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Torah Commentary
Vayeilech (October 8, 2016)

Sherry Nehmer,


Vayeilech, one of the concluding chapters of the Book of Deuteronomy, contains a poignant portrait of Moses as he faces his mortality with the knowledge that he never will cross with his people into the Promised Land. Rather than lament with bitterness about the unfairness of the situation, what Moses does with the knowledge is to forge a powerful link in the unbroken chain binding Jews from generation to generation.

Moses chooses his successor, Joshua, picking him over all others, including Moses’ own sons — who we are told are idle and incapable of leadership. Joshua is Moses’ kindred spirit, an inspired leader, one who will be strong enough not only to face down enemies but also to control the Israelites themselves when they turn to evil, lose faith or fall into weakness after Moses is gone. Moses charges Joshua, “Be strong and resolute: for you shall bring the Israelites into the land that I promised them on oath, and I will be with you.”

I will be with you. Moses in a symbolic way will enter the Promised Land with his people, for in Joshua, as with a child of his own blood, Moses perpetuates himself. It must be a source of comfort that Joshua will be the “Moses” of the next generation. Perhaps there’s some pride mixed in: Don’t all parents want to think they’ve left a mark on the next generation, recreating themselves in some way?

And then Moses puts down the words of the teachings — the laws, the history, the story of his people — so that it may be carried with them into that land and into their future. He prepares his people for his own death by providing them not only with a strong leader in his own image but also with the words that will guide them when they reach their destination.

But it is not only Moses who will be with the Israelites — God will be with them too.

At bar and bat mitzvah services here at Temple Emanu-El, parents are invited to continue that unbroken chain connecting us from antiquity to today, from Moses to our own children: from one generation to another. It’s easy to imagine in the symbolic, or sometimes literal, transfer of the Torah from parent to child what it must have been like for Moses to hand over his leadership — and the Torah — to Joshua, as well as to those who followed. And that, too, must be a source of comfort to parents...with a little pride mixed in for good measure.

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