reflection by Dr. Mira Neshama Niculescu
The last parsha of the chumash is a long blessing.
“Ve zot ha bracha,” “and this is the blessing” opens Moshe, before blessing Israel and each of the tribes. This is his last address to the people before dying.
So the ending of the chumash is also the ending of Moshe’s life.
And here we read something that moves us very much: it is God himself that buries moshe.
וַיִּקְבֹּ֨ר אֹת֤וֹ, “And He buried him”, says the sixth verse of chapter 34. With a remarquable economy of words, the Torah delivers here a deep teaching: how God/life models chessed for us.
Here, the divine itself performs the most humble, intimate, difficult, generous task: burying the dead.
Honoring the dead by burying them is central to the Jewish tradition, and we remind ourselves of this essential and unconditional action every day in our morning prayers.
The Talmud, in Massekhet Sotah (14a), describes this verse as one of the occurrences which shows us how we are to emulate God. It starts with a question of Rabbi Chama bar Rav Chanina: “What is the meaning of the verse, “you shall walk after Hashem your God (devarim 13.5)?”
The answer for the Talmudic sage is that Walking after God is imitating Him.
But imitating God in what? Four examples are given: clothing the naked, visiting the sick, comforting the mourner, and, as we learn from this parsha, burying the dead.
All these situations have one thing in common: they are about a specific type of generosity. They are about taking care of the vulnerable, of the one who is distressed in her or his body and mind. And the quality they all require is chessed, loving-kindness.
In this parsha, God/life teaches us this most radical act of loving-kindness through example.
From there, Rabbi Samlai expounds that the Torah starts with kindness and closes with Kindness - It starts with kindness as God dresses Adam and Chava, and it closes with Kindness as God buries Moshe.
With these two episodes, God’s chessed towards us humans comes full circle.
As we dwell in the Sukkah on this last day of Sukkot, may we remember Life’s constant blessings and consistent kindness towards us, and may we emulate this kindness towards one another.