “by the mouth of God.” (Deuteronomy 34:5)
In that kiss we give our lives away. Everything that we have been clinging to and grasping is finally released in that kiss. All the fearful power that has been devoted to pushing away pain and death is finally released. In that kiss we can finally love God “with all our heart, with all our soul and with all our might.” In that kiss, giving and receiving become One.
THE KISS OF DEATH is not something that is passively received. The challenge of Vezot HaBrakha is to surrender our lives in loving generosity. This means working wholeheartedly for justice while letting go of attachment to the outcome of our efforts. It means loving with abandon even when there is no guarantee that the love will be received. It means writing books whether or not others will read or appreciate them, singing songs that perhaps no one will hear. It means dying to your ambitions, dying to your personality and preferences.
Dying again and again.
For me the dream of love had to die before I could open my eyes and embrace true love. My fantasies, expectations, ideas and beliefs about romance, and past disappointments, all obscured the view.
THE VERY FIRST LINE of the Song of Songs says, “He kisses me with the kisses of his mouth.” Each kiss is another death (and another re-birth.) Each kiss is practice in letting go. And yes, each kiss is an initiation into more abundant Life.
Yet the ego-self is such an expert at holding on. She is the consummate survivor and preserver of the status quo which is in her eyes the only “sure thing.” The great spiritual challenge that Vezot HaBrakha gives us is to risk the known in order to step into the unknown. Moses is commanded to “Die,” even though “his eye was not dim nor his natural force abated.” In the stories about his death, Moses turns away every messenger that is sent to claim his soul. Only the Divine kiss can claim him.
Only the consummation of our soul’s desire can allow us to surrender the fortress we have built and defended for a lifetime.
Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing. And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb. And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance. (Khalil Gibran, The Prophet, 1923)
GUIDANCE FOR PRACTICE
There are two practices for the week of Vezot HaBrakha.
RABBI ELIEZER, one of our great sages, taught his disciples, “Turn (repent) one day prior to your death.” And his students said to him, “Master, how can anyone know what day is one day prior to their death?” His response to them was, “Therefore, turn today, because tomorrow you may die.” (Talmud Bavli, Shabbat 153a)
ALL OF THE SMALL SPIRITUAL DEATHS we suffer, all of our griefs and losses point to the fact of our physical death, which will ultimately and definitely happen to all of us. Instead of walking through our lives in denial, we can use the power of the Reality of Death to turn — turn towards God, turn towards the deliciousness of Life’s precious gifts, turn towards each other in compassion and friendship.
Right now, imagine that you are lying on your death-bed, surrounded by everyone you have ever known. Your heart is filled with memories of the life you have led. What do you regret? What are you proud of? What seeds have you planted? What are your priorities “one day prior to your death?” Now, turn towards the faces that witness you – family, friends, bosses, employees, co-workers, enemies, neighbors, strangers. Perhaps the meaning and fullness of your life can only be expressed through the blessing that you impart to them.
THE PRACTICE OF CONFERRING BLESSING requires you to open your eyes and heart to the one who stands before you, to acknowledge and honor the unique gift that they carry.
WHEN I TURNED 50, I gathered with my family to celebrate. They are wonderful people, yet are uncomfortable with religious language. I wanted to bless them and receive their blessings. I asked everyone to share three things: one fond memory of being with me during the last 50 years, one wish for the future, and a poem or a song. As each person shared a memory, I gave each one a blessing by reflecting back to them how uniquely precious they have been to my life.
To my older brother I said, “I remember how you were there for me when I needed you, how you lent me money when I was broke, how you drove me places when I needed a ride. You are such a solid presence. You are someone I know I can always count on.”
To my sister I said, “Remember how when your dog died, your heart was broken open and you turned to me for support? Even though I shared your sadness I was also so grateful that we could begin talking about what mattered most. It means so much to me that the conversation continues. I am inspired by your passion and humor and generosity.”
To my younger brother I said, “Remember how we used to play in the gully behind our yard, exploring every secret place, sharing our love of the land? That love has stayed with me. When we watched the sunset together, you showed me how to speak to the clouds so that they would make a beautiful painting of the sky. You opened my eyes to color.”
To my mother I said, “Remember when I picked flowers from the neighbors’ yards and gave them to you as a gift, telling you that I had found them in the gully? You took me by the hand and patiently asked me to show you where. We walked and walked until I burst out crying and told you the truth. You weren’t angry but you were resolute in teaching me the importance of telling the truth. That lesson has stayed with me and I am so grateful for all that you have taught me about honesty, integrity and the gift of direct teaching.”
WE ALL CRIED and ate birthday cake. It was such a simple thing. Yet most people wait until they are lying on their death-bed to tell the truth, to express their love and gratefulness, to forgive or to bless each other.
Conferring Blessing Practice
THE PRACTICE GIVEN TO US by VeZot HaBrakha is to first imagine the blessings you might give from your death-bed, and then begin communicating those blessings. “Therefore, turn today, because tomorrow you may die.” Write a letter, make a phone call. Or perhaps the person you’d like to bless is sitting in the next room.
AND NOW, we arrive at the last words of our journey — “Never again did there arise in Israel a prophet like Moses, whom YHVH singled out, face to face…” But wait! Don’t you remember that this is not a story about someone else or some other time? It is a story about you right now. Never before and never again will there arise a prophet like YOU. God has seen your true face. God has sent you to confront Pharaoh. God has blessed you with great might and awesome power.
Receiving Blessing Practice
THE FINAL PRACTICE of Torah Journeys is for you to receive this blessing as God says to each of us, “You are My Beloved, unique and precious to Me. I will draw you from the waters of unconsciousness; I will lead you through the wilderness; I will mourn your passing and celebrate your incomparable life; I will lift you up on eagle’s wings and welcome you home.”
Torah Journeys: The Inner Path to the Promised Land
©2006 Shefa Gold. All rights reserved.