And Moses Went
Nitzavim-Vayelech (Deuteronomy 29:9-31:30 )
This week we have two short parshiyot as a double portion, Nitzavim-Vayelech. These parshiyot were spoken by Moses on the last day of his life. In Nitzavim, Moses reviews the covenant between Israel and Hashem; warns again about the folly and evils of idol worship and describes the destruction in the Land that will follow as a consequence of straying from the Torah path. It also contains the section on Teshuva, returning to Hashem.
In Vayelech, Moses bids good bye to his People; again designates Joshua to lead the People. Hashem tells both Moses and Joshua how the People will stray in the future. Then Moses prepares them to hear the Song, Ha'azinu (the next parsha).
The first Rashi-comment in Vayelech, which is a non-comment, sparks thoughts.
"And Moses went and spoke these words to all of Israel."
And Moses went - RASHI: [no comment]
This "Rashi-comment" is a bit strange, for there is no comment here.
The question is: Why does Rashi give us a dibbur hamatchil when he has no comment to offer on these words?
Many have wondered about this strange phenomenon.
UNDERSTANDING RASHI'S DIBBUR HAMATCHIL
The answer is quite simple. We have already explained ( See What's Bothering Rashi? Bamidbar Verse 1:1), that Rashi begins his commentary to every Torah Portion in the Chumash by quoting the first words of the parsha which form the name of that parsha, whether or not he has a comment to make. Our parsha is named Vayelech, so Rashi quotes the words (Hebrew) "Vayelech Moshe" even though he has no comment to make on these words.
There are similar instances of this in the book of Deuteronomy. See the first comment in parshat Re'eh (Deut.11:26) and parshat Ki Tavo (Deut. 26:1). Many other such cases can be found throughout Rashi's Torah commentary. Rashi's lack of commentary is more obvious in our verse, because here Rashi has no other comment on this verse. But in the two cases cited above Rashi does have a comment on other words in the first verse, although his comment has nothing to do with his first dibbur hamatchil. That dibbur, as we said, is placed there because they are the first words of the parsha.
This custom of quoting the first words of each parsha probably was done to show the student where a new parsha began. Remember, originally, Rashi's commentary was hand written on a separate scroll, without the words of the Chumash accompanying it. Only after the printing press was invented (several hundred years after Rashi's death) was the Torah printed together with commentaries. Then Rashi's commentary was on the same page as the Torah's words themselves. Since we mention the printing press, it is interesting to note that the first Hebrew book printed (circa 1470) was Rashi's Torah commentary. At this first publication it was printed without the Chumash. In other words, Rashi was printed even before the Torah itself was printed! This is some indication of the high regard his commentary had already gained among the people by the 15th century.
Although Rashi does not comment on the words "And Moses went," other commentators do. As you look at the verse, can you think of the question they deal with?
OTHER COMMENTATORS' QUESTION
A Question: The Ramban, Ibn Ezra, Abarbanel and others ask: Where did Moses go? The Torah only says "And Moses went," but doesn't say where he went or why he needed to go anywhere. In the previous parsha, Nitzavim, it says that Moses addressed the whole nation (Deut. 29:9). What need then was there for him to go anywhere since, in our parsha, he continued to speak to the people and the whole nation was present?
Can you suggest an answer?
SOME COMMENTATORS' ANSWERS
Some Answers: The Ramban explains that after Moses finished his address to the people (in Nitzavim), the people returned to their tents. Now Moses wanted to bid them farewell before his death. This was a personal message and he wanted to deliver it personally. And so "he went" from the Camp of the Levites, where he resided, to the Camp of Israel, where the people resided and personally bid them farewell.
The Ibn Ezra gives an interesting explanation of the reason for Moses' going to each tribe. He says that Moses wanted to console them on his imminent death. He told them they should not fear, for Hashem will guide Joshua, who will take care of them after his death. The Ibn Ezra speculates that it was at this time, on these individual visits with each tribe, that Moses gave them his final blessings, as is recorded later in parshat V'zot Habrachah.
THE LESSON: MOSES' MODESTY
Moses could just as easily (actually, more easily for him) have called the people to assemble before him, as he had done whenever he had a message for them. But his humility prevented him from exploiting his lofty position as leader and the respect the people had for him. Instead, he personally went from tribe to tribe to pay his last farewells. Moses' modesty is thus as evident on the last day of service to his people as it was on his first day, forty years earlier, when he was chosen to lead them. At that time he said in his self-effacing manner "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?" (Exodus 3:12). The circle is now closed when Moses, at the end of his public service, humbly makes his way to each tribe to speak with them personally and convey his blessings to them.