By: SFW Students & Alumna Rachelli Cohney (SFW '08, '09)
Parshat Vayelech might be the shortest parsha in the Torah, but it is perhaps better thought of as concise – containing a lot of meaning in few words.
With this in mind, the first pasuk in this week’s Parsha is perplexing at first, but contains a lot of hidden meaning when we investigate further: “Vayelech Moshe…”; the expression ‘Vayelech’ always poses a question: if Moshe ‘went’, to where did he go?
Ramban explains that Moshe went to each shevet’s camp, as a sign of kavod, asking their permission before he left them for the last time.
However, Kli Yakar explores this expression on a deeper level, comparing this use of ‘vayelech’ with the other times that it is used in our parsha. The shoresh ‘halach’ appears three times in Vayelech. The first is here, ‘Vayelech Moshe’ (Devarim 31:6) when Moshe goes to talk to Bnei Yisrael, the second is in relation to Yehoshua’s appointment as Moshe’s successor – “V’hashem hu haholech lefanecha” (Devarim 31:8) and the third being where Bnei Yisrael are told that Hashem will guide them, “Ki Hashem Elokecha hu haholech imach.” (Devarim 31:1)
The use of the shoresh ‘halach’ has different connotations in these three instances. When used regarding Bnei Yisrael, Hashem is portrayed as walkingwith the people. In relation to Yehoshua, Hashem walks before him (ie. Yehoshuafollows Hashem). Concerning Moshe, he simply ‘walks’ and is not accompanied.
From this comparison, we see that the verb ‘halach’ implies the status of one’s relationship with Hashem. The Kli Yakar illustrates this further with use of a mashal. Moshe, on the highest level, is like the sun – he radiates independently and ‘vayelech’ – he walks on his own and does not need to be accompanied. Yehoshua is compared to the moon, who gives light only as a reflection of the sun, but still lights up the night sky. Contrasingly, Bnei Yisrael need full guidance – Hashem walks with them, and they are like the stars, which light up the sky, but in a scattered and disjointed fashion. Together, all three types of luminaries serve to provide the earth with light throughout time.
This parsha is the not the only instance where we see the verb ‘halach’ allude to one’s relationship with Hashem. At the beginning of Bereishit, it is said about Chanoch that he ‘walked with Hashem’ – ‘Vayit’halech Chanoch et haelokim’ (Bereishit 5:22), and about Noach, ‘Et Haelokim hithalech noach’ (Bereishit 6:9). The same form of the verb, hitpael (reflexive) is used to suggest a similar sort of relationship. We learn about Chanoch that he was righteous as a result of his ‘walking with Hashem’ and his separation from other people (incidentally this may be one of the reasons he died at a younger age than his contemporaries). Similarly, we learn that ‘Noach ish tzaddik haya b’dorotav’ (Bereishit 6:9)– Noach was a tzaddik in his generation, suggesting that he was also independently righteous like Chanoch, but only when he ‘walked with G-d’ and cut himself off from the rest of Man, as we understand from the story of the Mabul, where he does not pray for his generation’s salvation (as opposed to Avraham with the destruction of S’dom, who does).
But where does this idea come from at its essence, that Hashem’s guidance or relationship with us is connoted by the verb ‘halach’?
We learn in Parshat Ekev, in a parshiya also known as Parshat HaYir’ah, very simply what Hashem wants from us: “Ma Hashem Elokecha sho’el me’imach… v’lalachet b’chol drachav” (Devarim 10:12)– literally to walk in His ways. As a result, whether or not we fulfill this command can be alluded to by the verb ‘halach’.
We see further examples of this throughout Tanach, but the idea of doing or not doing Hashem’s will as connoted by ‘halach’ is seen in comparison with the language used when both Yaakov and Bil’am ‘go on their way’. When Yaakov leaves Lavan, the pasuk states ‘V’Yaakov halach l’darko’ (Bereishit 32:2). So too, with Bil’am the identical expression is used: ‘v’gam Balak halach l’darko’. The contrast of their intentions is obvious, but again, we see the use of this verb at play.
The ability to walk is uniquely human. Yechezkel prophesies about the angels that ‘Ragleihem regel yeshara’ (Yechezkel 1:7)– ‘their leg is a straight foot’ – they cannot move from where they are. Man, conversely, has two legs and thus has the ability to move and change, progress and grow.
We are now in the middle of the Yamim Noraim, where we particularly want to make use of this special ability to change and do Teshuva. As it is written about the shofar at Matan Torah ‘Vayehi kol shofar holech v’chazak’ (Shemot 19:19)– the sound of the shofar went and became stronger’, we also want to take advantage of our ability and become stronger as individuals and as a nation.