Torah Study Notes 10-3-15

October 3, 2015

Page 1420

Epilogue: The Death of Moses. This is not a portion that would be read at a service. There is a Jewish tradition of not ending a reading or service with tragedy – that applies to all denominations. The author here is speculated to be the 2nd Deuteronomist. It is similar in some ways to the ending of the Book of Genesis which ends with a blessing of the sons. Here there is a blessing of the tribes. We should consider who the author is favoring – if any. Note that the poem predates the rest of the text. Also, there is recitation of the fate of the tribes in the song of Deborah (Judges 5.)

33:1 This is the blessing of Moses and each of the tribes is named. The blessing of Reuben has a mixed messages here. His is one of the tribes that stay east of the Jordan with Gad.  Judah – a play on the word for “hands.” His descendants become the entire southern nation of the Promised Land – the southern kingdom. See Chart on page 1430 which summarizes how each of the tribes is characterized in Genesis, Judges and Deuteronomy – if they are mentioned at all. SF: There is an incident in which Judah slept with Tamara. RB: There are two incidents in which Judah did a wrong but later took responsibility for it.  Judah has sent Tamara away after her husband dies, she disguises herself as a prostitute and slept with Judah by tricking him. She took some identifying material from him which she later used to exonerate herself from a charge of prostitution. Judah owns up to his own mistakes and takes responsibility.  Hence, he is a flawed leader. SF: You need humility and courage to be a leader.  Judah means “now I will give thanks.”

The Levites: The reference here is to Moses striking the rock to obtain water. They are of the tribe of Moses; have responsibility for the Temple and have no land. The suggestion is one of rebelliousness with phrases like “who you tested” and “challenged.” LL:  I find the obscure reference to “Thummin and Urim” fascinating. Why would a society that was so strongly monotheistic and opposed to worship of other gods have oracular stones to reveal God’s will?

33:12  Here we see just a short comment about Benjamin and a very elaborate recital about Joseph. A glowing report for them. Joseph “rests between God’s shoulders…”  Note the poetic parallelism and merismus. Also, the tropes such as “… the favor of the Presence in the bush…”  The tribe of Joseph is subsequently divided into Ephraim and Manasseh.

33: 18 Zebulon, Issachar, Dan, Naphtali, Asher…  Again, the poetry is pre-exilic. According to the modern documentary hypothesis the poem was an originally separate text, that was inserted by the Deuteronomist into the second edition (of two) of the text which became Deuteronomy (i.e. was an addition in ‘Dtr2’).

The poem notably does not describe Simeon, which may provide a date for the composition of the poem, as Simeon are believed to have gradually lost their tribal identity, since its traditional territory was wholly within that of Judah. The poem also only mentions each tribe briefly, except for the tribes of Joseph and Levi, which may indicate both that the poem originated within the Levite priesthood, within the territory of the Joseph tribes, or more generally the northern kingdom of Israel where Ephraim, part of the Joseph tribe, was the most prominent.

It is difficult to establish the connection of the blessing of Moses with that of Jacob. Most authorities maintain that the former depended directly upon the latter; and their chief argument is based on the passage on Joseph, part of which is contained also in Jacob’s blessing. But there can hardly be a doubt] that the passage on Joseph in Jacob’s blessing was amplified from the material contained in the blessing of Moses. Otherwise a similar argument might be based upon the same arrangement in each blessing of the tribes of Zebulon and Issachar, and upon other points of agreement which, however, indicate a similarity of the matter rather than any direct connection. At all events, there are striking differences between the two blessings.

AF: What is the basic purpose of a blessing. See: SF: Blessings are conveying God’s energy to that person who is blessed. RB:  A form of channeling. There was a feeling that the border between human and divine was permeable. This is in the nature of a last will and testament – favoring one or the other children. This is an “ethical” will charging the “children” with responsibility. Blessings are frequently accompanied by a “laying on of hands.” This is done in the ordination of  rabbis and priests.

34:1 Moses ascends Mt. Nebo. God speaks to him further identifying the land but warns him that he shall not cross the Jordan. He dies at age 120 and his burial place is unknown.  Never again was there a prophet like Moses who the Eternal spoke to face to face. RB: There are four different authors here including the Yahwist – who we haven’t heard from in quite some time. Authorship is suggested by style and tone.(LL: There is a modern technique that uses computerized word frequency analysis.)  There is a transition here from a prophetic model to a rabbinic model. RB: This is her favorite Torah text because it relates to Genesis and God burying the dead. Moses dies by “divine kiss.”

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