In our High Holiday machzor, we read a poem entitled, “The Sacred Pilgrimage,” by Rabbi Alvin Fine: "Birth is a beginning and death a destination. But life is a journey ..." The familiar verses of this poem could easily be the underlying emotional narrative of Parashat Vayeilech. In this week’s portion, Moses is in the midst of this process; for in Parashat Vayeilech, Moses officially retires and begins to prepare for his death.
The central leaders throughout the Bible share some important characteristics. While each one is appointed or finds him- or herself in positions of significant leadership in very different ancient contexts, each example models core elements of the complexity, potential, and importance of Jewish selecting and supporting of leaders today. A prime example of the multifaceted nature of selecting a new leader is best exhibited in Parashat Vayeilech by the appointment of Joshua as the leader of the Israelites as they prepare to enter the Land of Israel.
In this parasha, Moses again says that they will be punished for worshipping idols, but will be blessed for when they have behaved well. He says he will be dying and announces his successor. He also warns of a rocky future.
"And Moses went (Vayeilech) and spoke these words to all Israel" (Deuteronomy 31:1). This opening marks the beginning, not only of the parashah, but also of the long death scene for Moses that will not be completed until the very end of the Torah two portions hence. Traditional commentators noticed an unusual locution. Usually the Torah reads "And Moses spoke … " Only here does it say "And Moses went and spoke … "