In the beginning of this week’s Parashah, Parashat VaYeilech, Moshe tells the entire Bnei Yisrael, “Ben Mei’ah VeEsrim Shanah Anochi HaYom Lo Uchal Od LaTzeit VeLavo,” “I am one hundred and twenty years old today – I can no longer go out or come in” (Devarim 31:2). Immediately we can ask, why does Moshe need to tell Bnei Yisrael his age? Additionally, what is Moshe referring to when he says that he cannot go out or come in anymore?
Moshe in the subsequent Pesukim continues to relate several times that Hashem is our God. Why are the Pesukim telling us that Hashem is our God? Don’t Bnei Yisrael know by this point that Hashem is God? This problem seems to be an ongoing theme in all of Chumash, namely, that the Pesukim are telling certain things that seem to be completely unnecessary. Shouldn’t Moshe of all people know who our God is? What message is the Torah trying to teach us here with its supposed verbosity?
Furthermore, the Pesukim continue to relate many descriptions that seem to be unclear. For instance, the Torah goes on to state (31:3), “He will cross before you, He will destroy these nations from before you, and you shall dispossess them.” How exactly does one dispossess a nation? Also, why does the Torah repeatedly use the phrase “from before you?” What is it about these three words that is so significant? Additionally, it is difficult to understand the fact that the Torah seems to forget to tell us which nations it is talking about, and then a Pasuk later compares these future dispossessions to the campaigns against Sichon and Og. Why compare the way God is going to destroy other nations to the way He destroyed Sichon and Og?
I’m going to attempt to answer these questions in a philosophical manner and hopefully show that all of these questions come back to one and the same idea. Firstly, with regard to Moshe mentioning his age, the Torah wants us to understand the importance of age. Every Jew, young and old, should care for one another no matter what age. Moshe is trying to tell us that we shouldn’t take the lives we live for granted. He’s saying that he is no longer capable of functioning to perform certain spiritual acts, in this case, going to Eretz Yisrael. Moshe understands the spiritual power of going to the Holy Land and he wants to have this experience. While he is unable to do so, he teaches us that no matter where we are in our lives, there is always room for further growth. Even until 120 years of age, there is always possibility to achieve “Od,” “More” (31:2) – it is never too late to achieve greatness. We all have to strive to better ourselves for the challenges that lay ahead.
Then the next Pasuk states (31:3), “Hashem Elokecha,” “Hashem your God,” bringing to mind the first of the Ten Commandments. Still, this is a relatively unclear Mitzvah. What does it mean to recognize that Hashem is our one true God? The answer is simple. By recognizing that Hashem is our God, we are acknowledging His divine greatness.
The Pesukim then go on to relate that Hashem is going to conquer the other nations. In other words, it isn’t as important to know who the nations are as it is to understand what they represent and what they stand for. The Torah states that we are “dispossessing” them because we are destroying what our enemies stand for; that is, the hatred of Jews and the notion that we are a weak nation. By dispossessing the nations, we are destroying that ideology. But it is also important to understand that Hashem cares about every living thing from the smallest insect to the largest bird, and He thus cares for even some of our most vicious enemies. Finally, when the Pesukim mention Sichon and Og, Hashem is sending a message to all nations of the world. The battles against Sichon and Og represent the idea of the weak taking on the strong aggressors and destroying them. The ability of Hashem to assure such victories for Bnei Yisrael must be understood by the future enemies.
As a Jewish people divided we are weak but as a Jewish people united we are strong. If we stand together there is absolutely nothing we can’t overcome, whether it be a daunting battle against Sichon or Og or whether it be chilling division between our own Jewish sects. Every Jew must feel this with all of his or her heart or this idea won’t permeate our nation and it won’t be heeded. Let us keep this lesson in mind as we enjoy this beautiful Shabbat and prepare for Yom Kippur this coming week. Have a wonderful Shabbat and a Gemar Chatimah Tovah!