We’ve come to the shortest portion in Torah. It is usually paired with another, but for reasons of the Jewish calendar, it comes alone this year. So, we’ll look at some very lovely things in it, and we’ll have a good amount of time to consider questions or other matters that are on your mind as we approach the end of our wonderful year long journey.
Read 31:1. The portion is called Vayalech, which means, he went. He went (perhaps came and walked) and spoke. Why the extra word/notion? Why not just, spoke?
(Lots of possibilities. This activity of coming forward for the last oration is notable. It’s a physical extension to the people. Some sages envision that Moses went out into the camp among the people, as if to bid farewell to his beloved people. It also echoes the motion of what will be his departure out and Joshua’s in, as the people enter the land, with God crossing over. “Moses went” is the action we focus on here.)
Read Moses’ message to the people in 6 and to Joshua in 8. Here’s a virtual double, signifying what?
(The idea of God’s support, the reliability of our faith in God, the admonition not to fear or be dismayed, but rather to be strong - all this is a core part of Moses’ message of encouragement, imploring strength and faith, which are essential attributes as we enter the land. These very ideas are repeated in a few verses as God encourages Joshua.)
III. Read 10-13. What’s significant about this instruction?
(It places great importance on widespread knowledge of the Instruction and its being passed down from generation to generation. And that it’s being read during the sabbatical year - what does that mean?
Perhaps it restores our sense of, and commitment to, our most profound values during the time of rest, the time in which we put off the material and are most open spiritually to what matters most, the instruction that God has given us for living as God expects.)
IV. God tells Moses that the people will stray in the future but tells him to write down a poem (a song) and teach it to them to put in their mouths as a witness. Let’s read verses 19, 22. We will study this poem in next week’s portion. But why do you think at the outset that it is to be a poem/song that serves this purpose at this stage?
(Moses has been teaching in prose for the most part. The Instruction is mostly in prose. God appears to want the message taught once more. Is this to manifest the narrative, the importance of living true to God’s way, in a different manner? Perhaps we benefit richly from hearing it in both ways. Indeed there’s a power to poetry, especially when sung, in its capacity to be felt and remembered, that strengthens the message. Some sages say that a poem/song permits for a special expression of harmony as well.
Why is it to be remembered in the mouth to serve in the future as a witness?
We’ve talked about holding on to ideas? This one is held so deeply it flows right into the mouth to testify against us when we stray. As we have studied often and deeply, it’s vital that the people understand throughout time the consequences that flow from our decisions either to live with God or abandon God.)