Vayelech and Shabbat Shuvah – A thought for the week by Michael Lewis

This week we will read Parshat Vayelech, one of the shortest in the Torah, on a Shabbat named after the Haftorah by Hosea; the Shabbat of Return. Falling between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Isaac Luria considered it as the archetype of all Shabbatot. It was the one of the two days in the year where the Rabbi was required to give a sermon (the other was Shabbat Hagadol before Pesach).

We hear the voices of Moses and of God. Moses speaks first to all the people.

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֲלֵהֶ֗ם בֶּן־מֵאָה֩ וְעֶשְׂרִ֨ים שָׁנָ֤ה אָֽנֹכִי֙ הַיּ֔וֹם לֹֽא־אוּכַ֥ל ע֖וֹד לָצֵ֣את וְלָב֑וֹא
He said to them, 'Today I am one hundred and twenty years old. I can no longer go or come'

It was not a question of his strength because in V’zot Haberachah, just before he dies we will read that

לֹא־כָֽהֲתָ֥ה עֵינ֖וֹ וְלֹא־נָ֥ס לֵחֹֽה
His eye had not dimmed, nor had he lost his freshness

Moses will not be coming with the people but he can pass on an inheritance. To the people in general and to Joshua specifically he says

חֲזַ֣ק וֶֽאֱמָץ֒
Be strong and courageous

That is what we call out at the end of each reading of each Book of the Torah which he now proceeds to write down in a scroll. He introduces the mitzvah of Hak’hel; to read the Torah to the assembled people every seven years at Sukkot.

God speaks of the people going astray and violating the commandments.

For I know their inclination what they are planning to do today, even before I bring them in to the land which I have sworn to give them.

Moses goes on to

call upon the heaven and the earth as witnesses against them

But he also says

Take this Torah scroll and place it along side the ark of covenant of the Lord, your God, and it will be there as a witness

Seeing the crowds gathering for the Lying in State of Queen Elizabeth showed the power of people coming together. Throughout our own long and painful history we still assembled and affirmed our belief.

Every Shabbat can be a Shabbat of Return. We read the Torah weekly, either in full every year or in a triennial cycle. We have become the witnesses.

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