“And this is the blessing that Moshe Ish HaElokim blessed the children of Israel before his death.” (Devarim 33:1)
The words of the Torah here require comment. What does it mean to say, “before his death?” Surely, it was before his death, for how could Moshe have blessed them after his death?
Rashi says: “Just before his death; for if not now, when?”
Just as Yaakov had blessed his children just before his death, so too Moshe. That explains the conjunctive vav, “And this is the blessing” — which connects Moshe’s blessing to that of Yaakov.
For this is the most opportune time. When the tzaddik is about to depart this world, as the materiality of the body loses its grip and the partition between him and pure spirituality dissolves; there is access to a clarity of vision that could not be attained anytime before this. This is the time when his blessing for his children can have the greatest effect.
The Torah informs us that Moshe lost none of his physical strength even at the end of his 120th year. But here it reveals that in his last moments he even surpassed the spiritual heights he had reached in years past. Greater than Krias Yam Suf, greater than Maamad Har Sinai.
That is the meaning of the Midrash which says that Moshe ascended the thirteen steps of Har Nevo in one stride. He attained in one motion all the thirteen attributes of Hashem. Thus, the Torah attests at this particular juncture, and not before, that Moshe was Ish HaElokim. (Aderes Eliyahu, cited in Rav Dov Eliach, Chumash HaGra).
Moshe knew that he was soon would be niftar, and without entering the Land of Israel. He also knew that it was because of the sin of Mai Meriva, where he and Aharon were held responsible for failing to sanctify the name of Hashem, for striking the rock instead of only speaking to it to extract water. But he also knew that Klal Yisrael had brought this about, had sought to test them, to see if they really could get water from a rock. They tried Moshe’s patience, until he finally rebuked them with “Hear, you rebellious ones!…’
We might understand if Moshe had felt some resentment toward them. Any ordinary person would. Yet, he held nothing back. He blessed the nation with all his might. And when the time came, he leapt up the mountain to his death, even though he knew that he would never set foot in the land, and would be buried outside it. If that was the will of Hashem, so be it; Moshe wanted nothing else.
Thus, the previous parashah ends with “there you shall not go.” Nonetheless, “it is followed immediately by, “And this is the blessing…” The painful disappointment of not going into Eretz Yisrael did not hinder the blessing in the least (Harav Zalman Sorotzkin, zt”l, Oznaim L’Torah). In this sense, too, Moshe was Ish HaElokim.
The time was opportune from the point of view of Klal Yisrael as well.
The subsequent pessukim describe the virtues of Klal Yisrael which made them worthy of Moshe’s blessing: Hashem miSini ba…as recipients of the Torah at Sinai, that they accepted the Torah when the other nations had refused it, that they accepted it even though it be aish dos, a fiery law, one that can burn those who are not careful; the merit of the Avos (af chovev amim); their declaration of naaseh v’nishma (Torah tziva lanu Moshe); and their acceptance of Hashem as their king (vayehi b’Yeshurun melech) (Don Yitzchak Abarbanel).
The second part of Rashi’s comment — “For if not now, when?” — is also puzzling. It suggests that Moshe might have preferred to wait, but that he could not, for there would be no other time to give his blessing.
Why should he want to wait? For what would he wait?
The answer is that a blessing can only be as great as the recipient’s capacity to be blessed. And the greater the recipient, the greater the blessing can be.
Klal Yisrael at that time, as they prepared to enter the Land after forty years in the wilderness and all the miracles they had seen, were still growing spiritually. As the passuk says, “And He didn’t give you a heart to know until this day.” Their ability to know, to absorb the wisdom of the Torah and contain the blessing of Hashem was greater now than at any previous time.
Therefore, Moshe would have waited longer if he could, for a moment when the people would be even more capable of receiving blessing. For the moment of greatest potential. But time had run out. If not now, when?
And since the Torah and its blessings are eternal, these blessings pertain to every generation, including our own. Moshe Rabbeinu gives his blessing to Klal Yisrael just before his death, to that generation and all generations thereafter.
This explains why it is that we complete the year’s Torah reading at Simchas Torah, rather than the end of the year, before Rosh Hashanah. We delay the reading of Zos Habrachah, so that when we stand to receive the blessings of Moshe Rabbeinu it will be with all the accumulated merits of the Torah, teshuvah and maasim tovim of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkos. The reading is delayed to allow for the moment of greatest potential (Shem Mishmuel, Zos Habrachah).
But it cannot be delayed any longer. For if not now, when?