We have come to the end of the Torah.
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 of blessing
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 Rashiâ€™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 act: blessing.
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 practical directives.
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…Hashem 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 Shlaâ€™s commentary,
- 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 Mosheâ€™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
These are the stages one must follow when blessing someone:
1. When we rejoice in someoneâ€™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
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 for himself,
- 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 Avraham…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 Hashem.
If there is a problem, one adds: Hashem yaazor, Hashem will come to
Exercise in personal development
The parasha concludes Mosheâ€™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 his benediction.
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 to you.
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 friendâ€™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 Shlaâ€™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, 4).
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 together
The Shla opens the second part of his commentary as follows: the link between
creation and benediction help us to better understand Rashiâ€™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
the beginning, for the Torah which is called the beginning of the way, bishvil
haTorah she nikret reshit darko (Proverbs 8, 22)
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 Shlaâ€™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
a construct form which means “woman of” as in “eshet
of a man, spouse, married woman.
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,
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 Torah.
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
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 derekh hakabala)
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 of things)
- 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
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 dying.
- 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 derekh hakabala)
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 development
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
- 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
- read the blessing of the Cohanim which is the prototype of all blessings
(Bemidbar 6, 22-27).
- 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
- 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 Hashem.
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 Judaism.
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
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 to us.
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,
“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 thee:
Hashem lift up his countenance upon thee and give thee peace.
And they shall put my name upon the children of Israel and I will bless them.”