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Vayelech, Vayeilech, VaYelech, Va-yelech, Vayelekh, Va-yelekh, or Vayeleh (וילך — Hebrew for "then he went out", the first word in the parshah) is the 52nd weekly Torah portion (parshah) in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading and the ninth in the book of Deuteronomy. It constitutes Deuteronomy 31:1–30. Jews in the Diaspora generally read it in September or early October. With just 30 verses, it is the shortest parshah.

The lunisolar Hebrew calendar contains up to 55 weeks, the exact number varying between 50 in common years and 54 or 55 in leap years. In leap years (for example, 2012, 2015, 2016, and 2018), parshah Vayelech is read separately. In common years (for example, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014, and 2017), parshah Vayelech is combined with the previous parshah, Nitzavim, to help achieve the number of weekly readings needed.

Moses speaks to the children of Israel

Moses Speaks to the Children of Israel (illustration from Hartwell James's The Boys of the Bible)

Summary

MosesMosaic

Moses (mosaic in the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis)

"Be strong and courageous"

Moses told the Israelites that he was 120 years old that day, could no longer go out and come in, and God had told him that he was not to go over the Jordan River. (Deuteronomy 31:1–2.) God would go over before them and destroy the nations ahead of them as God had destroyed Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites, Joshua would go over before them, and the Israelites would dispossess those nations according to the commandments that Moses had commanded them. (Deuteronomy 31:3–5.) Moses exhorted the Israelites to be strong and courageous, for God would go with them and would not forsake them. (Deuteronomy 31:6.) And in the sight of the people, Moses told Joshua to be strong and courageous, for he would go with the people into the land that God had sworn to their fathers and cause them to inherit it, and God would go before him, be with him, and not forsake him. (Deuteronomy 31:7–8.)

Cathédrale d'Auch 20

Ark of the Covenant (bas-relief at the Cathedral of Auch)

Reading the law

Moses wrote this law and delivered it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who bore the Ark of the Covenant and to all the elders of Israel, commanding them to read it before all Israel at the end of every seven years during Sukkot, when all Israel was to appear in the place that God would choose. (Deuteronomy 31:9–11.) Moses told them to assemble all the people — men, women, children, and strangers — that they might hear, learn, fear God, and observe the law as long as the Israelites lived in the land that they were going over the Jordan to possess. (Deuteronomy 31:12–13.)

Schnorr von Carolsfeld Bibel in Bildern 1860 063

Moses Names Joshua To Succeed Him (woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld from the 1860 Bible in Pictures)

Writing the law

God told Moses that as the day of his death was approaching, he should call Joshua, and they should present themselves in the tent of meeting so that God might bless Joshua. (Deuteronomy 31:14.) God appeared in a pillar of cloud over the door of the Tent and told Moses that he was about to die, the people would rise up and break the covenant, God’s anger would be kindled against them, God would forsake them and hide God’s face from them, and many evils would come upon them. (Deuteronomy 31:15–18.) God directed Moses therefore to write a song and teach it to the Israelites so that the song might serve as a witness for God against the Israelites. (Deuteronomy 31:19.) For when God will have brought the Israelites into the land flowing with milk and honey, they will have eaten their fill, grown fat, turned to other gods, and broken the covenant, then when many evils will have come upon them, this song would testify before them as a witness. (Deuteronomy 31:20–21.)

So Moses wrote the song that day and taught it to the Israelites. (Deuteronomy 31:22.) And God charged Joshua to be strong and courageous, for he would bring the Israelites into the land that God had sworn to them, and God would be with him. (Deuteronomy 31:23.) And when Moses had finished writing the law in a book, Moses commanded the Levites who bore the Ark of the Covenant to take the book and put it by the side of the Ark so that it might serves as a witness against the people. (Deuteronomy 31:24–26.) For Moses said that he knew that even that day, the people had been rebelling against God, so how much more would they after his death? (Deuteronomy 31:27.)

Moses called the elders and officers to assemble, so that he might call heaven and earth to witness against them. (Deuteronomy 31:28.) For Moses said that he knew that after his death, the Israelites would deal corruptly and turn away from the commandments, and evil would befall them because they would do that which was evil in the sight of God. (Deuteronomy 31:29.) And Moses spoke to all the assembly of Israel the words of the song. (Deuteronomy 31:30.)

Key words

Words used frequently in the parshah include:

Figures Moses Names Joshua To Succeed Him

Moses Names Joshua To Succeed Him (illustration from the 1728 Figures de la Bible)

In classical rabbinic interpretation

31:1–9 — "Be strong and courageous"

The Gemara interpreted Moses’s words “I am a hundred and twenty years old this day” in Deuteronomy 31:2 to signify that Moses spoke on his birthday, and that he thus died on his birthday. Citing the words “the number of your days I will fulfill” in Exodus 23:26, the Gemara concluded that God completes the years of the righteous to the day, concluding their lives on their birthdays. (Babylonian Talmud Rosh Hashanah 11a.)

31:10–13 — reading the law

The Mishnah taught that the Israelites would postpone the great assembly required by Deuteronomy 31:10–12 if observing it conflicted with the Sabbath. (Mishnah Megillah 1:3.)

The Gemara noted that the command in Deuteronomy 31:12 for all Israelites to assemble applied to women (as does the command in Exodus 12:18 to eat matzah on the first night of Passover), even though the general rule (stated in Babylonian Talmud Kiddushin 34a) is that women are exempt from time-bound positive commandments. The Gemara cited these exceptions to support Rabbi Johanan’s assertion that one may not draw inferences from general rules, for they often have exceptions. (Babylonian Talmud Eruvin 27a.)

Rabbi Johanan ben Beroka and Rabbi Eleazar Hisma reported that Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah interpreted the words “Assemble the people, the men and the women and the little ones,” in Deuteronomy 31:12 to teach that the men came to learn, the women came to hear, and the little children came to give a reward to those who brought them. (Babylonian Talmud Chagigah 3a.)

The Gemara deduced from the parallel use of the word “appear” in Exodus 23:14 and Deuteronomy 16:15 (regarding appearance offerings) on the one hand, and in Deuteronomy 31:10–12 (regarding the great assembly) on the other hand, that the criteria for who participated in the great assembly also applied to limit who needed to bring appearance offerings. A Baraita deduced from the words “that they may hear” in Deuteronomy 31:12 that a deaf person was not required to appear at the assembly. And the Baraita deduced from the words “that they may learn” in Deuteronomy 31:12 that a mute person was not required to appear at the assembly. But the Gemara questioned the conclusion that one who cannot talk cannot learn, recounting the story of two mute grandsons (or others say nephews) of Rabbi Johanan ben Gudgada who lived in Rabbi’s neighborhood. Rabbi prayed for them, and they were healed. And it turned out that notwithstanding their speech impediment, they had learned halachah, Sifra, Sifre, and the whole Talmud. Mar Zutra and Rav Ashi read the words “that they may learn” in Deuteronomy 31:12 to mean “that they may teach,” and thus to exclude people who could not speak from the obligation to appear at the assembly. Rabbi Tanhum deduced from the words “in their ears” (using the plural for “ears”) at the end of Deuteronomy 31:11 that one who was deaf in one ear was exempt from appearing at the assembly. (Babylonian Talmud Chagigah 3a.)

Agrippa I

coin minted by Herod Agrippa I

The Mishnah explained how the Jews of the Second Temple era interpreted the requirement of Deuteronomy 31:10–13 that the king read the Torah to the people. At the conclusion of the first day of Sukkot immediately after the conclusion of the seventh year in the cycle, they erected a wooden dais in the Temple court, upon which the king sat. The synagogue attendant took a Torah scroll and handed it to the synagogue president, who handed it to the High Priest's deputy, who handed it to the High Priest, who handed it to the king. The king stood and received it, and then read sitting. King Agrippa stood and received it and read standing, and the sages praised him for doing so. When Agrippa reached the commandment of Deuteronomy 17:15 that “you may not put a foreigner over you” as king, his eyes ran with tears, but they said to him, “Don’t fear, Agrippa, you are our brother, you are our brother!” The king would read from Deuteronomy 1:1 up through the shema (Deuteronomy 6:4–9), and then Deuteronomy 11:13–21, the portion regarding tithes (Deuteronomy 14:22–29), the portion of the king (Deuteronomy 17:14–20), and the blessings and curses (Deuteronomy 27–28). The king would recite the same blessings as the High Priest, except that the king would substitute a blessing for the festivals instead of one for the forgiveness of sin. (Mishnah Sotah 7:8; Babylonian Talmud Sotah 41a.)

A Baraita deduced from the parallel use of the words “at the end” in Deuteronomy 14:28 (regarding tithes) and 31:10 (regarding the great assembly) that just as the Torah required the great assembly to be done at a festival (Deuteronomy 31:10), the Torah also required tithes to be removed at the time of a festival. (Jerusalem Talmud Maaser Sheni 53a.)

Akiba ben joseph

Rabbi Akiba (illustration from the 1568 Mantua Haggadah)

Tractate Sheviit in the Mishnah, Tosefta, and Jerusalem Talmud interpreted the laws of the Sabbatical year in Exodus 23:10–11, Leviticus 25:1–34, and Deuteronomy 15:1–18, and 31:10–13. (Mishnah Sheviit 1:1–10:9; Tosefta Sheviit 1:1–8:11; Jerusalem Talmud Sheviit 1a–87b.) Rabbi Isaac taught that the words of Psalm 103:20, “mighty in strength that fulfill His word,” speak of those who observe the Sabbatical year (mentioned in Deuteronomy 31:10). Rabbi Isaac said that we often find that a person fulfills a precept for a day, a week, or a month, but it is remarkable to find one who does so for an entire year. Rabbi Isaac asked whether one could find a mightier person than one who sees his field untilled, see his vineyard untilled, and yet pays his taxes and does not complain. And Rabbi Isaac noted that Psalm 103:20 uses the words “that fulfill His word (dabar),” and Deuteronomy 15:2 says regarding observance of the Sabbatical year, “And this is the manner (dabar) of the release,” and argued that “dabar” means the observance of the Sabbatical year in both places. (Leviticus Rabbah 1:1.)

Tractate Beitzah in the Mishnah, Tosefta, Jerusalem Talmud, and Babylonian Talmud interpreted the laws common to all of the festivals in Exodus 12:3–27, 43–49; 13:6–10; 23:16; 34:18–23; Leviticus 16; 23:4–43; Numbers 9:1–14; 28:16–30:1; and Deuteronomy 16:1–17; 31:10–13. (Mishnah Beitzah 1:1–5:7; Tosefta Yom Tov (Beitzah) 1:1–4:11; Jerusalem Talmud Beitzah 1a–; Babylonian Talmud Beitzah 2a–40b.)

31:14–30 — writing the law

Rabbi Akiba deduced from the words “and teach it to the children of Israel” in Deuteronomy 31:19 that a teacher must go on teaching a pupil until the pupil has mastered the lesson. And Rabbi Akiba deduced from the words “put it in their mouths” immediately following in Deuteronomy 31:19 that the teacher must go on teaching until the student can state the lesson fluently. And Rabbi Akiba deduced from the words “now these are the ordinances that you shall put before them” in Exodus 21:1 that the teacher must wherever possible explain to the student the reasons behind the commandments. Rav Hisda cited the words “put it in their mouths” in Deuteronomy 31:19 for the proposition that the Torah can be acquired only with the aid of mnemonic devices, reading “put it” (shimah) as “its [mnemonic] symbol” (simnah). (Babylonian Talmud Eruvin 54b.)

The Gemara reported a number of Rabbis’ reports of how the Land of Israel did indeed flow with “milk and honey,” as described in Exodus 3:8 and 17, 13:5, and 33:3, Leviticus 20:24, Numbers 13:27 and 14:8, and Deuteronomy 6:3, 11:9, 26:9 and 15, 27:3, and 31:20. Once when Rami bar Ezekiel visited Bnei Brak, he saw goats grazing under fig trees while honey was flowing from the figs, and milk dripped from the goats mingling with the fig honey, causing him to remark that it was indeed a land flowing with milk and honey. Rabbi Jacob ben Dostai said that it is about three miles from Lod to Ono, and once he rose up early in the morning and waded all that way up to his ankles in fig honey. Resh Lakish said that he saw the flow of the milk and honey of Sepphoris extend over an area of sixteen miles by sixteen miles. Rabbah bar bar Hana said that he saw the flow of the milk and honey in all the Land of Israel and the total area was equal to an area of twenty-two parasangs by six parasangs. (Babylonian Talmud Ketubot 111b12a.)

The Rabbis cited the prophecy of Deuteronomy 31:20 that “they shall have eaten their fill and grown fat, and turned to other gods” to support the popular saying that filling one’s stomach ranks among evil things. (Babylonian Talmud Berakhot 32a.)

Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai interpreted the words “it shall not be forgotten out of the mouths of their seed” in Deuteronomy 31:21 to teach that Israel will never forget the Torah. (Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 138b.)

Where did the Israelites keep the scroll of the law that Deuteronomy 31:9 and 26 reported that Moses wrote? Rabbi Meir taught that the Israelites kept the scroll inside the Ark of the Covenant. Rabbi Meir deduced this from the redundant exclusionary words, “There was nothing in the Ark save,” in 1 Kings 8:9. Rabbi Meir interpreted the double exclusion as a double negative, intimating that something else was included in the Ark, namely, the scroll of the law. But Rabbi Judah interpreted the words, “Take this book of the law, and put it by the side of the Ark of the Covenant,” in Deuteronomy 31:26 to teach that the scroll of the law was placed by the side of the Ark. Rabbi Judah taught that the Israelites kept the scroll on top of the chest in which the Philistines sent a present to God (as reported in 1 Samuel 6:8). Rabbi Judah interpreted the redundant exclusionary words, “There was nothing in the Ark save,” in 1 Kings 8:9 to intimate that the fragments of the first broken tablets were also deposited inside the Ark along with the second set of tablets of the law. (Babylonian Talmud Bava Batra 14a–b.)

Torah

Sefer Torah

Commandments

According to Maimonides and Sefer ha-Chinuch, there are two positive commandments in the parshah.

(Maimonides. Mishneh Torah, Positive Commandments 16 and 17. Cairo, Egypt, 1170–1180. Reprinted in Maimonides. The Commandments: Sefer Ha-Mitzvoth of Maimonides. Translated by Charles B. Chavel, 1:23–25. London: Soncino Press, 1967. ISBN 0-900689-71-4. Sefer HaHinnuch: The Book of [Mitzvah] Education. Translated by Charles Wengrov, 5:430–43. Jerusalem: Feldheim Pub., 1988. ISBN 0-87306-497-6.)

Haftarah

Isaiah-Michelangelo

Isaiah

When parshah Vayelech is read separately, the haftarah for the parshah is Isaiah 55:6–56:8.

When parshah Vayelech coincides with the special Sabbath Shabbat Shuvah (the Sabbath before Yom Kippur, as it does in 2008 and 2012), the haftarah is Hosea 14:2–10, Micah 7:18–20, and Joel 2:15–27.

When parshah Vayelech is combined with parshah Netzavim (as it is in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014, and 2017), the haftarah is the haftarah for Netzavim, Isaiah 61:10–63:9. That haftarah is the seventh and concluding installment in the cycle of seven haftarot of consolation after Tisha B'Av, leading up to Rosh Hashanah.

Further reading

The parshah has parallels or is discussed in these sources:

Biblical

Early nonrabbinic

Josephus

Josephus

Classical rabbinic

First page of the first tractate of the Talmud (Daf Beis of Maseches Brachos)

Talmud

  • Jerusalem Talmud: Sheviit 1a–87b; Maaser Sheni 53a; Beitzah 1a–. Land of Israel, circa 400 C.E. Reprinted in, e.g., Talmud Yerushalmi. Edited by Chaim Malinowitz, Yisroel Simcha Schorr, and Mordechai Marcus, vols. 6a–b, 10. Brooklyn: Mesorah Pubs., 2006–2009.
  • Babylonian Talmud: Shabbat 138b; Eruvin 27a 54b; Yoma 5b, 52b; Rosh Hashanah 11a, 12b; Megillah 5a; Moed Katan 2b, 17a, 28a; Chagigah 3a, 5a–b; Ketubot 111b12a; Nedarim 38a; Sotah 13b, 41a; Gittin 59b60a; Kiddushin 34a–b, 38a; Bava Batra 14a15a; Sanhedrin 8a, 21b, 90b; Chullin 139b. Babylonia, 6th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Talmud Bavli. Edited by Yisroel Simcha Schorr, Chaim Malinowitz, and Mordechai Marcus, 72 vols. Brooklyn: Mesorah Pubs., 2006.

Medieval

File:Rambam.jpg
  • Deuteronomy Rabbah 9:1–9. Land of Israel, 9th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Midrash Rabbah: Deuteronomy. Translated by H. Freedman and Maurice Simon. London: Soncino Press, 1939. ISBN 0-900689-38-2.
  • Rashi. Commentary. Deuteronomy 31. Troyes, France, late 11th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Rashi. The Torah: With Rashi’s Commentary Translated, Annotated, and Elucidated. Translated and annotated by Yisrael Isser Zvi Herczeg, 5:319–28. Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 1997. ISBN 0-89906-030-7.
  • Maimonides. Mishneh Torah, Intro.:2. Cairo, Egypt, 1170–1180.
  • Zohar 3:283a–86a. Spain, late 13th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., The Zohar. Translated by Harry Sperling and Maurice Simon. 5 vols. London: Soncino Press, 1934.

Modern

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch

Hirsch

EmilyDickinson

Dickinson

  • Martin Buber. On the Bible: Eighteen studies, 80–92. New York: Schocken Books, 1968.
  • Philip Sigal. “Responsum on the Status of Women: With Special Attention to the Questions of Shaliah Tzibbur, Edut and Gittin.” New York: Rabbinical Assembly, 1984. OH 53:4.1984. Reprinted in Responsa: 1980–1990: The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Conservative Movement. Edited by David J. Fine, 11, 15, 21, 32, 35. New York: Rabbinical Assembly, 2005. ISBN 0-916219-27-5. (implications of the commandment for women to assemble for women’s rights to participate equally in Jewish public worship).
  • Joel Roth. “The Status of Daughters of Kohanim and Leviyim for Aliyot.” New York: Rabbinical Assembly, 1989. OH 135:3.1989a. Reprinted in Responsa: 1980–1990: The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Conservative Movement. Edited by David J. Fine, 49, 51. New York: Rabbinical Assembly, 2005. ISBN 0-916219-27-5. (the implications for aliyot of the report that “Moses wrote this law, and delivered it to the priests the sons of Levi”).
  • Lawrence H. Schiffman. “The New Halakhic Letter (4QMMT) and the Origins of the Dead Sea Sect.” Biblical Archaeologist. 53 (2) (June 1990): 64–73.
  • Aaron Demsky. “Who Returned First — Ezra or Nehemiah?” Bible Review. 12 (2) (Apr. 1996).
  • Jeffrey H. Tigay. The JPS Torah Commentary: Deuteronomy: The Traditional Hebrew Text with the New JPS Translation, 289–98, 498–507. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1996. ISBN 0-8276-0330-4.
  • Baruch J. Schwartz. “What Really Happened at Mount Sinai? Four biblical answers to one question.” Bible Review. 13 (5) (Oct. 1997).
  • William H.C. Propp. “Why Moses Could Not Enter The Promised Land.” Bible Review. 14 (3) (June 1998).
  • Michael M. Cohen. “Insight: Did Moses Enter the Promised Land?” Bible Review. 15 (6) (Dec. 1999).

External links

Texts

Commentaries

Old book bindings


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