The portion of Vayelech begins: “And Moses went and spoke these words to all of Israel” (Deurteronomy 31:1). Although it states that he went, it is not clear where exactly he went to and why the Torah had to even mention he went when it would have been sufficient to simply state that Moses spoke to all the people. The Ramban, trying to understand where Moses went to, comments that he went from tribe to tribe bidding them farewell, for this portion, like the previous one and the next two as well, was said on the last day of his life.
As with every word, verse, story and commandment in the Torah there are multi levels of meaning, here too the meaning of “he went” can be understood in many different ways.
Jewish law in Hebrew is called halacha, meaning walking, going, progressing. It shares the same root as the word “went” of our first verse. Moses, along with acting as the agent of God in the redemptive process, for the last forty years of his life served in the role as leader, and most importantly as the ultimate teacher of Jewish law. He walked with the law and taught the people how to observe the law in a way that it becomes a vehicle for spiritual growth and progress.
Now as he was preparing to leave his people as they entered the holy land it states that “he went.” To understand where he went we turn to a statement in the Talmud (Megillah 28b): All who study Jewish law everyday are assured a place in the world to come, as it says [in Habakuk 3:6] ‘…The ways of the world are His’ – do not read “ways” rather “laws.” What this teaches us is that through the constant study of Jewish law one acquires the ability to walk and ultimately progress from this world to the world to come.
Halacha, Jewish law, becomes the bridge, as it were, on which we cross from this world to the next world.
On a daily basis Jewish law teaches us how to walk from one transition to another: from night to day, day to night, weekday to Shabbat, holy time to mundane time and back again, from month to month, from joy to sorrow, from being single to being married, from being a child to an adult etc. After a life of walking with the law we are ready for the ultimate transition from life to death and from death to life after death.
As the Jewish people were preparing to cross from one side of the Jordan to the other, from one reality to another, so too was Moses preparing himself to cross from life to death, from one world to another.
There is an additional allusion to the meaning of “And Moses went.” The very first time God speaks directly to Abraham, the first Jew, is when he commands him: ”Go for [to] yourself from your land, from your relatives, and from your fathers house to the land I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). The word for “go” in this verse has the same root as “went” in our portion.
The journey of the Jewish people began when Abraham went away from all his familiar surroundings and began a new life and entered into a new consciousness. Now at the end of the written Torah, the Jewish people are being prepared by Moses to leave once and for all the slave mentality of Egypt and enter into the promised land and an entirely new level of consciousness. Moses is preparing as well for his own personal journey, where he too will need to leave all that is familiar in this world in order to enter into a higher dimension of life after death.