This week’s parasha is entitled Vayeilech, which means, “And He Went.” It covers Deuteronomy, Chapter 31:1 – 31:30. As the parasha opens, we find out that this day will be Moses’ last day on earth. As Moses mentions in verse 2: I am a hundred and twenty years old today; I am no longer able to come and go, and the Lord has said to me, ‘You shall not cross this Jordan.’ This does not mean that Moses was lacking in physical strength. In fact, we read in Deuteronomy 34:7: “Although Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died: his eye was not dim, nor his vigor abated.” What Deuteronomy 31, verse 2 is telling us is that Moses’ going and coming was limited by the Lord’s decree. When Moses twice struck the rock at Meribah, in Numbers Chapter 20:12, the Lord told Moses that he would not be allowed to bring the assembly into the land which the Lord was giving them.
Perhaps it seems harsh that Moses was denied entry into the Promised Land because he struck the rock twice to bring forth water at Meribah. However, Moses was the leader of all Israel and at Meribah, he did not follow the Lord’s command. Those in positions of leadership need to be held accountable to stricter, higher standards. Secondly, Moses’ words do not reflect bitterness regarding his inability to enter the Land. Moses shows that he accepts the consequences for his actions and the judgment he received from the Lord. In today’s society, where so many in leadership seem to make excuses or blame others for their own actions, Moses’ example should be a true lesson to us all.
Moses reminds the people to put their trust in God and that He will go ahead of the people. He reminds the Israeli’s that God will defeat their enemies in the Promised Land just as He won victories over the kings of Sihon and Og in Numbers, Chapter 21.
Then Moses calls Joshua and instructs him to lead the people into the Promised Land, as had been previously revealed. Notice the importance of the order: First God, then human leadership. If we first trust in God to lead us, we can then trust Him for good spiritual leaders. This also speaks to the fact that although Moses was one of the greatest men who ever lived, he was not irreplaceable. At this time, Israel would continue to have capable leadership under Joshua. However, later in Israel’s history, we would not trust in God and we would end up, not with godly leaders, but with wicked men who did evil in the eyes of the Lord.
This chapter is also the conclusion of the ancient Torah. Although the book of Deuteronomy will continue for another 3 chapters, the Law is sealed at this time. Verse 9: “So Moses wrote this law and gave it to the priests, the sons of Levi who carried the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord and to all the elders of Israel.” Verses 24 to 26 tell us that Moses instructed the Levites to place this Torah, this law, beside the Ark of the Covenant. At the end of every 7 years, at the time of the Feast of Booths, in other words, Sukkot, Moses commanded that the law be read in front of all of Israel at the place where the Lord would put His Name, which would end up being Jerusalem.
In this chapter, God also commands Moses that he should write down a song and teach it to the Israelis and this song will be a witness against them for turning away from God. This song will be covered in next parasha.
Today, we are celebrating Shabbat Shuvah, the “Sabbath of Repentance.” And, in this chapter, we have two very stark reminders of the great need for repentance. First, God tells Moses that when the Israelis are in the Promised Land, they will pursue other gods, forsake the Lord and break the covenant that God made with them. This will cause the Lord to grow angry with the people, forsake them and so many troubles and evils will come upon the Jewish people that they will say, “Is it not because our God is not among us that these evils have come upon us?” (verse 17).
Later, in verses 27 and 29, Moses passes on what the Lord told him to the people of Israel in this way: “For I know your rebellion, and your stubbornness; behold, while I am still alive with you today, you have been rebellious against the Lord; how much more, then, after my death? For I know that after my death you will act corruptly and turn from the way which I have commanded you; and evil will befall you in the latter days; for you will do that which is evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger with the work of your hands.”
Sadly, the words of warning from this chapter have come to pass, not only in an historical aspect, but they continue to this day for a majority of not only Jews, but Gentiles as well. We should be examining our walk with the Lord all year around however, this time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, known as the Days of Awe is a special opportunity to examine where we are and where we need to be. Are there certain issues that we need to bring before the Lord in prayer to ask that He help us, perhaps in our marriages, in relationships with other family members, friends or co-workers? Perhaps we are dealing with other types of issues like selfishness, pursuit of possessions or money. Is work consuming so much of our life that we have no time for others around us? Are we looking around us to see what other needs we might be able to help with in a hurting world? Are we pressing into God’s work and seeking His direction? Throughout His Life, Messiah Yeshua spoke of Himself as the Bread of Life and as Living Water. I pray that we could allow ourselves to use the sustenance that Messiah provides to help us with these and other issues in our own lives. And, on this Shabbat Shuvah, may we continue to pray for repentance, guidance and a return to the Lord, not just for ourselves, but for the whole world.