Which Way Did He Go?
Which Way Did He Go?
This week's portion opens with the sentence, "Vayeilech Moshe (and Moshe went), and spoke these words to all of Israel" (31:1). The commentaries grapple with the first two words, "Vayeilech Moshe" (and Moshe went). Where did he go? The verse doesn't say. It seems to be a mystery. Let us share some of the approaches which address this perplexity.
Yonasan ben Uziel (31:1) says that Moshe went to the Beis Midrash. Yonasan ben Uziel does not say why Moshe went to the Beis Midrash, but, we could suggest that the reason was just so that Moshe would be able to learn a little more Torah before he died (See Rashi, Parshas Vayeilech, 31:2, citing Sota, chap. 1, "Hamekaneh", pg. 13b). What a parting lesson for us about how we must take advantage of every moment of life!
Many Rishonim say that Moshe went to the three machanos (camps): the Machaneh Shechina (the camp of the Divine Presence), the Machaneh Leviya (the camp of the Levites), and to the Machaneh Yisrael (the camp of the Israelites). This means that Moshe went to all the Shevatim (tribes). Moshe went to the men, women, and children. However, they offer different reasons as to why Moshe went to the people.
The Ramban (31:1) says that Moshe went to the Jews to honor them by asking them for "permission" to take a leave of absence, just as one would customarily do prior to parting ways from a friend.
The Ibn Ezra (31:1) says that Moshe went to the people to inform them that he was about to die. Moshe did this to reduce their fear. Perhaps we could add that it was imperative for Moshe to give them the "heads up" because the last time the people thought that Moshe died, they panicked and made a Golden Calf for themselves as a substitute leader (See Rashi, Parshas Ki Sisa, 32:1, citing Shabbos, chap. 9, "Amar Rebbi Akiva", pg. 89a). By telling them in advance that he was about to die, and that Yehoshua, a very capable and competent leader was going to take over, Moshe would alleviate their anxiety, and avoid another mega mistake.
The Ibn Ezra (ibid) adds that Moshe also went to the people to bless them before he died.
The Sforno (31:1) says that Moshe went to the people to comfort them about his imminent death. The people had just accepted upon themselves a covenant between them and God. Moshe wanted the atmosphere to be a joyous one so that their acceptance should be amidst happiness. Moshe did not want his death to mar and disrupt their cheerfulness. Therefore, Moshe went to comfort them.
The Kli Yakar (31:1) explains where Moshe went by first pointing out that Moshe also said, "I can no longer go out and come in" (Parshas Vayeilech, 31:2). There are two ways of interpreting what Moshe meant by this: 1) Moshe meant that he was physically no longer to capable of leading the people in and out of difficult situations due to his advanced age and 2) Moshe meant that he was no longer allowed to lead the people back and forth because the mantle of leadership was already given to another. The second interpretation is the accurate one because the Torah testifies that, "Moshe's vision was not dimmed, nor was his strength abated" (Parshas V'Zos Haberacha, 34:7), despite his progressed age.
Moshe was concerned that the people would misunderstand his words ("I can no longer go out and come in"), to mean that he physically had no more strength. Therefore, to avoid confusion, Moshe began to walk briskly up and down the entire Jewish camp to show them that he still had plenty of physical strength within him. This is where Moshe went. He went all over the place, jogging around the Jewish camp, so that they would understand his words to mean that he was no longer allowed to lead them because it was now Yehoshua's turn to assume the mantle of leadership.
The Ba'al Haturim (31:1) has an entirely different approach. He says that the verse right before ours mentions, "Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya'akov" (Parshas Netzavim, 30:20). Only then does it say, "Vayeilech Moshe." This adjacency teaches us that Moshe went to the Avos: Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya'akov. The reason why Moshe went to them was because he wanted to tell them that Hashem had fulfilled His oath and brought the Jewish people into the Land.
This approach of the Ba'al Haturim raises an obvious question. At this point in the Torah, the Jews had not yet entered the Land. Moshe, who was denied entrance into the Land, was certainly not in the Land, and the people were gathered around Moshe when he spoke to them. That means that none of them were in the Land. How then could Moshe tell the Avos that Hashem did bring them into the Land?
Perhaps one way of defending the Ba'al Haturim would be to say that Hashem had already given Eiver Hayarden (the Trans-Jordan) to the Jewish people. Although the Eiver Hayarden did not have the same status as Eretz Yisrael proper, it did have some holiness to it, more than any other country outside the Land of Israel. Since Eiver Hayarden was like a semi Eretz Yisrael, Moshe could already tell the Avos that Hahsem had kept his word. Especially in light of the fact that they were already standing at the border of the Promised Land, just about to travel into the Land. This made it like a done deal. It was in the bag and you can take it to the bank.
The Ohr Hachayim Hakadosh (31:1) gets even more mystical. He says that we must first become privy of two things: 1) The names of the Jewish people are actually the names of their souls.
[Parenthetically, this is why the Zohar Chadash (Rus, pg. 84) says that wicked people cannot recall their names in the afterlife. It is because a wicked person has lost touch with his soul. As such, he is also out of touch with his name (See Mishlei, 23:2)].
And 2) The Zohar (vol. 1, pg. 218a) says that forty days before a person dies, his soul goes to explore its resting place in Heaven (See Shir Hashirim, 4:6). Although most people are unaware of this occurrence, righteous people are cognizant of it.
Therefore, when it says, "Vayeilech Moshe," it really means that Moshe's soul, which was called "Moshe," already went to Heaven forty days ago to explore his resting place in the after-life. Since Moshe was a tzaddik, he was well aware of this experience. This is how Moshe was able to say, "Today, I am going to die" (Parshas Vayeilech, 31:2; Sota, pg. 13b). Although people do not generally know their day of death (Shabbos, chap. 2, "Bameh Madlikin", pg. 30a), nevertheless, people on Moshe Rabbenu's level do know.
Although we have just learned several different approaches which explain where Moshe went, they all share one thing in common. They all say that Moshe actually went somewhere. They just argue about where he went and why he went there.
But, perhaps we could suggest a whole different perspective. Maybe the Torah is not telling us that Moshe went anywhere. Because, if Moshe did go to a specific place, the Torah would have told us the nature of that place. But, since the Torah was silent about the place that Moshe went to, the Torah never meant to indicate that there was a specific place.
Rather, in the words, "Vayeilech Moshe," the Torah wants to teach us that during the one hundred and twenty years of his life, Moshe was a "Holech" (a goer). His entire life, Moshe went from one level to the next, higher and higher. Moshe was never satisfied with his past accomplishments. Moshe was a mover, a shaker, and a doer. He always strove to reach even higher plateaus.
However, Moshe told the people, "I can no longer go out and come in." With those words Moshe meant to say that he just reached his full potential. Moshe meant to say that he finally completed the mission that he was sent on Earth to do. Therefore, Moshe said that he will no longer be able to go out from his current level and enter into a new level, because Moshe already climbed all of the levels that Hashem set before him.
What a role model Moshe is! We should try, even harder, to "holech" in Moshe's footsteps and take advantage of every moment of life, climbing the spiritual ladder of success even higher, and thus deserve to witness our Avos getting so much nachas from us and from the beautiful after-life we will have created for ourselves.