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Parashat Vayelech (Deuteronomy 31:1-31:30)

“And the Lord is Who will go before you. He will be with you; He will not
fail you or forsake you. Fear not and be not dismayed.” (Deuteronomy 31:8)

Parashat Vayelech begins the end. Moses knows he will die shortly so he writes out all the laws in Deuteronomy and passes them on to the priests and the elders to use to guide the people (Deut. 31:9). S’forno (~1470–~1550; Italian commentator and physician) cites Midrash P’tirat Moshe to explain Moses actually prepares 13 Torah scrolls; one for each tribe plus an additional one for the Levites. He does this to guarantee an authoritative text for future generations.

But God’s commands to Moses is, “Therefore, write down this song and teach it to the people…” (Deut. 31:19), which Moses does (That day Moses wrote down this song…;”Deut. 31:22). And Nitzavim’s closing words describe how, “Moses recited the words of this song to the very end …” (Duet. 31:29). Three times Nitzavim refers to the Torah as a song. Why?

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935; first Chief Rabbi of Palestine during the British Mandate) explains the intellectual study of Torah is not enough; an emotional attachment is also necessary. The Torah is likened, therefore, to a beautiful melody which stirs the heart. Music, and the arts, generally, offer a footbridge to spirituality.

Music’s role in the symbiosis between heart and mind plays out on Yom Kippur in the Kol Nidre prayer, itself a rather dry and dusty legalistic text. The melody (over 400 years old), however, inspires great emotion and and inspiration. It is a good example of why Schneur Zalman of Lyadi’s (1745-1812; founding Rebbe of Chabad Chassidism) makes an even stronger statement than Kook: “If words are the pen of the heart then song is the pen of the soul.”

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom
G’mar Chatima Tova/A Good Signing [in the Book of Life]

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