We have come to the end of
We will now honor the principle masters, the Shla hakadosh,
Rabbenu Bahya and Rabbenu Yaakov Abuhatzera, who guided
us from week to week, by studying each of their commentaries
on berakha, blessing. For clarity, I have expanded on
their commentaries which are extremely condensed.
The last teaching: the duty
There is no new mitzva in this parasha, for the 612th
mitzva (to gather all the people, Devarim 31, 10-12) and
the 613th mitzva (every Jew must write a Torah scroll,
Devarim 31, 19) were in parasha Vayelekh. The Shla, however,
remains faithful to Rashi's method (the basis for our
method) and studies the literal meaning of the words (the
peshat) and the mitzva which is implicit in what he calls
the level of ner mitzva (mitzva as a candle).
The Shla tells us that this
parasha teaches us something very important: the obligation
of blessing. Indeed, the whole parasha consists in one
This teaches us that blessing is a mitzva and this mitzva
is so important that Moshe Rabbenu chooses to teach it
to us in the last parasha and in the last moments of his
life. At a time when he is capable of only one last act,
he chooses to make a blessing. This tells us that blessing
is an essential act. We must therefore bless others, while
saying a blessing.
What is the right way of blessing?
The Shla demonstrates that the parasha also teaches us
how to bless, at the most practical level. The Shla refers
to the Zohar in order to stress this level of the peshat.
This seems surprising, many would say, for is the Zohar
not a mystical book and therefore does not concern itself
with mitzvot and practicalities, but with secret things?
Let us remember that Rashi teaches the peshat but constantly
refers to the midrashim, which are full of imagination,
metaphors, fables and symbols, He also says, regarding
Bereshit 3, 8, that it is the midrashim that best present
the true meaning of the peshat: vaavi lo bati ella lifshuto
shel mikra u leagadah hameyashevet divre hamikra davar
davur al ofnav.
The Shla cites, in its entirety,
a passage from the beginning of parasha Bemidbar in the
Zohar (III 117b) which analyzes the Torah and presents
I have given a literal translation
below, which presents, for the first time on this site,
a text in Arameic and Hebrew:
Ribbi Yitzhak patah, Ribbi Yitzhak said:
"Hashem zekha ranu yevarekh et beit Yisrael
remembered to bless us (Psalm 115, 12). He blessed the
house of Israel
Ta hazei, Come and see (this teaching)
hai mane deamar shevaha de havre, he who praises his friend,
divnoi, his children, o demanone, or his possessions,
bae levarekha le, must make a blessing
u le odaa ale birkhan, and praise these blessings (received).
Minalan, From where do we derive this teaching?
Mi Moshe dikhtiv, from Moshe,
for it is written:
- vehinekhem hayom kekhokhve hashamayim la rov, "ye
are this day as the stars of heaven for multitude"
(Devarim 1, 10).
- levatar ma khetiv, then what is written?
Hashem eloke avoteikhem yosef alekhem hakhem elef peamim
ve yevarekh etkhem caasher diber lakhem, Hashem, the God
of your fathers, make you a thousand times so many more
as ye are, and bless you as He hath promised you (Devarim
- (Terin virkhan hu, Thus Moshe makes two blessings)
Had hashem Eloke avotekhem, a first blessing when he said
"Hashem, the God of your fathers
-Hahad levatar, and then he makes another (by requesting)
vayevarekh etkhem, may He bless you.
Leodaa alayehu, (First) praises,
birkhan al bikhan, then (requests for) blessings.
The Zohar, quoted entirely
in the Shla's commentary, adds:
- and if someone praises a friend but does not first acknowledge
[the source of] the blessings, he disrupts everything
from On High.
- But if he blesses (as is due), then he himself is blessed
from On High.
The text continues:
One understands from this that we must bless with a "good
eye" and not with a "bad eye": and in
all things Hakadosh Barukh Hu desires the love of the
heart (ahavat halev)
Even more so, he who makes a blessing for Hakadosh Barukh
Hu must do so with a good eye and a good heart. This is
why it is written: ve ahavta et Hashem Elohekha bekhol
levavekha ("and you will love Hashem, your God, with
all your heart" Devarim 6, 5). [End of the Zohar
text quoted by the Shla]
The Shla does not even comment on or translate this passage,
so greatly does he believe that it answers our need to
draw lessons from Moshe's conduct, as it is said: maase
avot simane labanim, the acts of the fathers are a lesson
for the children (refer to midrash Bereshit Rabba 70,
6 and Tractate Sotah 34 a).
These are the stages one must
follow when blessing someone:
1. When we rejoice in someone's success (personal, professional,
health, etc.) or when someone is in need and we want him
to receive blessings,
2. one must state clearly the name of God as the source
of the blessing, for He is its source,
3. one must praise God for the blessing (this can include
the evocation of His name),
4. one must ask for the blessing to continue.
5. This gives the person who is making the blessing (or
not making it) power
- to make the blessing continue for the other person or
- or to destroy everything.
6. The blessing should invoke the example of the Patriarchs;
this is why a blessing often begins with: mi she barakh
He who blessed Avraham
This teaching allows us to better understand people who
are a permanent source of blessings. Such a person was
my Torah father and master, Ribbi Moshe Yosef Zenu (alav
hashalom, may peace be with him); all those who knew him
received, like me, the gift of his blessings.
We can now also better understand
those Jews who have preserved this spontaneous way of
speaking. Often communities which have lost touch with
their traditions and been assimilated for generations,
consider these Jews as backward and naive. In actual fact
these people are the ones who have preserved the knowledge
and practice of the important teachings of the Torah.
They should be treated with respect, as the true heirs
of the great Sages, despite their modest appearance.
This tradition is seen in popular expressions:
- ma shlomkha, how are you? Barukh Hashem, benediction
comes from Hashem, may He be blessed.
If everything is fine, one adds,: toda la El, thanks to
If there is a problem, one adds,: Hashem yaazor, Hashem
will come to our aid.
Exercise in personal development
The parasha concludes Moshe's address to the people as
a whole and to each individual. It is now up to us to
see where we stand.
1. Re-read this commentary.
2. Re-read the first two verses of the parasha and identify
the different stages. The reference to Hashem is given
in "Moshe, the man of Elokim.." and at the beginning
of the second verse, "Hashem came from Sinai."
Identify the phrase which indicates that these blessings
will continue in the future.
3. When do you tell relatives or friends how pleased you
are for them at their success and happiness or how much
you hope it will continue
and see where you can
introduce these two essential expressions:
- the evocation of the name of God
- the request to Hakadosh Barukh Hu to continue spreading
4. Since conduct such as this is not usually the norm,
the Tur or Baal Haturim begins his monumental work on
the halakha with these words: never fear those who scorn
or make fun of you, if you wish to go forward in the way
of the Torah.
5. Discuss this study and these examples with those close
6. Ribbi Moshe Yosef Zenu taught me to say when receiving
a blessing: behayekha tovim (may life be good for you).
Thus, just as the friend's good wishes opened the source
of benediction from On High, we do the same for the one
who blesses us. And we acknowledge that the blessing also
applies to him.
The minhagim (customs)
This shows us that the smallest rituals in Judaism are
not superstitions or bizarre, but respectable customs
(minhagim). These minhagim are concrete applications of
the Torah, which have been formulated and thought out
in detail in the texts and by the Sages. Only ignorance
makes one believe in the stupidity of others, as Psalm
92, 7 says: ish baar lo yeda, an ignorant man knows not
that he is ignorant. Tradition also adds: ukesil lo yavin
et zot, and the imbecile does not understand this.
The heart, for ever
I want to draw your attention to the link between blessings
and the heart. We have seen in the Shla's writings and
in the Zohar that the heart (lev) plays an important part,
and that Hashem desires the heart (Rahamiman liba bae,
Hashem desires the heart, emotions, love, see Sanhedrin
106 b), as a mitzva, for it is written: "veahavta
et Hashem, and thou shall love Hashem" (Devarim 6,
At Simhat Torah, we connect the last word of the last
parasha (the last word of the Torah) with the reading
of the beginning of the Torah. The symbolism of the union
of the two words IsraeL Bereshit is seen in the fact that
the last letter of Israel and the first letter of Bereshit
form the world lev, heart which represents the whole of
the Torah from beginning to end. Ribbi Yaakov Abuhatzera
notes, in his commentary on this parasha, that the gematria
of the union between Israel and Bereshit (1455) is also
the gematria of the four levels of the world (atsilut,
beria, yetzira, asia). Those who doubt this should study
the texts till they understand that not only does God
stand for love, as many religions claim, but that Judaism
has understood through Avraham that the world itself is
love-hesed. This idea completely revolutionizes our concept
of the world. Suffering and evil are thus tragedies which
the Torah helps us to withstand.
Benediction links creation
The Shla opens the second part of his commentary as follows:
the link between creation and benediction help us to better
understand Rashi's first commentary which is based on
Bereshit Rabba 1, 4:
"I have commented on, just as the Sages have commented
on, darsheni kemo she derashuhu rabotenu
the beginning, for the Torah which is called the beginning
of the way, bishvil haTorah she nikret reshit darko (Proverbs
and for Israel which will guard the Torah, ubishvil Yisrael
she nikreu reshit tevuato (Jeremiah 2, 3).
What was at issue from the
very beginning, this blessing, had to come to fruition
in Israel which is given the whole Torah and all its blessings.
Before his death, Moshe links the blessing which he makes
for his people to the great blessing which the Creator
bestowed from the beginning on the people of Israel (cf
Rashi below). One can therefore justifiably link the reading
of the end of the Torah with the beginning.
All of this is taken from
just half of the first 11 pages of the Shla's commentary
on this parasha! This demonstrates the wonderful heritage
given to us by the Sages.
He begins his commentary on the parasha with the last
verse of the book of Proverbs (31, 31) which was written
by Shlomo (Solomon). It is the last verse of the poem
Eshet Hayil, the wife of the soldier. His intention is
clear: the parallel (end/end) teaches us the essence of
things, the aim of creation.
Note: Unfortunately this wonderful poem has been distorted
in our minds because of an absurd mistranslation that
makes Eshet Hayil into a woman of virtue or valor. This
is a grammatical error tinged with ideological projection.
A woman of virtue would be isha tova, and a woman of courage
isha amitza. Eshet is a construct form which means "woman
of" as in "eshet ish" wife of a man, spouse,
It is important to note that
this poem is read every week before the first Shabbat
meal and it is considered a poem in praise of the Torah,
Israel and women, for it shows us how greatly women are
valued in Judaism (see Psalm 92, 7).
Rabbenu Bahya always uses
a verse from Proverbs to summarize a parasha, for the
Book of Proverbs is not just a book of popular wisdom
but a book that contains the keys to understanding the
The verse he uses says:
tenu la miperi yadeya vihalelua bashedrim maaseha
"Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her
own works praise her in the gates."
Rabbenu Bahya explains the
different levels of meaning of this verse:
- the level of the peshat
(al derekh hapeshat)
Eshet Hayil praises a woman who is not satisfied with
being beautiful but lives according to the Torah and makes
the most of her gifts and attributes. He who finds such
a woman, has found happiness, say the texts. External
beauty is nothing but lies and vanity. It is for the fruits
she has produced that she is praised. And, in this way,
she saves all those who live with her.
- the level of the midrash
(al derekh hamidrash)
This woman, who is so rich and talented, is the Torah;
her husband is the Sage who studies and the poor are those
who begin to study and whom she feeds. They praise and
honor her for the riches which she gives. The fruit of
her hands which she shares, is that of the tree of life.
She herself is the fruit of the Sage, in eternal life.
- the level of kabbala (al
This level is the essence of things and it explains which
blessing is the sole one worthy of closing the Torah and
of opening it:
- just as we need blessings to live, so God also needs
the blessings of man (it is not important if we do not
understand this, since it is not us who decide the nature
- he who blesses is blessed,
- the berakha enables the survival of the world. This
is why the Torah begins with the letter beit of berakha,
for the letter beit is the motor of all existence and,
through it, Elokim blesses all creation,
- the essence of what Hakadosh Barukh Hu said to Avraham
(Bereshit 12, 2) is: "I will bless you," for
this is the condition of life.
In addition, Hakadosh Barukh
Hu gives Avraham (and all Jews) the ability to bless whom
he wishes (Bereshit Rabba 39, 18). The tzaddikim possess
this ability to bless.
Yaakov blesses all his children in his proper way (read
Bereshit 49, 28: kevirkhato verakh otam). (He blessed
Pharaoah, Israel blessed the nations
Moshe also blessed. They did so because they understood
the meaning of blessings (read Devarim Rabba 11, 1), as
it is said: "and this is it that their father (Yaakov)
spake unto them, and blessed them; every one according
to his blessing he blessed them" (Bereshit 49, 28).
Having set out the background
to the last verse of Proverbs, Rabbenu Bahya applies it
to the first verse of this parasha:
ve zot haberakha asher berakh Moshe ish haelokim et bene
Yisrael line mot
"And this is the blessing wherewith Moshe the man
of God blessed the children of Israel before his death
- the level of the peshat
(al derekh ha peshat)
Moshe made his blessing like all the tzaddikim, before
- the level of the midrash
(al derekh hamidrash)
Balam the perfidious, prophet of the nations, was obliged
to bless Israel but he kept the blessings to a minimum
and made only three. For his eye was evil. Then came Moshe
with a bountiful eye (see Proverbs 22, 9) and he multiplied
the blessings, and he was blessed because he blessed.
He gave the people the 4 blessings which they needed to
achieve the perfect number of 7 (see Shemot 39, 43; Vayikra
9, 23: Devarim ch. 33).
- the level of kabbala (al
It is said that Moshe blessed in the same way as Yaakov
and with the same knowledge of the nature of blessings
(Bereshit 49, 28).
Here ends the commentary of
Rabbenu Bahya on the first verse of the parasha.
Exercise in personal
The commentary of Rabbenu
Bahya requires us to:
- reflect on the importance
of the poem Eshet Hayil, which is said on Friday night,
and the lessons drawn from it, particularly regarding
the great qualities of women.
- reflect on the function
of blessing those for whom we have a parental or symbolic
role. It is important to ensure the blessing focuses on
the individuality of the recipient: this is shown in the
two episodes where Yaakov blesses his children and when
Moshe blesses the tribes of Israel.
Do we think of blessing those whom we help or educate?
Do we bless them according to the rules that govern blessings
How do we find the right words for a blessing?
This requires sensitivity, attention, observation and
the courage to say a blessing.
- read the blessing of the
Cohanim which is the prototype of all blessings (Bemidbar
- learn the blessing for children
(that of Yaakov to Ephraim and Menashe, Bereshit 48, 15-16,
and the only one, say the midrashim, which did not create
fraternal rivalry, but emulated the wonderful fraternity
between Aharon and Moshe).
- learn from King David and
the Psalms, the art of making a blessing for everything
in life, for every encounter and every sentiment. The
Psalms, like the Book of Proverbs, also teach us to understand
the Torah itself.
May those who have been my masters be honored, as women
are honored in Eshet Hayil of Proverbs ch. 31, barukh
The glory of these Sages is
expressed in this poem in the form of a feminine figure,
just as Israel and the Torah are feminine. This should
remove all doubts as to whether women enjoy equality in
May every Jew transmit to
others the blessings they have received and the knowledge
of the Torah which they have acquired: if everyone does
this, at their own level, there will be no more destructive
assimilation but mutual respect between our people and
towards us. Few people voluntarily assimilate, but there
are thousands of Jews, in Israel and in the Diaspora,
who have been rejected by fellow Jews who know the Torah
and do not share their knowledge. The prophets denounced
the rich who did not share their wealth and cried: God
does not want your prayers or your sacrifices since you
do not care for those who are hungry or naked. The parallel
problem today is that of Jews who do not share their knowledge.
I am not advocating here missionary work, but the sharing
of our spiritual wealth.
Ribbi Yaakov Abuhatsera writes
that Moshe loved his people so much, more than a father
loves his children, that he was prepared to die rather
than deny them anything. He died at the moment of the
minha prayer of Shabbat, which is the moment when one
helps others the most. This is indicated by the first
letters of the words of the first verse up to "man
of God" which together number 2116, the gematria
for be minhat shabbat zeman et ratzon.
Here was a man who was a blessing to humanity: his name
is made up from the final letters of Moshe ish Elokim,
Moshe was a man of God.
Those who would like to know more can do so. Nothing is
secret or esoteric. The commentaries of our Sages are
so rich that I have been able only to discuss a few words
of each parasha.
However, this will have proved:
- the greatness of the teachings of the Torah,
- their importance regarding every aspect of our lives,
- the fact that these teachings are accessible through
the study of the Sages,
- and that we can all receive the heritage designated
There is just one condition:
Torah study must be done in Hebrew, with masters who have
learnt the tradition.
I end this study with the
text of the blessing of the Cohanim (Bemidbar 6, 23-27):
"On this wise ye shall
bless the children of Israel, saying unto them:
Hashem bless thee and keep thee.
Hashem make his face shine upon thee and be gracious unto
Hashem lift up his countenance upon thee and give thee
And they shall put my name upon the children of Israel
and I will bless them."
Below is an illustration of
Simhat Torah by the renowned artist Michelle Dubior, which
depicts this concept of bringing joy to the world through
the dissemination of Hashem's blessing.
Read the page "Prayers