Both the death of Jacob and the death of Moshe Rabbeinu marked turning points in Biblical history. The death of Jacob marks the transformation of a group of individuals into b'nei 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 ready to enter into the Promised Land. The journey from avdut l'cherut , from freedom to slavery, was a long and bitter one, and tragically, neither Yaakov nor Moshe would witness the fulfillment of the promises made to Avraham.
As Jacob did before him, Moshe Rabbeinu blesses "his children" on his deathbed, 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 Zivah 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 humanly possible--and then some--to ensure that the Jewish people would faithfully dedicate themselves to following the teachings of the Torah. Moshe knew that Torah is the heritage of all Jews, and, following his example, it is our responsibility to ensure that all Jews feel included in this heritage. Unlike an inheritance, which is ours to do with as 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 the integrity of the Torah, it cannot be locked away, reserved for the select few; it 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 it is one that we must shoulder with all of our energies. With so many Jews today estranged from Torah, this verse's mandate takes on an even greater significance. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 91b) teaches that, if we do not teach Torah when the opportunity presents itself, we are guilty of theft. What right do we have to rob a fellow Jew of his or her rightful inheritance? And the teaching of Torah goes far beyond formal study; each and every time we interact with our fellow Jews (and even non-Jews), we are modeling the Torah message.
Interestingly, this verse is the source of the theory that the Torah contains 613 mitzvoth. The concept of 613 mitzvoth 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 women, some to kohanim , some to kings, some to farmers, some to fathers, some to the wealthy, some to the sinner, and on and on. Yes, there are 613 mitzvoth in the Torah; but only if 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 before the King of Kings will be made manifest to all.
Our tradition associates the holiday of Sukkot with this concept of Jewish unity. This is reflected in the many midrashim that see many different typologies of Jews represented in the four species that we hold and wave so proudly on Sukkot . Jews coming together is the definition of zman simchatenu , 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; the Jewish people instinctively understood that the holiday to celebrate Torah must be all Jews coming together to claim their heritage. Even the Jews in the 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 parents must teach their children as they first learn to speak. By fully following this verse, we will merit the achievement of another turning point in history, when G-d's kingdom will be recognized throughout the world. This surely is the greatest of all blessings.