Parshat Vezot Haberachah is the 11th and final parsha in Sefer Devarim (also known as Deuteronomy).
This parsha is verses Deuteronomy 33:1 – 34:12, or a total of 41 verses.
Here is a brief summary for each aliyah.
This parsha is read on the festival called Shemini Atzeret which begins immediately after the 7-day festival of Sukkot.
In Israel, Shemini Atzeret is celebrated for one day. That one day is called both Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.
Outside of Israel, the Jews celebrate Shemini Atzeret for two days. The second day, though it is still Shemini Atzeret, is traditionally called Simchat Torah and that is the day this parsha is read.
Aliyah 1: Deuteronomy 33:1 – 33:7, 7 verses
Shortly before his death, Moses blesses the Children Israel, tribe by tribe.
He begins by praising God for giving His Torah to people. God gave the Torah to the nation of Israel and it can never be taken away from them.
Tribe of Reuben
Moses first blesses Reuben. Reuben was Jacob’s firstborn son.
His blessing is that he may live (Rashi: in this world) and not die (Rashi: in the world to come). Moses also blesses the tribe that it may never disappear from the among the Jewish people.
Tribe of Judah
Moses next blesses Judah, even though he was not the second born son.
Moses asks God to listen to Judah’s prayers and give the tribe success in their wars.
The kings of the Jewish people were meant to come from the tribe of Judah. So Moses is asking God to hear the prayers of those kings and give them success in battle.
Aliyah 2: Deuteronomy 33:8 – 33:12, 5 verses
Tribe of Levi
Moses begins by mentioning the garments worn by the High Priest (the Urim and Tumim). The priesthood was given to that portion of the tribe of Levi descended from Aaron.
The rest of the tribe also serves in the Temple. The tribe earned this privilege in part because of proper behavior during the events at Massah and Meribah.
The tribe of Levi will become the teachers or Torah to the rest of the nation. Notice that teaching Torah is mentioned before their service in the Temple.
Tribe of Benjamin
Moses is hinting that the Temple will eventually be built in the portion of the Land allocated to Benjamin.
The Temple Mount is in the Judean hills. It looks as if it is resting between a person’s shoulders.
Aliyah 3: Deuteronomy 33:13 – 33:17, 5 verses
Tribe of Joseph
Moses implores God that He should bless Joseph’s portion of the land. He asks for God to bless the dew and the water, and all of the crops no matter what growing conditions they need.
Joshua (descended from Ephraim) would conquer many kings during the conquest of Canaan.
Moses mentions that the tribe of Joseph has two main branches: Ephraim and Manasseh. We see in many places that they are treated as two separate tribes equal to the other tribes.
Aliyah 4: Deuteronomy 33:18 – 33:21, 4 verses
Tribes of Zebulun and Issachar
Moses mentions these two tribes together in one blessing. According to Jewish tradition, Zebulun and Issachar had a partnership.
Zebulun (to be blessed in their “going out”) engaged in commerce and supported Issachar. Issachar (blessed in their tents, their “staying in”) was able to devote themselves to learning and teaching Torah.
Tribe of Gad
Moses alludes to the fact that Gad chose their portion by requesting permission to dwell east of the Jordan River. They were a tribe of warriors. They played a major role in the battles to conquer the Land of Israel.
Aliyah 5: Deuteronomy 33:22 – 33:26, 5 verses
Tribe of Dan
Moses blesses Dan to be like a lion cub. This is an idea of being a tribe of warriors.
They needed to be warriors since their portion of the Land was on the border. They would need to help defend the rest of the Jewish people from attack.
One descendant of Dan who epitomized this trait is Samson (see Judges chapters 13 – 16).
Tribe of Naphtali
They were blessed with a very fertile land around the Sea of Galilee (Kinneret in Hebrew). They also learned to successfully fish the sea.
Tribe of Asher
Moses blesses Asher that he should be the most blessed of all the tribes. Rashi says he does not know what form this blessing took.
One idea is that Asher’s land would be fruitful and bring forth the most delicious produce. The other tribes would purchase this produce from Asher.
Tribe of Simon
There’s no denying it: Moses doesn’t include the tribe of Simon in his blessings.
The commentators suggest several reasons for this omission.
One idea is that Jacob wanted the tribe of Simon to be scattered among the other tribes. Therefore they didn’t need their own blessing but shared in the blessings of the other tribes.
There will come a time when the Tribe of Simon will have it’s own territory in the Land of Israel. According to the prophet (Ezekiel 48:24), Simon will have its own strip of land between the tribes of Benjamin and Issachar.
Moses Blesses the Jewish People
After giving a special blessing to each tribe, Moses finishes by blessing the entire Jewish people.
He blesses them that their borders should be secure.
He reminds the people that they need to be straight with God (hence the name Jeshurin).
Chatan Torah: Deuteronomy 33:27 – 34:12, 15 verses
With this reading we complete the one-year cycle of Torah readings. The person who is honored to represent the congregation during this reading is called Chatan Torah (Bridegroom of the Torah).
This reading begins with the last three verses of Moses blessing the entire nation.
Then Moses went to the top of Mount Nebo. From there God showed him the entire Land of Israel.
Moses died and was buried by God. No one knows his burial place.
The nation mourned for Moses for 30 days.
Though God gave the Jewish people other leaders and prophets, there never was a prophet like Moses. Only Moses had the privilege to know God “face to face.”
Joshua 1:1 – 18 (Sephardim read only verses 1 – 9)
The Book of Joshua begins with the death of Moses. God commands Joshua to lead the Jewish people into the Land of Israel. He promises Joshua that He will be with him and no one will challange Joshua’s leadership.
Shemini Atzeret is only mentioned a couple of times in the Torah. You will find it in Leviticus 23:36 (Parshat Emor) and Numbers 29:35 – 38 (Parshat Pinchas).