סדר וילך

וילך משה וידבר את הדברים האלה

And Moses went and he spoke these words 

Deuteronomy 31:1

Our Master explained that we find here a correct allusion to the custom that one who holds forth in public to offer words of moral instruction (מוסר) should preface his remarks with words of halakhah before speaking words of aggadah and reproof. For the word “וילך” (he went) refers to halakhah, which is the path to understanding. Thus, only after he went (וילך) and gave a halakhic introduction did Moses speak all these words (וידבר את הדברים האלה) of moral instruction. The reason for prefacing words of reproof and moral instruction with words of halakhah is contained in a statement of R. Akiva:

I wonder if anyone in this generation is capable of offering reproof, because should he say: “take the splinter from between your teeth,” they will respond: “take the beam from between your eyes.” (In other words, they will respond that the one giving reproof is himself guilty of sins at least as serious as those committed by the ones to whom reproof is given.)

However, if the one giving reproof is a scholar (תלמיד חכם), they cannot mention his sins, because the Sages say that if you see a scholar who has transgressed at night, do not suspect him of being a sinner the following day, because he has surely repented. And because a custom of Israel is legally binding (מנהג ישראל תורה) and emanates from a holy source, anyone who offers reproof should begin by speaking words of הלכה to show that he is a scholar. Thus, even if his audience may know of some misconduct on his part, they will assume that, being a scholar, he has repented of that misconduct, and they will therefore listen attentively to his reproof. (שביבי אש)

הן קרבו ימיך למות

Behold the days approach when you must

Deuteronomy 31:14

It is written in the Midrash Tanhuma:

Moses said: “Master of the Universe, I praised you with the word “הן” as it is written (Deuteronomy 10:14): “הן לה’ אלקיך השמים ושמי השמים” (behold the heaven and the heaven of heaven belong to your Eternal God). Yet with the word “הן” You decree death upon me? The Holy One Blessed Be He replied to him: “A bad neighbor sees his neighbor’s income but pays no heed to his neigbor’s expenses. Don’t you remember that when I sent you to redeem them from Egypt, you said to Me (Exodus 4:1): “והן לא יאמינו לי” (behold, they will not believe me). That is why “הן קרבו ימיך למות” (behold, the days approach when you must die).

Our master explained this Midrash with knowledge and understanding. For the man who walks at the head of the people of Israel and lead the flock of Joseph has two tasks to discharge. The first is to stand in the breach with his prayers on their behalf to abate the wrath and the anger of the Eternal when, having become incensed, He would destroy or punish them, thereby atoning for their sin and causing the Eternal to repent of the evil that He would otherwise have done to them. This, indeed, is what Moses the shepherd of Israel did when they despised the Almighty and defied Him, kindling the anger of the Eternal against them. So, when the Eternal decided to kill them in the desert and destroy them, Moses beseeched the Eternal to forgive their sin and to rescind His plan to destroy them. The second task of the leader is to lead them along the path on which they should walk, reproaching them for their misconduct, correcting their character traits, and causing them to revere and love the Eternal.

Jethro admonished Moses about both of these responsibilities when he said to him (Exodus 18:19): “היה אתה לעם מול הא-להים” (you shall represent the people before God). Rashi comments: you shall be an agent and an advocate between them and the Omnipresent who will pray for them offering numerous supplications before God and speaking well of them.

And Jethro continues (Exodus 18:20): “והזהרת אתהם את החוקים והתורת והודעת להם את הדרך ילכו בה ואת המעשה אשר יעשון” (and you shall teach them the statutes and the decisions, and make them know the way in which they must walk and what they must do).

However, if we reflect upon these two tasks, we see that they are at cross purposes to each other, so that whenever one becomes more prominent, the other recedes correspondingly. For only a man so exalted that he can ascend the ladder to the Almighty’s abode on high among the stars, would dare to approach the Eternal to quell His burning wrath. And as the soul of this person ascends and soars toward the Eternal, his courage increases correspondingly, so that his strength and dignity would enable him to stand as an iron pillar of defense, so that the Eternal would not pour His wrath upon them. However, as such a man ascends, his words no longer draw the hearts of his listeners toward him, and they no longer listen to his reproof. Nor do they learn from his example, as they say: “What have we to do with him, is he not so very far removed from us?” For one who gives reproof to the people will not reach the chords in the heart of his audience unless he resembles them, understands their concerns, and knows what they are seeking. Only such a person is capable of administering an effective reproof.

This is clear from what the Eternal told Moses when he ascended on high to receive  the two tablets of the covenant from the Eternal (Exodus 32:7): “לך רד כ י שחת עמך” (go down; for your people have corrupted themselves). The Sages  (Berakhot 32a) interpreted this to mean: “רד מגדולתך” (descend from your greatness). In other words: “Lower yourself to become closer to them, for only then will it be within your power to lead them in the paths of honesty and righteousness.”

At the exalted level at which Moses then stood, the people would not listen to him or turn an attentive ear to his words. However, how could a man whose soul had not soared and was just like one of the people stand in the breach to beseech and supplicate the Eternal to abate His anger and abandon His wrath, and by virtue of what merit could he cry out to the Eternal?

Moses tried mightily to perform both these tasks wholeheartedly. When he came down a second time from the mountain where God and truth had been revealed to him, he had become so great that his face shone. Moses therefore put a veil over his face to hide his face from the people, so that they should not understand how wondrous were his ways and would continue to accept instruction from him. But when he came before the Eternal to beg and supplicate for his people, he removed the veil and his honor was completely revealed in its glory and brilliance. And for his sake, the Eternal forgave them. However, at the end of his days, Moses became very much greater; his brow rose to the clouds, and his head to the heavens, so that he was just short of an angel. He could no longer conceal his magnificence and his greatness from the people, for every eye that glimpsed him and everyone that saw him recognized the splendor of his greatness which was enormous. It was no longer in his power to control his people and to teach the wayward understanding for his voice was no longer heard. That is why the end of all flesh came upon him and his sun began to set while the spirit of the Eternal began to move his servant Joshua whose sun began to rise.

Now in the Midrash Tanhuma it is said about the verse (Numbers 23:9): “הן עם לבדד ישכן” (lo, a people dwelling alone), that the letters “ה” and “נ” have no numerical mates. In other words, the letter “ה” with a numerical value of five is added to itself to equal ten and the letter “נ” with a numerical value of fifty is added to itself to equal one hundred, whereas all the other letters must be added to a different letter to equal either ten or one hundred. That is why the word “הֵן” (lo) is used in this context to signify that the people dwells alone as do the letters “ה” and “נ”.

The words of the Midrash with which we began now shine forth like light of the sky. For the Eternal said to Moses: “הן קרבו ימיך למות” (behold, the days approach when you must die), because you are now in the category of “הן.” In other words, you have been set apart, because you have become so great and the distance between you and the people is so vast that you cannot associate with them and be close to them. That is why the day of your death is approaching and your position must be given to another who is accessible to the multitude of his brethren. Moses then asked with an agitated heart:

Master of the Universe, with the word ” הן ” I praised you, why do you now decree death upon me with the word ” הן “? Am I not pre-eminent because, having ascended on high and contended mightily with God, I have become exalted over all other human beings? Did I not become an interlocutor on behalf of Your people to cause Your wrath to recede, so that You have spared them on my account? Did I not praise You with “הן” (as it is written): “הן לַה’ השמים ושמי השמים” (Behold the heaven and the heaven of heaven belong to the Lord your God), because You are separated from all the inhabitants of the earth and Your path is in heaven. So who can, better than I, ascend to You and come to the inner sanctum? (As, indeed, it is written in the Midrash that when Moses was prepared to die and entrusted his soul to the God of spirits, the Eternal roared like a lion (Psalms 94:16): “מי יקום לי עם מרעים” (who will rise up for Me against the wicked?) Who will stand with Me in My time of trouble?

The trustworthy God therefore answered him: a bad neighbor sees the income but not the expenses of his neighbor. He sees only the crop of his neighbor, but not his neighbor’s expenditures. So, you see only what is on high and to your own advantage, but not the loss that would result, inasmuch as you can no longer reprove the people, and they will not listen to your words any more. Did you not say “הן בני ישראל לא שמעו אלי” (behold the Children of Israel have not listened to me)? And wasn’t this because you were greatly separated from them and their ways were not your ways, so that you could not reprove them and keep them from rejecting your words? That is why they would not listen to you. Therefore, “הן קרבו ימיך למות” (behold, the days approach when you must die) when someone else, capable of leading them in righteousness and justice, and whose words of reproof they will heed, will take your place. (שביבי אש)

הקהל את העם האנשים והנשים והטף

Assemble the people, men, women and little ones

Deuteronomy 31:12

The Sages ask in the Talmud (Hagigah 3a): “Why did the children have to come?” And they answer “in order to grant reward to those that bring them.” It is amazing that the Eternal would command something for no purpose other than to provide a reward to those who perform the commandment. Moreover, the Scripture contradicts the words of the Gemara by saying (Deuteronomy 31:13): “ובניהם אשר לא ידעו ישמעו וילמדו ליראה” (and that their children, who have not known it, may hear, and learn to fear your Eternal God).

It appears to our master that the words of the Sages and the words of the Scripture do in fact coincide, because the Sages said that listening to the holy words and the pure sayings will sanctify the thoughts of a child and will inculcate the proper spirit within him making it easy for him to understand wisdom and knowledge when he grows up. The Sages recount that when R. Jose was just an infant, he was brought by his mother to the house of study. He was so inspired as a result that the Sages of his generation said about him “fortunate is she who bore him.” That is the reward that the parents obtain for their effort, because when their children grow up and they begin to teach them from books about belief and understanding, leading them beside still waters, the children, whose hearts have been prepared in their youth, will quickly grasp the Torah, the path of life. This is what the Sages meant in saying that the commandment of “הקהל” was given to provide a reward to those who bring the children. The reward is at hand, because the fulfillment of this commandment will prepare the children to accept the Torah and purity.

This is also the meaning of the Scripture, for one may ask why it is written first (Deuteronomy 31:12): “למען ישמעו ולמען ילמדו ויראו את ה’ אלקיכם” (that they may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God), and then (31:13) concerning the children, it says “ישמעו ולמדו ליראה את ה’ אלקיכם” (that they may hear and learn to fear your Eternal God). But, according to what has been said, we can well understand that, for the adults, listening is understanding. He therefore said “למען ישמעו ולמען ילמדו” (the parents themselves should listen and understand the Torah according to its plain meaning) for study leads to action, i.e., “ליראה את ה’ אלקיכם” (to revere your Eternal God). But concerning the children, listening denotes only the activity of hearing without study or understanding. Nevertheless, the activity of listening will later cause them to learn to revere God, because the sound of the words of the Torah that they hear when they are young will later inspire them to reverence. That is why the Scripture says that they should simply hear the words as written. As a result of hearing the words they will learn to be reverent even if they did not understand what they heard. Such reverence prepares their hearts so that, when they become adults, they will understand and will fear the Eternal all their lives. This is the reward – the fulfillment of their hopes for their children to be righteous — granted to those who bring them to hear the reading of the Torah. (שביבי אש)

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