Torah For The Times    

Parshat Nitzavim - VaYelech:
Torah Reading: Nitzavim -VaYelech (Deuteronomy 29:9 - 31:30)
Haftorah:  Isaiah 61:10 - 63:9

Shabbat Candle Lighting: 7:13 PM 
Shabbat ends: 8:12 PM  


Enigmatic Verse

As we approach the end of 5773 and ready ourselves to enter into the New Year of 5774, we read the parsha Nitzvaim-Vayeilech. In some years, the two portions are separated; the first part (Nitzvaim) is read before Rosh Hashanah and the second section (Vayeilech) is read on the Shabbos that follows Rosh Hashanah. This year, we read them both together before Rosh Hashanah. What lesson can we learn from Vayeilech in conjunction with the transition into a new year?

The Parsha of Vayeilech begins with an enigmatic verse: “Moses went, and he spoke the following words to all Israel.” This verse is followed with the words: “Moses said to them, ‘Today I am one hundred and twenty years old. I am no longer allowed to lead (you) out and bring (you) back. G‑d said to me, ’You may not cross this Jordan.’”

What does the Torah mean when it says that Moses went? Where did he go?

If it means that he went to the place where the Jewish people resided rather than having all of the Jews come to him, the question then is, why?

Furthermore, in last week’s parsha, Ki Tavo, the Torah explicitly states that Moses summoned the people. In the beginning of Nitzavim (the first half of this week’s parsha) Moses states: “You are all standing today before G‑d…” implying that the entire Jewish nation was already standing in the presence of Moses, in proximity of the Mishkan, the Sanctuary in the desert. Why then would he have to go to them if they were already there?

And if we were to suggest that Moses sent them away and, instead of calling them back, he went to them, the question then will be why did he feel the need to send them away in the first place? The Jews were already standing in front of him and Moses had already addressed them as is recorded in the Parsha of Nitzavim. Why didn’t he just continue with the speech he delivered to them in the Parsha of Vayelech? And if, for whatever reason, he wanted them to leave but then decided to speak to them again, why did he not summon them back as he had done in the past?

To the House of Study

The Midrashic translation of the Torah called the Targum of Rabbi Yonason ben Uziel (but not actually written by that great sage) states that Moses went to the House of Study before addressing the people. Why, at this point, would he have had to go to the House of Study? What did he say to the people in these final words that warranted going to the House of Study first? Moses was the head of the Academy and the source of all Torah knowledge; with whom did he have to consult in order to know what to teach? Furthermore, the message Moses imparted in this week’s Parsha contains very little legal material which might have required additional study and research.

One answer to these questions lies in a major shift in the subject matter of the text of the Parsha that follows Moses’ going to the Jewish people.

In the preceding verses, and indeed throughout most of the book of Deuteronomy, Moses rebuked the people, recounted their past history in the desert, reiterated the hundreds of commandments they were given and exhorted them to abide by G‑d’s laws.

In this section, however, Moses changes the subject to his personal future and that of the Jewish people. Moses tells them he will no longer be allowed by G‑d to lead them, and that his successor Yehoshua will assume leadership; it is Yehoshua who will lead them into the Promised Land.

We can now suggest the reason Moses went to the people rather than summoning them to him.

Moses the King

As long as Moses performed his role as leader of the Jewish people, he enjoyed the status of a monarch. Moses was not just the ultimate teacher of Torah, the ultimate prophet, he was also a monarch. This fact is stated later in the Torah when it says, “And there was a king in Yeshurun.”  According to one interpretation (see Ibn Ezra) this refers to Moses. Indeed, the Talmud (Zevachim 102) states clearly that Moses had the status of a king. As their king and leader it was his royal prerogative to tell them to meet him wherever he might be.

In his role as their teacher, it also was important that he make the Jewish people come to him. A student must not only be prepared to learn, but must also actively seek out knowledge. The student shows his or her thirst for knowledge by making an effort to come to the teacher, wherever the teacher resides. Moses’ calling the people to himself was prompted by both roles in which he served, as monarch and teacher.

Changing of the Guard

All of this changed at the moment Moses transferred the leadership of the Jewish people at G‑d’s command to his trusted disciple, Yehoshua.  Moses, in the message that begins in Vayeilech, removed himself from the leadership position and handed it over to Yehoshua. Moses says as much in the next verse: “I am no longer to lead you…” Rashi explains that he meant that he was no longer permitted by G‑d to be their leader, despite the fact that he had not lost any of his vigor at the age of 120. It was time for the transition of leadership to a new leader and a new generation.

Moses demonstrated by his actions that he was transferring the position of king and leader to Yehoshua. Without the authority as the monarch, Moses reversed the procedure of having the nation come to him. Now, Moses went to the people to deliver his final message.

A New Student

Moses was also the supreme teacher, authority and transmitter of Torah. Whenever we speak of him, we refer to him as Moshe Rabeinu-Moses our teacher. However, the Torah had to be transmitted to the next generation in an unbroken chain that links the revelation of G‑d at Sinai with every successive generation until this very day.

Moses, as the first recipient of Torah from G‑d, was now forging the next link in the chain of tradition by transferring the teachings of Torah, and the Divine authority given to the Sages to interpret it, to his most trusted disciple, Yehoshua. Moses the supreme Torah authority was now handing over that responsibility and awesome power to Yehoshua.

This might explain the above mentioned commentary of Targum Yonason ben Uziel, who says that Moses went to the House of Study before addressing the people with his final message. Since Moses wanted to demonstrate that a new link in the chain of tradition was being forged he made the symbolic gesture that he, too, had come to listen to the teachings of Torah now entrusted to Yehoshua.

How Long is a Generation?

The lesson we can learn here is that every generation has its own particular mode of service, leadership and approach to the Torah. This doesn’t mean that every generation is given the right to alter the Torah; it does suggest, however, that each generation finds its own approach to understanding Torah and an emphasis that is relevant to that particular generation.

But how is a generation determined? In colloquial usage, a generation is a span of about 20 to 25 years. However, that is not the way a generation is calculated by the Torah.

For example, the Midrash tells us that there were twenty six generations from Adam to Moses over an expanse of 2,400 years!  We are told that there were another seven generations from Moses to King David, yet the expanse of time was around 400 years.

The way the Torah determines the length of a generation is by the particular mission given to each generation.  All of us, from Sinai onward, have the same general mission, which is to study Torah, perform Mitzvos and make this world into a dwelling place for G‑d. Nevertheless, each succeeding generation has a unique and very specific mission which complements the universal one we received at Sinai.

How can we determine which particular role and mission characterized each period in history?

The answer is that the particular mission of each generation can be determined by study of the leader of that generation. Each leader possesses a special soul, well suited for that particular time, which signifies what our focus should be. If that leader remains the leader for 40 years, which was Moses’ tenure of leadership, then that was a 40 year generation. When Moses delivered his final soliloquy, revealing that he was commanded to relinquish leadership in favor of Yehoshua, he signaled that a new generation charged with a new mission, had been born.

Thus, Moses went to the House of Study to discover the nature of the new mission.  For as long as Moses remained was alive—even if it was only for a few hours—he wanted to follow the new leadership. Moses, the most humble person to have lived, was now ready to become the disciple of his own disciple.

Our Generation’s Mission

When we reflect on our generation, the Rebbe—the leader of our generation—made it clear that our mission is to finish the task of bringing about the ultimate Redemption by bringing the Divine presence into this world. Although we cannot now see or hear the Rebbe, he remains our leader and our mission is unchanged. Indeed, it cannot change since we have yet to bring about the true and complete Redemption.  Our mission will only change when Moshiach is fully revealed and he ushers in the Era of Redemption. Until then—which we pray and hope and believe will be imminent—we have our work cut out for us.

This then is one of the messages contained in our reading Vayeilech before Rosh Hashanah. As we come to the end of the year and stand on the threshold of the New Year, we mirror our generation’s position of standing on the threshold of the last generation of exile and the first generation of Geulah. As we make the transition, we must be prepared for a radically new dimension of life.

May we all be inscribed and sealed for a good and sweet year; a year of true and complete Redemption!


Moshiach Matters

Our rabbis teach that thought serves as a catalyst, bringing about positive effects.
When people start thinking about the Redemption as the purpose of their lives — hopefully before they have time for extended contemplation — Moshiach will arrive.(From Dawn to Daylight, by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger)

For more info about Moshiach,