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Devarim - Vayelech

It’s Shabbat shuva - the shabbat of repentance - and our days before Yom Kippur are slipping away. Very resonant therefore, is our parasha, Vayelech, which describes Moshe’s own time slipping away. For Moshe the stakes are even higher - we approach Yom HaDin, the day of judgement, but Moshe knows that his death is close. He faces it head-on, with the words “I am now one hundred and twenty years old, I can no longer go on”.

While God-willing we will not face death until, like Moshe, we are 120, what should we do when our time is more metaphorically slipping away before Yom Kippur? What did Moshe do on his last day?

Drawing on the work of Rav Eliyahu KiTov, Rabbanit Bracha Jaffe describes Moshe’s last day. He started by teaching the final two mitzvot in the Torah - the commandment of “Hakhel” - assembling all men, women and children, as well as "strangers” to hear the reading of the Torah - a truly inclusive mitzvah. And finally, the 613th commandment - that each of us should write our own Torah (commentators later debate whether this means donating to have a Torah written, or somehow embodying the Torah with our actions). The literal words of this instruction are “write down this שִּׁירָה ‘poem’ and teach it to the people of Israel; put it in their mouths”. More on this below.

But dig a little below the surface into our commentaries, and there’s more. Rabbanit Bracha the picks up on the opening words of the parasha: וַיֵּלֶךְ מֹשֶׁה “Moshe went”. Where did Moshe go, ask the commentators? For the Ramban, Moshe went from the Levite camp to the Israelite camp to honour them, as one who approaches a dear friend to say good-bye. For the Seforno, “After having concluded the matter of the covenant between God and this second generation of Israelites, Moshe now proceeds to comfort the people about his impending death”.

Rav KiTov describes the scene: Moshe went from tent to tent, from family to family, and from tribe to tribe, speaking to each one privately according to their own level of understanding. Seemingly at peace with his fate, Moshe focuses his attention on those around him.

So, modelling ourselves on Moshe, what should we do in these days approaching Yom Kippur?

We should begin, as Moshe does through teaching the mitzvah of Hakhel, with inclusivity - with making sure that not just every adult and child of any gender is included, but also the “strangers” - those who are usually on the edges of our community. As we approach Yom Kippur, are we true to our goals of inclusivity?

We should turn next to making the Torah personal to each of us, “write yourself a Torah”. As we approach Yom Kippur, how committed are each of us to finding the Torah which speaks to us? How persistent are we not to give up on the Torah if we don’t relate to aspects of it? Perhaps this is about finding the “song” or “poem” in Torah - finding the phrases, tunes and ways of connecting which resonate with us, which can become “our song”.

And finally, like Moshe, we should reconcile with the people around us - and not just those in our “camp”. Like Moshe we should make an effort to journey to each and every tent and part of the community, ensuring that our relationships are loving to the last. As we approach Yom Kippur, are our relationships with those around us peaceful and kind?

May we all walk in Moshe’s path over the coming days, and may we all be inscribed for life, happiness, health and fulfilment for the coming year. Shana tova!


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