Parshat Vayelekh (Deuteronomy 31: 1 - 30)
a.k.a Moses looks into the future and sings a song
On the bank of the River Jordan the
Israelites listened to
Moses. “I am
120 years old today,” Moses said. “God has told me that I shall not go into the Promised Land. Nevertheless, God
will go in before you. God will destroy the nations so that you can take possession of the land. You shall deal
with these nations as you have been commanded. Be steadfast and strong and do not fear the nations or be frightened
of them, because God is going with you. God will not let go of you, nor will God forsake you.”
Then Moses called
said to him before the eyes of all Israel, “Be steadfast and strong, for you are to go with this people to the land
that God swore to their fathers to give to them. You shall ensure that they take possession of it, as their
inheritance. God will be with you. God will not let go of you, nor will God abandon you. Fear
Then Moses wrote down these words and
handed it over to all the elders and to the priests, the sons of Levi, who carried the
Ark of the Covenant of God. Moses commanded them, saying, “At
the end of seven years, on the Festival of Tabernacles (Sukkot), when all Israel comes directly before the Presence
of God, you shall read this teaching in the presence of all Israel.”
God then said to Moses, “Your day of
death is approaching. Call Joshua and present yourselves in the Tent of Appointed Meeting so that I may tell him
his duty.” Moses went with Joshua and they presented themselves in the Tent of Appointed Meeting. And God appeared
in the Tent in a pillar of cloud, which stood at the entrance of the Tent.
Then God said to Moses, “You are now
going to lie down beside your fathers, and then this people will rise and stray and will follow foreign deities and
will become unfaithful and forsake me and break my covenant. Then my anger will be stirred up against the people
and I will forsake them. I will hide my face from them so that they will be almost destroyed and many troubles will
come upon them. At that time, they will say, ‘Truly, because my God is not with me these troubles have come upon
“Now, write down this song and teach
it to the people of Israel. Put it in their mouths so that this song may become a witness for me. For I know what
the people's frame of mind will be after I have brought them to this Promised Land.”
Moses wrote down the song on that day
and taught it to the Israelites.
And God gave Joshua his duty and
said, “Be steadfast and strong! For you are to bring the children of Israel to the land that I have promised them,
and I will be with you.”
Moses spoke in the ears of the entire
assembly of Israel the words of this song until the end.
Commentary on the 52nd parsha (portion) of the Torah. The Torah consists of the five books of
Moses, the first part of the Old Testament.
To get to grips with this parsha, our Supermaven, Sigmund Albert Spinoza, interviews
Methuselah Solomon (an Ancient Elder). Supermaven is a modern philosopher who is trying to understand Judaism
and how we got where we are.
He will do this every week by investigating the Old Testament.
SAS: Well, I see we are getting ready to
say farewell to Moses, but not without some last promises, threats, regrets and recriminations. Poor Joshua! Does
he know what lies ahead of him?
MS: As usual, your lack of respect and
empathy come to the fore. Do you not think that after all these years Moses parting from the children of Israel
might be a serious occasion? He is about to hand over to Joshua, and what he has to hand over is a fearsome
SAS: Oh, I have no doubt it is a fearsome
responsibility and God is putting the fear of God into him.
MS: This is a most profound parsha. Moses
is looking over the Promised Land and at the same time facing his death. He is receiving a sacred song to hand over
to the Children of Israel. He is at the end of writing his own history.
SAS: His punishment for being the most
loyal, long-suffering mouthpiece God has ever had or is ever likely to have. Do you think it’s fair that Moses
should not be allowed into the Promised Land? After all he has been through to get there, and bring the Israelites
along with him? It seems the most grossly unfair thing in the whole Torah.
MS: Although it looks unfair, Sigmund, I
think there are other ways of thinking about it. Moses himself chose Joshua as his successor. Moses was the one who
led the people to their freedom. His role is over. And he understands why God has determined that it be so. It is a
punishment for breaking the tablets, true, but it is also his time to go. What would Moses do in the Promised Land?
He is a desert leader, not a settler. He is man of tents and wandering, a prophet of transition.
SAS: Well, I would not end the story this
way. Moses does his 120 years and is dismissed, without even a gold watch. Joshua takes over the family business
but, before he does, there is the standard set of promises, warnings and threats. It seems to me, Methuselah, that
God is not an easy person to have a relationship with. He is full of foreboding, constantly expecting the
relationship to turn sour, and his beloved people to leave him. Then he threatens them with tantrums, bad crops,
the loss of animals and children, and terrible unhappiness because they have abandoned him. He warns them about
what it means to step out of the bounds of the relationship, and how awful the consequences will be. I think that
for as long as he goes on in this way, he will drive them to consider it.
MS: First of all, I think you need to
imagine the awesome responsibility Joshua is to inherit. He needs to be prepared for all eventualities. The people
of Israel are, after all, people, and God is aware of their humanness. That is why he knows that they cannot remain
constant. They will be attracted to other gods, other cultures, other lifestyles. God, no doubt, wants to protect
them from these dangers, and to help Joshua in understanding the new and special problems that might emerge once
the people are comfortable and thriving in the Promised Land. When people are too comfortable, they forget how
privileged they are, and what they owe to God. Moses understands human
fickleness. He tries to pass this understanding on to Joshua. The people need a constant reminder that it is their
faith in God that ensures their wellbeing and when they lose their faith they lose their wellbeing. It is only when
they recognise the necessity of having God in their midst that they can be returned to health and
SAS: But it’s all so conditional,
Methuselah. We have bribing, cajoling, threatening, jealousy, bullying, all in the name of love and protection.
Surely your god is better than this?
MS: He is better, but his deal is with
people, who are but people, and this is the language that people understand.
SAS: Evidently! God’s view of his people
is a deeply pessimistic one, Methuselah. He expects the worst from them and even sends Moses to his grave with the
message that it’s all going to go horribly wrong the moment he has died – “This people will rise and stray,” God
says. “They will follow foreign deities … they will become unfaithful … they will break my covenant … I will
forsake them.” What an unfortunate thing for poor Moses to hear before he passes on. Why such a bleak vision for
this great man on his death bed?
MS: But what about the song, Sigmund? God
allowed Moses to die while teaching the song that would keep calling them back to Him, and he died with this holy
song on his lips. Was this not a fitting end for God’s greatest servant?
SAS: I think it shows God’s selfishness
and exploitative nature. Could he not have let Moses go off and die peacefully with the knowledge that he had
completed his earthly tasks? Not a bit of it. God kept him working until the last breath went out of him. God
squeezed him for one more favour and Moses, being the ever-willing sap he was, went off into the darkness with a
job sheet in his hands. Boy, God’s a slave-driver!
MS: That’s ridiculous! Moses died doing
God’s will and nothing could have given him more joy and more satisfaction. No, he never entered the Promised Land,
but he brought Israel the promise of the land and led them to it. He spoke daily with God and knew, beyond all
doubt, that his redeemer lived and walked beside him. What more could any man ask for?
SAS: A period of retirement, a happy
vision of the future and a few months in the Land of Milk and Honey. It wouldn’t have been hard for God to set that
MS: “The Hollywood ending,” is the
expression, I believe. You’re always telling me to get real, Sigmund,
so now I’m returning the favour. Moses’ death was a real one devoid of syrup and saccharin. Take it or leave
SAS: I’ll leave it, thanks. And I’ll take
my leave of you too. Enjoy the rest of the day. Or has God ordered you to work till midnight?
MS: From you, parting is a
If you’d like to know more about the real history of our
extended Jewish family, read on.
Israel and the United Nations
Ever since November, 1947, when the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution
181 recommending the partition of the British Mandate into Jewish and Arab states, the UN has spent a great
deal of time debating, and passing resolutions regarding the Palestinian question.
From 1967 to 1989, for example, the United Nations Security Council passed 131
resolutions addressing the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Particularly noteworthy were the resolutions adopted on 10 November, 1975, when the UN
passed Resolutions 3375, 3376 and 3379. The first of these saw the Palestine Liberation Organization being
invited to participate in peace efforts in the Middle East. 3376 entrenched “the inalienable rights of the
Palestinian people” while 3379 equated Zionism with racism. On 16 December, 1991, however, Resolution 4686
annulled Resolution 3379.
The UN has given support to Palestinian refugees through the UN Relief and Works
Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), and organizations such as the United Nations Division
of Palestinian Rights and the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights
of the Palestinian People have provided a platform for Palestinian political grievances. The International
Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People is usually held on 29 November and marks the anniversary of
The UN General Assembly has adopted several resolutions saying that its strategic
relationship with the United States has encouraged Israel to pursue aggressive and expansionist policies. The
standard US response to such criticism is to invoke the Negroponte Doctrine. This refers to the stance set
out by US Ambassador to the UN, John Negroponte, on 26 July, 2002, at a closed meeting of the Security
In essence, the Negroponte Doctrine states that, on the issue of the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the USA – which enjoys a veto in the 15-nation council – will oppose all
Security Council resolutions that condemn Israel without also condemning terrorist groups. A successful
resolution on the Middle East would need to: condemn terrorism strongly, condemn al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade,
Islamic Jihad and Hamas, appeal to all parties for a political settlement, and demand an improvement in the
security situation before any call relating to Israel withdrawing to positions held before the onset of the
Second Intifada, is made.
The United States has received a lot of criticism regarding the Negroponte
The UN has attempted to broker peace between the contending, and sometimes warring,
parties in Palestine. The 2002 Road Map for Peace saw the UN joining forces with the USA, Russia and the
European Union in order to construct a three-phase program for the creation of a Palestinian State
side-by-side with Israel. All hostilities were to have ceased by 2005. Since then, of course, there has been
the Gaza War, and the Road Map has not been followed.
While the UN expressly condemns anti-Semitism, it is
often accused of tolerating anti-Semitic comments in debate. Some commentators believe there is a
disproportional criticism of Israel within the United Nations.
Pro-Palestinian factions enjoy numerical superiority at the UN and Israel has few
friends. American-Israeli journalist, Caroline Glick, recently
wrote: “Due to the UN’s unvarnished belligerence toward it, in recent years a consensus has formed in Israel
that there is nothing to be gained from cooperating with this openly and dangerously hostile
Geographically, Israel should be part of the Asian bloc. However, its inclusion has
always been blocked by Arab states like Saudi Arabia and Iraq. In 2000, Israel’s 50-year exclusion from UN
bodies ended when it agreed to become a temporary member of the Western European and Others (WEOG) regional
group. It has now received permission to be part of this 27-member group on an ongoing
Israel has never been elected to the UN Security Council.
On 24 January, 2005, the UN
General Assembly commemorated the 60th Anniversary of the liberation of Nazi concentration camps –
the organization’s first such commemoration. Another first occurred in 2007 when the General Assembly passed a
non-political resolution sponsored by the Jewish State – a resolution calling for assistance with agricultural
growth in developing nations.
Israel has been America’s most consistent ally at the UN. For example, it voted with
the USA 86.4% of the time in 2007, easily outstripping the loyalty of Great Britain, Canada and
Here follows a discussion on this historical segment by Dad, Chaya and
BEN: Isn’t it extraordinary how Israel has to be part of the Western European and Others group at the
UN? It’s such a geographical anomaly! No doubt there are huge
political strategies at work here!
CHAYA: Yes, but it’s not such an ideological anomaly. In a way, it’s good that Israel can at least
contribute to the workings of that group and prove its credentials as a hard-working and forward-thinking
DAD: The State of Israel will certainly find it encouraging that the UN is starting to pass resolutions
that Israel itself sponsors, even if such motions are politically
BEN: The Holocaust commemoration by the UN was very welcome too – although long overdue. In fact, I
think it’s ridiculous that it was so long in coming.
DAD: The harsh reality remains, though, that Israel is a pariah state in the eyes of a majority of
nations at the UN. But the host nation, the United States, naturally, is in its
BEN: The Negroponte Doctrine is very important to Israel, I think. Now that it’s in place, it greatly
reduces the scope of Israel’s enemies when it comes to formulating condemnations of the Israeli State.
There’s little point in tabling resolutions that simply won’t fly.
DAD: Well, it leaves no doubt about where America stands. Not that it’s ever been in
CHAYA: Israel certainly owes a debt of gratitude to America, and Israel’s voting pattern certainly shows
where its allegiance lies.
DAD: The USA hasn’t been an unequivocal supporter of Israel at the UN, as some voting clearly shows, but
the relationship will surely hold although Israel has engaged in conduct that puts a serious strain on it.
BEN: I want to look at that resolution about Zionism being racism. I think that was very unfair and a
real insult to the Zionist movement.
DAD: The vote passed by 72 votes to 35, with 32 abstentions. Israeli ambassador to the UN, Chaim Herzog,
famously tore the resolution up after he’d concluded his speech in response to it. He branded the resolution
anti-Semitic and hate-based.
CHAYA: What led to the resolution being repealed? I’ve heard that it’s the only UN resolution that has
ever been repealed.
DAD: That’s quite right. What happened is that Israel made
its participation in the Madrid Peace Conference of 1991 dependent upon Resolution 3379 being scrapped. It
was, in fact, revoked that same year in terms of Resolution 4686.
BEN: Four odd numbers replaced by four even ones. There’s something symbolic about that! It’s amazing that it happened, isn’t it?
CHAYA: How did the voting go?
DAD: Believe it or not, it was an overwhelming “yes” – 111 to 25 with 13 abstentions. President George
Bush senior introduced the resolution and said that, “to equate Zionism
with the intolerable sin of racism
is to twist history and forget the terrible plight
in World War
II and indeed throughout history”.
BEN: I guess the failure of the UN Road Map for a two-state solution is something we would have
expected. Just because it’s the UN doesn’t mean it can actually change anything, or even begin to solve the
DAD: The UN has, on occasion, risen way above the skeptical view that it is a glorified debating
society. Several of its agencies have done sterling work in their efforts to relieve disease, hunger and
rural poverty across the world. The World Food Program is just one of many life-saving initiatives.
Politically, however, it cannot achieve much. Its member nations are fundamentally divided on many issues and
ideologically the different groupings are poles apart.
CHAYHA: At least all the nations have a place to meet and express themselves. Better a frenzied, if
aimless, debate than a military confrontation.
DAD: Amen to that, although, to be frank, vigorous debate brings only limited satisfaction to aggrieved
and aggressive nations. If a country is spoiling for a fight, it’s usually going to get one.
BEN: Whatever the UN’s shortcomings, I think Israel needs to be there and a part of
DAD: Yes, to keep its friends close and its enemies closer.
Every Shabbat we read five short sayings that express, with typically Jewish wit and
humor, insightful reflections on this life of ours.
Here are tonight’s sayings:
· Give it a kick in the right place and it’ll work. (Ezer Weizman)
· Trouble comes in gallons and departs in drops
· In Israel, in order to be a realist you must believe in miracles. (David Ben
· How many calories does an American man spend making love? Ten. An Englishman? Ten. An
Israeli man? One hundred. Ten to make love and ninety running to tell all his friends. (Donna
· Wine is an unreliable messenger! I sent it down to my stomach, and it went up to my
head. (Al-Harizi, Tahkemoni)
Celebration of Great Lives
Every Friday night we celebrate the achievements of our Jewish family in contributing
to changing the world for the better and having an extraordinary impact on those around
Jonas Salk (1914 -
Salk was born to Ashkenazi Russian immigrants in New York City. He attended New York University
School of Medicine where he elected to do medical research. He was the man who discovered the polio vaccine.
Polio was a major health problem in the USA in the post-World War 2 period, with 58,000 people falling victim
to the disease in 1952 alone. By 1955, Salk’s vaccine was announced to be safe and effective. Salk became a
hero and received a Presidential citation as well as the first Congressional Medal for Distinguished Civilian
Service. By 1962, polio was almost extinct in the USA and thanks to his work the disease has virtually been
eradicated worldwide. Former US
President Ronald Reagan declared 6 May, 1985, Jonas Salk Day.
Mark Zuckerberg (1984 -
Mark Elliott Zuckerberg was voted Time Magazine’s
Person of the Year in 2010, the same year in which his co-founding of the Facebook site was featured in the
motion picture, The Social Network (directed by David Fincher).
Zuckerberg was born into a Jewish family in New York, although he has described himself as an atheist. It was
at Harvard University that Zuckerberg, a computer programming prodigy, launched Facebook. It quickly spread
to other colleges and then became a worldwide phenomenon. By July, 2010, there were 500 million users of
Facebook worldwide. The world’s youngest billionaire, Zuckerberg supports several philanthropic causes.
We will now sing a traditional song to conclude our Shabbat celebration. You have a
copy of the words, so please join in as we sing.
The song is sung
Farewell and an Invitation
Thank you for coming together to share our Shabbat. May you go out into the new week
with renewed strength, confidence and happiness.
We now cordially invite you to join us for some coffee and cake.