The Temple Institute: Temple Talk: Tishrei 7, 5769/October 8, 2008

"And Moses went..."
(Deuteronomy 31:1)

"Vayelech Moshe - And Moses went..." Where did Moses go? These opening words of this past week's Torah reading, Vayelech, begin the very verses we read during the ten day period beginning with Rosh HaShana and concluding with Yom Kippur. This week, the week in which, more so than any other week of the Hebrew calendar, we focus our thoughts on repentance, on overcoming our weaknesses, correcting our mistakes, drawing nearer to G-d, this week more than ever we seek G-d's guidance as we stand before Him in judgment and beg His forgiveness.

This week, as we stand on the edge of the unknown, we seek certainty. Yet this week we read the words "And Moses went..." and nobody can tell us to where Moses went. To be sure, the classical Torah commentators seek the answer and even put forth various proposals, but all are in agreement: the verse itself does not provide the answer, neither directly nor indirectly. Not even a clue.

One commentator proposes that Moses went off to the Israelite encampments to take leave of his fellow Jews, bidding them farewell, as the day of his death has arrived. Another suggests that he excused himself from the assembled nation before whom he had been standing, in order to retire to the tabernacle. The Holy Ohr HaChaim describes the journey of Moses' soul to scout out its final resting place in heaven. Each of these propositions is reasonable, each teaching its own sublime message. Yet no one truly knows to where Moses is heading.

Similar ambiguity using the same word, "vayelech - and he went," occurs only one other time in Scripture: "A man of the house of Levi went and married a daughter of Levi." (Exodus 2:1) The man referred to is none other than Amram, the father of Moses. And the very next verse announces the birth of Moses. Yet, as is the case with "And Moses went..." this verse doesn't tell us where Amram went. Moses, whose history we follow throughout four of the five books of Torah, begins his life in ambiguity and ends his life in ambiguity.

We seek certainty, we seek clarity, we seek affirmation. And this week, this week of weeks which concludes with the most holy and solemn day of the year, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, G-d, in His infinite wisdom and in His infinite love for us His children, tells us that certainty isn't part of the program. We enter into this world with uncertainty, crying out to G-d. And at the end of the day we exit this world and enter into the next with uncertainty. This entire life journey, from the moment we emerge from the womb, to the day we are placed in our tomb, is encapsulated in the twenty five hour Day of Atonement - Yom Kippur. After all, we stand before G-d as newborns, availing ourselves of this second chance G-d has given us, this second opportunity called teshuva - repentance and return, which allows us to wash ourselves of our sins and errors and cleanse ourselves of the distance that we have created between ourselves and G-d, and begin anew, pure and unencumbered. And yet we also stand before G-d wearing our white kittel, the very garment in which we will eventually be buried, for after all, we are instructed to repent the day before we die, and therefore should regard every day as the day to repent. So much more so, this the day of days.

We stand before G-d on this day of our life in which our entire life is on the line, both what was, and what is yet to be, and just like Moses, we are not told to where we are going. But one thing is for certain, the only thing, perhaps, in life which is: if we repent, if we do teshuva, G-d will certainly embrace us and grant us life. Teshuva is the foundation upon which all creation rests. Repentance is the principle upon which all life is predicated. But the question we ask: where are we heading? Are we returning to G-d? Are we returning to the person G-d intended us to be? To this question only we ourselves can provide the answer.

On this Yom Kippur, a day of trepidation and uncertainty as we take stock of ourselves, but also a day of great joy, we need, like Moses, and like his father Amram before him, to banish our fears, and step forward in the absolute certainty of G-d's love for us, and His eternal promise:

"Be strong and courageous! ... HaShem He is the One Who goes before you; He will be with you; He will neither fail you, nor forsake you. Do not fear, and do not be dismayed." (Deuteronomy 31:7-8)

Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven discuss the ten days of repentance, the Divine promise which awaits us on Yom Kippur, our seven year rendezvous with Moses coming up in next week's Hakhel celebration, and the powerful life messages of this week's Torah reading of Vayelech.

Click to hear:

Part 1
Part 2