This week’s parsha is closely related to last week’s Parshas Nitzavim and they are read either together on or during Rosh Hashanah. In the Chayenu publication there is an insightful thought concerning the two parshios, they note that “parshat Nitzavim focuses on G-d’s side of the covenant, while parshat Vayeilech focuses on the Jewish people’s side of the covenant.” Let’s begin this week’s d’var Torah by revisiting the opening line from Parshas Nitzavim:
“You, all [together], are standing today before the Eternal, your God:”
What I like about this line is that it reminds us that we are all in this together! So with that in mind let’s move into this week’s parsha.
“Moshe then went and spoke these words to all Yisrael. He said to them,’” Today I am one hundred and twenty years old. I may no longer go out or enter, [for] the Eternal has said to me, ‘You will not cross over this Yarden.’”
I cannot imagine what hearing those words must have felt like to B’nai Yisroeal, who as fledgling nation are about to cross over into the Promised Land, but now they hear that they will do so without their beloved leader, Moshe Rabbeinu. Yet Hashem, who has never left any generation, bereft of a Shepherd, has the entire nation as witnesses to the installation of Yehoshua. What follows next is the first of three repetitions of strong encouragement that gets right at what any of us might have felt in that moment.
First to the people and then twice to Yehoshua, Moshe says, “Be strong and be firm”, some translations say courageous instead of firm, but the message then and now is we must, as a united people, stand strong and with courage, and might I also suggest pride in our Yiddishikeit. All we have to do is look around our world to see just how important it is that this reality has a home in our heart and mind. But if and when we falter, we have the very next verse to comfort and strengthen us,
“But it is the Eternal who is leading before; He will be with, [and] will not let you slip [from His grasp] nor forsake you.” v.8
When we place our eyes on the Creator King of the universe going before us into all matters of life, it truly helps during our times of distress to know who has the lead that we can safely follow. Once this part of the message has been established, the parsha turns to a small but powerful act. Moshe writes down the Torah on 13 scrolls and places them in the Ark of the Covenant, which also contains the Tablets. There are many places you can go to deepen your own spiritual understanding of this segment including Chabad.org, but as I have pondered verse 9 in relation to my theme for this blog, I cannot help but think of the Tablets as the Divine Holy Writ that is Hashem’s part of the covenant and the scrolls, which are written by a human hand with ink, are our part. The thing about ink is that it can fade and I feel as if it’s up to us, “we together who are standing here today”, to strive to make sure that this never happens through ahavas Hashem and ahavas Yisroel. And again our beautiful, holy G-d makes what can seem like a daunting task easier, by placing them both in the Holy of Holies where they meet eternally. I can think of no mightier safe.
Parshas Vayeilech is rich, deep and broad and a blog cannot contain all its riches, so it is my responsibility to pick what to write about and what to leave out. But how can we not talk about the Hakhel year that follows the Shemittah, when we are now in one?
Our parsha continues with an explanation of this seventh year commandment to come together as one nation before our king and hear him read aloud portions of Devarim/Deuteronomy. But we don’t have a king and we aren’t exactly in our “promised land” are we…? So how might we apply this to our lives today? In his book entitled, Daily Wisdom, The Lubavitcher Rebbe, OBM writes, “The objective of this assembly [Hakhel] was to strengthen the foundations of Jewish education and observance.” So get together with friends and family, in small gatherings or large, even on FB and encourage one and other with Torah values, ahavas Yisroel and the activity of Mitzvot. We can and must do this for one and other. Sukkot is coming, the parsha tells us that this was the time during the Hakhel to hear the king; Sukkot is coming and we have a wonderful time to share our King’s will and wisdom with each other.
There are so many more gems in Parshas Vayeilech and I really wish we could explore how a song, the earth and the heavens are witnesses to the covenant between Hashem and His people; perhaps another time. For now, as we move through the Days of Awe, and come to Yom Kippur, where we will once again stand together and with one voice confess the Al Chet for Am Echad, I hope that your fast is meaningful and light.
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