Seemingly, this week’s Parasha has a strange beginning as it opens with “And Moses went and spoke these words to all Israel” (Deuteronomy 31:1) without telling us where he went. Our Rabbis explain that Moshe went to the Israeli encampment to personally say good bye to the Jewish people before his death. He wanted to ensure the nation that although he is going to leave them to join the ranks of the upper worlds everything will be ok. Am Yisrael, who was about to enter the land of Israel knew that it had to face the challenge of capturing and dividing the land. Moshe ensured them that they had nothing to fear since Hashem will destroy the nations that interfere with them just as he had done to Sichon and Og. Nevertheless, the question still remains why the Torah doesn’t mention out right where Moshe goes. Of course, this is not the first time the Torah leaves out important details that are brought down in oral traditions. Even so, when this does happen we must ask – why.
One important rule is that in such an instance the Torah is clearly leaving room for different explanations. Since the Torah is Divine light, it is infinite! The more we look deeper into the words of the Torah the more we will discover. Yet, in my opinion, in this instance mentioning the word “Vayelech” (“went”), without saying where, has a unique meaning in the Torah. There is only one other place in the Torah that mentions the word “went” in a similar context. “Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a daughter of Levi” (Exodus 2:1) The Torah doesn’t tell us where he went to marry the daughter of Levi. It just says that he went! This union refers to Amram and Yocheved, the parents of Moshe Rabeynu. As we know Amram separated from Yochaved after the Egyptians decreed that all male children born must be cast into the Nile River. Amram who was the head of the generation (Gadol Hador) reasoned that it didn’t make sense to bring children into the world if they were to be killed in the end. The Jews of the time followed the advice of their leader and separated from their wives. Amram’s daughter Miriam, who was only a child at the time, reproved her father for issuing such a Psak(ruling). She said your Psak is worse than Pharaoh, he decreed on the males your decree affects the females as well. Amram, as a true Gadol Hador (great leader of the generation) response was “Vayelech” he was able to leave his first conception of the situation and reconsider his decision. Most people in such a situation would not be able to recognize their mistake especially when being reproved by a young child. Amram’s greatness is seen here by his ability to rise to the moment and repent by taking back his wife. If it wasn’t for this repentance his son Moshe, the savior of the Jewish nation, would not have been born.
As I mentioned in the beginning of this essay the only other time Vayelech has the same usage is in this weeks portion Vayelech Moshe, which is an account of Moshe’s last day in this world. Our rabbis explain that physically Moshe Rabeynu was healthy as ever. He had no problem in entering the land of Israel and fighting the wars against Israel’s enemies. Nevertheless, Hashem had different plans for him; it was time for his soul to return to his creator and reach much greater spiritual heights. It was Joshua’s turn to take the leadership of the nation. There is an unbelievable Midrash that describes the tremendous tension and turmoil that was weighing on Moshe. Moshe didn’t want to leave this world. The Yalkut Shimoni on Devarim 35 brings down the following account – “G-D let Joshua have my leadership and I will continue to live on and accept his rule. G-D said to Moshe OK treat him as he treated you. Immediately, Moshe gets up in the morning and goes to Joshua’s house. Joshua was afraid of hosting his rabbi at his home so they went for a walk. Moshe stood to the left of Joshua. They both entered the Tabernacle and the cloud of glory descended and separated between the two of them. When the cloud disappeared Moshe asked Joshua what Hashem had told him. Joshua responded “when the word of G-d came to you did I know what Hashem spoke with you! At that moment Moshe shouted out one hundred deaths and not one bit of jealousy!”
The greatness of Moshe as a leader is shown here how he is able to cope with the greatest test ever and accept the situation. This is alluded to in the word VAyelech. Most leaders in a similar situation would do everything in their power to hold on to the throne. Moshe Rabeynu displayed his greatness by being able to step down. In a few hours the fast of Yom Kippur will enter. Yom kippur is a time of reflection more than any other time. Let us rise to the moment and throw away previous conceptions that need to be rectified!
Rabbi Moshe Goldsmith, Itamar, Israel