Parashat V’zot Hab’rakha-- Deuteronomy 33:1-34:12
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Questions for Young Children
• The rabbis selected Deuteronomy 33:4 and Deuteronomy 6:4 as the first Biblical verses to teach a child. Can you recite them after your parents tell them to you? Why do you and your parents think the rabbis chose these verses?
• Why didn’t Moshe bless all the tribes with the same blessing? Wouldn’t that have been fairer?
• Moshe compares some of the tribes to animals. Which animals does he mention? If you compared yourself to an animal, which one would you choose? Which one would you definitely not choose?

Questions for Older Children
• B’nei Yisrael will have a major change when Moshe dies and Joshua becomes their leader. What is hard for you when make a major change like switching grades and getting new teachers?
• What order did Moshe select for blessing the tribes? When you think of your family, in what order do you usually think about your siblings?
• Do you think any one tribe received a better blessing than the others?
• In 33:13 Moshe blesses Joseph. Is there a Joseph tribe? Which tribe or tribes are being blessed?

Questions for Teens and Adults
• How well do you think Moshe deals with his impending death? What do you think we can learn about how to die from this parasha?
• The commentators found the introduction to the blessings (the exordium) difficult to understand. What problems do you see in understanding 33:2-5?
• Who buries Moshe? What’s remarkable about Moshe’s burial site? Are there any burial or mourning customs in chapter 34 that parallel today’s rituals?

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How does one end a book like the Torah? Before you scan this week’s parasha, what’s your suggestion? Now, take a peek at the ending and look how beautifully the last verse--”...and for all the great might and awesome power that Moshe displayed before all Israel” (34:12)-- flows into our collective “Hazak, hazak v’nithazek” at the completion of reading the Torah. Like the previous parasha, this one is predominantly in verse. This poem recounts the blessings that Moshe bestows on each of the tribes and on the collective body of the Israelites. Notice how Moshe’s tone has shifted from rebuke to hope. “O happy Israel! Who is like you, a people delivered by the Lord, Your protecting Shield, Your Sword triumphant! Your enemies shall come cringing before You, and You shall tread on their backs.” (33:29)

Find the food connection...

אֶרֶץ דָּגָן וְתִירוֹשׁ
...a land of grain and wine...
--Deuteronomy 33:28b

Grain and wine!
Hallot and wine would certainly follow from the verse in D’varim. For the more ambitious, here’s a recipe that combines both grain and wine and cooks in 15 min.

The Side Dish

You’ve come to the end of the Torah. Soon, we restart the cycle. Taste of Torah is designed for return visits to each page. See what worked, what you might add when you return to a specific parasha. Your life experiences in the past year may shift your discussion focus. New people at your Shabbat table may bring new insights.

I encourage you to carry on your own tradition at your Shabbat table. If you enjoy the Taste of Torah format, continue on your own with your family. Ask other family members to look ahead to next week’s parasha and find a food connection. Talk about the parasha with your family in ways that are meaningful for all those seated at your table. Instead of bringing a dish to share for the meal, guests can bring a topic for discussion or a topic along with a complementary dish.

As I learned from Shirley Abelson, the secret to a successful Shabbat experience is involvement of all the Shabbat guests in the meal. For some it means cooking, for others it could be creating a centerpiece, for others it can be posing a discussion question, for another it may be telling a story or relaying family history, and for some it’s Shabbat singing. From the youngest to the oldest, there is a place for everyone at the table and a way everyone can contribute to the joy of Shabbat.

May each of your Shabbatot be a Shabbat Shalom flavored with Torah in the new year. I'll be back with a new installment for Parashat B'reishit 5778.




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A Dash of Song

The seventh verse of Yigdal is:
Lo kam b’yisrael k’Moshe od.
Navi umabit et t’munato.

In Israel, none like Moshe arose again
—a prophet who perceived his vision clearly.

Compare these line from Yigdal with Deuteronomy 34:10. Many of us know Yigdal and Adon Olam as the signals that we’ve reached the end of the service.  Yigdal embodies the Thirteen Principles of Faith as stated by Maimonides. It was reworked into a song format in 1404 by Daniel ben Judah Dayan. There are multiple versions of the melody although, unlike Adon Olam, the words won’t fit the Minnesota Rouser. Check the youtube site to hear Yigdal in a tune you may not recognize.

A Dash of Prophecy
What is a prophet? Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote a tome to answer that question. The book is appropriately entitled, The Prophets. Examining just the Hebrew word, navi, most experts in the Hebrew language define its meaning as a mouthpiece.

The prophet in our tradition transmitted God’s words to the people. The prophet himself didn’t foretell the future. All his knowledge was from God. Notice how many prophets are reluctant to take on the job. God has to persuade Moshe and the theme continues as we read about the prophets who follow.

A Dash of Comparative Literature
Compare and contrast Moshe’s farewell address to Jacob’s blessings to his children (Genesis, chapter 49). Do you see similar qualities of each son or tribe mentioned in both? Is the structure similar?

A Dash of Tradition
Moshe blesses the tribes. Perhaps this can be the week you begin your own tradition of blessing your children on Shabbat. (See Parashat Vay’hi for more discussion and the complete blessing). There is a tradition of reciting
Yasimkha elohim k’efrayim um’nashe” to boys and “Y’simekh elohim k’sarah, rivka, rahel v’leah” to girls. Then all children are included in the priestly benediction. Or, create your own blessing for your children. When my oldest son left for college, the most difficult moment for me was his absence during the weekly blessing over the children. I spoke to a congregant with older sons and she counseled me to call him before Shabbat and bless him over the phone. I took her advice and the pre-Shabbat phone call and blessing became ritualized.

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Couscous and Wine
Pareve and vegan—serves 6

Ingredients   rsz couscous and wine photo copy

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/3 cup white wine (preferably an Israeli one)
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1-1/2 tsp. finely chopped rosemary
  • 1 cup whole wheat or regular couscous (preferably an Israeli one)


  1. Combine all ingredients except couscous in a saucepan.
  2. Bring to a boil uncovered. Boil for 1 min.
  3. Turn off heat and stir in couscous.
  4. Cover and let stand for 5 minutes.

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