Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Vayelech
To dedicate this lesson



Rabbi Berel Wein

Tishrei 5769
This week’s parsha is the one with the fewest psukuim/verses in the Torah. Nevertheless it is one of the most powerful parshiyot in the Torah. Moshe’s final message on the day of his death is a combination of warning, of dire fears and predictions and of hope, confidence and holy vision. The final parshiyot of the Torah, Nitzavim, Vayelech, Haazinu and Zot Habracha are to be viewed as one message. For the purpose of our Torah readings they appear as different and separate parshiyot but they are in reality one unit. The common denominator that binds all of these seemingly disparate and even contradictory messages together is the realization of the uniqueness of Israel and of Jewish experience and survival. This is the point that Moshe stresses above all others. The Jewish people are special, every Jew is special. No matter how much individual Jews and the nation generally may wish to escape their special role and place in the human story they will eventually be unable to do so successfully. Terrible events and glorious achievements and triumphant moments fill Jewish history. All of these serve to reinforce the idea of uniqueness, choseness if you will, which is the integral ingredient of the Jewish story. This week’s parsha speaks to us about calamitous events that will have befallen us but nevertheless promises that somehow in the end the Lord will make it all come right. Israel will return to its land and to its God, will observe and treasure His Torah and fulfill its manifest destiny of being a holy nation and a kingdom of priests.

But the road to this final glorious destination is strewn with pitfalls and detours, mistakes and betrayals. Moshe does not offer up any honey coated formulas for survival. He does not propose instant solutions or original panaceas. He tells the Jewish people how hard and long the road back home, physically and spiritually will be. It is the almost brutal honesty of his description of the problems and situations that Israel will have to overcome that lends veracity and confirmation to his final message of blessing and confident hope. In this season of our asking God to grant us a good and healthy year we should be wary of asking Him for a free lunch. We must offer in return for God’s gifts our own commitments for a strengthened Torah presence within us and our homes, a renewed loyalty to the Jewish people and to Torah values as enunciated to us throughout the ages and a feeling of solidarity with the land and people of Israel. We cannot merely ask God for more without also exhibiting our willingness to contribute in every way that we can to the great goals of Jewish destiny. God’s blessings are assured but only if we are willing to work to achieve them. Nitzavim, Vayelech, Haazinu all precede Zot Habracha. There are no shortcuts to get to the blessings but we will surely arrive there in this coming good year that the Lord bestows upon us.
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