Friday October 4, 2019 – Tishrei 5, 5780
Torah Portion Vayelech
Yom Kippur begins Tuesday evening at 6:03 and ends Wednesday evening at 7:04
This week’s Torah portion recounts the events on the last day of Moses’s life. He died on his birthday, Adar 7, at 120 years old and is buried outside Israel.
It is impossible to imagine the depth of grief and fear of the people when Moses died. They had to have wondered how they would manage without him. After all, whenever they had a question, Moses had a direct line to G-d and was able to give them an answer. Now they were on their own.
Moses was well aware that the people were fearful and so just before his passing, he wrote thirteen Torah scrolls and gave one to each tribe. This was his way of passing the torch to the next generation. Even though he was no longer with them, the Torah and his teachings would remain.
Which brings us to our generation. Who wouldn’t want someone to give us answers to our very real existential questions? Our Sages declared that Moses never died. He was buried, and succeeded by Joshua, but his works continued to live through the students who followed his lead – to this day, passed from generation to generation.
Most of us are not Torah scholars. We are simple Jews who try to follow the Torah to the best of our ability, given our circumstances. Which brings me to something that Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote this past week. He was the chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth and is both erudite in the spoken and written word.
What he wrote gets to the essence of who we are as Jews. It tells us that G-d appreciates everything we do, no matter how small. It tells us that being a Torah scholar or ‘religious’ is not the be all and end all.
“The beauty of Jewish is that in Judaism G-d is close. It is there around the table at a Shabbat meal, in the light of the candles and the simple holiness of the kiddush wine and challahs.
In the peace of mind that comes when you leave the world to look after itself for a day while you celebrate the good things that come, not from working, but resting, not from buying but enjoying the gifts you have had all along but did not have the time to appreciate.”
Without Moses, the Jews had to look at Judaism with the eyes of a newborn. Many of us are like the Jews in the desert before they entered Israel. A bit fearful, not sure what to make of our Judaism and often with no one to talk to about it. We know that we don’t have to do anything to belong and yet, there’s a certain uneasiness about how to approach our own religion.
This week’s Torah portion comes to tell us that this is nothing new. Jews have felt this way since the time of Moses. We are just as big a part of Judaism as the Jews when Moses died. Now it’s our turn to keep the torch burning. What an honor G-d has bestowed upon us, entrusting that we will do our part.
When you fast on Yom Kippur, perhaps keep this in mind. Yes, fasting is uncomfortable. But it’s also part of who we are. Part of what we are passing down to the next generation. Each of us is a light both unto the nations and within our own families. Who does not want to keep the flame alive, burning brightly for the next generation?
Have an easy fast.