We hope you enjoy this selection of short divrei Torah, presented to family and guests at our Shabbos table as a springboard for discussion. Each one is followed by a question. The responses shared at our table are enlightening, entertaining, and always thought-provoking.
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Parshas Vayeilech #1
"And Moshe Went…"
“And Moshe went, and he spoke these words to all of Israel” (Devarim 31:1).
Moshe Rabbeinu had completed his review of the Torah with the Jewish people. For forty days he had rebuked them and encouraged them, called upon them to make a cheshbon hanefesh (personal accounting), and renewed their treaty with Hashem. Now the Torah tells us that Moshe “went and spoke” to the nation.
Where did Moshe go, and what did he say?
The Ramban writes that the word vayeilech (“and he went”) appears to be superfluous. It would seem obvious that after Moshe finished speaking, the crowd dispersed and everyone returned to their homes – presumably, Moshe included. This “extra” word tells us that this was not the case. Rather than going home, Moshe went from the camp of Leviim, where he lived, to the larger camp where the rest of the nation lived, to pay his respects and say goodbye before he left this world.
Leading by Deed
Rav Moshe Sternbuch writes that the word vayeilech teaches us an important lesson about a leader and his impact. Vayeilech is related to halichos, one’s behavior and conduct. Moshe did not have to go anywhere in order to speak to the people. His influence came from his halichos – everything he did reflected his consistently high spiritual level and total dedication to Hashem. He taught by example, with his actions as well as with his words (Taam V’Daas).
I was in a Jerusalem parking lot, helping my sister unload her luggage when she arrived in Eretz Yisrael for a visit. We watched as a group of American yeshivah students jogged past the parking lot. They had clearly been going for quite a while, and one of the boys was having a hard time keeping up. As he began to lag behind, another boy noticed. He extended an arm behind him, holding it out to the boy who was slowing down. This boy reached forward and took his friend’s outstretched hand. With their hands now clasped, the jogger in front pulled the one in back along with him, helping him push on ahead and keep moving.
I was deeply impressed by this gesture. The boy in front was expending enormous effort just to keep up the pace himself, yet he found the energy to reach out to a friend. There was no exchange of words, just quiet, caring action.
Question for Discussion:
It is often said that “actions speak louder than words.” When did another person’s actions have a positive impact on you, or on someone you know?
“Assemble the nation, the men, the women, and the children” (Devarim 31:12).
Moshe Rabbeinu taught the Jews in the desert a mitzvah that would be fulfilled only once in seven years. On Sukkos of the year following Shemittah (the Sabbatical Year), the nation would assemble to listen to the king read and explain specified sections of the Torah from a platform set up in the courtyard of the Beis HaMikdash. This mitzvah came to be known as Hakhel (“Assemble”).
Who came to Hakhel? Everyone; the men came to learn; the women, to hear; and the children, too young to listen and learn, came along as well, so that their parents would receive additional reward for bringing them (Chagigah 3a).
The Maharsha raises an interesting question. From the Gemara’sexplanation of this passuk, it appears that the children were not expected to learn anything from the experience. But the next passuk continues, “And their children who do not know, will hear, and will learn to fear Hashem your G-d” (Devarim 31:13). Do the children gain anything from participating in Hakhel, or are they only there for their parents’ sake, “to give reward to those who bring them?”
The Maharsha differentiates between the very young children (“taf”) mentioned in the first passuk, and the children (banim) in the second passuk. The “taf” are in fact too young to learn, and their parents are not yet obligated to educate them. They come along not to learn, but for their parents’ benefit. Banim, older children who are capable of learning, come not only for their parents, but also for themselves, to “hear… and learn” (Chiddushei Aggados).
Some meforshim suggest thateven if the children were too young to understand what they were hearing, they still gained from being present at Hakhel; their minds might not comprehend, but their souls did (Midrash Moshe, Kedoshim, 5670). The Meshech Chochmah draws a parallel to the story of the Tanna Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananiah. When he was an infant, his mother would bring his cradle to the beis medrash, so that he could absorb the sounds of Torah from the very earliest age (Jerusalem Talmud Yevamos 1:6).
Rabbi Yissocher Frand relates that a book entitled “A Day in the Life of Israel” highlights the message of why even the youngest children were taken to Hakhel.
Over sixty of the world’s finest photographers were assigned to take pictures all over Israel on the same day, with the best appearing in the book. Among the many beautiful photos, a shot of a newborn nursery in Bnei Brak, with its rows of bassinets, stood out. The head of one tiny infant’s bassinet featured a picture book of Gedolei Yisrael, propped up and open to pictures of Rav Shach, the Steipler, and the Chazon Ish. The caption read, “Education starts early in Israel.”
Technically speaking, was this newborn aware that he was surrounded by the faces of greatness? Not really... certainly not yet. At this stage, he knew only to cry when he was hungry or otherwise uncomfortable. And yet, the parents of this child had already begun investing in his education and future development, by putting him in an environment of love of Torah.
This was why children also participated in Hakhel: to absorb the atmosphere of Torah and fear of Hashem, even if they could not yet understand it (Parshas Nitzavim-Vayeilech, “Why Bring the Children?”).
Question for Discussion:
What event from your childhood – at home, in the classroom, in shul or elsewhere – has had a lasting positive impact?
As a child in Los Angeles, I joined the shul choir at seven. The men’s and boys’ divisions would sing together for holidays and other special occasions. As the youngest – and shortest – member, I was in the front row, right near Chazan Binyamin Glickman. All the rehearsals did not prepare me for what happened during Chazan Glickman’s “Hineni he’ani mi’maaas” before Musaf on Rosh Hashanah. In front of some one thousand people, he started crying over the words declaring that he was unworthy to represent the congregation at this crucial time. Many years have passed, but I still remember his tefillos every Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.