The death of Jacob and the death of Moshe Rabbeinu marked turning points of Biblical history. With the death of Jacob a group of individuals was being formed into the bnei yisroel . The birth of this great nation would not be easy, and long hard years of slavery awaited the nation in Egyptian exile. With the death of Moshe Rabbeinu, the redeemer from Egyptian bondage, the nation was about to enter into the promised land. The journey form avdut l'cherut , from freedom to slavery, was a long and bitter one and tragically neither Yaakov or Moshe would witness the fulfilment of the promises made to Avraham. As Jacob before him, Moshe Rabbeinu on his "deathbed" blesses "his children", offering inspiration for an unknown future. Whereas Yaakov introduced his "blessings" with a curt "Come together and I will tell you what will happen in the course of time" (Genesis 49:1) Moshe gives a general blessing to the children of Israel before going on to bless each tribe (with the exception of Shimeon ) individually.
"Torah Zizvah lanu Moshe . Moshe prescribed the Torah to us, an eternal heritage for the congregation of Israel . He was King in Jeshurun when the people's leaders gathered themselves together and the tribes of Israel were united" (33:4-5). Torah and togetherness. These are the final words of Moshe to the community of Israel . Moshe Rabbeinu the teacher par excellence had done everything humanely possible, and then some, to ensure the Jewish people would faithfully dedicate themselves to following the teachings of the Torah. But what really matters is what happens to the next generation. Torah is the heritage of all Jews and it is our responsibility to ensure that all Jews feel included in this heritage. Unlike an inheritance which is ours to do with what we please, a heritage is something we must pass intact to the next generation. We are the guardians of Torah not its owners.
While we must guard Torah it can not be locked away for the select few but must be accessible and relevant to all. It must be applied to the changing world in which we live without changing the Torah itself. This is no easy task but one we must confront with all of our energies. With so many Jews today estranged form Torah this verse's mandate takes on even greater significance. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 91b) teaches that if we do not teach Torah when the opportunity presents itself then we are guilty of theft. What right do we have to rob a fellow Jew of their rightful inheritance? And teaching Torah goes far beyond formal learning; each and every time we interact with our fellow Jews (and even non-Jews) we are modelling the Torah message.
Interestingly this verse is the source of theory that there the Torah contains 613 mitzvot. The concept of 613 mitzvot presupposes a coming together of the Jewish people as no one Jew can observe all mitzvoth. Some apply to the nation as whole, some to men, some to woman, some to kohanim , some to kings, some to the farmer, some to the father, some to the wealthy, some to the sinner, and on and on. Yes there are 613 mitzvot in the Torah; provided we include all in the Torah community regardless of their level of observance. As Rashi (33:5) points out G-d can only be our King if there is peace amongst Jews, when there is dissension His kingdom is diminished. Unfortunately much work needs to be done until the King of Kings will be manifest to all.
Our tradition associates the holiday of Sukkot with the concept of Jewish unity. This is best, but far from only, reflected in the many midrashim that see many different typolgies of Jews represented in the four species that we take and wave so proudly on Sukkot. Jews coming together is the definition of zman simchnatenu , the time of our joy.
It is no coincidence that simchat Torah - a holiday with no biblical, or even rabbinic roots follows on the heels of sukkot. This, almost spontaneous, holiday developed in post Talmudic times as the Jewish people instinctively understood that the holiday to celebrate Torah must be part of Jews coming together to claiming their heritage. Even the Jews in former Soviet Union understood the power of simchat Torah, marking that holiday as the day to identify with their almost lost heritage.
Torah zivah lanu , Moshe taught us Torah but only we can ensure its transmission to the next generation. Small wonder that our Sages declared that these are the first words a parent is to teach their children as they first learn to speak. By fully following this verse we will merit another turning point in history, when G-d's kingdom will be recognized throughout the world. This surely is the greatest of all blessings. Chag Sameach !