VaYelekh

The standard birthday greeting for everyone in Israel is usually “‘ad meah v’esrim!” meaning “may you live to 120 years old!” This week’s reading of VaYelekh recounts the exemplary life of Moses who reaches his 120th year and retires. This is the apt moment to announce a transition in leadership to Joshua and conclude the writing of the Torah scroll, now entrusted to the Levites for safekeeping in the Ark of the Covenant. Every seven years during the festival of Sukkot, the entire people of Israel are commanded to “gather” together, which comes to be known as the mitzvah of hak’hel, in the Jerusalem Temple. This gathering is a sacred moment of communal assembly to hear the king read from the Torah scroll. Amidst this injunction to gather and read together, there is the acknowledgement that the Israelites will inevitably turn away from their covenant with the divine. When this turning happens, they will experience an eclipse of the divine face, as it were, even though the words of Torah will never be forgotten. Judaism is both a day to day spiritual practice as well as a legacy project never to be forgotten—our challenge is how to strike the appropriate balance.