Parashat Vayelekh

Moses's Approach Towards Death

Several commentaries interpret Moses's going to the people before his death.

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Provided by the Orthodox Union, the central coordinating agency for North American Orthodox congregations.

Moses teaches Israel about the centrality of repentance (Ch. 30), and then he prepares for his final message to his people:

(1) And Moses went (vayelekh) and he spoke these words to all of Israel. (2) And he said to them, "One hundred twenty years old am I today; I am not able (lo ukhal) any longer to go out and to come in, and Hashem has said to me, 'You will not cross this Jordan.' (3) Hashem your G-d, He is the One Who passes before you; He will destroy these nations before you and you will possess them; Joshua, he is the one who passes before you, as Hashem has spoken. (4) And Hashem will do to them as He did to Sichon and to Og, the kings of the Emorites, and to their land, which He destroyed. (5) And Hashem gave them before you, and you shall do to them according to all the commandment that I commanded you. (6) Be strong and courageous; do not fear nor panic before them, because Hashem, your G-d, He is the One Who goes with you; He will not fail you nor forsake you."

(7) And Moses called for Joshua and said to him before the eyes of all Israel, "Be strong and courageous, because you will come with this nation, to the land that Hashem has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you will cause them to possess it. (8) And Hashem, He is the One Who goes before you; He will be with you; He will not fail you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed" (Deuteronomy 31).

This passage, especially the first two verses, raises a number of questions:

And Moses went (vayelekh): From where, and to where, and for what purpose, does Moses go?

And he spoke these words to all of Israel: To which words does this refer--the preceding ones or those that follow?

Let us see how different commentaries address these questions.

Moses's going as an expression of his relationship to his people

Ramban (Nachmanides) notes that, in Nitzavim (as the name of that portion suggests) all of the people were "standing," assembled before Hashem. Afterwards, they returned to their tents. Now, Moses went from the Levite camp to the Israelite camp in order to honor them, like one who wishes to take his leave from his friend and goes to receive permission from him. In preparing to die, Moses shows them respect.

Ibn-Ezra (12th-century Spain), on the other hand, sees Moses's going as a form of kindness to the people:

He went to each tribe to inform them that he is dying and that they should not be afraid, and he encouraged them with the words spoken to Joshua [verses 7-8].

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Rabbi Avraham Fischer

Avraham Fischer is a rabbi at Darche Noam Institutions.