Where Did Moshe ‘Go’?

Vayeilech Moshe vaye’dabeir es ha’devarim ha’eileh el kol Yisrael (Devarim 31:1)

Parashas Vayeilech begins by relating that Moshe went and spoke to the entire Jewish nation. However, the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh points out that the Torah conspicuously omits the location to which Moshe traveled. In his sefer Divrei Shaul, Harav Yosef Shaul Nathanson explains this anomaly based on a fundamental difference between angels and human beings. The Vilna Gaon (Berachos 64a) notes that the prophet Zechariah (3:7) describes angels as omdim — standing, while referring to humans as holchim — goers.

The Gaon explains that although angels are virtually flawless and on an extremely high spiritual level, this greatness actually limits them, as they remain static and unchanging throughout their entire existence. Humans, on the other hand, certainly make mistakes, but they also possess the unique ability of evolving and improving. Applying this concept to Parashas Vayeilech, Rav Nathanson suggests that the Torah intentionally omits Moshe’s destination because its emphasis is on teaching us that spiritual growth was such an innate part of Moshe that even on his final day, he was still “going.”

Along these lines, the Haftarah for Parashas Vayechi contains Dovid’s final conversation with his son Shlomo prior to his death. It begins by relating (Melachim I 2:1–2) that Dovid commanded Shlomo, saying, “Anochi holeich b’derech kol ha’aretz — I am going the way of all the earth,” meaning that he would soon die. Dovid then proceeded to warn Shlomo to be careful to observe all of the Torah’s laws.

However, the Ksav Sofer (Parashas Tetzaveh) quotes his father, the Chasam Sofer, who notes that the text seems to indicate that “anochi holeich b’derech kol ha’aretz” was part of Dovid’s commands, which is difficult to understand. In what sense was informing Shlomo that his life was coming to an end considered a command?

The Chasam Sofer explains that Dovid was informing Shlomo that he would soon die and no longer be able to perform mitzvos. Seemingly, he would be transformed from a holeich into an omeid. However, the Gemara (Bava Basra 116a) teaches that somebody who leaves a righteous son who continues in his pious ways after his death is still considered spiritually alive, as the mitzvos that his son performs are partially attributed to the model and education that he provided, and therefore the father is able to continue accruing merits and growing spiritually even after his death. Accordingly, Dovid’s words “anochi holeich b’derech kol ha’aretz” can be understood as a command to Shlomo to ensure that he remains a holeich even after his death by continuing to follow in his righteous ways.

Harav Yitzchok Hutner (Igros U’Kesavim 242) beautifully uses this concept to elucidate the Gemara’s teaching (Eruvin 70b) that children are considered extensions of their parents. The specific expression used by the Gemara is “be’ra kara d’avuha — a son is the foot of his father.” Why did Chazal specifically compare a child to a parent’s foot as opposed to any other part of the body? Rav Hutner explains that when a child performs mitzvos after his parent’s death, he transforms his dead parent from a stagnant omeid into a vibrant holeich, and because the child enables his parent to continue to walk posthumously, it is appropriate to describe him as his father’s feet.

Q: The Rambam writes (Hilchos Chagigah 3:1) that the purpose of gathering the people together to hear the public reading of the book of Devarim (31:11) is to strengthen their religious commitment and fear of Hashem. With such important objectives, why is this mitzvah performed only once every seven years and not annually?

Q: The Shulchan Aruch rules (Orach Chaim 603:1) that during the 10-day period from Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur, a person should accept upon himself additional stringencies that he does not keep during the year. Does doing so take on the status of a vow that must be annulled if he wishes to revert to his original practice?

A: Dayan Yisroel Yaakov Fisher explains that it is appropriate to perform this mitzvah when the words of Torah which are read will be properly listened to and accepted. At this point, right after the Shemittah year, the Jewish people have just spent an entire year letting their fields lie fallow and using their time to pursue spiritual pursuits. They have also witnessed the Torah’s blessing (Vayikra 25:21) that the land will miraculously produce enough to sustain them for three years. With mundane concerns far from their minds, this unique time, which arises only once every seven years, is the ideal opportunity to perform this mitzvah.

A: The Beis Yosef and Elef Hamagen maintain that because one’s intention is only to observe this practice for this limited period, it doesn’t receive the status of a vow. The Aruch Hashulchan argues that this is only the case regarding areas which are matters of custom. In issues where some opinions maintain that something is forbidden and one generally follows the opinion of those who permit it, conducting oneself according to the more stringent opinion during this period would become binding. However, the Beis Yosef quotes a similar opinion and rejects it.

Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years sand now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.