Vayelech: Looking Ahead

By: Rabbi Jay Kelman |

Imagine being told on your deathbed that your life’s work may be for naught. Moshe Rabbeinu put heart and soul into forming a nation that would set up a model state serving G-d in the land of Israel. He literally gave his life for his people, and because of them, was denied his greatest wish. “G-d was angry at me because of you, saying you, too, shall not come there [to the land of Israel]" (Devarim 1:37). Nonetheless, Moshe spent the last five weeks of his life exhorting the people to follow in G-d’s ways, and not in the ways of the idolaters who inhabited the land. Their destiny, and hence, Moshe’s legacy was dependent on their obedience to the G-d who took them form the land of Egypt. While Moshe would not accompany his beloved (and mostly unappreciative) people, at least his people would fulfill their mission. Moshe knew it would not be easy--hence, his detailed instructions to the people--but at least he could die with a sense of hope that his message might resonate. But such was not to be his fate.

“And G-d said to Moshe: Behold, the day is close that you shall die…and this people will rise and stray after the gods of the foreigners of the land…they will annul My covenant…and I will forsake them” (Devarim 31:16). Talk about hitting somebody when he is down! Moshe, despite all you have done, not only can’t you enter the land of Israel, I will forsake the Jewish people and they will be exiled from the land.  Wow! And thus G-d approaches Moshe: Here is what I want you to do on this your last day on this earth. “Write down this song, and teach it to the Jewish people; put it in their mouths, so that this song be a witness against the children of Israel” (Devarim 31:19). So that when the Jewish people come to the land and rebel and annul the covenant, and I punish them--there can be no complaints. Our deal is right here in writing: you follow Me, great; if not, bad things are going to happen.

These are striking and startling words, and seem to be at odds with the G-d who is “kind, merciful, patient, and forgiving”, who promises never to forsake the Jewish people. Yet these are the words--incomplete as they may be--with which G-d instructs Moshe to address the people on the last day of his life.

And what does Moshe do? Exactly as G-d commanded, with nary a word of complaint. Moshe had no compunction about arguing with G-d on so many other occasions; yet here, he is strangely silent. He writes the Torah and calls the Levites to place it in the Ark of the Covenant, so that it can serve as a witness. Moshe acknowledges that the Jewish people are going to ignore the words of the Torah, yet, “he spoke the words of this song into the ears of the entire nation”. And then the last we hear of Moshe is when he gathers the people and blesses each tribe, with a blessing appropriate to each.

This sequence of events requires much study and reflection. But when all is said and done, man, no matter how great, can only do his best. We must always strive to push ourselves and others higher--even if we know we will not be fully successful. We must act, and let G-d worry about the result.

Yes, there were many disappointments--and it is those we, and even the Torah, tend to dwell on. But here we are, 3,400 years later, with a strong and flourishing Jewish state, the most moral and ethical country in the world, studying the song the Moshe wrote down so many years ago. Moshe and the Jewish people live on as a testament to the eternal covenant between G-d and the Jewish people.