Vayeilech (He went)

Deuteronomy 31:1-30

VayeilechBefore entering the Promised Land, God commands Moses to create written copies of two documents… The “Teachings” and a song that foretells the future when the people turn from the Eternal. Both are to be told to all future generations so that they will always know … and always follow the ways of the Eternal.

With only three more parshot in Deuteronomy, Moses is delivering his final words to the people before they enter the Promised Land. This week’s reading contains only 30 verses, making it the shortest parsha in Torah.

By the count of Maimonides, Moses has given the people 613 mitzvot/laws. The final two are found in this week’s parsha. Both deal with education … educating the people about the laws of Torah and their importance. This significant placement should make any temple’s school staff and school board very proud.

The first document, Deuteronomy 30:9-13:
“Moses wrote down this “Teaching” (generally thought to be the Book of Deuteronomy) and gave it to the priests, sons of Levi who carried the Ark of the Eternal’s covenant, and to all the elders of Israel. And Moses instructed them as follows: Every seventh year, the year set for remission (the Sabbatical Year), at the Feast of Booths, when all Israel comes to appear before your God in the place that [God] will choose, you shall read this Teaching aloud in the presence of all Israel. Gather the people – men, women, children, and strangers in your communities – that they may hear and so learn to revere your God and to observe faithfully every word of this teaching. Their children, too, who have not had the experience, shall hear and learn to revere your God as long as they live in the land that you are about to cross the Jordan to possess.”

The “Teaching” that Moses passed on to the Israelites is thought to be the the Book of Deuteronomy. However, according to Plaut “older commentators believed this refers to the whole Torah and considered it proof that the Torah was a work of Moses” (W. Gunther Plaut, The Torah, A Modern Commentary, Revised Ed., p, 1388) Although, sections of the Torah were read to the people every week, this was the only time it was read in totality. The timing of the reading – The Feast of Booths (Sukkot) during the Sabbatical year – was selected for the following reasons… first, the greatest number of people were present during the festivals. This holiday is at the end of the harvest season and, if the harvest was successful, the people had a greater sense of security and gratitude….. And, second, during the Sabbatical year the fields are not worked. Because the people had more leisure time, it was assumed that they spent more time devoted to spiritual matters and would be more receptive to the reading of the “Teaching.” The farmers would also be more inclined to look to God because they depended on him to provide for them during the Sabbitical Year when they were not farming.

It should also be noted that this “Teaching” was read, not only to the men, but to the women and children. These two large sections of the population would carry the Hebrew traditions to the next generation.

The second document takes the form of a song – Deuteronomy 30:16-21:
Later in the parsha, the Eternal called Moses and said to him: “You are soon to lie with your ancestors. This people will thereupon go astray after the alien gods in their midst, in the land that they are about to enter: they will forsake Me and break my covenant that I made with them. They shall be ready prey; and many evils and troubles shall befall them. And they shall say on that day, ‘Surely it is because our God is not in our midst that these evils have befallen us.’ Yet, I will keep My countenance hidden on that day, because of all the evil they have done in turning to other gods. Therefore, write down this poem and teach it to the people of Israel, put it in their mouths …. Then this poem shall confront them as a witness, since it will never be lost from the mouth of their offspring. For I know what plans they are devising even now, before I bring them into the land that I promised on oath.”

The poem that Moses is to write and teach to the Israelites is the text of next week’s parsha. I will have more comments about it next week. However, I will say that it foretells a future when Israel strays from the Eternal in spite of all that they have been given. The poem is said to be an “education” for the Israelis so that they will not leave the ways of the Eternal. Thus, through the repetition of the “poem,” the people will see the perils of the future, the prophesies will be avoided, and the people will stay loyal to the Eternal.

Even today, the education of the people in the ways of the Torah is still of prime importance. Without knowledge, the people will stray after other gods – both spiritual and material. It is hoped that this knowledge and understanding of the laws of Torah will lead to a “land of milk and honey” for all the people of the earth – those who live in the Land of Israel and those who live in the world of Diaspora.

At this time I would like to leave this week’s Torah comments … pause … and wish you and your families a year of joy and happiness … a year of health and success … and a year of enriching Torah study…. Leshana tova tikatevu (May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for a good year.)

Earl Sabes

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