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Parashat Vayeilech - 5777 (2016)

Dear friends,

I start by wishing you a G’mar Hatimah Tovah, a Happy and Healthy 5777!

Vayelech begins with these words:

"Moses went and spoke these words to all Israel" (Deuteronomy 31:1)

Moses, in this last speech, tells his people that it's his 120th birthday today. God told him that he will not lead the people into the Promised Land. He appoints Joshua as his successor and encourages the people to be strong and keep the Mitzvot.

In listing all the 613 Mitzvot that are found in the Torah, Maimonides finds the last two in this Parasha. The first one is that upon entering the land, every seventh year, during the Festival of Sukkot, the people of Israel, men, women, children, strangers, etc. will all gather in Jerusalem and the leader will read to them from the Torah. This Mitzvah is called the Mitzvah of Hakhel, gathering, coming together.

The last Mitzvah is that every Jew is commanded to write a Sefer Torah. Commentaries explain how this Mitzvah is impractical today, as many of us do not have the skill to write the Torah or even the means to have one written for us. Those who can, donate it to the synagogue where the entire community can benefit from having a Torah for public service. Therefore, today the Mitzvah is rather to purchase and have books of the Torah and on the Torah in our homes, so that one has easy access to study Torah.

This Parasha of Vayelech is always read on the Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. This is the Shabbat known as Shabbat Shuva, when we are urged to do Teshuvah, Repentance and self-scrutiny as we prepare to observe Yom Kippur - the Day of Atonement.

I believe that these last two Mitzvot of the Torah, as we begin a new Jewish year are most relevant for our lives as Jews.

Hakhel - The Mitzvah of getting together with our people. What have we done to strengthen the Jewish community? Assembling together in our synagogues during these Days of Awe is a good start. Identifying with and supporting the Jewish community is a Mitzvah that is of utmost importance and urgency, especially today.

A Sefer Torah - The purpose of having a Sefer Torah is to study the Torah. This is a Mitzvah for every member of the Jewish community - men, women and children. As the Talmud states, 'Ve-Talmud Torah Keneged Kulam', Study of Torah is above all Mitzvot. Writing a Sefer Torah is a very difficult task, but in our society today, Torah learning has never been as accessible as it is today. There are Torah study groups, books, and on-line learning. All one needs is the desire and commitment to learn.

Therefore, as we get ready for the holiest day of the year - the Day of Judgment - ask yourself to what extent you have kept or are trying to observe these last two Mitzvot in the Torah – being part of the community and studying Torah. Do you have a Humash, Bible in your home? Do you have some commentaries? If you don't, get some.

Our Parasha begins with these words: "Moses went and spoke these words to all Israel". What is meant Moses 'went' and 'to all Israel'? Moses has long been gone. But his words are still in the hearts and minds of every Jew. He has visited us and implanted his words in our hearts.

Wishing you and your family 'Shanah Tovah Umetukah'- A Good and Sweet New Year.

Shabbat Shalom,