Moshe went, and he spoke the following words to all Israel.

-- Devarim 31:1

Classic Questions

"Moshe went…" (v. 1). Where did he go?

Ibn Ezra: He went to the camp of each tribe individually.

Targum Yonason: He went to the House of Study.

Ramban: When Moshe finished relating Parshas Nitzavim, the people would have gone home, because this gathering was made in order to bring the Jewish people into a covenant with G‑d ("You are standing firmly today, all of you together...in order to bring you into the covenant of G‑d, your G‑d," 29:9-11), so when the covenant had been established, the gathering would have fulfilled its purpose and consequently been dispersed. Our verse continues to explain that, afterwards, Moshe left the Levite camp and went over to the Israelite camp, like a person who wishes to depart from his friend, and comes to ask permission from him.

Kli Yakar: Moshe went quickly throughout the entire Jewish camp to prove that his leadership was not ending because he was physically weak, but rather, because he had not been permitted by G‑d to continue.

Ohr HaChayim: Before a person passes away, his spirit leaves him. The verse is thus teaching us that "the spirit of Moshe went."

Ba'al Haturim: "Moshe went" to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya'akov, who are mentioned in the previous verse, to inform them that G‑d was fulfilling His promise to bring the Jewish people to the Land.

The Rebbe's Teachings

Where Did Moshe Go? (v. 1)

At the literal level, it appears to be unclear where "Moshe went" in verse 1.

Ibn Ezra suggests that Moshe went to the camp of each tribe individually. However, this does not appear to be a literal interpretation, since:

  1. Each tribe was of a very different character. For example, the tribe of Yissachar were Torah scholars, the tribe of Zevulun were business people, and the tribe of Levi were priests and ministers. So if Moshe had gone separately to each camp and spoken to them individually, he would have addressed them each in a different manner that befitted the charac­ter of that particular tribe (even if the general content of his words was the same). The fact that the verse stresses that Moshe spoke "the following words to all Israel" suggests that he spoke to them as a group, and not as individual tribes.

  2. The entire camp measured 3 parsa by 3 parsa (See Rashi on Bamidbar 21:35, 10:25, 33:39), which would mean that in order to visit each tribe individually Moshe would need to have walked 12 parsa.1

This is difficult to accept at the literal level, since: 1) An average person can walk only 10 parsa a day (Pesachim 94a). 2) On this day—the last of his life—Moshe did many other things too, as detailed in Parshiyos Nitzavim, Vayeilech, Ha'azinu and Vezos Habrachah, which would not have left him time to do a lot of walking.

According to Targum Yonason, Moshe went to the house of study and all the Jewish people were gathered there.

However, gathering the entire Jewish nation would, practically speaking, be an extremely difficult task, and if such a major undertaking would have occurred we would expect some mention of it (at the literal level). In fact, we find later on in the parshah that the gathering of just the elders and leaders of Israel required a special request from Moshe: "Gather to me all the elders of your tribes and your officers" (v. 28).

So what is the explanation, at the literal level, of where "Moshe went" and how he was able to address "all of Israel" at once? And why did Rashi not explain this matter?

The Explanation

Rashi's did not address this issue directly, as he felt the reader would be capable of deducing it for himself from one of Rashi's earlier comments.

In Parshas Beha'aloscha, the Torah describes how when the Levites were inaugurated into service, Moshe was commanded to gather the entire congregation of Israel in order that they all rest their hands on the Levites (Bamidbar 8:9-10). Rashi explains the reason for this instruction: "Since the Levites were being given as an atonement offering in their [i.e., the congregation's2] stead, let them come and stand by their offerings [i.e., the Levites] and rest their hands upon them."

From here the reader will have learned a rule, that when a communal sacrifice is offered, the entire community needs to be present.3

Thus, we can assume that, at the literal level, when "Moshe went, and he spoke the following words to all Israel," he did not need to make a special gathering, since he would have found "all Israel" already gathered together when one of the communal sacrifices was offered.

But this begs the question: Why did Moshe instruct, later in the parshah, to "gather to me all the elders of your tribes and your officers" (v. 28), when he could have addressed them during one of the communal sacrifices, without having to make a special gathering?

There is, however, a clear distinction between these two cases. Moshe gathered the elders and leaders in order to fulfill G‑d's instruction to teach them the Song of Ha'azinu (v. 19). For this, it was only appropriate to have a gathering specifically for that purpose, so as not to fulfill the Divine command ad hoc, while the Jewish people had gathered for another reason.

In the opening of our parshah, however, where Moshe chose to offer words of encouragement to the Jewish people of his own volition, and not as a direct command from G‑d, Moshe did not want to bother the Jewish people to make a special gathering. Rather, he addressed them when they had gathered in any case, to offer a communal sacrifice.

(Based on Sichas Motzoi Shabbos Parshas Vayeilech 5739)