Torah Portion: Vayelech

The Torah Portion this week is Vayelech (וילך)- “then he went out.” It contains only one chapter, Deuteronomy 31 and it has the fewest verses of any parashah. Let’s dive into Deuteronomy 31:2-3, where Moses is speaking to all of Israel:

2 He said to them, “I am 120 years old today. I am no longer able to go out and come in (I can’t get around any longer). Adonai has said to me, ‘You are not to cross over this Jordan.’ Adonai your God—He will cross over before you. He will destroy these nations from before you, and you will dispossess them. Joshua will cross over before you, just as Adonai has promised.

Now verse 5 says:

5 Adonai will give them over to you, and you are to do to them according to all the mitzvot that I commanded you. 6 Chazak! Be courageous! Do not be afraid or tremble before them. For Adonai your God—He is the One who goes with you. He will not fail you or abandon you.”

Then Moses gets Joshua and tells him the same thing, in front of all of Israel:

7 Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, “Be strong! Be courageous! For you are to go with this people into the land Adonai has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you are to enable them to inherit it. 8 Adonai—He is the One who goes before you. He will be with you. He will not fail you or abandon you. Do not fear or be discouraged.”

Go out, do these things! Don’t fear! You can do it! God gives us things to do, and God encourages us to do go.

14 Then Adonai said to Moses, “Behold, your time to die is near. Call Joshua, and present yourselves at the Tent of Meeting, and I will commission him.” Moses and Joshua went and presented themselves at the Tent of Meeting. 15 Adonai appeared in the Tent in a pillar of cloud, and the pillar of cloud stood over the opening of the Tent. 16 Adonai said to Moses, “Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers. Then these people will rise up and prostitute themselves with the foreign gods of the land they are entering. They will abandon Me and break My covenant that I cut with them.

God knows they won’t be able to do it. How un-encouraging is that? I think of Jeremiah, God said to speak to these people and tell them to return to God, but He knew they wouldn’t return to Him, and told Jeremiah that they won’t return to Him. But Jeremiah was obedient and did it anyway. As we always should, even though it’s not going to be easy.

But we know that God cut the covenant in Genesis 15 with Abraham. God put him to sleep because He knew that Abraham could not keep that covenant, only a perfect person could. Then He swore by Himself, knowing that He would have to complete both ends of the bargain. He knew that the Israelites, Abraham’s descendants, could not keep all of them. I think God created these commandments to show that we need a savior, that we can’t do it on our own.

Many times in Scripture we read about how “bad they Israelites are”, they turn away and follow other gods. I used to think how pathetic that was until I realized that we do the same thing. The gods that we follow aren’t stone statues, our “gods” are T.V., success, sports, money, etc. A god is whatever pulls you away from God.

But somehow God is good, and God is loving. And in this week’s Haftarah portion in Micah and Hosea.

Micah 7:18 Who is a God like You pardoning iniquity, overlooking transgression, for the remnant of His heritage? He will not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy. 19 He will again have compassion on us. He will subdue our iniquitiesand You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.

And Hosea says, in 14:3

Hosea 14:3 Take words with you and return to AdonaiSay to Him: “Take away all iniquity, and accept what is good, so we may repay with offerings of our lips: 5 “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, for My anger will turn away from him.

During this time and this season of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Teruah, where we had a day of casting away our sins physically by tossing the bread into the lake (Tashlikh), may we be able to return to God and turn away from our sins, no matter how small, or how great it may be.

And my we return spiritually, as the Israelites, gone for nearly 500 years, to You Lord, as they return to the promised land. All of us have fallen short, we should return to Him.  As Isaiah 1:18 says:

Though your sins are like scarlet,

   they will be as white as snow.

Though they are red like crimson,

   they will become like wool.

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