By Rabbi Zvi Solomons, who explains this week’s sedra, Vayelach-Shuvah
Every day a Jew has the opportunity of repeating Maimonides’ 13 principles of our faith.
These include the divine origin of the Torah, and the exceptional nature of Moshe Rabbeinu as a prophet – that there has never been and shall never be a prophet like him.
Our custom of reading the Torah is designed to keep his divinely-dictated words constantly in our ears and in our hearts. That is why we read the portions on Shabbat having already had a ‘taster’ on the previous Shabbat Mincha, Monday and Thursday.
We are never more than three days from our next reminder of holy prophecy. The parsha this week contains a custom that we do not practice today.
The tradition of Hakhel gathered the whole Jewish people together to read the Torah through from one end to the other, on the Succot following the sabbatical year.
That would be this coming Succot. It must have been a very moving and solemn occasion, and an opportunity to hear the whole Torah read in public in this manner would ensure that, in a society without printing and devices for standardisation, the text of the Torah was kept faithful and pure, by instilling it, as it were, in peoples’ minds.
The clarity of Moshe Rabbeinu’s prophecy is compared by our sages to the clarity of seeing through a transparent glass window, while the other prophets were compared to opaque glass.
The great Chassidishe Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev points out this is expressed in the manner of delivery.
The point at which this becomes obvious is at the end of this week’s parsha, where Moshe Rabbeinu is prepared for his death.
This is traditionally the point at which his clarity of perception was taken from him and transferred to Yehoshua. It was at this point that he stopped speaking directly and clearly and started speaking in parables and metaphors, using the poetic imagery to be found in the next parsha Haazinu.
The change in language from prose to poetry is the signal of the change in Moshe Rabbeinu’s prophetic level. This is why, says Rav Levi Yitzhak, the parsha begins with the words Vayyelech Moshe vayyedaber (And Moses went and spoke…).
Moses did not dress up his prophecy in any way – until it left him in its fullness, and a portion of his wisdom was transferred to his successor Yehoshua, in preparation for his leaving.
Thus this week we have him reaching the end of his full power of clarity as a prophet, and next week a partially-obscured prophecy clothed in the beauty of high poetry.
• Zvi Solomons is rabbi of the Jewish Community of Berkshire, Reading UK