Parshat Nitzavim Vayelech

September 15th, 2017

Significantly we come to the end of year and to the end of Moshe’s life in parallel, Moshe in his final days reflects on what he has achieved as a leader and warns his flock of the future he will not see. Here he also hands over to Joshua, so we have closure but more important looking to the future, just as we in the New Year have time to reflect but more importantly to look to the future.

In the joining of these two portions into one we come across an interesting insight into Moshe’s character. In Parshat Nitzavim Moshe gathers everyone together, as he has done for his great speech, but then in Parshat Vayelech we find “Then Moses went out and spoke these words to all Israel. I am now a hundred and twenty years old and I am no longer able to lead you. Hashem has told me – You shall not cross the Jordan.”

Our sages present Moshe’s caring personality, the Ramban tells us that when Moshe finished the assembly everyone returned to their tents and then Moshe went to round to each tribe as one who respectfully takes leave from a friend. Ibn Ezra suggests that he told each of his forthcoming demise and to comfort told them that Hashem would not abandon them. The Sforno adds that he wanted to encourage them to receive the covenant and future with joy and not to mourn his death. Rav S R Hirsch notes Moshe’s simple meek and gentle character in going out to the people. The Ktav Sofer notes that Moshe was possibly simply saying, I have reached 120 years and I am tired, it is time for someone new to take over.

We have a Midrash that beautifully presents Moshe’s humility. Moshe said to Hashem, let Joshua take over and I will continue to live. Hashem replied “treat him as he treated you.” So Moshe got up early and went to Joshua’s tent and Joshua took fright. Moshe said to Joshua “my teacher take me with you,” and they walked together to the tent of meeting and the pillar of cloud came down on Joshua. When the cloud rose Moshe asked Joshua “what was revealed to you?” and Joshua responded “when Hashem spoke to you did you tell me what he said!” Moshe then responded bitterly “better to die a hundred times than to experience envy even once.” Moshe loved his servant Joshua and realised his time had come and he has to make way absolutely to Joshua and not be a burden to him.

Once it became clear to Moshe that this is the end, Hashem comforted him with a final act of a song which will outlast him – “so now write this song for yourselves and teach it to the children of Israel and place it in their mouths, so this song shall be a witness.“ Some say this song is the song of Parsha Ha’azinu and others the whole of the Torah, but what a wonderful way for Hashem to express to Moshe that his spirit will live on with poetry and song.

As we approach the Days of Awe I find it’s songs words and melodies creep into my mind. In reflection over the last year we seem to be losing a number of the bearers of song we grew up with, who changed music and began in the sixties to write about life. In November last year, just after the New Year, we lost Leonard Cohen who in his final album returned to his roots. For this album he contacted the Sha’ar Hashamayim orthodox shool where he grew up in Montreal and asked the chazan Gideon Zelermeyer and the choir to be the backing on some of the tracks. Of course, no comparison between Leonard Cohen or any of the other song makers to Moshe Rabenu but there is power in putting words to a tune. In Leonard Cohen’s opening song “You want it darker” he even says “Hineni” Abraham’s words at the Akeda, that we read on Rosh Hashana – tying the beginning of the covenant and hope for the future he will not see, despite his dark view of how the world is behaving

If you are the dealer, I’m out of the game, If you are the healer, I’m broken and lame
If thine is the glory, Then mine must be the shame, You want it darker, We kill the flame