Vayelech – Realizing Greatness Comes with Responsibility

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The opening pasuk of this week’s Torah portion of Vayelech states: “Moshe went and told these words to Bnei Yisrael” (31:1). “These words” are referring to the concluding lectures on Hashem’s Torah and the final message Moshe gave to his followers before he passed away.

The Medrish Tanchuma (paragraph 3) on this pasuk relates a riveting message about the greatness of Torah, the greatness of one human being, and the responsibilities that comes with such an exalted position. “It writes, ‘Hashem founded the earth with wisdom,’ (Mishlei 3:19). ‘Wisdom’ always refers to Torah. What is its name? Amon (אמון) , as it says, ‘And I was by Him Amon ’ (Mishlei 8:30). It was not called Torah until it was given at Har Sinai, and because of what it adds up to in gematria, is it called Torah. This is because there are 613 mitzvos in the Torah. Torah in gematria is 611 and the other two were given by the mouth of Hashem Himself. This is what the pasuk meant when it said, ‘God spoke one thing, I heard two’ (Tehillim 62:12). This is also what it means, ‘Torah that Moshe commanded us” (Devarim 33:4), like the gematria value of Torah that Moshe commanded us, and the others that Hashem commanded, as I explained in Parshas Yisro, is an inheritance to the Children of Yaakov, and not to the other nations of the world, as it says ‘He relates His word to Yaakov, His statutes and judgments to Israel. He did not do so for any other nation’ (End of Tehillim 148). It also write about it ‘day day’ as it says I was Amon beside Him, and I was [His] delight day in and day out’ (Tehillim 8:30). A day [for Hashem] is no less than a 1000 years as it says, ‘For a thousand years are in Your eyes like yesterday’ (Tehillim 90:4). When was this written about? Before it was given. But [the Torah] could not have been written on silver or gold, for silver and gold were not created yet before the world was created, rather it was written ‘on the arm’ of The Holy One Blessed Be He. Therefore every person must understand and intellectualize in one’s knowledge and mind that he should toil in Torah day and night, as it says, ‘you shall toil therein day and night,’ (Yehoshua 1:8), as well as in good deeds. This is because the whole entire world is judged every day and because of one person the entire world can merit to be innocent or be guilty. If it is guilty on his part, about him the pasuk writes, ‘And one sin causes him to lose a lot’ (Koheles 9). Also, similarly to what our sages of blessed memory have taught, ‘The world is half guilty half innocent. If one comes and transgresses a sin, then he tips the scale of sins higher than mitzvos, which means the entire world is guilty because of him. But if the sins and mitzvos were equal and one comes and performs one mitzvah, then the merits tip the scale higher than the sins, so happy is him who brings merit upon the world. If he isn’t a full time learner he should do his work honestly.” (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)

This medrish is fascinating. The Torah was created 2000 years before creation but was not called the Torah; rather it was called Amon, stemming from the same root as emuna, meaning faith or honesty. And for whatever it means, during that time, since it was so valuable, it is assumed to have been written down on the most valuable substance; but of course silver and gold did not exist before the world was created, so it was written, figuratively, on “Hashem’s arm.” Only after Hashem gave the Torah to the Jewish people at Har Sinai, the first two mitzvos directly from Him into the ears of Bnei Yisrael and the other 611 mitzvos through Moshe Rabbeinu, was it then called Torah which has the numeric value of 611. Why is this mentioned, and what is the connection to the next part of the medrish which is actually based on a Braisa in Kiddushin 40b that describes how Hashem judges each person and the entire world every day?  And we must view the world as half guilty and half innocent, as well as ourselves as in the middle, half innocent with mitzvos and half guilty with sin. Our next move will make it or break it, not only for ourselves but for the entire world! This is hopefully an impetus for us to make the right move, either to learn harder or to do the right thing, like running our business honestly. But why should we view ourselves in this fashion? Why is this an important attitude in our service of Hashem to motivate us to toil in Torah and perform good deeds?

This medrish is showing us what type of an approach we should have in performing Hashem’s will. We have to realize what we are dealing with and who we are. We are dealing with such high standards of living, priceless ideals, which stem from the most divine, holiest, ancient and pristine settings. This means we have to take care of what we have with gentleness, awe, and reverence. We have to stay focused on our task at all times, and not let it slip away from beneath our fingers.

But we also have to recognize who we are. The greatness of the individual and the great responsibility Hashem entrusts to us. Each and every one of us are in fact held to such a high level that we can decide the fate of all humanity, with any decision we choose to make, for good or for bad. Hashem entrusts this task into our hands.

We should take this to heart and meditate on how special and great we in fact are. Not only should we look the part, walk the walk, talk the talk, and dress the dress, but also realize the awesome responsibility we have, and take appropriate action to live up to this lofty responsibility.

With this attitude and insight the world will be elevated to a whole new terrain and quality of life!