Torah Weekly

For the week ending 15 September 2018 / 6 Tishri 5779

Parshat Vayelech

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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On this, the last day of his life, Moshe goes from tent to tent throughout the camp, bidding farewell to his beloved people, encouraging them to keep the faith. Moshe tells them that whether he is among them or not, G-d is with them, and will vanquish their enemies. Then he summons Yehoshua, and in front of all the people, exhorts him to be strong and courageous as the leader of the Jewish People. In this manner, he strengthens Yehoshua's status as the new leader. Moshe teaches them the mitzvah of Hakhel: That every seven years on the first day of the intermediate days of Succos, the entire nation, including small children, is to gather together at the Temple to hear the King read from the Book of Devarim. The sections that he reads deal with faithfulness to G-d, the covenant, and reward and punishment. G-d tells Moshe that his end is near, and he should therefore summon Yehoshua to stand with him in the Mishkan, where G-d will teach Yehoshua. G-d then tells Moshe and Yehoshua that after entering the Land, the people will be unfaithful to Him, and begin to worship other gods. G-d will then completely hide his face, so that it will seem that the Jewish People are at the mercy of fate, and that they will be hunted by all. G-d instructs Moshe and Yehoshua to write down a song - Ha'azinu - which will serve as a witness against the Jewish People when they sin. Moshe records the song in writing and teaches it to Bnei Yisrael. Moshe completes his transcription of the Torah, and instructs the Levi'im to place it to the side of the Aron (Holy Ark), so that no one will ever write a new Torah scroll that is different from the original - for there will always be a reference copy.


Getting to the Upper Third

“Gather together the nation, the men and the women and the order that they will hear and they should learn...” (31:12)

Every seven years the king reads the Torah in the presence of the entire nation. This is the mitzvah of Hakhel. Even though the young children did not understand what was being read to them, their parents received reward for bringing them.

This reveals to us a major principle in the education of the young. Even though they may make a noise and be distracting to their elders, the experience for them is irreplaceable, for they feel, through osmosis, the importance to the Torah. Even though they cannot understand a word they have imbibed a vital lesson: The Torah is the life-blood of the Jewish People.

Rav Yaakov Kamenetskywas once visiting a kindergarten of a Torah school. Noticing that all the mezuzahs on the doors were placed on the lower third of the doorposts, he remarked, “It’s a lovely idea to put the mezuza in a place where the children can easily reach up and touch them, but please put them where they belong, on the upper third of the doorpost, and let them use a stool to reach the mezuza. Otherwise they will grow up thinking that you can put the mezuza anywhere you wish. One does not raise children with untruths.”

This story can serve as a parable for our relationship to the Torah. We must go up to the Torah, not bring the Torah down to our level. Wherever the attempt has been made to make Judaism “easier,” the outcome is that people have come to despise it and reject it altogether.

We may be no more than spiritual children, but we will never grow into adults unless we look up to that mezuzah. And then, maybe one day we will be able to reach it by ourselves, unaided by a stool. But if we learn that we have to make no effort to raise ourselves up to the Torah, we will make the mistake of thinking that we are already shoulder-high to the Torah, that we need to make no efforts to change and improve ourselves. We will thus both debase the Torah and give ourselves no motivation to grow. We will merely sit back like self-congratulatory pygmies convinced that we are already spiritual giants.

  • Sources: based on a story by Rabbi Nisson Wolpin as seen in Growth through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

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