The very first word of Parshat Vayelech is a strange one: Vayelech, and Moses went and spoke these words to all of Israel. (Deut. 31:1) Why does the Torah need to mention that Moses went? And where exactly did he go?

Two of the medieval commentators on the Torah, Ibn Ezra and Ramban, understand the verse to mean that Moses went to individuals and communities within the Israelite camp to take his leave from them before his death. Yet, as another commentator, Rashi, reminds us, Moses had lost none of his strength. He had simply come to the end of his time.

Moses’s going out among the people at the end of his life is a remarkable thing. While he was revered as the greatest prophet who ever lived, he humbly went among the people he had served to say goodbye in person. This is in keeping with a trait of Moses’s with which we are familiar: He was the humblest man on the face of the earth. (Num. 12:3)

Moses’s humility and his active walking among the people are essential reminders to us in this season of self-examination. Real teshuva requires humbling ourselves enough to admit our wrongs and to seek forgiveness. It requires going out to visit, face-to-face, the people who are important to us. Moses had a relationship with all of Israel, and here we see him taking those relationships seriously in the closing moments of his life.

“A person should do teshuva one day before his death,” says the sage Rabbi Eliezer (Avot 2:15). As many have pointed out, we never know when that day will come. During the High Holiday season, we take seriously the notion that each day could be our last, and we therefore tend to what is most important. Moses gives us the example of how to live each day as if it were the most important.

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