Vayelech | פרשת וילך

Devarim 31:1-30 [Hebcal] [על התורה] דברים לא א-ל

Haftarah: Yeshayahu 55:6-56:8 (all) | When not doubled with Nitzavim, and when not falling on Shabbat Shuva

הפטרה: ישעיהו סא י-סג ט (ע”פ כל המנהגים) | כשלא נקרא יחד עם נצבים ואין זאת שבת שובה [על התורה]

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Parashat Vayelech is usually read doubled with Nitzavim on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashana, but is sometimes read separately, in which case it often falls on Shabbat Shuva. This brief parsha, of just one perek (chapter), is stirring, containing Moshe’s farewell to the people before his impending death at the age of 120.

Moshe’s Farewell

[Devarim 31:1-6]

The parsha opens with Moshe turning to the people to share some final words. He informs the people that he is 120 years old and at the end of his strength, and that, moreover, Hashem has informed him that he will not be crossing the Yarden (Jordan River) into Eretz Yisrael. Moshe explains that the people will be led across by Yehoshua and that Hashem will go before them, helping them to defeat their enemies, just as Sichon and Og had been defeated. The people are reminded to deal with the defeated nations in accordance with the laws they have been given. They are encouraged:

חִזְקוּ וְאִמְצוּ אַל תִּירְאוּ וְאַל תַּעַרְצוּ מִפְּנֵיהֶם כִּי ה’ אֱלֹקיךָ הוּא הַהֹלֵךְ עִמָּךְ לֹא יַרְפְּךָ וְלֹא יַעַזְבֶךָּ

Be strong and resolute, be not in fear or in dread of them; for Hashem your G-d Himself marches with you: He will not fail you or forsake you.

Devarim 31:6

Transfer of Leadership to Yehoshua

[Devarim 31:7-13]

Using the same language of chazak ve-ematz, be strong and resolute, Moshe, in sight of all the people, charges Yehoshua with bringing the people into the Land. He encourages Yehoshua and tells him not to be afraid, linguistic and thematic motifs which will arise again in the first chapter of Yehoshua.


וַיִּכְתֹּב מֹשֶׁה אֶת הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת וַיִּתְּנָהּ אֶל הַכֹּהֲנִים בְּנֵי לֵוִי הַנֹּשְׂאִים אֶת אֲרוֹן :בְּרִית ה’ וְאֶל כָּל זִקְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל

Moses wrote down this Teaching and gave it to the priests, sons of Levi, who carried the Ark of Hashem’s Covenant, and to all the elders of Israel.

Devarim 31:9

Moshe instructs the people that every seventh year, in the Shemita year, on the occasion of Sukkot, when the people make aliyah (pilgrimage) to Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) to the place of the future Beit ha-Mikdash, they should read this teaching aloud before the assembled people. This includes men, women, and children.

וּבְנֵיהֶם אֲשֶׁר לֹא יָדְעוּ יִשְׁמְעוּ וְלָמְדוּ לְיִרְאָה אֶת ה’ אֱלֹקיכֶם כָּל הַיָּמִים אֲשֶׁר אַתֶּם חַיִּים עַל הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר אַתֶּם עֹבְרִים אֶת הַיַּרְדֵּן שָׁמָּה לְרִשְׁתָּהּ

Their children, too, who have not had the experience, shall hear and learn to revere Hashem your G-d as long as they live in the land that you are about to cross the Jordan to possess.

Devarim 31:13

A final Shira (Sung Poem)

[Devarim 31:14-30]

Hashem tells Moshe that the time of his death is drawing near. He asks Moshe to summon Yehoshua, and reveals to them, communicating with Moshe, that the people will go astray in the future and fail to keep His laws. Hashem explains, “I will keep My countenance hidden on that day” (וְאָנֹכִי הַסְתֵּר אַסְתִּיר פָּנַי בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא). In order for the people to know they have strayed, the following poem (shira) is to be recorded for them. According to Rashi and Ramban, the poem itself is below in the text, in Parashat Haazinu.

Moshe then “put down in writing the words of this Teaching to the very end” (וַיְהִי כְּכַלּוֹת מֹשֶׁה לִכְתֹּב אֶת דִּבְרֵי הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת עַל סֵפֶר עַד תֻּמָּם) and places the scroll in the Aron (Ark of the Covenant). He calls for the people to be assembled and prepares to declaim the Shira.

Haftarah Summary: דרשו ה’ בהמצאו

[Yeshayahu 55:6-56:8]

This haftarah contains themes of return and repentance. In practice, it is read by Ashkenazim on Tzom Gedalia, the minor fast of 3 Tishrei, as the first of the “Two of Teshuva” (תרתי דתיובתא). More usually, the haftarah read for Vayelech when it occurs on its own is the haftarah for Shabbat Shuva, from Sefer Hoshea, that is part of the Two of Teshuva and is called שובה ישראל (Return, Israel):

Ashkenazi: Hoshea 14:2-14:10; Yoel 2:15-27
Sefardi: Hoshea 14:2-14:10; Micah 7:18-20
Teimani: Hoshea 14:2-14:10

This haftarah calls for teshuva on a national level and describe Hashem’s attendant blessings.

Image: Photo by Jukan Tateisi on Unsplash

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