Back to this week's parsha Peninim on the Torah Previous issues
Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Vayelech

I can no longer go out and come in, for Hashem has said to me, "You shall not cross this Yarden." (31:1)

Considering Moshe Rabbeinu's advanced age, one would expect that his inability to execute the demands of his office physically would impede him from fulfilling his leadership role. But Moshe, however, asserted that "Hashem has said to me, You shall not cross this Yarden." According to human nature, one undertakes to perform an endeavor, and "afterwards" he waits to see if Hashem is pleased with his plans. This approach is confirmed by the actions of tzaddikim who are mishtadel, endeavor, to do they can, rather than to wait passively for Divine intervention to solve every problem.

Yaakov Avinu indicated to his wives that he had decided to leave Lavan's "hospitality" in response to the latter's impassiveness to him. Ostensibly, Lavan's original superficial "warmth" was not obvious. It was time to leave, while they were still able to do so. Only afterwards did Yaakov mention that Hashem had instructed him to leave. Apparently Yaakov did not recount his reasons by order of importance, but rather chronologically. Lavan's waning relationship with him happened first, therefore, he mentioned it first.

If Yaakov perceived that Lavan was distancing himself from him, he should have responded by taking Lavan's attitude as a clue that he should leave. While it is always beneficial to receive a vote of confidence from Heaven, it would be foolish to overlook the obvious.

At the end of each seven years, after the time of the Shemittah year, on the festival of the place that He shall choose, read this Torah in front of all Yisrael, in their ears (so that they may hear it). Gather the nation... so that they may learn and fear Hashem your G-d. (31:10,11)

The mitzvah of Hakhel, communal gathering, was required every seven years. The impressiveness of this mitzvah is underscored by the fact that every Jew, regardless of age, rank or position, assembled in the courtyard of the Bais Hamikdash on the second day of Succos, in the first year after the previous Shemittah cycle had concluded, to listen as the Melech Yisrael, Jewish king, read aloud special sections of the Torah. The Shem M'Shmuel observes two distinctions concerning this mitzvah. First, the king himself reads from the Torah. Second, the gathering is held during the year following Shemittah. It is well known thar during the Shemittah year the farmers, who comprised a large component of Klal Yisrael, did not work the land. They now had extra time to designate for studying Torah and to reaquaint themselves with concepts that they might have ignored during the previous six years.

Bearing this in mind, would it not have been more logical for Hakhel to have been executed during the Shemittah year, when the majority of the nation had the time to attend to its message? Also, why did the Torah select the king to read from the Torah?

The Shem M'Shmuel cites the Rambam in Hilchos Melachim 3:6, that compares the Melech Yisrael to the heart of all Klal Yisrael. The king is the central focus for Klal Yisrael, the seat of their communal needs, like the heart is to the human body. Because the king maintains such a critical position in Klal Yisrael, he is the individual who is to read from the Torah. Hakhel represents a unique moment for all of Klal Yisrael, as they reattach themselves to their source by internalizing the most significant messages of the Torah. It is, therefore, appropriate that the king, symbolizing the heart of Klal Yisrael, infuse these lessons, just as the heart pumps blood throughout the human body.

We now understand why the Hakhel experience occurs during the year after Shemittah. The most significant event will leave a lasting impression only upon one who has been attuned to it. Torah refines a person as it subconsciously influences him. Torah makes him receptive to matters of spiritual ascendancy. Indeed, only after one has studied Torah does its message and observance have lasting meaning. Chazal teach us that if one confronts the yetzer hora, evil inclination, if he is challenged by its blandishments, he should "pull him/it into the Bais Medrash." This means, if one studies Torah, hopefully the yetzer hora will have no effect upon him. If that is not effective, if the pull of the yetzer hora is greater than the pull of the Bais Medrash, "recite Shema," accept upon yourself the yoke of Heaven, attach yourself closer to the Almighty. If that also has no effect and you feel you are losing the battle, "remember the yom ha'missah, day of death". Confront your own mortality and you will realize that deferring to the yetzer hora is futile.

Obviously, the last effort is the most successful. Why, then, should one wait until he has exhausted the first two avenues of attack before he concedes to the third? The answer, comments Horav Zalmen Sorotzkin, zl, is that unless one has first been sensitized through Torah study, confronting his own mortality will have little effect. One must first value the meaning of life before the possibility of losing it will be meaningful.

This powerful statement helps us to appreciate why the Torah requires us to observe the Hakhel ceremony after the Shemittah year has been completed. Klal Yisrael must spend a year engaged in Torah study and introspection before the Hakhel will engender a lasting impression.

Perhaps we can advance this idea further. In order to be inspired by Torah, one must be inclined to listen to its message. He must have a propensity for listening to its message with both ears, applying all of himself to understanding the word of Hashem. The Midrash Tanchuma says regarding the pasuk, "He shall read this their ears," that a person who is deaf in one ear is exempt from attending the Hakhel service, since the Torah cannot be read in both ears. Rabbi Tanchuma contends that perfect hearing is essential for the achievement of the goals of the mitzvah of Hakhel. Two ears are necessary. Is that right? Do we not have other mitzvos that require hearing which do not exclude one who is hearing impaired? The blessing one makes prior to the blowing of the Shofar, "Lishmoa Kol Shofar," "to listen to the sound of the Shofar" indicates that a requisite of the mitzvah is to hear the sound of the Shofar. Yet, we do not find an exemption for one who is hearing-impaired. Why is Hakhel different?

Homiletically, we may suggest that the Midrash is teaching us that Torah study demands that one listen with both ears , i.e. have a strong willingness to hear and to learn. Some individuals are ignorant of their Jewish traditions and unaware of their heritage. Yet, they have a burning desire to study, an unquenchable thirst to soak up as much knowledge as they can get. They listen with both ears. They respect the lesson and its teacher.

There are those, however, who due either to their ingrained misconceptions or negative attitude, absolutely refuse to listen to the Torah's message. They continue to resist instruction, regardless of the vehicle of transmission or the experience. They are not hearing-impaired; they are hearing resistant. The information they process goes in one ear and out the other. Is it any wonder they should not be included in the injunction of Hakhel?

Hashem said to Moshe, Behold you will lie with your forefathers. (31:16)

The word "hin'cha" - "behold you will", is a compound expression composed of the word "hein," "behold", and the suffix denoting "you." The Midrash tells us that Moshe was unhappy when Hashem introduced his imminent death using the phrase "Hein karvu yamecha lamus, " "Behold, your days are drawing near." He asked Hashem how He could have decreed his death with the same word that he had used to glorify the Almighty, declaring, "Hein l'Hashem Elokecha Hashamayim u'Shmei ha'Shamayim," "Behold to Hashem your G-d are the Heavens and the highest Heaven" (Devarim,10:14). Hashem responded with the word, "hin'cha" stating that Moshe was assured with his rightful portion in Olam Habah. Hence the word, "hincha," has a positive connotation, suggesting that Hashem will grant great reward to Moshe.

Horav Eli Munk, zl, notes that the word, "hein," is unique by virtue of the fact that it is composed of two consonants, "hay" and "nun," each of which needs another letter like itself in order to be pronounced. In other words, the "hay" needs two "hays," and the "nun" needs two "nuns" in order to be enunciated. Also, the numerical equivalent of "hay" is five. When it is complemented by another "hay" it achieves completion, ten. Similarly, the numerical value of "nun" is fifty, which needs only another "nun to attain its completion, to achieve a numerical value of one hundred. Moshe chose this unique word, "hein," with which to praise Hashem. He was surprised that Hashem used the exact same word to reply to him concerning a matter of an opposite nature. Hashem explained to him that this world and the World to Come exist in harmony with one another The World to Come is the natural complement of this world, a completion which is symbolized by the repetition of the "hay" and the "nun."

It will say on that day, "Is it not because my G-d is not in my midst that these evils have come upon me?" (31:17)

The Sfas Emes cites Horav Bunim M'Pechischa, who states that the actual idea that one says or even thinks that "Ein Elokai b'kirbi," "My G-d is not in my midst," constitutes a grave sin which may be the source of his troubles. How does one have "yiush," how does one despair? Every Jew is enjoined to believe whole-heartedly that Hashem is with him at all times, through all circumstances, under all conditions. Hashem does not, and will not ever, forsake us. We need to be able to say the same regarding our relationship with Him.

The Kotzker Rov was once asked, "Where is G-d?" to which he replied, "Where is He not?" This fact was not a question posed in order to avoid a reply, but rather the reply to a question. Hashem is always with us. We are the ones who turn away from Him. It is analogous to a loving father who watches over his child. At no time does the father ignore his charge. At times the child attempts to escape his father's purview.

In the Haftorah for Shabbos Shuvah, the Navi Hoshea proclaims, "Shuvah Yisrael," "Return O Yisrael" - Return to Hashem, return to the source. How much of a "return" is sufficient? "ad Hashem Elokecha," "Until Hashem your G-d." Is it enough to return unto Hashem? Is it sufficient to simply return in principle, to return with conscience, to return with one's heart? Or does Hashem demand a more substantial demonstration of the intent to return? "Kechu imachem devarim, v'shuvu el Hashem," "Take with you words and return to Hashem." One must take his entire being, not simply his conscience. To be a Jew at heart has regrettably become very popular, but is that really what Hashem requires of us? Horav Moshe Swift, zl, distinguishes between, "ad" and "el" - "ad" is limited. Teshuvah takes one to the front door - but stops there. "El" is unlimited, it signifies a complete return. One should not simply return his consciousness; he must return his entire self, his entire essence. Teshuvah means a total religious comeback, a complete return to total observance, not merely lip service.

So now, write this song for yourselves, and teach it to the Bnei Yisrael, place it into their mouth. (31:19)

The commentaries discuss to which song Moshe was referring. The question is whether Chazal consider the entire Torah to be a song, or whether the reference is to a specific part. Why is the Torah called a song? Simply put, the Torah represents harmony, a unity of perfection in which every phrase, every verse, every mitzvah is perfect. The Torah is not vulnerable to reform or change. Because it is a Divine composition, it is perfect in every sense. Just as a musical score loses its flavor if one makes a single variation in the notes or rhythm, so, too, the Torah collapses, if one removes or changes a single mitzvah. It is no longer the Torah.

Horav Moshe Swift, zl, suggests another idea why the Torah is called a song. The Torah brings music to life, it gives it meaning and harmony, it transforms the most sorrowful event into one of hope and even joy. With Torah one can cope, one can hope, one can begin to understand. Without Torah, who really are we?

Moshe instructs Klal Yisrael to write the song, to study it and teach it to their children, placing it in their mouths. The melody of Torah should always be on their lips; they should sing the Torah, and they should live by it, so that it will bring joy to their lives.

1. Did Moshe Rabbeinu's appearance reflect his advanced age?

2. Immediately prior to Moshe's death, was he as proficient in Torah wisdom as he had previously been?

3. Who read from the Torah during Hakhel?

4. From whom was Yehoshua to seek advice?

5. What purpose was there in bringing the little children to the Hakhel ceremony?

6. Which instruments were given to Moshe to use, but were not permitted for Yehoshua?

7. Who were selected as witnesses that Klal Yisrael would observe the Torah?

8. Did Klal Yisrael sin during Yehoshua's tenure as their leader?


1. No

2. No. Moshe's wisdom was weakened in order to give Yehoshua, his student, the opportunity to assume his position as leader and teacher of Klal Yisrael.

3. The Melech Yisrael

4. The Zekeinim

5. In order to give reward to the parents who brought them. Alternatively, children are influenced just by being present.

6. The Chatzotzros

7. Heaven and Earth

8. No

In honor of
with deep appreciation for all he has done for us
from his students at
Beth Torah Congregation - Brooklyn, N.Y.
and in honor of the birth of their grandson


Peninim on the Torah is in its 7th year of publication. The first three years have been published in book form.

The third volume is available at your local book seller or directly from Rabbi Scheinbaum.

He can be contacted at 216-321-5838 ext. 165 or by fax at 216-321-0588.

Discounts are available for bulk orders or Chinuch/Kiruv organizations.

This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.
Jerusalem, Israel