For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel. — Deuteronomy 34:12
The Torah portion for this week is V’Zot HaBerachah, which means “this is the blessing,” from Deuteronomy 33:1–34:12, and the Haftorah from Joshua 1:1–18.
This week we read the final verse of the Torah, which is part of Moses’ eulogy. The verse reads: “For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.” Just as the first verse of the Bible sets the stage for the rest of the Torah, so, too, does the last verse give context and perspective to everything preceding it.
The Jewish sages teach that the “awesome deeds” mentioned in the verse refer specifically to the shattering of the first set of tablets on which the Ten Commandments were written. Do you remember the story? When Moses saw that the children of Israel had built a golden calf to worship while he was on Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments from God, he decided to break them. Of all of the amazing things that Moses did in his lifetime, why is this deed singled out as his greatest?
To understand the enormity of this action, let’s consider Moses’ perspective. After devoting his life to bringing the children of Israel out of Egypt, he reached the climactic moment of ascending Mount Sinai to bring God’s Word down to earth. This was to be his finest moment. The people would be fully transformed from a nation of slaves into God’s chosen people.
Moses was on Mount Sinai for 40 days, without food or drink. Finally, the moment arrived. Moses approached his people full of excitement and anticipation . . . and then he saw it. Incredibly, the people had built an idol. Clearly, they were not ready to receive the tablets. Moses had worked so hard for this moment and every fiber in his body fought him as he did what he must, in spite of what he wished. He smashed the tablets, not because he wanted to, but because it was the right thing to do.
As human beings, we tend to be stubborn. Even when we know that we are wrong and need to change, we dig our heels in and resist. Nothing is more awesome than being able to go against what is comfortable for us in favor of what is right. This is what Moses did and what we all need to emulate, not just to become better people, but to uphold God’s Word.
God has given us an amazing treasure. The Bible contains all the wisdom for a happy and godly life. However, in order to access it, we need to be willing to change course and put old habits aside. We need to favor what is good over what feels good.
This is what Moses accomplished — and it truly is awesome!
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President