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Vayeilech-Yom Kippur 5779-2018

And Moses Went…”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In this week’s parasha, parashat Vayeilech, the Torah describes Moses’ final actions before his passing.

On the last day of his life, Moses informs the people that he is soon to die. He tells the nation that Joshua will assume the leadership and that they will successfully enter into the land of Israel and inherit it. Then, standing before of all Israel, Moses appoints Joshua as his successor, whose appointment is corroborated publicly by G-d.

Parashat Vayeilech opens with the words, Deuteronomy 31:1, וַיֵּלֶךְ מֹשֶׁה, וַיְדַבֵּר אֶת הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה אֶל כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל , and Moses went and spoke these words to all of Israel. Moses tells the people that he is 120 years old today and can no longer go out and come in. Even though G-d has forbidden him to cross the Jordan, he assures the people that G-d will cross the Jordan with them and destroy their enemies so that they will take possession of the land.

The commentators are perplexed by the term,  וַיֵּלֶך —“Vayeilech,” that he [Moses] went. After all, the Abarbanel, notes, that just two chapters earlier in Deuteronomy 29:1, Moses called all the people of Israel to him to speak with them. Moses says, אַתֶּם נִצָּבִים -–“ah’tem nitzavim,”–you are standing here today before the Lord your G-d. Why then does the Torah now say “vayeilech Moshe,” that Moses went to talk to the people if they were already standing before him?

The Ramban suggests, that after Moses had completed what he had to say to the people, the people all returned to their tents. Now, just before he dies, Moses went to visit the people to say goodbye to them.

R. Abraham Ibn Ezra  maintains that Moses went to each tribe individually, comforting them, telling them not to fear, and assuring them that G-d would keep His word. According to the Ibn Ezra, it was then that Moses conferred on each tribe its blessing, even though the blessings are not recorded until later, in Deuteronomy 33, in parashat V’zot Habracha.

The Sforno submits that Moses was concerned that the Covenant that he had renewed with the people would not be accepted joyously because the people would be distracted by mourning for his death. He, therefore, went to visit the individual tents of Israel to personally inspire the people and to comfort them.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch,  declares that by personally visiting the people rather than having them come to him, the entire parasha underscores the extraordinary humility of Moses.

Various Hassidic commentators read more deeply into the term “vayeilech,” ְ
that Moses went. What is implied here by the term “went,” say the Hassidic masters, is that Moses “went” and entered into the soul of each individual Jew. This is what is implied in Deuteronomy 31 by the phrase, אֶל כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל —“ehl kol Yisrael,” that Moses spoke these things “to all of Israel.” It teaches that Moses’ spirit entered into the soul of each Jew. The real reason that no one knows Moses’ burial place (Deuteronomy 34:6), is because the soul of Moses is “buried” deep in the recesses of every Jew.

It is fascinating to note that Yonatan ben Uziel   in his Aramaic translation of the Bible, explains the words “and Moses went,” to mean that Moses went to the Beit Hamidrash, to the House of Study.

What is the origin of this unusual interpretation? Rashi, in Deuteronomy 31:2, concludes that when Moses says, “I am no longer able to go out and come in,” he means that the well-springs of wisdom were shut off to Moses. He, therefore, went to the Beit Hamidrash, the House of Study, to be taught Torah by others.

The Ba’al HaTurim notes that before the words, “Vayeilech Moshe, “and Moses went,” the previous parasha, Nitzavim, concludes with the words, עַל הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע השׁם לַאֲבֹתֵיכֶם, לָתֵת לָהֶם –the land that the Lord your G-d swore to give your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Ba’al HaTurim suggests that Moses actually went back in history to visit with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in order to inform them that the Al-mighty was keeping His promise, and was going to give the land of Israel to the Jewish people through the hand of Joshua.

The confluence between the imminent death of Moses in parashat Vayeilech, and the observance of the holy day of Yom Kippur, is by no means coincidental. I have often noted that Yom Kippur is a day on which all the Children of Israel “experience” death: On Yom Kippur there is no eating, drinking, bathing, anointing in oil, or engaging in sexual activity. The reason for this is that only one who has been dead, and comes back to life, can truly appreciate the gift of being alive.

In parashat Vayeilech, Moses teaches the people how to prepare for death by leaving the world with a sense of hope and the assurance that life continues beyond the physical life of any particular individual, no matter how great, no matter how indispensable–-even Moses.

It is especially important to acknowledge on these High Holy Days that a little bit of Moses’ soul is implanted in each Jew. As long as we live and loyally practice the words of Torah that were transmitted to us by the great Moses, Moses continues to live, and so do the People of Israel.

It is imperative, especially during these Holy Days, for all Jews to focus on the holy spirit of Moses that is implanted in each and every one of us. It is that monumental spiritual gift that provides true and deeper meaning to our own lives, and guarantees the eternity of the People of Israel.

Chag Samayach.

May you be blessed.

Wishing you a Shana Tovah and a Chatima Tovah, a very Happy and Healthy New Year. May we all be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life, and may all our prayers be answered favorably.  Yom Kippur will be observed this year on Tuesday evening, September 18th through nightfall on September 19th, 2018. Have a most meaningful fast.

The first days of Sukkot will be observed this year on Sunday evening and all day Monday and Tuesday, September 23rd, 24th and 25th, 2018. The intermediary days [Chol HaMoed] are observed through Sunday, September 30th. On Sunday evening, the festival of Shemini Atzeret commences, and is celebrated on Monday, October 1st. The final day of the festival, Simchat Torah, begins on Monday evening, October 1st and continues through Tuesday, October 2nd.