The Torah Text
The final chapters of Torah begin with a blessing from Moses, first a general blessing to all of the Israelites, and then specific blessings for each of the tribes. The opening lines (the general blessing) are poetic and a little mysterious.
“This is the blessing with which Moses, the man of God, bade the Israelites farewell before he died. He said: The LORD came from Sinai; He shone upon them from Seir; He appeared from Mount Paran, And approached from Ribeboth-kodesh, Lightning flashing at them from His right. Lover, indeed, of the people, Their hallowed are all in Your hand. They followed in Your steps, Accepting Your pronouncements.” (Deuteronomy 33:1-3, NJPS Translation)
Ibn Ezra offers a paraphrase that helps us understand the essence of Moses’ blessing.
Ibn Ezra’s Teaching
וזאת היא הברכה שהשם יהיה חומת אש סביב ישראל ויהיה סגולתו והלוים יורו התורה תמיד
Deuteronomy 33:3 And this is the blessing: May God be a wall of fire round about Israel. May Israel be God’s treasure. May the Levites always teach the Torah. (Translation Strickman and Silver)
Reflections for the Path
I love Ibn Ezra’s paraphrase of the blessing, and find it simple and beautiful. God as a fire wall of protection is certainly complicated right now in California (and the whole West Coast) because of the devastating and dangerous fires raging out of control. At first I shied away from that phrase in the blessing because fire seems so literal and scary right now. But the more I sit with it, I begin to wonder if it might be a healing way of relating to fire right now, and a way to connect to this element in a way that helps us feel protected by it, rather than needing protection from it.
As a Levite myself, I particularly love this line about the Levites as teachers of Torah, something I find great joy and meaning in doing in my role as a rabbi. I usually feel quite distant from the priests and their attending Levites, but this line helps me connect a little with my ancestors who first started teaching Torah.
In a general way, I might paraphrase Ibn Ezra’s reading of the blessing as follows: May you be protected, may you be cherished, may your learning guide you in wisdom.
Chazak chazak, v’nitchazek. Thanks for traveling through the Torah year with me and Abraham ibn Ezra, and wishing you much strength and continued learning in the year to come.