Parashat Vayelekh
Shabbat Shuvah
October 7-8, 2016 – 6 Tishrei 5777
Annual (Deuteronomy 31:1-30): Etz Hayim p. 1173; Hertz p. 887
Triennial (Deuteronomy 31:1-30): Etz Hayim p. 1173; Hertz p. 887
Haftarah (Hosea 14:2-10, Micah 7:18-20): Etz Hayim p. 1135; Hertz p. 891

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Torah from the Traffic Helicopter
Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, Faculty, Conservative Yeshiva

Yakov (Yankele) Freund is an Israeli author, broadcaster and linguist, known for his humor. He regularly gave the traffic report before Shabbat Nitsavim-Vayelech, the same each year – “Nitsavim (standing still) – Yayelech (moving),” stop and go. Perhaps it’s good that Yankele retired in April, after 45 years with Israel Radio. This year, as happens 40% of the time, Nitsavim and Vayelech are read separately. And worse, Israel’s traffic congestion is the highest in the Western world. Nitsavim is the default traffic report these days; Vayelech is a rarely-used term in the traffic reporter’s lexicon.

The naming of Parashahs is a subject of its own. Often it is the verbYayetse, Yayishlach, Vayeshev. Or the name of the person who does the action – Yitro, Pinchas, Balak, etc. It might have been nice to name this week’s Moshe; after all no parashah is named for him and he certainly seems worthy of such recognition.  On the other hand, Moshe’s vayelech here is problematic – וַיֵּלֶךְ מֹשֶׁה וַיְדַבֵּר…–“And Moses went and spoke these words.” In fact it doesn’t sound like Moshe went anywhere at all. He tells us in the very next line (31:2): “I am 120 today and I don’t get around anymore.” Rashi says it was the last day of his life.

Yet Moses is very much “on the move” here. Aware of his imminent death he does not waste a moment. The time for reprimanding the people is over (Rashi on Deut 1:3); here he gives the people only words of encouragement and chizuk, “the Lord will lead you to victory; be strong and resolute” (31:4-6). He invests Joshua as his successor with similar language. He then “wrote down this Torah” and gave it to the priests and the elders (31:9), an act equally physical and symbolic. And he commands the people – men, women, children and strangers – to hold a public reading every seven years, so they will learn and fulfill the commandments. Not a bad day’s work for someone half his age.

Nitsavim and Vayelech are always read before Rosh Hashanah, if combined, and around Rosh Hashana, as this year, when separated. They hint at contrasting statuses – Nitzavim, standing, stationary, fortifying our faith through thought, study and reflection. Vayelech indicates movement, getting out into the real world, hopefully armed with Judaism’s messages and values. On Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, we spend many hours in synagogue, stationary, but then it’s time to move forward. It’s no particular challenge to be good Jews in the synagogue; the real test is at home, in the workplace and the marketplace.

Vayelech (he went/walked) va’yidaber (and talked) – those verbs appear together in another dramatic end-of-life context (2 Kings 2:11):

And it came to pass as they (Elijah and Elisha) walked and talked [הֹלְכִים הָלוֹךְ וְדַבֵּר] that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire and horses of fire, which parted them asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.

The Midrash says they were discussing three things:

  • Bri’at Ha’Olam – the creation of the world, the universal message of Judaism,
  • Nechamat Yerushalayim – of the comfort, consolation of Jerusalem, the national message of Judaism,
  • Kriat Shma – the acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty, the acceptance of Torah and mitsvot, limits/boundaries in life, the individual message of Judaism.

Three themes that fit this parasha and the High Holiday season.

Shabbat shalom v’Shana Tova!

A Vort for Parashat Vayelekh
Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty

The Torah calls for the men, women and children to come every seven years to hear the Torah read. The Talmud realizes that little children are too young to learn; the reason they come is “to provide reward to those who bring them,” (Rashi on 3:12). It is no secret that little children often disturb the “atmosphere” of the synagogue. R’ Natan Adler (Frankfurt, 1742 – 1800, Talmudic scholar, Kabbalist) said that exposure to the holiness of study and worship makes a deep impression on small children and brings them closer to God. The reward for this is greater than the “loss” (disturbance) to the adult population. Sometimes the “wholeness” of an individual’s experience must defer to educating the young to Torah and good deeds.

Table Talk
Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, CY Faculty

This very short Parasha is part of the last acts of Moshe as he hands over the leadership.

1) On what day of his life does Moshe speak the words of this Parasha to the people (31:1-2)? Deut. 34:7 might help you out. What emotions do you think that Moshe feels at this point?

2) As Moshe will not enter the land, who will lead the people (31:3-6)? Who has picked the human successor to Moshe? Do you remember anything about him that might explain why he would be the one qualified for the job?

3) What does Moshe write down at these closing moments (31:9)? How might this differ from what he received at Sinai?

4) A special commandment is given regarding public Torah reading (31:10-13). What are the people commanded to do? Why do you think that they have to do this? Why do you think that this is set at the time of the Shmita (land Sabbatical) year? (It was understood to mean the Succot holiday immediately following the Shmita year.)

5) Moshe is commanded to write down a great poem (31:19-21). What is the purpose of this poem? (We will learn it next week.) What else will serve as a witness against the people if they turn away from God (31:24-30)?

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