Emanuel Synagogue


With this week’s portion Vayeilech the Torah begins to draw to a close and with it, Moses’ time on earth. Until now, Moses has known in general terms that he will not progress into the land but he does not know when he will die. Now God calls to him and says that the time is drawing near, Moses must hand over the leadership to Joshua and prepare for the end of his days.

This always seems such a harsh and difficult piece of information for Moses to possess and I have always found it bordering on cruel that he has to stand aside while Joshua takes the leadership from him. Moses is now outside the tent of meeting, and Joshua enters alone to meet with God. The intimate friendship and connection between Moses and God has changed, and Moses is now literally and figuratively, outside the tent. So, what does Moses do, knowing his last days are approaching?

There is a midrash which says that Moses does not accept his fate and he begins writing a Torah scroll, knowing that God will not take his life as long as he is writing a Torah. According to the text, Moses feverishly writes day and night, hoping to avert the inevitable decree.

But that midrash is not the plain essence of the text. That says that Moses in his last days does what he does best; he teaches with word and deed. First, he graciously hands the leadership to Joshua, he acknowledges that he will be the one to bring the people into the land and he does so publicly, giving his blessing and encouraging the people to trust in Joshua as they have in him. There is a midrash that says that Moses says that he is pleased he will not have to be present for the people to move into the land without him, he does not want to feel jealous of Joshua and the people’s journey, he wants to celebrate it and in that moment, he finds the grace and humility to do so.

Then Moses teaches words of Torah. He recites a poignant and beautiful poem about God, the journey they have travelled together and offers a blessing for the future. And then, when he reaches the final words, in the parashiot of the next few weeks, Moses dies with a kiss from God, taking his last breath from him as God breathed life into the first human. We are taught that there never was or will be again a prophet like Moses, gifted a gentle death, teaching until his last breath how to be an exemplary person.

Unlike Moses, we will not know the hour of our deaths but I hope that during the time we are gifted on this earth we can be like Moses in his greatest moments: embracing life, its challenges and joys, with humility, compassion and strength.

Shabbat Shalom and Gamar Chatima Tova, may we all be inscribed for a year ahead of blessings and peace

Rabbi Jacqueline Ninio