Contributed by: R. Ezra Mizrahi
Here we stand, on the precipice of the last holiday until Hanukah. Shemini Aseret is the holiday we celebrate at the close of Sukot, coupled with Simhat Torah. Oftentimes we get swept up by these days of holidays, and wake up next Shabbat, when we read parashat Beresheet. It is important to realize that on this holiday we read the final parasha of the Torah, Zot Haberacha. In fact, it is the only time that we continue weekly Torah readings on the same day of a holiday. [generally, when a holiday falls on Shabbat, or on a holiday which falls during the week, a special Torah reading is read, and any other regular Torah reading is postponed to the following Shabbat].
What can we learn from Zot Haberacha, the final parasha in our Torah? The parasha is filled with the blessing that Moshe bestowed on each tribe. But more importantly, we read of the passing of Moshe Rabeynou, our nation's greatest leader.
"Then Hashem said to him, "This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, 'I will give it to your descendants.' I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it."
And Moses the servant of Hashem died there in Moab, as Hashem had said. He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is. Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone. The Israelites grieved for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days, until the time of weeping and mourning was over." (Devarim 34:4-8)
Though there is a lot to focus on in these five verses, let us focus on how and where Moshe was buried. According to many, Hashem buried Moshe. It this very fact that the gemara in various places explains how important it is to perform acts of loving kindness – gemilout hasadim, as there is no greater an act of kindness than burying a person (for he can not ever repay the act). We see that Hashem Himself performed such an action, teaching us the importance of these acts.
Moreover, Moshe was buried opposite a house of Avodah Zara (Bet Peor) in order to atone for the sin committed by Bnei Yisrael in Moab with Baal Peor, which led to the deaths of 24,000 men. Yet, the rabbis tell us that no one knows exactly where Moshe is buried (see Baal Tourim verse 6). So we can extend this atonement further. Any time an indivudal would be tempted to enter one of these houses of idolatry, one is forced to wonder if Moshe is buried nearby, "watching". Even in his death, Moshe prevented Bnei Yisrael from sinning.
But there is an even greater aspect to Moshe's passing that is not mentioned in the verse. The next verses read as follows:
"Now Yehoushua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the LORD had commanded Moses."
After 30 days of mourning, the nation did not revolt and fall into mayhem. Rather, they accept unanimously, the rule of Yehoushua. This might be the truest mark of a great spiritual leader, that he taught the people about religion, but never connected himself to the picture. Where Bnei Yisrael faltered in Het Haegel, they now excelled. In the past, when Moshe their teacher and liason to Hashem disappeared (Het Haegel), the nation panicked. Now, after learning with Moshe for 40 years in the desert, they understood that the religion is greater than any one person, and each individual must strive to create their own connection with their creator.