Vayelech – The last two commands
Updated: Oct 10, 2019
In this parashah the last two precepts appear that, through Moses, God declares to the people of Israel. Both refer to the importance and centrality of the Torah.
The penultimate mitzvah - command - is called Hakhel, meeting. According to Leviticus 25: 1-7, the earth is tilled for six years and in the seventh, called Shemitah, it must rest. At the end of that year of rest, at the end of the first day of Sukkot of the first year of the new cycle, all the people, including the children, were to gather in Temple of Jerusalem. There they would listen to the proclamation of certain key paragraphs of the Torah by the king. This precept is summarized in verses 31:10-13 of this parashah, and detailed in Sota 41,a.
Sukkot marks the end of the agricultural year (Exodus 23:16) and the beginning of a new one. Every closing of a cycle is the time to strike a balance. It is then that what has been done is examined and the future is projected. It is then, the Torah teaches, that texts from it should be reread once again to guide the building of the future.
From Deuteronomy 31:19, which required Moses to compose a poem or song summarizing the mitzvoth, which all the people were to memorize, the later rabbis extrapolated that ideally each Jew should write, or pay a professional scribe to write, an entire Torah (Sanhedrin 21,b; Yad, Hilkhot Tefilin uMezuzah veSefer Torah 7:1). This is the final mitzvah. Beyond the different ways of complying with this precept, its message is most important. The Torah is the quintessential text that must accompany every Jew throughout their lives.
The last two mitzvoth refer to the study of and meditation on the Torah. They suggest that the mechanical or robotic obedience to the Torah’s commands is not their primary purpose. Instead, God has given them in order to perfect the inmost being of each of the people of Israel.
Before the recitation of Shema Israel in the evening, a blessing is recited that refers to the precepts and the Torah, saying that it is our lives and the longevity of our days.