VeZos HaBeracha 5781


Conflicting acts of kindness[1]

וקבר אתו בגי בארץ מואב בית פעור ולא-ידע איש את-קברתו עד היום הזה
[Hashem][2] buried [Moshe] in the valley of the land of Moav, Beis-Peor. No man knows his place of burial until this day[3]

The Torah ends with the death of Moshe. Chazal note[4] that the Torah starts and begins with Hashem’s chessed, acts of loving kindness. After Moshe dies, Hashem Himself buries him. At the beginning of the Torah, we are taught that Hashem adorned Eve as a bride for Adam[5] [6] [7]. With this insight, we can glean a new understanding of a vague verse in Ecclesiastes, read during this time of year: טוב אחרית דבר מראשיתו, better is the final word than its beginning[8]. What is this teaching us?

Let’s discuss a hopefully hypothetical scenario. An opportunity to provide for a bride appears. She is lacking the usual adornments a bride should be expecting. She has no one to escort her to the Chuppah. Unfortunately, at the same time, there’s a coffin which needs to be buried. There’s no one to escort the deceased, nor anyone to ensure its timely burial. Which one of these two great mitzvos come first[9]? Actually, it’s a dispute. Some say the bride gets priority[10]. Others say the deceased comes first[11]. Perhaps the verse in Ecclesiastes will settle the matter.

As said, the Torah starts with Hashem’s chessed of providing for a bride. It ends with Hashem’s chessed of burying the deceased. Just looking at these two episodes, I’d have no idea which one is more important. Which one has precedence? The verse in Ecclesiastes is coming to tell us that burying the deceased takes precedence. טוב אחרית דבר, better is the final word. Meaning, better is the final act of chessed in the Torah[12], that of burying Moshe. Burying the deceased is more important מראשיתו, than the first act of chessed of adorning and providing for a bride.

Chazak Chazak VeNischazek! Good Shabbos and Chag Sameach!

[1] Based on Sefer Apiryon to Deuteronomy 34:6, written by Rav Shlomo Gantzfried, author of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch

[2] Rashi ad. loc. brings an interesting dispute regarding who buried Moshe. The verse doesn’t say. Since the verse says that no one knows where he is buried, it couldn’t have been another person. As such, one opinion is that it was Hashem Himself. Indeed, this is the approach the Sefer Apiryon goes with, as it’s the opinion of the sources that are to follow. Rabbi Yishmael however holds that Moshe buried himself, and this is one of the three times the word את is reflexive, instead of referring to a different subject (Sifrei Bamidbar § 32; Bamidbar Rabbah 10:17 only brings the opinion of Rabbi Yishmael). See Seforno ad. loc., who addresses how this was possible if Moshe died on the mountain and was buried in the valley (Cf. Eitz Yosef and Yedei Moshe ad. loc., who say that Moshe went into the grave alive, and died in the grave. They must have felt then that he died in the valley. Indeed, the verse doesn’t specify his place of death)

[3] Deuteronomy loc. cit.

[4] Midrash Tanchuma Vayera § 1. A more famous version of this appears in Sotah 14a, but there are some differences (as will be pointed out). Rav Grantzfried’s piece focuses on the one in Midrash Tanchuma

[5] The Midrash learns this from Genesis 2:22: ויבן יקוק אלקים את הצלע. The elucidation is from the fact that in seaside villages they refer to a bride as a בונה. Sefer Apiryon cites Niddah 71, but nothing is relevant there. A similar teaching is found in Berachos 61a, Shabbos 95a, Eruvin 18a, and Niddah 45b, where the gemarra says that Hashem braided Eve’s hair for Adam, and that seaside villages refer to a braided woman as בניתא. This gemarra in Niddah was probably his intent

[6] The Midrash adds that in the “middle” of the Torah we also find Hashem’s chessed. Hashem “visited” Avraham while the latter was recovering from his circumcision at the age of 99 (Genesis 18:1)

[7] Sotah loc. cit. uses a different example to show Hashem’s chessed at the beginning of the Torah: Hashem provided Adam and Eve with clothes once they realized they were naked (ibid 3:21)

[8] Ecclesiates 7:8

[9] Tur Yoreh Deah § 360 with Beis Yosef. See Sheiltos (cited in the next note) for reasonings in either direction

[10] Sheiltos Bereishis § 3 (end); Ramban in Toras HaAdam

[11] Mishneh Torah Hilchos Avel 14:8. The Rambam quotes Ecclesiastes 7:4 as proof. Sefer Apiryon asks why the Rambam didn’t choose v. 2 as his proof

[12] The verse says דבר, and the Torah is also referred to as דבר, as in the verse in Psalms 105:8 (see Rashi)