Parshat Vayelech

In Parshat Vayelech, as the Hebrew word tells us, Moshe in his humility goes around the camp wishing his farewells to his beloved nation. Then in Ch31 verse 6 we read, “and Moshe summoned Joshua and said to him, before the eyes of all Israel. Be strong and courageous for you shall come with this people to the Land of Hashem.” The expression used here by Moshe is “and you shall come” in Hebrew “asher tavo”, but then a few sentences on in verse 23 he repeats his words in Hashem’s name “be strong and courageous for you shall bring Bnei Yisrael,” using the Hebrew “asher tavi.” Rashi, based on the Talmud picks up on this slight change of wording and explains that initially Moshe was suggesting that Joshua would be the first among equals, implying that he should share his leadership and decisions with the elders. Hashem was not happy with this and emphasizes that Joshua must be a strong and decisive leader, and there can only be one man in charge.

This in itself is interesting, but I think there is more to it. Moshe presented his epic speech, laid out here in the book of Devarim in the last few days of his life, in his own words, without any intervention from Hashem. Here for the first and only time Hashem intervenes and in verse 14 calls Moshe together with Joshua to the Tent of Meeting. I cannot find any commentators who note this, but I think what we have here is Hashem calling Moshe to order, in the presence of Joshua. Firstly, as Rashi says, to clarify that Joshua, and only Joshua, as the leader must make the decisions, but then Hashem warns of the dangers of the people going astray and commands Moshe and Joshua in verse 19, “therefore write this song and teach it to Bnei Yisrael, and put it in their mouths.” Now a few sentences earlier in verse 9, we were told that Moshe wrote a Torah scroll, and gave it to the Cohanim, who carried the Ark of the covenant, and to all the elders, and told them to get it out once every seven years to read to the people.

Now I am sure that it was not Moshe’s intention that the Torah should only be brought out once every seven years and only be kept in the hands of the Cohanim and the elders. Nevetherless, Hashem wishes to make it crystal clear, in the presence of Joshua, that if the people are not to stray, everyone needs to learn Torah. So, Hashem says to Moshe write this song (referring to the Torah) and teach it to all Bnei Yisrael. Our sages learn from this that, in theory, it is the duty of every Jew to write his own Sefer Torah. But do not fear, if you have not done so yet, R B H Epstein in the Torah Temima says that in our times we  suffice by buying a new Chumash or commentary, every year.

Vayelech is followed by Parshat Ha’azinu, which is written as a song, and there are different opinions as to whether Hashem’s request to write this song refers to the whole of the Torah or just to Parshat Ha’azinu, The Netziv in his introduction to the Torah explains that the Torah can be compared to a song. The words and phrases of a song, often only hint of something and require explanation and in addition many songs have hidden meanings which are often interpreted differently by different people. This is very much the essence of our Torah.

Sadly, our Bet Knesset Shem Leshimon have lost a few regular members this year. For many years, a lovely man, Binyamin Shavit sat next to me and for the last few years he had very poor sight. Even though hew new almost all the prayers by heart he always asked me to say with him the special psalm just before the blowing of the shofar. I stood there missing his presence and started to say the psalm and to my amazement the empty upfolded seat next me came down to the sitting position, all on it’s own. So, Binyamin, wherever you are up there, put in a good word for all of us down here.

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