By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
August 31, 2002
Moshe teaches Israel about the centrality of repentance (Ch.
30), and then he prepares for his final message to his people:
(1) And Moshe went (VAYELECH) 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 UCHAL) 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; Yehoshua, 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 Moshe called for Yehoshua 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” (Devarim 31).
This passage, especially the first two verses, raises a number of questions:
(1) And Moshe went (VAYELECH)
• From where, and to where, and for what purpose, does Moshe go?
and he spoke these words to all of Israel.
• To which words does this refer the preceding ones, or those to follow?
Let us see how different commentaries address these questions.
Moshe’s going as an expression of his relationship to his people
Ramban 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,
Moshe 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, Moshe shows them respect.
Ibn-Ezra, on the other hand, sees Moshe’s going as a form of kindness to the
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
Yehoshua [verses 7-8].
Moshe’s going as an indication of a change in his status
Chizkuni (R. Chizkiya ben Manoach, mid 13th Century) notes that Moshe goes to
the people, instead of assembling them by sounding the trumpets (Bamidbar
10:1-10). This is because (Midrash Tanchuma Beha’alotecha 10), as Moshe was
about to die Hashem took the trumpets, which symbolized Moshe’s role as ruler,
and concealed them, since “there is no dominion on the day of death” (Kohelet
8:8). Moshe’s “going” indicates his loss of dominion.
The Targum (translation of the Torah into Aramaic), ascribed to Yonatan ben
And Moshe went to the Tabernacle bet Midrash.
Moshe goes to the House of Study to transfer his authority to Yehoshua.
Moshe’s going as a method of instruction
Sforno (R. Ovadia ben Yaakov Sforno, c. 1470-c.1550) does not translate VAYELECH
as and he went/walked, but as “he bestirred himself, took the initiative,” as
• And there went a man from the house of Levi (Shemot 2:1).
• And he went and worshipped (Devarim 17:3).
Moshe roused himself to comfort his people in the face of his imminent death, so
they would accept the covenant he had just taught them in joy.
Finally, Keli Yakar (R. Ephraim Shlomo of Luntshitz, 1550-1619) offers two
explanations for Moshe’s going, one to indicate a change in Moshe, and one to
bring about a change in the people:
1) VAYELECH means and he walked about, without reference to his
point of departure or destination. Since LO UCHAL (verse 2) could mean either “I
am not able” or “I am not permitted,” Moshe needs to make it clear that it is
not that Moshe is physically unable; at the time of his death “his eye was not
dimmed nor was his freshness departed” (Devarim 34:7). Rather, he is not
permitted to lead; leadership has been transmitted to Yehoshua. Therefore, he
walked about vigorously, showing them that he is still as capable as ever,
despite his age of 120. Actually, this idea is reflected in Rashi:
I am not able any longer to go out and to come in matters of
halacha, for the sources of wisdom have been closed to him.
Moshe walks about to demonstrate his loss of authority and
2) VAYELECH means and he approached. Furthermore, and he spoke these words to
all of Israel refers to the previous passage about the importance and
accessibility of repentance (Ch. 30); “words” often alludes to repentance, as in
the beginning of the book of Devarim and “Take with you words and return to
Hashem” (Hoshea 14:3). Before his death, Moshe wishes to motivate the people to
repentance. However, since most people do not recognize their own faults, he
needs to approach them to inspire repentance. Keli Yakar sees Moshe’s
assertiveness as influenced by a desire for peace; he develops his thesis that
we are obligated to pursue peace actively (Vayikra Rabba 9:9), because peace
benefits all parties concerned, and, ultimately, our collective connection to
On the threshold of a new chapter in Israel’s history on the threshold of a new
year Moshe goes ahead, teaching Israel how to face the