This is our last parasha in the Torah, in a few weeks we’ll start Bereshit and begin again after Simchat Torah. Four of our five books of the Torah have centered around the most significant figure in Israel save Yahushua, Moshe Rabbinu. And in this parasha he goes the way of all flesh, he returns to the dust from which G-d made him.
The sum of his life is not found in chapter 34 but in 33:1. In this verse we have the greatest of compliments, a statement which all of us would like to have on our tombstone as definitive of our life. In Devarim 33:1 Moshe is called a “man of G-d”. Now that may seem insignificant to you, after all both Joshua and David are called the same thing, it is not something unique to Moshe. But up until this point, Moshe has not been given this ‘title’.
In context, this title would indicate that the words about to be uttered, the blessings over the various tribes of Israel, were to have, in a unique way, the authority of G-d, they were not just Moshe’s words. That is true, but that is also true for most of the words of Torah. This is more significant that that.
If you look at the previous parasha, verses 48-52, you can see a reason for this. Before Moshe dies, G-d reminds him why he is not going to go into the land, the failure at Meribah Kadesh. That would be rather depressing. But his life was not going to end on that note. He was a prophet like none in Israel before or since, and G-d had used him in a miraculous ways. But there is something more important than such grandiose things. And that is being a man of G-d.
Very few men and women in history have the opportunity or the relationship with G-d to do the things that Moshe did. He was a unique figure in history. But we need not be discouraged because although we may not be able to do the things Moshe did we can be known, at the conclusion of our lives, the same way Moshe was, as a man of G-d. When our lives are over, when we have continually worked out our salvation with fear and trembling, when we have endured to the end, when we stand before G-d and he says ‘well done good and faithful servant’ we will be known as men and women of G-d. That we shared in His character, that we exemplified His values, that we did His will, that we imitated our Messiah in all things. Then we, like Moshe, will be known by all as a man of G-d.
Traditionally, during the days of awe between Yom Tiro’ah and Yom Kippor, our fate is determined for the next year. The decree is sealed on Yom Kippor and is based on our life up to that point. If such things are true (and even if they are not) and your time (or mine) on this earth will be up this year, how will you be known? Will you be known as a man or woman of G-d? Will your friends and your family know that you served the G-d of Israel with all your heart, mind soul and possessions? Have people looked at the good things in your life and glorified G-d in heaven? Have you stood firm in the testimony of Messiah and the commandments of Torah? This is the time to look and answer these questions honestly. And over the next year we can either build on the good things we have done or we may have to do teshuvah. But the next year is in your hands. Make the choice to glorify G-d at a new level, spreading the truth and building up the community of Israel.
The end of the book of Devarim chronicles the death of Moshe. He is to ‘gathered to his fathers’ as the Bible so often puts it. He is going into the great unknown, he is going to open the door from which there is no return. The way we look at death determines, to a great extent, the way we look at life. If death is it, then one can live life in an ‘anything goes’ manner although it is also very depressing for few people in the history of mankind have lived the life they wanted. One can believe in an afterlife but be unsure about what it consists of. One can believe in heaven and hell, ultimate judgement, a God who sits on a throne and separates the sheep from the goats. This will have a marked impact on the way you live and how you feel about it. Regardless of which view one may subscribe to, one believes it on faith, in the common sense of the word. No one knows what is on the other side because those that go there don’t come back and tell us about it. What is unknown is usually feared and all of us, deep down, wonder if what what we believe is right for it is what comes after this life that is the proof. For all these reasons, it is important to try to understand death.
The Hebrew word for death is ‘mot’; to die, to cease to live. We are made in the image of God, we have his mark on us. The mark, in the ancient pictographs, is represented by a tav. The mem in our word represents chaos. Chaos is complete disorganization, it is randomness. Systems cannot function in chaos, systems by their very nature require a high degree of organization although they do not operate without chaos. It is when they are in proper balance within the specific system that they are functional. Systems, from the cosmos to cells to our bodies are, in reality, organized chaos for chaos is the raw material of creation. When the mark of God, the tav, is over the chaos, things are functional, they are alive. When the chaos overtakes this balance and order, death results. This is true on several levels. When chaos overtakes the body, it ceases to function, it dies. Y’shua taught at one point, ‘let the dead bury the dead’. There are those who, although blood still flows through their veins, allow the mark of God within them to be hidden by the chaos.
Let us return to Moshe, about whom the Torah says did not deteriorate, his eye had not dimmed, nor his strength not abated. Chaos had not taken it’s toll, mostly because he spent so much time in the presence of God’s order. Did he die? Or did he go the way of Enoch, Elijah and Y’shua? The Torah says he’s buried so his body apparently ceased to function. This leads us to Y’shua’s teaching because he said that if one ‘believes’ in him, they would not die. Yet we know that even his Talmidim died, their bodies ceased to function, usually with a lot of help. Did they not know what Y’shua taught? Had they, of all people, not partaken of this promise?
Y’shua said that many of the prophets and men of the past longed to see this day. What do we have since Y’shua came that was not available to most of them? We have the martyrdom of Stephen to guide us here. As Stephen was being stoned he looked up and saw the heavens opened and Y’shua sitting as the right hand of God. He saw the ‘other side’ as he was going. If death is the cessation of our consciousness then Stephen most likely did not die, he saw the door open before his body ceased to function. For the vast majority of the population, what comes after the body ceases to function is unknown because it is not experienced until after one has stopped being conscious in this world and until recent medical advances made it possible, and a few resurrections, no one came back to tell us about it. There were those in the past, the patriarchs and a few others, who knew the day of their passing and knew what was to come. We have now a benefit the patriarchs and the men and women of Tenach did not have. We have the teaching of Y’shua that shows us how to have eternal life, life that is lived in the infinite realm and is made up of an unbroken consciousness. We also, until we partake of this experience, we have the example of Y’shua who had been to the other side and then came back, thus validating his teaching. The great unknown which causes fear among all peoples has been conquered, it is no longer unknown and it does not need to be feared.
Chazak, Chazak, Venitchazeik!!