consistent with the description given later. This contradiction requires resolution.

The first resolution is found in a passage in the Talmud (Bavli Sotah 13b): “Rabbi Shmuel bar Naḥmani says that Rabbi Yonatan says: ‘To go out and come in’ with words of Torah. This teaches that the gates of wisdom were closed off to him.” In other words, Moshe was physically strong—full of enough vigor to climb Mt. Nevo to get to the place of his own burial—but he was slipping mentally. Moshe Rabbenu, our teacher, could no longer engage in the words of Torah or enter the gates of wisdom. Bodies and minds develop and eventually deteriorate at different rates, and many of us face the difficulties of loved ones with strong bodies and weak minds or weak bodies and strong minds.

The problem with the Talmud’s interpretation is that Moshe continues to act with a sound mind up until the very end. He appoints Joshua as his successor, he recites a long poem to the people of Israel and he then gives yet another final exhortation. The Ramban rejects the Talmud’s resolution and in place resolves the problem by discounting the veracity of Moshe’s words. According to the Rambam, rather than telling the truth, Moshe was comforting the people who did not want to let him go. Moshe still possessed a strong body and mind, and yet he knew that his time had come. To comfort his people, he tells them that he is weak, but that they should not be afraid. They have Joshua and they have God and just as they won victories in the past, so they will win victories in the future. Many of us recognize this scene as well. We fear the future as the older generation passes, and we are comforted knowing that life continues, that we are the “Joshuas” to our parents and that God will be with us as God was with them.

Finally, there may be a difference between the way we remember our parents and the way they actually were when they were alive. Moshe is 120 years old—should we be so surprised that he has aged and that he cannot “come and go” as he used to. The virile young man who murdered the oppressive Egyptian taskmaster (bare-chested Charlton Heston) has aged (Heston with long beard). But when the Torah wants to remember him, it encourages us to remember him as a powerful man who stood up to Pharaoh and led Israel out of slavery. But this is not easy, and I’m sure that Moshe with the long white beard comes most easily to our mind. When we remember our parents, we need to try, as hard as it may be, to remember them in the years of their vigor, when they carried us on their shoulders, when they threw us in the swimming pool, and when they stayed up all night helping us to fall asleep. After all, for all of us at some point, this is all we will have—memories.

Wishing all of you and all of your parents a year of health and happiness. Gemar chatimah tovah and Shabbat Shalom!


Parashat Vayelekh
Shabbat Shuvah
September 15, 2018 | 6 Tishrei 5779

Annual | Deuteronomy 31:1-31:30 (Etz Hayim p. 1173; Hertz p. 887)

Triennial | Deuteronomy 31:1-31:30 (Etz Hayim p.1173; Hertz p. 887)
Haftarah | Hosea 14:2-10; Micah 7:18-20; Joel 2:15-27 (Etz Hayim p. 1235; Hertz p. 891)

D’var Torah: Moshe, Israel’s Aging Parent

Dr. Josh Kulp, Conservative Yeshiva Faculty & Rosh Yeshiva

This July I turned 48. Most of my friends are between their late thirties and early 50’s; their children are long out of diapers and some of them have begun to move out to go to the army or to college. We are at that age where worries about our children are overshadowed by worries about our parents. This year, this is what is on my mind as I read of Moshe’s last days in parshat Vayelekh.

There is a stira, a contradiction or inconsistency, in the last parshiyot of the Torah, and through three different resolutions of this contradiction, I want to offer three reflections on aging parents. Moshe begins the parsha by acknowledging his old age: “Today I am 120 years old. I can no longer come and go (Ben meah v’esrim shanah anochi hayom, lo uchal od latzet v’lavo” (Deuteronomy 31:2). The commentators are puzzled by his words, “I can no longer come and go.” Later, in Deuteronomy 34:7, after his burial, the Torah describes Moshe in a very different way, “Moshe was a hundred and twenty years old when he died; his eyes were undimmed and his vigor unabated.” Thus Moshe’s own description of himself is not

D’var Haftarah: Take Some Time

Rabbi Mordechai Silverstein, Conservative Yeshiva Faculty

The sages of the rabbinic period often sought out meaning in texts by paying attention to the positioning of paragraphs in a chapter. On the face of it, for moderns, this seems unusual since paragraphs and chapters are normally placed in a sequential order. The works of the biblical prophets were not usually organized this way. One prophecy in a prophetic work was not necessarily related to the other. This fact did not hinder sages from being inspired by the positioning of prophecies.

This week we read a haftarah specially chosen for the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Its opening words provide the name for this Shabbat – Shabbat Shuvah: “Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled in your iniquity.” (Hosea 14:2) This verse follows immediately after a prophecy recounting the destruction of the northern kingdom on account of its sins: “Samaria shall bear her guilt for she has defied her God. They shall fall by the sword; their infants shall be dashed to death and their women with child ripped open.” (14:1) The juxtaposition of the opening verse of the haftarah with its noble and inspiring call for change and reconciliation with God contrasts radically with the horrible and incontrovertible verse describing Samaria’s fate in the previous verse.

This association inspired the following rabbinic message: “Rabbi Elazar related in the name of Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachman: [This reference is like] a country which rebelled against the king. The king sent a general to destroy it. The general was expert and cool-headed. He said to them: ‘Take some time and consider what the king did to such and such a city and to such and such a province.’ This was Hosea’s intention. He said to Israel: ‘My children, do penitence, so that the Holy One Blessed be He will not do to you what he did to Samaria. Israel responded: ‘Master of the Universe, if we repent, will you accept us?’ God replied: ‘Didn’t I accept [even] Cain’s repentance [who murdered his brother], so why wouldn’t I accept yours?’ (Adapted from Pesikta d’Rav Kahana 24:11 Mandelbaum ed. p. 358)

In this parable, Hosea, the prophet, obviously represents the cool-headed general. According to the thinking of these sages, the role of the prophet is to give people the opportunity to weigh their actions and make wise choices. It is not easy to be discerning and pay attention to what is happening in our lives and what is happening around us. Sometimes, we need a nudge to make us aware of the implications of making the wrong move. This season reminds us that it is never too late.


Parashat Vayelekh Self-Study

Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, Conservative Yeshiva Faculty

This very short parashah is part of the last acts of Moshe as he hands over the leadership.

1) The parashah opens with Moshe going to the people of Israel and speaking to them (31:1). How do you think that he communicated things to the people under normal circumstances?

2) When he speaks to the people this time he explains that he is 120 years old. He will not continue to lead them, nor cross the Jordan River (31:2-6). How do you expect the people to react to Moshe’s message?

3) Moshe makes sure to tell Joshua that he is the next leader in front of all the people (31:7-8). Joshua was informed about this decision back in Bamidbar (Numbers) 27. So why is Moshe making a big deal about it now?

4) One more Mitzvah is inserted in this parashah: Hak’hel (31:9-13). Every 7 years the people have to gather in the place that God will choose and have the Torah read to them. Children and adults, men and women, and the sojourner in the land. What do you think is the purpose of this act?

5) At the end of the parashah Moshe is warning the people lest they turn away from God in future generations. He begins by speaking to the leaders, and only afterwards are we told that he speaks to all the people (31:28-30). Why do you think that he addresses them in that order?



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