By Rabbi Mordechai Young
I was once playing basketball and felt a slight pain in my calf muscle, on and off, during the game. I was passed the ball on the wing and went up for the jump shot. As I was in the air I felt excruciating pain. One player on defense came out to defend me. He noticed my facial expression, revealing something was wrong, and backed off. I landed and fell to the ground, grabbing my calf, which was really hurting. The shot swished in, and that was the end of my night. The next day I went to the doctor’s office. They told me that my calf muscle was partially torn. I had to be on crutches that summer.
It was a lot easier to accept what happened knowing it was directly from Hashem; no one pushed me or did anything to bring on the injury. Even if I had been pushed, it would have been from Hashem. However, it would have been a challenge to not focus on the person who pushed me.
In Parashas Vayeilech, Moshe Rabbeinu tells Am Yisrael that he is 120 years old and he can no longer “go out and come in.” The Ibn Ezra explains that this refers war. Moshe was trying to calm their fears by assuring them that while he cannot lead them anymore, Hashem Himself will destroy their enemies.
Rashi quotes the Gemara Sotah (13b), explaining that pasuk as referring to words of Torah. The Gemara states that the pasuk can’t be explained literally to mean that Moshe’s strength was weakened, because the Torah writes later (34:7) that his eyes did not dim and his strength didn’t diminish. The Gemara further quotes that when Moshe came to the plains of Moav, there were 12 steps there, and Moshe jumped to the top. We see that he still had physical strength to the end. So this phrase must be referring to words of Torah.
The two explanations of this pasuk — that Moshe could not lead them in war and that he could not teach them Torah on the highest level as he had been doing until now — are very interesting to think about. It appears on the one hand that Moshe’s words are to help the nation accept the fact that their leader would no longer support them in war. It also shows how Moshe used these words to calm himself and accept this fate with complete emunah. Rabbeinu Bechaya comments on this that Moshe himself should not worry or be sad about his impending death. It’s amazing to learn that even the greatest tzaddik needed some relief to make the reality of leaving this world of mitzvos a little easier to accept.
According to this, he said these words partially to calm himself. The Chovos HaLevavos writes that our thoughts follow our speech. So the more we speak in emunah, the more we will think about and believe in Hashem.
The explanation that Moshe “go out and come in” refers to words of Torah is in the Gemara. The other explanation that the Ibn Ezra states, referring to war, is not quoted in the Gemara. I did not see the explanation in the Midrash; however, there are many Midrashim, so it could be it comes from there. I was wondering about the source and started thinking that the two explanations could be connected. We say every day in Az Yashir, “Hashem Ish milchamah, Hashem shemo.” When Bnei Yisrael went to battle against Amalek, Moshe lifted his hands so the nation would then look to Hashem for assistance and they would prevail. We see how Moshe did assist them in war by helping them connect to Hashem, which is what Moshe did when teaching Torah.
We should learn from Moshe to talk with emunah to ourselves and to others. This is a way to build on our emunah, which helps us in all aspects of life.
Rabbi Mordechai Young is available as a remedial rebbe and tutor. He can be reached for comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.