The Hebrew Scriptures are not readily or easily understood by native English speakers, we post a weekly addition to regular Torah commentary. "Cutting to the Root" is intended to promote an understanding of the complexity of the Hebrew language and thereby gain a richer and deeper understanding of the Scriptures. It is our goal that these notes will teach tolerance and understanding.Please visit our web site at

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Parashat Vayelech

Parasha: Vayelech – Deuteronomy 31:1 – 31:30
Haftara: Isaiah 55:6 – 56:8
Reading Date: 4th October 2008 – 5th Tishrei 5769

The section of Vayelech (and the next two parashot of Haazinu and VeZot HaBrachah) describes the events and words spoken on the last day[1] of Moses' life:
And Moses went and spoke these words to all Israel. And he said to them: "I am a hundred and twenty years old this day, I can no longer go out and come in; and YHVH has said to me: You shall not cross this Jordan...
Moses entrusts the leadership of Israel to Joshua. He puts the Torah into writing[2], and commands them the mitzvah of Hak'hel ('gathering"): every seven years, on the Sukkot festival following the shemittah year, "Gather the people together, men, and women, and the babies, and your stranger that is within your gates"; the king shall then read from the Torah to them, "that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear YHVH, and observe to do all the words of this Torah."
Moses again warns of the hiding of the divine face[3] which shall occur when the people abandon the Torah; indeed, YHVH Himself predicts that this will be the case. "This song" must therefore serve as an everlasting testimony to ensure Israel's eventual return and rapprochement with YHVH.

Shabbat Shalom

[1] Said Moses to YHVH: "Master of the Universe! If it is because of Joshua that I must die, let me become his disciple."
Said YHVH to him: "If that is your wish, you may do so."
So Moses arose early in the morning to Joshua's door, and Joshua was sitting and teaching. And Moses bent his frame and covered his mouth, and Joshua did not see him... And all of Israel came to Moses' door, but found him at Joshua's door, and Joshua was sitting and Moses was standing. And the people said to Joshua: "Joshua! What has happened to you, that Moses our master is standing and you are sitting?" As soon as Joshua lifted his eyes and saw this, he immediately tore his garments and cried and wept: "Master! Master! Father, my father and lord!"
Said the people to him: "Moses our teacher! Teach us Torah."
Said he to them: "I have not license."
Said they to him: "We shall not leave you!"
Then a voice came forth from heaven and said to them: "Learn from Joshua!" and they accepted it.
Joshua sat at their head, Moses to his right and the sons of Aaron to his left; he sat and taught, and Moses did not understand his teaching.
After they stood up, the people of Israel said to Moses: "Moses our teacher, explain the teaching to us."
Said he to them: "I know it not." And Moses was stumbling and failing.
At that moment, he said to YHVH: "Master of the Universe! Until now, I asked for life. Now, my soul is placed in Your hand."
(Midrash Tanchuma)

[2] So that this song may be a witness for Me... And this song shall testify as a witness for them (31:19)
Thus the prediction that the people of Israel will abandon the Torah and will be punished for their sins, serves as a "witness" both for the people and for YHVH. For the people, that they have been forewarned of the consequences of their deeds. And for YHVH, that He should not be too harsh on them, since He Himself foresaw it all and said, "For I know their inclination, and what they do, even now, before I have brought them into the land of which I promised..."

And Moses commanded the Levites... Take this book of the Torah, and place it to the side of the ark of the covenant of YHVH, that it may be there for a witness unto you (31:25-26)
Our sages debated in [the talmudic tractate] Bava Batra concerning this Torah scroll. There are those who say that a shelf extended from the outside of the Ark, and on it the Torah scroll was placed. And there are those who say that it was placed to the side of the Two Tablets [inscribed with the Ten Commandments] within the Ark.

[3] And I, hide shall I hide my face from them (31:18)
There are times when YHVH hides His face. But then there are times when YHVH hides His face and we don't even realize that His face is hidden; we dwell in darkness, and think it is light. This is a double galut, a concealment within a concealment.
(The Chassidic Masters)

No comments: