Zot HaBracha is the last Parsha of the Torah. We read it on Simchat Torah, and just as soon as we finish and say, “Chazak Chazak ve’Nitchazek”, we take out a different scroll, rolled to the beginning, and start reading Parshat Breishit.
The Haftarah that we read on Zot HaBracha does not go back to the beginning. Instead, it goes forward:
וַיְהִי אַחֲרֵי מוֹת מֹשֶׁה עֶבֶד ה’ וַיֹּאמֶר ה’ אֶל יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן נוּן מְשָׁרֵת מֹשֶׁה לֵאמֹר: מֹשֶׁה עַבְדִּי מֵת וְעַתָּה קוּם עֲבֹר אֶת הַיַּרְדֵּן הַזֶּה אַתָּה וְכָל הָעָם הַזֶּה אֶל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי נֹתֵן לָהֶם לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל:
After the death of Moshe, the servant of Hashem, Hashem said to Yehoshua bin Nun, Moshe’s assistant: “My servant Moshe is dead. Now rise and cross this Yarden, you and this entire nation, to the land which I am giving to them, to Bnei Yisrael.” (Yehoshua 1:1)
Moshe is dead and the Torah is complete, but Jewish History is only just beginning. Yehoshua now must lead the Jewish People across the Jordan River, conquer the land, settle it, and create a society founded upon the laws that G-d gave to Moshe.
Moshe failed to do this, yet Yehoshua, his student, must succeed. Not only must Yehoshua step into the shoes of his teacher, not only must he lead the uncooperative and cantankerous Jewish People into the Land of Israel, but he must take the Torah from its theoretical existence in the desert and into the real world of living as a nation. All the many commandments in Sefer Devarim that begin with, “when you enter the land”, will now need to be fulfilled.
This is far from trivial. The Torah requires the Jewish People to obey their judges, but our judges must never abuse their power. We must respect commercial enterprise, but we must never take advantage of consumers. We must fight wars against fierce enemies, but never degenerate into wanton cruelty.
It is no wonder that the most repeated phrase in the Haftarah is חֲזַק וֶאֱמַץ – be strong and brave. What Yehoshua is asked to do – what the Jewish People are asked to do – is truly daunting.
The Haftarah tells us how it can be accomplished:
לֹא יָמוּשׁ סֵפֶר הַתּוֹרָה הַזֶּה מִפִּיךָ וְהָגִיתָ בּוֹ יוֹמָם וָלַיְלָה לְמַעַן תִּשְׁמֹר לַעֲשׂוֹת כְּכָל הַכָּתוּב בּוֹ כִּי אָז תַּצְלִיחַ אֶת דְּרָכֶךָ וְאָז תַּשְׂכִּיל: הֲלוֹא צִוִּיתִיךָ חֲזַק וֶאֱמָץ
The book of this Torah must not leave your mouth, you must dwell upon it day and night, so that you make sure to do all that is written in it. For only thus will your paths succeed, thus will you prevail. As I have commanded you, be strong and brave… (Yehoshua 1:8,9)
It is possible to turn the theory of the Torah into reality, but, in addition to the strength of character required by its execution, it demands continuous dedication to its study.
But is this continuous dedication, described as “the Torah must not leave your mouth, you must dwell upon it day and night”, meant to exclude all other endeavor? How will the land be conquered and settled if all Yehoshua does is study Torah day and night?
According to R’ Yishmael, that is not in fact what the Torah expects:
דבר אחר ואספת דגנך, למה נאמר לפי שנאמר +יהושע א ח+ לא ימוש ספר התורה הזה מפיך שומע אני כמשמעו תלמוד לומר ואספת וגו’ דרך ארץ דברה תורה דברי רבי ישמעאל
Why does it say, “you shall gather your grain”? Because it says, “The Torah must not leave your mouth,” and I might interpret it literally. Therefore, it says, “you shall gather your grain.” The Torah speaks in terms of the way of the world – according to R’ Yishmael. (Midrash Sifri Devarim Eikev 42)
The Torah does not ask of us to do the impossible, only the very difficult. It is impossible to learn Torah all day and never grow anything, or there will be no food to eat. Therefore, the Torah reassures us, “you shall gather your grain.” At the same time, if all we do is grow grain, and not learn any Torah, and try to observe it on auto-pilot, based on what we think we already know, then we will fail to live up to its challenging and subtle expectations.
The Midrash suggests how a balance might be achieved:
רבי יהושע אומר שונה אדם שתי הלכות בשחרית ושתי הלכות בערבית ועוסק במלאכתו כל היום מעלין עליו כאלו קיים את כל התורה כולה וקיים והגית בו יומם ולילה (יהושע א)
R’ Yehoshua says: If a person studies two laws in the morning and two laws in the evening, and is busy with his work all day, that counts as if he fulfilled the entire Torah and fulfilled “You will dwell upon it day and night” (Midrash Tanchuma BeShalach 20)
Studying a little bit, but consistently, is sufficient to place the Torah at the forefront of one’s priorities. It is sufficient to make it the arbiter of one’s values and the guide for one’s actions. And this level of dedication also requires great strength of character and strength of purpose.
In order to succeed at the building of a society based on Torah, the Haftarah urges Yehoshua: חֲזַק וֶאֱמַץ, be strong and firm,. As we finish reading the entire Torah, and the new year begins for us to implement all that we have learned, we all say together:
חזק חזק ונתחזק!
Be strong, be strong, and let us be strengthened!
Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל