Parshat Vayelech (Deuteronomy 31:1 – 31:30)
Rabbi David Stav
Parshat Vayelech covers Moshe Rabbeinu’s final days before his soul departed the world. Oddly, at the conclusion of an entire book dedicated to Moshe’s warnings of what would happen to the Jewish People if they stray off the path, God tells him the following:
“Behold, you will lie with your forefathers, but this people will rise up and stray after the gods of that which is foreign to the land, in whose midst it is coming, and it will forsake Me and it will annul My covenant that I have sealed with it.” (Devarim / Deuteronomy 31:16)
In other words, God is telling Moshe that it is pointless to think that your words might have penetrated the hearts of the Jewish people or done any good. Ultimately, they will fail, I will become angry with them and conceal My face from them, and they will suffer terrible consequences, until they exclaim:
“and will say on that day, ‘Is it not because my God is not in my midst that these evils have encountered me?’” (Ibid, 31:17)
Next, Moshe gathers the people and proclaims to them that he, too, knows that after his passing, the Jewish people will go astray, and upset God through their actions. Reading these verses surely would send any of us into a bout of depression. If everything is predetermined, and the story has a foregone conclusion, why play any part in it? Why make an effort? After all, God and Moshe are telling us that they know we will sin and fail. If so, what’s the use of acting like Jews and trying to preserve our identity, if we know a priori that we stand a slim chance to succeed, or that we are doomed to fail in any case?
There are indeed those who would espouse this type of attitude when reading these verses, and tell themselves that there is no reason to aspire to anything at all in life, as the world is a gloomy and despondent place. Everyone will fail when faced with crisis and challenges, and there’s no reason to be saints in a world of sinners.
However, we could also espouse a vastly different approach when reading the verses, and this is the approach upon which we should dwell. The Torah wants to tell us that it was given to us in an imperfect world, in the framework of a reality fraught with failure. We mustn’t assume that God, who gave us the Torah, thought we would be living in a world filled with angels – the opposite is true, since He knew that most people will fail at different junctures of their lives.
Still, any human being, even if he or she fails from time to time, would prefer to live in a world of positive values, in which justice and goodliness reign supreme. Moshe’s announcement of our impending failures is actually meant to encourage us, and tell us that despite all of the failures we anticipate, we mustn’t ever give up.
There’s an old Hasidic adage that says that the biggest sin a person can commit is to profess that God isn’t present, or, in other words, that the person has lost touch with the positive side of his personality. Though this goodness may be concealed, deep within the wells of the person’s soul is the aspiration to make things better and do good. May we all merit to see all of the positive things within us and make the most of them.