Thursday, March 14, 2019

The Birth and Death of Moses

One of the 13 principles of faith according to Maimonides is believing that Moses was the greatest of all the Jewish prophets. He was so great, that God feared he would be worshipped after his death, and consequently did not disclose the location of his burial crypt. According to tradition, the 7th of Adar represents both Moses’ date of birth and date of death. This date has had an impact on Jewish tradition in different ways.

The Talmud (Sotah 12b) teaches that Moses was both born and died on the 7th of Adar. The Torah records (Exodus 2:2) that Moses’ mother hid him for three months prior to placing him in a basket on the Nile river. The sages suggest that Moses was placed in the basket by his mother Yocheved on the 6th day of Sivan, which years later, would be the day, according to the consensus of most, of Revelation at Sinai. Therefore, the Talmud concludes (based on Tosefta Sotah 11:7) that Moses was both born and died on the seventh of Adar (another Talmudical opinion suggests Moses was placed in the basket on the 21st of Nissan, which was the day the Sea Split, and the rabbis still maintained that the 7th of Adar was 3 months prior).

The rabbis teach that the righteous die on their birthdays, as did Moses. Our sages claim that the three patriarchs and King David also passed away on their birthdays. The Talmud (Rosh Hashana 11a) claims that the reason for this is that God sits and “completes the years of the righteous from day to day and from month to month” based on a Biblical verse, “the number of your days I will fulfil” (Exodus 23:26).

There is a part of the Shabbat liturgy that is linked to the death of Moses. The prayer Tzidkatcha Tzedek, “Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness,” is comprised of three verses in Psalms: 119:142, 71:19 and 36:7 (the Sephardic tradition reverses the order of the verses). Rabbi Jacob ben Asher (Tur Orach Chaim 292) claims that this prayer of accepting Divine justice, is timed for the Shabbat afternoon service, in order to function as a tziduk hadin (the acceptance of Divine judgment prayer said at a burial) for the death of Moses (and David and Joseph), which occurred in the afternoon of a Shabbat. Some suggest Moses died on the eve of Shabbat and God buried him on Shabbat – see R. Joel Sirkis and Mishnah Brurah 292:6.

Finally, the custom is for the local Jewish burial society, Chevra Kadisha, to schedule their annual dinners on or around the 7th of Adar. The annual dinners serve to fundraise, raise awareness of the holy work of the Chevra Kadisha and to honor those selfless men and women who volunteer. Customs differ when this dinner occurs, when there are two Adars.

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