Thoughts on Vayelech

Shabbat ShuvahThis week’s Torah portion is Vayelech, Deuteronomy 31:1-30.[i] For the encouragement of many of us, this portion begins, וַיֵּלֶךְ, מֹשֶׁה; וַיְדַבֵּר, Moshe walked and talked with Bnei-Yisrael. Why is this encouragement? Quite simply because the next verse states that Moshe was one hundred and twenty years old. Often we look at this and see Moshe coming to the end of his journey, unable to continue leading the people he and his brother Aaron had led out of Egyptian bondage some thirty-eight years earlier. Additionally, Moshe and Aaron were not the ones who would lead the people into the Promised Land (e.g. Numbers 20:10-11 & Deuteronomy 32:51-52). But, let’s look at the situation another way. Thirty-eight years earlier, at a time when neither where young men, Moshe and Aaron did in fact stand up to the Egyptian Pharaoh and with the strength of ADONAI undergirding them brought Jacob’s children out of the greatest nation of the era, plus a large number of others who wanted freedom from Egyptian bondage and influence joined them as well, (e.g. Exodus 12:37-38). So, what is the purpose of this rambling? One is never too old to be of service or in the service of ADONAI. Samson, Samuel, and Jeremiah were set apart for ministry before they were born, as were John and Yeshua. On the other hand, Abraham, as well as Moshe and Aaron, seem to have come into their own much later in life. The key, it would seem, is to be willing to be led by the Ruach and “whatever your hand finds to do, do with your all strength…” (Ecclesiastes 9:10). Rav Shaul reaffirmed the writer of Ecclesiastes’ sentiments with these words to the believers in Colossae, “Whatever you do, work at it from the soul…” (Colossians 3:23). The word translated soul is ψυχῆ, meaning psyche, soul, or inner self. In other words we are to work with our very being. We hear this exhortation in the Ahavta, which continues the cornerstone statement of Jewish faith and commitment,

Hear O Israel, the Lordour God, the Lordis one. Love ADONAI your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5; cf. Matthew 22:37)

Remember, Isaac was born when Abraham and Sarah were one hundred and ninety years old respectively, while Moshe and Aaron were eighty and eighty-three when they began their leadership trek from Egypt to Canaan. Therefore, the only real obstacle to accomplishing things in the Kingdom of God rests upon our own unwillingness to step forth and do what our heart is telling us to do.

Later in this week’s reading we hear Moshe encouraging all of Israel as they prepare to enter the Promised Land “Chazak! (Be strong!) Be courageous! Do not be afraid or tremble before them. For ADONAI your God—He is the One who goes with you. He will not fail you or abandon you,” (31:6). ADONAI is promising to go before the people and to deal with their enemies just as He did the Egyptians. Then, almost tongue-in-cheek, Moshe says the same thing to Joshua as he (Moshe) turns over the leadership reigns, “Chazak! Be courageous! For you will bring Bnei-Yisrael into the land I swore to them—and I will be with you,” (31:23). I say tongue-in-cheek because Moshe knew what he was turning over to Joshua, and as Moshe’s second in command, Joshua knew what he was getting into. The community Joshua was inheriting was stubborn and stiff-necked, often rebellious, complaining at the smallest perceived inconvenience. Hashem’s affirmation that He would be with Joshua, assures Joshua just as Moshe’s words had assured the community, “For ADONAI your God—He is the One who goes with you. He will not fail you or abandon you.” Hashem would be with Joshua as he (Joshua) would face the struggles of conquering the Promised Land just as assuredly as He would be with Joshua as he faced the internal struggles of leading Bnei-Yisrael in this next stage of their journey.

The Haftarah for this Shabbat is Hosea 14:2-10; Micah 7:18-20. The Micah passage forms the cornerstone for the Tashlich service that many Jews world-wide perform sometime between Rosh Hashana and Hoshana Rabba (the last day of Sukkot). The prophet wrote

Who is a God like You pardoning iniquity, overlooking transgression, for the remnant of His heritage? He will not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy. He will again have compassion on us. He will subdue our iniquities, and You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will extend truth to Jacob, mercy to Abraham, that You swore to our ancestors from the days of old. (Micah 7:18-20)

To perform the Tashlich ritual, we travel to a stream, lake or other living body of water, (such as the Mediterranean Sea or the Kinneret if in Israel) then, along with various readings and prayers, we cast bread crumbs onto the water symbolizing the removal of our sins and transgressions to the depths of the sea. The ritual is a reminder of the grace, mercy and forgiveness that ADONAI desires to bestow upon each of us, thus fulfilling the promise stated in the Book of Hebrews, “For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and their sins I will remember no more,” (Hebrews 8:12).

Shabbat and Yom Kippur

[i]Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

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