Vayeilech / And He Went
Vayeilech is the briefest parsha in the Torah, and happens at a crucial time in the Israelites’ journey . After forty years of God speaking the Word to Moses and then Moses to the people, the Word of God is now to be written down. Deuteronomy 31:24. ‘So it was, when Moses had completed writing the words of this law in a book, when they were finished, 25 that Moses commanded the Levites, who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord, saying: 26 “Take this Book of the Law, and put it beside the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there as a witness against you…’
One of the most amazing details of Vayeilech are the differences regarding the Israelites’ future. Words vary from encouraging to negative: the people will do well and succeed and they will also go after other gods and fail.
Even though the Word of God is now in the form of a teaching which is the Torah and a poem which is shirah; Moses does not believe and God surely knows that the written text of the Word will not ensure the continued loyalty and steadfastness of obedience of the people. It is important to note that the instruction to the people to “hear and learn” in Deuteronomy 3:13 is for all the people; adults and children, Israelites and foreigners; they are all included. Not only that, the Torah, the instructions and teachings of God are absolutely meant for generations to come as well, even those “who have not had the experience” of being in a time of ‘face to face’ which is in Deuteronomy 31:13. This is a truly sobering thought.
Vayeilech begins with: ‘YHWH Your Elohecha (The Lord your God) Himself, will cross over before you and He Himself will wipe out those nations from your path and you shall dispossess them.’ Deuteronomy 31:3.
Moshe is stating a very biblical concept. That it is God who will set the stage of victory and that it is God Himself that is the decisive factor in conquering the land – IF – the people go with Him in faith and obedience to His instructions and His appointed leaders. Deuteronomy 31:6 continues with: ‘Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them for YHWH Elohecha He is the One that goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.’
This is repeated in Hebrews 13 as the author continues with exhortation.
Hebrews 13:1-6 ‘Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. 2 Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. 3 Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. 4 Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. 5 Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” 6 So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?”
However, this promise runs parallel with how much we stay with Him or if we wander and serve other gods, which will have us suffer the consequences in the prior Torah portions, Ki Tavo and Nitzavim.
Deuteronomy 28:1-2 ‘Now it shall be, if you diligently obey the LORD your God, being careful to do all His commandments which I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. "All these blessings will come upon you and overtake you if you obey the LORD your God…’
Deuteronomy 30:2 ‘and you return to the LORD your God and obey Him with all your heart and soul according to all that I command you today, you and your sons…’
Deuteronomy 30:9-10 ‘Then the LORD your God will prosper you abundantly in all the work of your hand, in the offspring of your body and in the offspring of your cattle and in the produce of your ground, for the LORD will again rejoice over you for good, just as He rejoiced over your fathers; if you obey the LORD your God to keep His commandments and His statutes which are written in this book of the law, if you turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and soul.’
The Scriptures continue:
Psalm 55:2 ‘Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.’
1 Chronicles 28:20 ‘Then David said to Solomon his son, “Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the Lord God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished.’
It is impossible to have one without the other. We cannot have peace and protection if we serve other gods. We may assume and feel that we are protected and that our life is perfect, but we are in a chaos zone, so much so that we may not even notice it. It is then that God exhorts us to:
Joel 2:13 ‘And rend your heart and not your garments " Now return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness And relenting of evil.’
Hosea 14:1 ‘Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God, For you have stumbled because of your iniquity.’
Zechariah 1:3 ‘"Therefore say to them, 'Thus says the LORD of hosts, "Return to Me," declares the LORD of hosts, "that I may return to you," says the LORD of hosts.’
May you be blessed as you study Vayeilech and prepare for the High Holy Days.
Rabbi Jay Howard