Parshat Vayelech: A Time to Embrace

A Time to Embrace: Moshe’s Example of Personal Perseverance

Rabbi Dr. Ari Silbermann is the Director of Education and Leadership Development of the Beren-Amiel and Straus-Amiel Emissary Training Institutes

Life, infused with activity, hustle, and bustle, is typified by movement from one place to another. This is true for our spiritual lives. Whereas angels are fixed without room for failure or growth, movement defines our humanity.

Interestingly, movement takes center stage at the beginning of the parasha, which opens with Moshe having finished speaking to Bnei Yisrael, who were standing (ניצבים). Moshe goes (וילך) towards them and passes on a message that he can longer go out and come in (לצאת ולבוא). As we approach the end of Moshe’s life and the end/beginning of Bnei Yisrael’s journey to Eretz Yisrael, the theme of movement takes center stage and brings with it an important message.

While in the final stages of life, many people suffer physical and sometimes mental degradation; in the case of Moshe his eyes never dimmed (Deut 34:7), he climbs to his final resting place on Mount Nebo (Deut 34:1), and he ‘goes’ to Bnei Yisrael.

What then does Moshe mean when he tells them that he can no longer go out and return? According to the Ramban, Moshe’s inability to go out and return alludes to his wisdom being concealed and the degradation of his prophetic powers. According to this approach it is fitting that the ultimate man of the spirit does not decline physically but spiritually as he approaches the end. However, if Moshe’s spiritual deterioration is important why mention that Moshe ‘goes’ to Bnei Yisrael?

In a most fitting elegy, the commentators paint this ‘going’ to Bnei Yisrael as a picture of leadership and care that typified Moshe Rabbeinu. Ibn Ezra writes that Moshe went out to each tribe to bless them individually and tell them not to be afraid, despite his impending demise. The Ramban describes Moshe leaving the Levite camp and accompanying the people to the Israelite section ‘as a host accompanies his friend.’ These are all heart-warming portraits of an extraordinary leader farewelling his flock. Just as, according to Chazal, Moshe pursued a lone lamb into the wilderness and came upon Horev, he also follows Bnei Yisrael in one of his last acts as leader.

The Netziv, however, links Moshe’s spiritual decline with this act of going to Bnei Yisrael. Since Moshe had lost his prophetic abilities, his message no longer resonated in the same way. And so, even at his last, to reach each member of Bnei Yisrael, Moshe had to take his message to them locally. He could no longer count on them standing and appreciating the Divine message and so had to speak where they stood. Moshe has to engage actively. This is not only the act of a fatherly leader but the act of a prophet fiercely driven by the Divine message.

In this way, Moshe comes full circle because Moshe’s journey truly begins with another heroic act of ‘going’ (וילך). Moshe was conceived, Chazal tell us, as an act of defiance amid harsh decrees. Moshe’s parents had been married but had separated due to the decree to murder baby boys. It was only after prodding from Miriam, Chazal teach us, they chose to remarry and conceive Moshe. And the verse which describes this act states that a man went (וילך) from the house of Levi. Moshe was born at a moment of וילך – going out despite the difficulties. Despite his changing circumstances, Moshe heroically insists on passing on the Torah.

One of Moshe’s last acts is to go towards the people of Israel. This ‘going’ (וילך) is a testament to Moshe’s heroism and concern as a leader and beautifully complements the ‘going’ (וילך) of his parents. Though his spiritual prowess is reduced Moshe teaches us the life-giving vitality of movement and closeness to others.

For us individually, particularly during these days of repentance, these final acts command us to persevere and to keep growing throughout our lives. On a national level, the message is clearer still. When the clarity and power of Torah no longer resonates as deeply with Am Yisrael, we need to go out to the people and be close to them. We need to persist in spreading the light of Torah to where the people are – physically and spiritually. Our goal is to defy circumstance, to bridge physical and spiritual distance, to ensure that the timeless message of Torah reaches every heart.

Shabbat Shalom!

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