Parshat V’Zot Habracha

Pencil, watercolour, embroidery silk on parchment, 2011

Artist: Jacqueline Nicholls,  England

V’zot Habracha is the very last parashah (chapter) of the Torah and concludes Tthe Ffive Books of Moses. Moshe’s story ends here, after leading the Israelites for forty years, from slavery to freedom. His story ends just as the people prepare to cross into the Land of Israel. Moshe will never cross the border, but will only stand and watch as his people enter the Promised Land. He views it from afar, knowing he cannot enter, and blesses the people before he dies. It seems almost cruel.

In the verses leading to his death, Moshe speaks and longingly eyes the Land and those who will inherit it. His mouth and eyes are active to the end. His death is described as alul pi HaShem / ָוההי פי עַל (, by the mouth of God). The scripture tells us that his eyesight never weakened. Moshe’s vision was unique and never left him. He saw God as if through clear glass until the moment of his death.

Moshe was always an active leader. When his story begins, in the Book of Shemot (Exodus), he kills an Egyptian to save an Israelite before fleeing to Midian. He returns to Egypt with God’s message to free the people, but suffers from a stammer and his brother, Aaron, speaks for him. By the time we come to Moshe’s death, we are in the Book of Devarim (Deuteronomy), the book of words. Over his forty-year leadership, he finds his voice and leads the people with the words of his mouth and not physical strength. His leadership is rooted in teaching, rebuking, and blessing with words.

The importance of using words over physical action is exemplified by the gravity of Moshe’s punishment. He must die in the wilderness, prohibited from entering the land he has journeyed to, and is only permitted to gaze at the land with his perfect vision. He does not inherit the Land. There is no grave to mark his resting place. Why? Because when commanded to speak to a rock to produce water, he hit the rock instead. He chose physical action over the words of his mouth.

The mouth, the eye.

This piece, drawn on parchment, contrasts the mouth and the eye before and after death. Before death, the mouth and eye are drawn vividly in pencil, and the relevant verses are embroidered in a bright blood red. After death, they are simply embroidered in white, as are the phrases that quote the mouth and the eye.

Although Moshe has no grave we can visit to show we have not forgotten him, we visit his death every year when we read parshat V’zot HaBracha. The image includes twelve stones, one for each tribe of Israel, echoing the customary leaving of stones at the graves of loved ones He will always be Moshe Rabbeinu, our teacher, whose place on earth rests in the words we carry with us as we wander across many lands.

About Jacqueline

Jacqueline Nicholls trained as an architect and medical illustrator before learning various media and craft techniques for fine art, including drawing, printing, embroidery, tailoring, paper-cutting and knitting. Jacqueline has exhibited in solo shows and significant contemporary Jewish Art group shows in Europe, USA and Israel. She teaches at the London School of Jewish Studies, and is an arts programmer at JW3.

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