Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Vayelech
To dedicate this lesson



Rabbi Berel Wein

The final chapters of the Torah are poetic and to a certain extent melodious. Moshe sums up the Torah with final words to the Jewish people that warn them of the consequences of ignoring the covenant with God made at Sinai and repeated again in the desert before the entry into the Land of Israel as stated in this week’s Torah reading. But he also has soothing words about the ultimate destiny and accomplishments of the Jewish people, of their unending loyalty to their God and land and of a better world for all of humankind. In reality the parshiyot of this week sum up the pulls and twists of Jewish history. All other nations facing the events and destructions visited on the Jewish people over the ages would not have survived, let alone prospered and persevered. But it is the eternal covenant of God with Israel that ahs sustained us till this very day. And the covenant exits and is binding and effective even when portions of the Jewish people deny or unaware of its existence. Ben-Gurion, the reputed great skeptic and agnostic, nevertheless once famously said that miracles are the normalcy of Jewish life and existence. And that idea is certainly the basis for Moshe’s words in these final chapters of the Torah. The realization of the existence and continuing effectiveness of this ancient covenant that has weathered all storms and survived all attempts to obliterate it or declare it to be somehow irrelevant. Moshe tells them in advance that this song of the covenant will eternally rise to remind Israel of its mission and ultimate role in human affairs.

That is part of the mystique that allows the Torah to call itself a "song." It is the melody of holiness that resonates in our hearts and souls even amongst those who have forgotten the lyrics - the holy words - of the song itself. Melodies are not easily forgotten or eradicated from our subconscious. They create associative memory that does not easily leave us. People have a favorite song. Countries have their individual national anthems. The melodies govern even when the words are no longer sounded clearly or expressed clearly. The torah is therefore not only its holy words but it is also the haunting melody of Jewish existence and God’s covenant throughout the ages. Melody is one of the great memory aids of all time. For selichot we will say "to listen to the melody and to the prayers." Apparently prayer without lasting melody accompanying it falls short of its desired purpose. Therefore Jewish prayer throughout all of our history has been infused and beautified by melody. Some melodies are considered so sacrosanct that they defy change or improvisation. The Torah itself is read publicly to melody and special cantillations. In fact rabbinic commentary has drawn upon the melodies of the Torah reading to find meanings and direction in the very words of the Torah itself. Thus it is the covenant of the Torah itself, so to speak put to music by its holy melodies, that rises continually to refresh our memories and strengthen our souls in all times of danger and challenges.
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