Walking in the Ways of Hashem by Yonatan Sturm


Although Parashat VaYeilech, with only 30 Pesukim, is the most concise Parashah in the Torah, it contains many meaningful ideas and messages. With this in mind, the first Passuk of this week’s Parashah seems puzzling. The Passuk states, “VaYeilech Moshe,” “And Moshe went” (Devarim 31:30). If Moshe “went,” where exactly did he go? What is the deeper meaning of this phrase?

Ramban (31:1 s.v. VaYeilech Moshe) writes that as a sign of Kavod, Moshe Rabbeinu went to each Sheivet’s camp before he left them for the last time. The Keli Yakar explores this expression of “VaYeilech” on a deeper level, comparing the use of the word in the first Passuk to the other times that it is found in the Parashah. The Hebrew root of “Halach” is found three times in Parashat VaYeilech. The first time is in the first Passuk of the Parashah, “VaYeilech Moshe” (31:1), in which Moshe tells over to Bnei Yisrael all that Hashem had told him in Parashat Nitzavim. The second time is when Moshe informs Bnei Yisrael that Hashem will guide them by saying: “Ki Hashem Elokecha Hu HaHoleich Imach” (31:6). The third instance is when Moshe tells his successor, Yehoshua Bin Nun, “VeHashem Hu HaHoleich Lefanecha” (31:8).

The use of the root “Halach” has a different connotation in each of the three instances it is mentioned in Parashat VaYeilech. In relation to Bnei Yisrael, Hashem is portrayed as walking with the people. Regarding Yehoshua, Hashem is portrayed as walking before him (i.e. Yehoshua follows him). Moshe Rabbeinu, unlike Bnei Yisrael and Yehoshua, is portrayed simply as walking and is not in any way accompanied by Hashem.

From this comparison, we see that the root “Halach” displays the status of one’s relationship with Hashem. The Keli Yakar illustrates this idea further by use of a Mashal. Moshe, on the highest possible level of serving Hashem, is like the sun, which radiates independently; therefore, Moshe walks on his own and is not accompanied. Yehoshua is compared to the moon, which gives light only by reflecting the sun, but can still light up the night sky. In contrast, Bnei Yisrael need the full guidance of Hashem, who walks with them. They are therefore like the stars which light up the sky, but in a disjointed and scattered fashion. Together, all three luminaries provide the earth with light.

 Parashat VaYeilech is not the only Parashah in the Torah in which the verb “Halach” denotes one’s relationship with Hashem. In Parashat Noach, it is said about Chanoch, “VaYit’haleich Chanoch Et HaElokim,” “Chanoch walked with Hashem” (Bereishit 5:22). We learn from this that Chanoch was righteous, as a result of his “walking with Hashem” and his separation from others of his time who may have not been so close to Hashem. A similar phrase of, “Et HaElokim Hit’haleich Noach” (6:9) is used to describe Noach. The same Passuk records that, “Noach Ish Tzaddik Tamim Hayah BeDorotav,” “Noach was a righteous and perfect man in his generation.” This suggests that Noach was independently righteous like Chanoch, but was not a positive influence on others. This is proven by Noach’s actions during the Mabul, when Noach neglects to pray for the salvation of the people of his generation (in contrast to Avraham Avinu, who prays for his generation’s salvation during the destruction of Sedom).

The idea that Hashem’s guidance or relationship is connoted by the term “Halach” is learned from a Passuk in Parashat Eikev, in which Moshe tells all of Bnei Yisrael: “Ma Hashem Elokecha Sho’eil MeiImach... Lalechet Bechol Derachav,” “What does Hashem, your God, ask of you?... to walk in all His ways” (Devarim 10:12). From this we see that “Halach” is synonymous with one keeping Hashem’s Torah.

We see further examples of “Halach” denoting one’s relationship with Hashem throughout Tanach. The most explicit of these examples can be seen from comparing the language used when Ya’akov and Balak “go on their way.”

When Ya’akov Avinu leaves Lavan’s house after 20 years of labor, the Passuk states, “VeYa’akov Halach LeDarko” (BeReishit 32:2). Similarly, when Balak leaves after attempting to have Bil’am curse Bnei Yisrael, this identical expression is used: “VeGam Balak Halach LeDarko” (BeMidbar 24:25). The contrast between Ya’akov and Balak’s intentions is obvious.

The ability to walk is uniquely human. When describing the appearance of Angels, Yechezkel prophesizes: “VeRagleihem Regel Yesharah,” “And their legs are a straight leg” (Yechezkel 1:7). Man, conversely, has two legs and thus the ability to walk, change, progress, and grow.

This Shabbat is Shabbat Shuvah, when we particularly want to make use of this special ability and do Teshuvah. As it is written about the Shofar during Matan Torah, “VaYehi Kol HaShofar Holeich VeChazak,” “The sound of the Shofar went and became stronger” (Shemot 19:19). We must take advantage of this opportunity to become stronger as individuals and as a nation.

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