In the second of last week’s double parsha, Moshe is near the end of his life. He is about to die and he knows it and is now offering his final words to the Israelites. The name of the parsha, VaYeilech – “And he went…” begins with, “And Moshe went and he spoke these words to all of Israel.” The problem is that the Torah doesn’t tell us where he went, let alone why. It could have simply stated, “And Moshe spoke these words…”
The commentaries offer various views of his destination, ranging from the practical – he went to each tribe to inform them of his impending demise, to the esoteric – he went to Heaven and told the forefathers that God is fulfilling His promise to them and that the nation is about to enter Israel.
Whatever we may wish to speculate, the fact that the Torah doesn’t inform us tells us something in its own right. It doesn’t reveal the destination because perhaps Moshe himself didn’t know. וילך†מש†ה†which literally translates as, “And Moshe walked…” or went, is purposefully elliptical and leaves us with a blank because even to Moshe, death is an unknown and he himself is at a loss as to where exactly he is headed.
It happens to be that the first words to the first Jew, Avraham were not only the same, but had this same quality of an unknown destination. Way back in the book of Genesis, when we are first introduced to Avraham, God appears to him for the first time with the phrase לך†לך†– “Go for yourself, from your land, from your birthplace and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you.” And so we have Avraham beginning his dramatic and fateful journey with the words, לך†going/walking. And we also have Avraham going to an unknown place since God didn’t inform him at the outset what his destination was, but vaguely tells him, “to the land that I will show you.”
Avraham and Moshe – two bookends in the formation of the Jewish people. Avraham and Moshe – it is hard to name either one of them as secondary in importance to the other with regard to the creation and definition of the Jewish people, history and experience. Avraham commencing the Jewish narrative at the beginning of the Chumash, and Moshe ending it. And so it cannot be accidental that the Torah recounts pivotal moments of these two major pillars of Jewish life with the identical words of לך†/Go along with the same quality of a mysterious destination.
It teaches that the life of the Jewish people as an entity, and the lives of each of us individually, is one of לך†/going, moving, departing. And not just that we are travelling, but that we are travelling to… ? To the unknown and to the unfamiliar. It symbolizes that the history of our people has been one of constant movement from one place to another without much foreknowledge of where we will end up. And for thousands of years it has been this way, scattered to the four corners of the globe as prophesied over and over again.
And similarly, in our personal lives, when you look back on your past I am sure you will see the same dynamic. Movement to places or situations that you would never have imagined. Lech/Going… and then the big question mark. Where exactly am I
headed? What will the critical decisions that I make in life hold in store for me? The decisions of job, life partner, children, place where I choose to live. We make the choices but have so little foreknowledge of what those choices really mean and where they will take us.
Moving into unfamiliar territory can be a bit disconcerting to say the least. It can create understood anxieties. And so a few verses later in the parsha we get the solution to this concern. Not once but twice, using very similar language, Moshe tells the Jewish people, “But be of good courage and strength, do not fear… because the Lord your God, He will הולך†go/walk with you”. (Deut. 31:6)
The same root Lech/Go that is used to describe our unknown journey is used to inform us that we are not alone in it but accompanied by God who goes with us, looks out for us and steers us in the right direction. And not only that, but as it states right after, “He will walk before you.” (Deut. 31:8) Before you – He will lead the way. Even though we don’t know exactly where we are headed, God is both beside us and ahead of us.
This has been the secret to Jewish continuity against all odds for the past two thousand years. It is also at the forefront of our personal journey through life. We don’t always know where we’re going, but despite the difficulties, we somehow end up on the right path and in the right place. It does all work out in the end because God is next to us as well as ahead of us the whole way.
We are approaching Rosh HaShana and starting a New Year. Another beginning. Rosh HaShana is always a time to contemplate where we have been and where we are going. Where Life’s Journeys have taken us and where we hope to go. As we enter this special time of year, our hope and prayer is that all our journeys, travels and our לך†goings will be meaningful, fruitful, successful and with few bumps in the road. And may we never forget who is at the wheel – both beside us and ahead of us as we travel through life.
Where are you going?
Where do you go?
Are you looking for answers to questions under the stars?
Well, if along the way you are growing weary
You can rest with Me until a brighter day
And you’re okay
-David Matthews Band