Parshat Vayelech

The short Parsha of Vayelech brings us nearer to Moshe’s final words and opens “and Moshe went and spoke these words to all of Israel” without telling us where he went which leaves our commentators to ponder over the meaning of Moshe’s final walk about if that is what it was? The Abarbanel and others note that in the previous chapter we are told that Moshe gathered everyone including the children together to bring them into the everlasting covenant of the Torah so where was he going now.  The Ramban explains that after the get together they had all returned to their tents and Moshe then went out and walked through each of the camps of the twelve tribes to bid farewell to his beloved people in the way one wishes goodbye to a good friend.

R av S R Hirsch puts this in perspective. Moshe had presented the blessings and the curses and completed the work that he needed to pass on in the name of Hashem and now he wants the personal touch before his death. He wishes to part face to face from the people he had cared for and protected for forty years. He wanted personally to present Joshua to them and encourage both him and the people to face the challenges ahead.  For this task he felt it necessary not to gather everyone together but to go round and visit everyone in his simple manner which reflected his personality as we have been told “and the man Moshe was the meekest of all men.”

The end of an era is described in a poignant Midrash which tells us “King Solomon says in Kohelet  (Ecclesiastes) – I returned and saw under the sun that the race is not won by the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor the riches to the wise, and chance happened to them all.  What does this mean, Rav Tanhuma says this refers to Moshe. Yesterday he went up to the heaven like an Eagle and now he wishes to cross the Jordan and he is not able. Today his wisdom has been taken from him and given to Joshua. Yesterday he spoke to Hashem as an equal and now he speaks like a poor man. Yesterday he knew how to appease his creator, but now he entreats him and finally Hashem says to him – behold thy days have come near.”

Moshe had completed his task and now it was someone else’s turn to take over, he realised that and took it in his stride but the handover was still painful and he needed that walk through the people to sweeten the pill. The Kli Yakar looks at the next verse, where Moshe continues “I am one hundred and twenty years old today, and I am no longer able to go out and come in”. The term “not able” could mean physically not able, or that Hashem had told him not to step on Joshua’s toes. Moshe wanted to show that he was still physically fit and could walk around the whole camp, but Hashem had commanded him to hand over the leadership to Joshua.

A few weeks ago my boss at Amdocs told me it was time to hang up my boots and retire, explaining more for reasons of budget rather than any dissatisfaction with my work. Well at 72 I am five years over the official retirement age, possibly not like Moshe who we are told “his eyes had not dimmed and his vigour not diminished,” but I understand the feelings expressed in the Midrash, even though many at work say to me “Oh I am just waiting for the day I can retire.” In this modern age unlike Moshe we have the concept of retirement and the ability to enjoy a few years of a more relaxed existence and catching up with some of the things we always wanted to do, I wonder what Moshe would have done if he had been able to retire. Well the New Year is upon as and I wish all the chance to let their dreams for the future to come true, I am not sure what mine are, as yet.

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