A. Moshe’s charge to Yehoshua. Moshe was 120 years old, and announced that his leadership was drawing to its close. He revealed that Yehoshua had been chosen by Hashem as his successor to take command and lead the Jews successfully into Israel. In the presence of the entire assembly, Moshe urged Yehoshua to be strong and courageous, and to place his full trust in Hashem.
B. Writing of the Law/Public Reading on Succos. Moshe then committed the Law to writing and delivered it to the Koheinim and Elders. When there would a king over Israel, he would be charged with reading it publicly on Succos (during the year after the Shemmitah year) to the Israelites assembled at the Sanctuary; thus, every man, woman and child of Israel would be constantly reminded of their obligation to obey Hashem.
C. A Copy of the Law in the Sanctuary. The copy of the Law written by Moshe was to be placed by the Levi’im at the site of the Aron HaKodesh to bear witness against Israel is they were to deviate from its teachings.
D. The Teaching of Ha’azinu. Moshe was told to assemble the people to teach them the passage of Ha’azinu, which would again remind them of the consequences of turning against Hashem.
II. Divrei Torah
A. Growth Through Torah (Rabbi Zelig Pliskin)
1. Help people overcome their fears. “And Moshe went . . . ” Ibn Ezra explains that before Moshe died he went to each tribe to notify them that he was about to die, but they should not be afraid because he was leaving them with Yehoshua who would be a reliable leader. We learn from Moshe that we must do everything to alleviate another’s fears.
2. When studying Torah properly you will experience much light and consolation. “And now write for you this song.” This verse contains the last commandment in the order of the Torah (i.e., to write a Torah scroll). The Chofetz Chaim noted that this mitzvah comes right after the verse which states that Hashem will hide His presence from the people because of their transgressions; this teaches us that even in times of darkness when we engage in Torah study we will find much light and consolation.
3. Give your children positive Jewish experiences. When the king was to read the Torah before the entire Jewish nation, he was told to “gather together the nation, the men, women and the little children . . . in order that they should learn, fear Hashem, and observe the Torah.” Rashi cites the Talmud that the children were brought along in order to bring rewards to their parents; the Talmud calls this concept a “precious jewel”. What do we learn from this?
a. Even though young children do not understand what is being said, just being present when the king read the Torah before the entire nation would have a major impact on them for the rest of their life. They would gain a sense of the importance of the Torah to the entire Jewish people. Even today, we must do everything we can so that children learn from an early age the importance of the Torah; every experience makes a profound impression.
b. As noted in Peninim on the Torah, the choice of words used to describe the parents — i.e, those who “bring them”, rather than just the “parents” — teaches us an additional lesson. Perhaps the Talmud wishes to stress the importance of the parents in the child’s Jewish educational experience. In order for children to benefit fully from their Jewish education, the parents must be actively involved and come together with them to listen, learn and experience.
B. Kol Dodi on the Torah (Rabbi David Feinstein)
“Seeing” Hashem’s presence. “And I will surely hide My countenance on that day . . . and now write for yourselves this song . . . so that this song shall be for Me a witness on the Children of Israel.” The “song” refers to the Torah; the words “for Me” indicates that by means of the “song”, we can see Hashem’s presence. There is a very important point hidden in these verses. At times when Hashem so to speaks “hides His face” and doesn’t make His presence manifest, it is most important that we then immerse ourselves in the “song” of the Torah, for in it we see His presence and the truth that there is a G-d.
C. Living Each Week (Rabbi Abraham Twerski)
1. Living is growing. Moshe said, “I am 120 years old this day; I can no more go out and come in, and G-d has said to me, You shall not go over this Jordan'” The Rabbi of Gur said that by his 120th birthday, Moshe had reached the ultimate in spirituality and holiness that a human being can attain. The only possibility for Moshe to have achieved additional spiritual growth would have been in Israel, but inasmuch as he was denied entrance thereto, he could not progress any further. To Moshe, a life without possibility of growth was not worth living and when he realized that the Divine decree restricting him from entering the Holy Land was irrevocable, he willingly accepted death. To Moshe, living meant growing. Moshe is referred to as Rabbeinu, our teacher, who taught us not only by his pronouncements, but also by the way he lived and died. Unlike Moshe, who reached the ultimate heights possible for a human being, we all have abundant room to expand our growth. We must heed Moshe’s lesson and always strive to grow, for growing is true living.
2. The key ingredient. “At the end of seven years, at the time of the sabbatical years at the festival of Succos . . . assemble the nation, men, women and children and the stranger in your grates, that they may hear and that they may learn and come to fear G-d, and observe to do all of the words of this Torah.” The mitzvah’s stated purpose is to imbue the younger generation with the fear of G-d and the commitment to observe the Torah. It is scheduled on the Succos that immediately follows the Shemittah year (i.e., the seventh year during which the land is to lie fallow). The celebration of this mitzvah must indeed have been impressive and inspiring. Jews from all parts of Israel — men, women and children — gathered in the courtyard of the Sanctuary in Jerusalem, and the king of Israel stood upon a specially designed stage and read the Book of Deuteronomy. This moving scene must have certainly inspired the young children. But, why did it have to follow the Shemittah year? Wouldn’t it have been equally impressive at any time? The Torah here conveys a most important concept. While teaching is important, it isn’t enough. Impressive services have an impact, but may not be sufficient. For a mitzvah to be engraved on the hearts and minds of young people, another ingredient is required. The mitzvah of Shemittah is given the highest priority in the Torah. (Indeed, the failure to observe Shemittah is cited as the reason that Jews were driven from their homeland.) Allowing the land to lie fallow was both a personal sacrifice and a test of faith. Israel was primarily an agricultural country, and this mitzvah was an act of mesiras nefesh (placing oneself at great risk). What the Torah is telling us is that if we wish our children and grandchildren to adopt the values we espouse, we must demonstrate to them the depth and sincerity of our convictions. We must show them that we can withstand mesiras nefesh. Mesiras nefesh doesn’t necessarily require heroic acts — indeed, it may more often be manifested in less dramatic behavior, such as committing oneself to prayer, study, charity, etc.
3. When bad things happen. . . . And many evils and troubles shall come upon them, and they will say in that day, “Have not these evils come upon us because G-d is not among us?” The question, “why do bad things happen to good people?” has concerned every thinking person. The Talmud states that when Moshe requested of G-d, “Let me know your ways” (Exodus 33:13), he was posing this very question. The Book of Job, whose authorship some ascribe to Moshe (Bava Basra 15a), is devoted to discussion of this question, and the conclusion is that there is no logical answer. Rather, it is a principle of faith that G-d is just and benevolent, and all we can say is that the occurrence of bad things to good people is beyond our capability to understand. A popular modern author has tried to resolve this problem logically, and concludes that bad things happen to good people because G-d is not in immediate control of everything in the world, hence unjust things can happen. Moshe foresaw that we would be bothered by this question, and warned us against this simplistic solution because it constitutes a denial of Divine providence and/or omnipotence. Faith can apply where logic cannot. We must accept that G-d is just and benevolent, even when our logic is unable to appreciate this.
D. Peninim on the Torah (Rabbi A.L. Scheinbaum)
Faith in Hashem. “And there shall come upon them many evils and troubles; so that they will say in that day; it is not because our G-d is not among us, that these evils have come upon us?” The Pasuk begins with the phrase “many evils and troubles,” but at the end it only uses the word “bad.” What stimulated the transition, which has diminished this individual’s troubles? In order to resolve this problem, we must first understand the true meaning of “tsarus” (trouble). The origin of the word if “tsar,” which implies tightness or restriction. This alludes to moments when one is so tormented by troubles that he feels enveloped and unable to maneuver himself out from under the darkness that plagues his life. Such a situation results from one’s lack of trust in Hashem, which leads to a crushing feeling of helplessness and defeat. This attitude contrasts to the one held by an individual who believed in Hashem and in his heart accepts His Divine Providence in every facet of his existence. As Dovid Hamelech said in Psalms, “Even as I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I fear not, for You are with me.” For every trouble, he will seek solace through his faith in Hashem. This is meaning of the Pasuk. The first part refers to one who hasn’t yet recognized Hashem’s constant vigilance over him and is, therefore, greatly pained. In the second half of the Pasuk, the individual has “found” Hashem and is conscious of His Omnipresence. He still has troubles, but they no longer debilitate him. He has now found the source of all comfort. (Horav Eliezer M. Schach, Shlita)