At the beginning of our parashat hashavua it is written: Vayelekh Moshe; vay’dabeyr et kol had’varim ha’eyleh el kol Yisrael, “Moshe went; he spoke all these things to all Israel” (Devarim 31.1)
Although this form of speech may seem familiar to some of us (i.e. “he went and spoke”, or “he’s gone and done it now”) a strict grammarian, or a Torah commentator such as the ancient Sages of Israel, sees here a question. Based on the Rabbinical rules for interpreting Torah, which take as a given that there are no superfluous words in the sacred text, we can ask the simple question: where did Moshe go? The Torah does not specify where he went. It is an even more interesting point when we note that this is Moshe’s last day on earth.
Where was he going, on this last day of his?
Commentaries abound to fill in the ambiguity, and give us several possibilities for interpretation:
1. Even at the end of his long and distinguished career, Moshe was still a humble person. Rather than call all Israel together to hear him, he chose to go to each family tent. He chose to spend his last day of life with his people, meeting intimately with those with whom he had shared so many years of struggle and hope.
2. More disturbingly, it is suggested that the people of Israel were not willing to gather to listen to him. At the end of his life, they dismissed him and his words as no longer meaningful or relevant.
3. The mystics suggest a third possibility from his words: “I can no longer come and go.” They remind us that Moshe had been accustomed to going “up” to commune with G*d, and then coming back “down” to be with the rest of the Israelites. Now, nearing his death, he had risen toward G*d and was unable to meet us on our level.
From these insights we see that the question is not where he went, but how. Did he go in humility as a great leader? did he go as a scorned old man that no one wanted to listen to any more? Did he go somewhere that no one could follow?
On this Shabbat Shuvah, our Shabbat of Returning between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, we consider not where we are going but how we are going. Each day of our lives we draw nearer to the last day. How are you going?
On this Shabbat Shuvah, may you feel supported in your search for your best way to go forward, toward the rest of your life, and toward your last day. That is why we create spiritual community: to talk about this, to encourage and support each other, and to be there, on this Shabbat and every day.