Deuteronomy 31:1 – 31:30
(And He Went)
Moses begins to prepare for his death by empowering Joshua as his successor and establishing regular readings of the Torah. He again warns the people about the perils of forgetting God once they enter the Land and instructs them in methods of remembrance.
OUR HOLY TEXT BEGINS with the words, “And Moses went…” (Deuteronomy 31:1) Where did he go? Instead of gathering the people to him, Moses goes out to them. His message is too important, his mission most vital; he dare not risk missing his mark.
Remember that Moses is the part of us that is awake, that is connected to the power of prophesy, that is linked inextricably to its Divine source. “I was asleep but my heart stayed awake,” (Song of Songs 5:2) cries the Song of Songs. Moses is that awakened heart that beats at the center, but whose song is usually well-muffled by layers and layers of Self.
Moses goes out on a mission of empowerment. He travels to the edges of our awareness in order to awaken our potential — to call us into our power. The Talmud describes this aspect of the inner landscape by saying, “The face of Moses was as the face of the sun; the face of Joshua as the face of the moon.” (Bava Batra 75a) Even through the dark night we can receive and reflect some measure of wisdom, joy, and true grace. In the presence of all the people (every facet of awareness), Moses empowers Joshua to activate his full strength and courage on behalf of the whole. And though the light of the moon may wane, it will wax again bright and round. Even though we will forget the essential truth of our Oneness and Glory, we will remember again, just as surely as the moon’s light forever returns… returning us to our fullness, to our remembrance.
THE BLESSING of Vayelekh is the pathway of Teshuvah, the ever-present possibility of “return,” no matter how far we’ve strayed, no matter how extreme our forgetfulness. And the blessing of Vayelekh is that we, like Joshua, have been empowered to boldly reflect the Divine light, to step into leadership, to open ourselves wide to receive our inheritance — in spite of our inconsistencies, volatilities, uncertainties, and tendencies towards absentmindedness.
Vayelekh commands us to set up regular, public readings of the Torah, so that everyone can hear, learn, and come into a state of awe before the Great Mystery. (Deuteronomy 31:9-11) We are each invited to stand at the foot of Mount Sinai and receive the blessing of Revelation. When we encounter Torah at regular intervals, we are turning our moon-faces towards the light to receive and reflect and remember our inheritance. It is said that for Joshua the sun stood still. (Talmud Taanit 20a) We, like Joshua, are blessed with that timeless moment of Revelation as we stand before the sacred text and receive its light.
THE SPIRITUAL CHALLENGE
VAYELEKH DESCRIBES, in vivid detail, the perils of forgetfulness. In our forgetfulness, we will feel abandoned; God’s face will be hidden from us and in our confusion we will turn to “other gods,” thus breaking the connection with Source and cutting off the flow of covenantal love. Vayelekh warns us that when we enter the Land flowing with milk and honey and have eaten our fill, we will “get fat” (Deuteronomy 31:20), which means we will become complacent and inevitably forget the miracle before us. We will be devoured by the Land that we had set out to conquer.
God instructs Moses to compose a song, and teach it to us, to “put it in our mouths.” (Deuteronomy 31:19) The Song is planted within us as a witness, an antidote to our inevitable forgetfulness. For even when we forget everything else, we will remember the Song.
The advertising industry understands this maneuver so very well. We are easily manipulated by the power of Song. A clever rhyme married to a catchy tune can be planted through repetition in the soil of our vulnerable minds to grow a sudden and inexplicable thirst for a certain soft drink or a craving for fast food.
THE SPIRITUAL CHALLENGE OF VAYELEKH is to consciously use the power of Song, to deliberately plant the remembrance that will become vitally important when the forces of forgetfulness pull you into that familiar labyrinth of complacency, distraction, self-righteousness or confusion.
YOU MUST FIRST FULLY ACKNOWLEDGE the nature of forgetfulness — its power to seduce you, its familiar deceptions, and its insidious influence that can send you to addictive behavior or unconscious destructive reactivity time and time again. Only when you have understood the poison, can you begin to know and apply the antidote.
GUIDANCE FOR PRACTICE
IN A JEWISH COURT OF LAW, witnesses are called to reflect the scope of Reality and discern the path of Justice and Love. Here, on the banks of the Jordan, as we harvest the wisdom of our Torah Journey from the narrowness of slavery to the freedom of the Promised Land, we call three witnesses who can safeguard the Truth in all its enormity and subtlety. We trust them as sworn witnesses to then give that Truth back to us when we have the presence of heart, mind and soul to call upon them. The three witnesses that Vayelekh calls are THE SONG, HEAVEN, and EARTH. (Deuteronomy 31:21,28)
Appointing the Song as witness means that in the moment that we come into remembrance of God’s Presence, we ask for the words, rhythm, melody, tone, and cadence that can celebrate that moment of knowing. The words may be a phrase from liturgy or scripture that suddenly makes perfect sense in the light of this holy moment. The melody can be quite simple. The rhythm is linked to your own heart-beat, the ebb and flow of Life pulsing through you. To establish the Song as witness, you must anchor your heart in the experience of intimacy with God and then open your mouth, trusting that the song that emerges carries the feeling-tone and memory of a precious truth.
The practice for this week of Vayelekh is to establish the Song as witness against our forgetfulness. Through persistent and artful repetition of a sacred and delicate truth, we plant the seed of remembrance so that on the day of our forgetfulness, it will be there to call us back.
IN A MOMENT OF CALM, ASK YOURSELF THE QUESTION, “What is it that I know so clearly in my moment of wisdom, yet seem to lose sight of again and again in times of forgetfulness? What is the Song that embodies and expresses that truth?” Sing that song again and again till the song begins to sing itself inside you. Record it or teach it to a friend.
THE DIFFICULT CONUNDRUM OF SPIRITUAL PRACTICE is that exactly when we need it the most, we are least likely to do it. When I feel restless, angry, worried, too busy, depressed or anxious, I’m likely to forget all about my spiritual practice… even though it is precisely the antidote to the poison at hand. That is why it is so important to establish a routine, a set time and place each day for practice. That is why it is so important to surround yourself with beautiful reminders — mezuzot at the gates of awareness. That is why it is so important to establish Spirit-Buddies — friends who can perceive, magnify and reflect back to you your deepest intention, hidden beauty and buried essence.
ONCE WE HAVE APPOINTED the Song as witness — empowering that song to be a loyal servant of remembrance — we must call two more witnesses to preside over the proceedings of our inner life.
Heaven and Earth represent the two great forces that form the fabric of existence. By calling Heaven and Earth as witnesses we are opening ourselves to the vast intelligence of Creation, to the consciousness that is alive in our world. How do we actually do this as a practice? How do we establish Heaven and Earth as our witnesses?
EACH MORNING whenever I can, I watch the sunrise. My attention is drawn to the horizon, where Heaven and Earth meet. When I can become still enough, when I can suspend the chattering flow and commentary of mind-wanderings, I begin to sense an immense, benevolent and articulate presence — Creation bearing witness to its Creator. The Book of Proverbs, Mishlei, personifies and gives voice to that presence and calls her, Wisdom. “My fruit is better than gold,” she says, “better than fine gold, and my produce is better than fine silver. I walk on the way of righteousness, on the paths of justice. I bequeath those who love me existence itself. Then I will fill them with treasures.” (Proverbs 8:19-21)
WHEN HEAVEN AND EARTH are called as witnesses, they show me how to receive existence itself as the most precious of treasures. The key to attaining those treasures lies in cultivating an inner stillness.
DURING THIS WEEK OF VAYELEKH, set aside some time to be in a place that is spacious, beautiful and relatively quiet.
EVEN IF THERE ARE SOUNDS, listen in to the silence. Be attentive to the spaces between the sounds. Instead of focusing in on particular objects, expand your gaze to encompass the widest scene possible.
BRING YOUR FULL POWER, receptive presence and alert awareness as you open to the forces of Heaven and Earth, who stand before you as witnesses, at your service.
Torah Journeys: The Inner Path to the Promised Land
©2006 Shefa Gold. All rights reserved.