Parashas V’zos HaBrachah

Parashas V’zos HaBrachah presents Moshe’s final blessings to the Jewish People, tribe by tribe, and then records Moshe’s death in the land of Moav, near the border of Eretz Yisrael. The Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah 100:4 notes a difference between the Torah’s account of the mourning period following Moshe’s death and its account of the mourning period following Yaakov’s death. Regarding Moshe, the Torah states (Devarim 34:8): “The Children of Yisrael wept over Moshe in the plains of Moav thirty days, and then the days of weeping in the mourning for Moshe ended.” By contrast, regarding Yaakov, the Torah states (Bereishis 50:3-4): “… Egypt wept over him for seventy days. And the days of weeping for him passed ….” The Midrash remarks: “Regarding Moshe, for whom there was not [further] weeping, it is written ended, whereas regarding Yaakov, for whom there was [further] weeping, it is written passed.” Eitz Yosef explains that the mourning over Moshe ended after a short period because he was buried right after his death, whereas the mourning over Yaakov extended over a long period, passing from Egypt to Eretz Yisrael, where Yaakov’s body was taken for burial. The Maggid explains the Midrash in a different way. Yaakov’s family knew that Yaakov’s death was a milestone in the process of their being enslaved in Egypt, and so his death was followed by extended and bitter weeping. At the time of Moshe’s death, by contrast, the Jewish People were poised to enter Eretz Yisrael, conquer it, and settle securely within it, and so his death was followed by a short period of weeping, after which the people charged ahead.
The Maggid goes on to discuss how people tend not to appreciate the great loss they suffer when a righteous person dies. He builds on a passage in Yeshayah (verses 57:1-6): “The righteous man has perished, and no one notices … And now come over here, you children of the sorceress … Can I relent regarding these deeds?” Upon the death of a person who focused his life on worldly indulgences, his departure is clearly noticed and mourned by those he patronized – the food, liquor, clothing, or jewelry merchants – for they have now lost a good customer. But upon the death of a righteous person who refrained from worldly indulgences, no one notices, for no one feels a significant loss of profit. But, in truth, when a righteous person dies, his community suffers a great loss, for they lose the protection against Divine wrath that the righteous person provided them, and now face punishment. The Maggid brings out the point with an analogy. When a young boy aggravates his father and makes him ready to lash out against him, often the boy’s mother saves him from being punished. But if the mother has to take a trip, the father is then free to call his son over and dish out heavy punishment.
One of Shlomo HaMelech’s teachings reflects this type of scenario. Shlomo declares (Mishlei 16:14): “The king’s wrath is [like] angels of death, but a wise man will appease it.” The Zohar (parashas Korach 177a) expounds: “It is like when a man is angry at someone, and they bring in the angry man’s young son – his great love for his son makes him forget his anger. … Likewise, so long as a righteous person is present, Hashem holds back His anger on his account and refrains from meting out punishment to sinners.”
The Maggid then notes a verse in Yirmiyah which, under a homiletical interpretation, chastises people who fail to take notice of a righteous person’s death. Yirmiyahu declares (verse 22:20): “Do not weep over a dead man, and do not shake your head over him – instead weep over the one walking on his way …” The Maggid brings out the point with a parable. A man went out collecting for a fund for ransoming Jews taken captive. He approached a miser and asked him to contribute also, but he did not want to do so. The collector then said to him: “You should know that you are also at risk of being taken captive, so you really ought to contribute to the ransom fund, if not for the benefit of the Jew who is now being held captive, then for your own benefit. At the moment you are free to walk on your way, but at any moment you could also be imprisoned.” Similarly, a person might not be moved to cry over a righteous person who has died, but he at least ought to cry over his own self – that the righteous person’s departure means that he has lost a measure of protection against Divine wrath and is now at higher risk of being punished for his sins.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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