Vayelech – And He Went – Deuteronomy 31:1-30; Page 1237 Women’s Commentary & Page 1547 in Plaut

This is the shortest Parshah in the Torah, just 30 verses.  It begins and ends with Moses speaking.

After his death the Torah will speak for him.

Moses addresses the people, saying that he is 120 years of age on that day, and he is not permitted to cross the Jordan River together with them.  Instead Joshua will lead them, and God will go before them and destroy their enemies.

Moses says that God will vanquish the inhabitants of Canaan as he did with the Emorites and the Bashanites.  Moses tells the Israelites to be strong and not fear their enemies and trust in God.

Moses summons Joshua and tells him to be strong and courageous for God will be going before him and will not forsake him.

Moses finishes writing the entire Torah and gives it to the Kohanin and the Israelite Elders to teach the nation and guarantee that it is never forgotten.

 God commands Moses to enter the Tabernacle with Joshua and appears to them both, informing them that a time will comes when the Israelites will abandon God and stray after alien gods.  At that time, God will hide his face from the nation and they will be subjected to much evils and troubles.  Therefore, God says, “Write for yourselves this song, and teach it to the Children of Israel. Place it into their mouths, in order that this song will be for Me as a witness – Haazinu – the next Parshah is that song.  This song will bear testimony that these events are in fact punishment for their sinful behavior, but that God will not forsake them.  This song also represents the Mitzvah of each Jew to write a Sefer Torah.

Moses takes the freshly concluded Torah scroll and gives it to the Levites.  He instructs them to place it beside the Ark which contained the Tablets of the Ten Commandments (or inside the Ark, next to the Tablets).  Moses then gathers the entire nation to hear the song, wherein he would call upon the heavens and earth to be witnesses that the Israelites were forewarned regarding their fate if they sinned (worshipped alien gods, etc.)

 

According to Rabbi Sacks:

 “Moses gives the commandment of Hakhel (assembly), whereby every seven years, during the holiday of Sukkot which follows the Sabbatical year all men, women and children assemble and the Nation’s Leader publicly reads sections of the Torah.

 Hakhel was a re-enactment of the covenant ceremony at Mount Sinai.  The Torah was intended to remind the people of their history, the laws they are called on to keep and the principles they must live by.  It was to be a ceremony of national rededication – a renewal of their inherited and chosen destiny, a reminder of the duties they owed to their ancestors, their descendants not yet born and, primarily, to God Himself.

 We don’t know how this command was carried out in practice but the biblical record shows that the nation’s leaders did this in critical junctures in history.  Joshua did so at the end of his life. King Josiah did so when the Torah was rediscovered during a restoration of the Temple.  Ezra did so when he rededicated the Temple after the end of the Babylonian Exile.”  King Agrippa read it during Roman times according to Josephus.

“At the end of his life having given the Israelites at God’s behest 612 commands, Moses gave them the final mitzvah: “Now write for yourselves this song and teach it to the people of Israel.  Put in their mouths, that this song may be My witness against the people of Israel (Duet. 31:19).

 According to the plain sense of the verse, God was speaking to Moses and Joshua and was referring to the song in the following chapter (Haazinu), however, Oral Tradition gave it a different and much wider interpretation, understanding it as a command for every Jew to write, or at least take some part in writing, a Sefer Torah.”

The 613th Miztvah, that every Jew should write a Torah Scroll, is the last positive commandment of the Torah.  It is not simply about the Torah, but on a much deeper level it’s about the duty to make the Torah new in every generation.  To make the Torah live anew, it is not enough to hand it on cognitively as mere history and law, it must speak to us affectionately and emotionally.  Each one of us is part of the Torah – whether you write a Letter with a scribe, contribute toward the upkeep of the Torah, study Torah, read from the Torah, carry the Torah, touch the Torah or think about the words or lessons of the Torah.  It binds us all together.  Though the Torah was given once, it must be received many times.

Every week on Shabbat we raise the Torah and say “This is the Teaching that Moses set before the people of Israel – at the command of God by the hand of Moses.”

 

The Torah – A Midrash

Story of Moses and Rabbi Akiva – Midrash (‘search’ in Hebrew)

In the Babylonian Talmud there is a Midrash (M’nachot 29b) in which Moses is depicted as watching God sitting and writing crowns (embellishments that look a bit like crowns) on some of the letters in the Torah.  Moses asked God why the Holy One was doing this.  God responded “There is a man who will appear at the end of several generations and Akiva ben Yosef is his name.  And he will need these crowns, because from each and every mark he will derive scores and scores of laws”

Moses said “Ruler of the Universe, show this man to me”.  The Holy One said “Turn Around”

Moses found himself sitting in the back of Rabbi Akiva’s beit midrash (classroom) and he did not understand a word that was being said.  He felt faint and frustrated.  When the class reacted to a certain point in the discussion, a student asked Rabbi Akiva, “Rabbi, what is the source for this ruling”. Rabbi Akiva said, “It is a law given unto Moses at Sinai”

At the end of the Midrash in the Talmud, Moses understood that his work had not disappeared by the time of Akiva, it had in fact been enhanced, beautified, and made relevant for those living in the first century C.E.

This is certainly an existential depiction of the Torah’s essence.  Torah study is not just the automatic emulation of what previous generations have thought; instead each of us also has the opportunity to offer a new explanation of the crowns adorning the letters in the Torah’s text.  In other words, an internal original spring flows from the Torah, and this fact fully legitimizes Akiva’s introduction of new laws that were not transmitted to Moses at Mount Sinai.

 

According to Rabbi Sacks:

 “As Moses faced his own life’s end, what was there left to do? The book of Devarim contains and constitutes the answer. As it says in its opening chapter: “In the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses spoke to the Israelites … On the east bank of the Jordan, in the land of Moab, Moses began expounding this law …” No longer the liberator and miracle-worker, Moses became Rabbenu, “our teacher,” the man who taught Torah to the next generation.

The way he does so in Devarim is stunning. No longer, as before, does he simply articulate the law. He explains the theology behind the law. He speaks about the love of God for Israel and the love Israel should show to God. He speaks with equal power about the past and the future, reviewing the wilderness years and anticipating the challenges ahead.

Above all, coming at the subject from every conceivable direction, he warns the young people who will enter and inherit the land, that the real challenge will not be failure but success; not slavery but freedom; not the bread of affliction but the temptations of affluence. Remember, he says again and again; listen to the voice of God; rejoice in what He has given you. These are the key verbs of the book, and they remain the most powerful immune-system ever developed against the decadence-and-decline that has affected every civilization since the dawn of time.

That last month in Moses’ life, which culminates in today’s parsha as he finally hands over the reins of leadership to Joshua, is one of the supreme instances in Tanakh of generativity: speaking not to your contemporaries but to those who will live on after you. It was Moses’ second mountain.

And perhaps the very things that seemed, at first sight, to have been disappointments, turned out in the end to have played their part in shaping this last chapter in that great life. The fact that he knew he would not accompany the people into the land, and that he would not be succeeded by his sons, meant that he had to turn into a teacher of the next generation. He had to hand on to them his insights into the future. He had to make the people his disciples – and we have all been his disciples ever since.

All of this suggests a powerful and potentially life changing message for all of us. Whatever our life has been thus far, there is another chapter to be written, focused on being a blessing to others, sharing whatever gifts we have with those who have less, handing on our values across the generations, using our experience to help others come through difficult times of their own, doing something that has little to do with personal ambition and much to do with wanting to leave some legacy of kindness that made life better for at least someone on earth.

Hence the life-changing idea: Whatever your achievements, there is always a second mountain to climb, and it may turn out to be your greatest legacy to the future.”

 How should you live your life?

Tomorrow is the First Day of the Rest of Your Life

OR

Live Each Day as though It Is Your Last

 

Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius:

“Perfection of character is this: to live each day as if it were your last, without frenzy, without apathy, without pretense.  Death is very likely the single best invention of life.”

 

Vilna Gaon:

“The pain of recognizing lost opportunity is the greatest punishment the soul must endure.”

 

Rabbi Eliezer:

“Repent one day before your death.”

His disciples asked him, “Does then one know on what day he will die?”

“All the more reason he should repent today, lest he die tomorrow”

“If one is tempted to do something wrong, he should think about the day of his death (in order to overcome the temptation)” Berachot 5a (Gemara)

 

Rabbi Sacks:

“Life is short.  Use it well.”

“The way we act, the way we speak, the way we meet God’s image in ourselves and in others – these things have great power to make our lives matter.” Reform Mishkan Hanefesh for Rosh Hashanah

 

Today will never reoccur.  Every day counts.

Utilize time in a meaningful, productive way.

Superficial pleasures become meaningless in the long run.

Joy over material acquisition is fleeting.

Focus on spiritual growth.

Focus on things like patience, kindness, empathy, compassion, understanding, mercy, forgiveness, dignity and hope.

Man is created in Gods likeness – B’tselem Elohim, a reflection of these attributes.

 

Take the Moses Challenge

Try writing your obituary. Who will you be at the end of your days? What will have mattered, and what won’t? What do you want your loved ones to say about you and to have learned from you? What do you want to leave as your legacy? And then work your way backward, to today, and make choices that are designed to get you there. It’s never too late to do the right thing. You’re always one decision away from a totally different life. Do one thing today your future self will thank you for; it’s easier than you think.

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