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

“Then Moses recited the words of this poem to the very end,
in the hearing of the whole congregation of Israel.” (Deuteronomy 31:30)

Parashat Vayelech begins the epilogue both to the book of Deuteronomy and the entire Torah. Moses continues to prepare the Israelites for the future even as he prepares to die. He writes out the laws in the book of Deuteronomy and passes them on to the priests and the elders to use to guide the people (Deut. 31:9).

Ten verses later, God commands Moses, “Therefore, write down this song and teach it to the people of Israel; put it in their mouths, in order that this poem may be My witness against the people of Israel.” (Deut. 31:19) If Moses has just written down the laws of the Torah, why write it out a second time? Joel Lurie Grishaver (1951- ; Jewish writer, teacher, cartoonist, and storyteller) uses contemporary imagery to tease out an answer from the text. If Moses’ version of the Torah is the original song, putting it into the mouths of the Israelites allows them to create and sing their own remix/mashup. Variations on a theme, as it were. Contemporary arrangements of a “standard.”

The Jewish oral tradition is a chorus of harmonies, all playing against the original melody. It is not by accident God commands Moses to put the song in the Israelites’ mouth, or that Nitzavim, last week’s parasha, or portion, says, “…The thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it.” (Deut. 30:14) If the Torah is always in our mouths, meaning, if we are always singing Torah, sooner or later we’ll find the notes meant for us.

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

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