Parshas Vayelech: The Missing Rashi & Moshe’s Modesty

Rashi can often comment in a rather cryptic manner. His terse method of writing leaves much open to interpretation and reader thought. Indeed, often what Rashi doesn’t say is just as telling as what he does. Rashi’s first comment on our parsha, however, is unusually strange. The posuk reads as follows:

Deuteronomy 31:1:

וַיֵּ֖לֶךְ מֹשֶׁ֑ה וַיְדַבֵּ֛ר אֶת־הַדְּבָרִ֥ים הָאֵ֖לֶּה אֶל־כָּל־יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃

And Moses went and spoke these things to all Israel…

Now take a look at Rashi’s comment on this verse and see if anything stands out:

Rashi on Deuteronomy 31:1:

וילך משה. וגו':


Notice anything strange? There isn’t much to stand out! Of course, what’s so unusual is that Rashi doesn’t actually say anything at all! He simply quotes the opening words of the parsha as his dibbur ha’maschil (introductory clause) and that is all we hear from him. What’s going on here, and what are we supposed to make of this most peculiar instance of Rashi?

Much has been written on this topic, but R. Avigdor Bonchek suggests that this is actually par for the course when it comes to Rashi. In fact, Rashi opens his commentary to every parsha in the Torah by quoting the words that make up the name of that parsha. Our parsha is called “וילך” and so Rashi begins his commentary on our parsha by starting with the words “וילך משה.” It so happens, however, that Rashi simply has nothing to say on these opening words in this particular instance. For similar instances of Rashi going out of his way to quote the title phrase of a parsha, but not actually commenting on those exact words, see Numbers 1:1, Deuteronomy 11:26, and Deuteronomy 26:1 to name just a few.

Rashi felt the need to begin each parsha’s commentary like this because before the advent of the printing press it was difficult for a reader to determine where Rashi’s commentary on a new parsha began. Considering Rashi’s manuscripts were written on scrolls of parchment — and not printed in books with bold and italics for delineation as we have today — if one wanted to jump directly to Rashi’s comments on a particular parsha, the only way to do this would be if Rashi began each section of his commentary with the opening words/title of each respective parsha — whether he had what to say about those words or not.

Of course, even if Rashi neglected to comment on the opening words of Vayelech many other commentators wonder where, exactly, Moshe “went” in our opening verse. Ramban (31:1) argues that Moshe, knowing that his own death was imminent, journeyed around the camp to bid farewell to the nation. The commentary of Ibn Ezra (31:1) takes this idea a step further explaining that Moshe went to each and every tent in the people’s camp to console them on his death, and to reassure them that God would safely guide them, through Moshe’s successor Yehoshua, to the land of Israel. According to Ibn Ezra, the blessings recorded later in the last parsha of the Torah, V'Zos HaBracha, were actually given now, as Moshe made his way throughout the camp.

Indeed, both of these approaches point to Moshe’s tremendous humility and modesty. While Moshe could have easily called the entirety of the nation to assemble before him — as was his usual way of addressing them when it came to God’s word (see Dorash Dovid pg. 439)— in his final hour he took the time and effort to personally journey around the camp, bidding farewell in a more personal and emotional setting.

And all this from the lack of a comment!

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