As we approach the Day of Atonement, we look to this week’s Torah portion for some inspiration. What might we expect to find in our search for motivation? Vayelech…and he went. “And Moses went…” Where did he go? Instead of bringing the people to him, Moses reached out to them. His message must have been pretty important. Moses was announcing his retirement. He gave the people a lot of instructions, and announced that Joshua would be his successor.
The shortest Torah portion of the year – begins with Moses, preparing his people for national continuity after his death. The Israelites are about to lose the only leader they have ever known. He reminds them that they will have leadership beyond that of Joshua. "The Eternal your God marches with you...God...will not fail you or forsake you" (Deut 31:6) Moses senses that the Israelites are afraid; life without him is difficult to face. So he reminds them that, in addition to God and human leadership, they have two sources of strength, Torah and community. The Israelites shouldn't fear – God will champion their cause. Joshua will assume national leadership. God reveals, though, that Israel will go astray after Moses’ death. So, Moses writes down God’s “teaching”, which he delivers to the priests. They are instructed to read the “teaching” to the assembled people Israel every seven years during Sukkot. This will serve to indoctrinate future generations, who, unlike the generation of the Exodus, did not experience God’s redemption and miracles personally. This will allow them to learn devotion to God and to embrace the covenant.
The public reading of the Torah reminds the Israelites of the goals that they are committed to as a community, reintroducing the blueprint for repairing the world to those who are mandated to carry it out.
There are times like this when a community goes through transition and needs to depend upon each other for support. Our greatest strength lies in our ties to each other.