The Tzaddik’s Testament Strengthens and Elevates
It is written, “Moses went and spoke these words to all of Israel” (Deuteronomy 31:1). Where did Moses go and why? The Children of Israel were constantly before him. It is difficult to imagine that he went to each person individually – tens of thousands of them – especially on the eve of his death!
Besides this, why does the verse state, “I can no longer go out and come in” (v.2) instead of “come in and go out”? We begin by first coming in, as we saw previously: “Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out” (Deuteronomy 28:6).
The reason is that Moses did not physically go to each member of the Assembly of Israel, yet his words became entrenched in their hearts due to the great love that he had for them. He told them the following: I am 120 years old today. I spoke to Hashem face to face (Numbers 12:8). I conquered the angels and touched the Celestial Throne (see Shabbat 85b), yet I have arrived at my end and it is useless to fight against the day of death (Ecclesiastes 8:8). Know that it is as if I had lived 120 years today, for I have not lost any of the days of my life. For your part, continue to serve Hashem with the same devotion and enthusiasm as at present, and do not turn to idols. Know that after a man’s death, “neither silver nor gold nor precious stones nor pearls accompany him, but only Torah [study] and good deeds” (Perkei Avoth 6:9). Therefore be careful to fortify your Torah study and develop your fear of Heaven.
These words, in fact, awoke the Children of Israel and had a great impact on them. Concerning this subject, the Gemara relates the episode of Rabbi Eliezer’s disciples. They came to visit him when he was ill, saying: “Master, teach us the paths of life so that, through them, we may win the life of the future world” (Berachot 28b). From this we see that the words of a Tzaddik on the eve of his death are a type of living testament that he leaves with his disciples, who will never forget them.
Today I am leaving this world, Moses continued, to rejoice in the life of the future world. I will not be able to leave my place up there and come and preach to you, for my departure from this world is final, contrary to my departure from Heaven to bring you the Torah. Imbue yourselves with my words, therefore, and reject none of them. Take the utmost advantage of this spiritual awakening that you are now experiencing.
As we have seen, before bringing a soul down into this world, the Celestial Court makes it swear to be upright, not immoral, so that it returns to its source entirely without sin. Of course, those in charge also give it instructions on how to rid itself of the evil inclination in this world.
Yet how and when is the soul made to swear this oath? Such a thing is only conceivable in this world, for there is no evil inclination or conception of sin in the supernal worlds. Therefore what good does it do to make the soul take an oath? We could try to answer by saying that a person is made to swear while in his mother’s womb. However even there he learns Torah from an angel (Niddah 30b). The evil inclination does not exist there either, for it is outside, as it written: “Sin is crouching at the door” (Genesis 4:7).
The answer is that in reality, learning Torah in the womb constitutes an oath in and of itself, with the newborn receiving the command to continue studying in this world. The proof is that the holiday celebrating the giving of the Torah is called Shavuot (“oaths”), with every letter of the Torah being a delight, as it is written: “Taste and see that the L-RD is good” (Psalms 34:9), and the only good thing is Torah (Berachot 5a). It is therefore an oath whose existence we cannot deny.
This oath is made in the supernal worlds, the realm of souls. Even if a soul refuses to descend from these sublime worlds (where it is constantly engaged in Torah study), we force it to go down into the world of falsehood, as it is written: “Against your will you were created, against your will you were born” (Perkei Avoth 4:22). In the world into which you shall descend, you must remember that true life consists of engaging in Torah study and attaching yourself to the Holy One, blessed be He. It is as if you had sworn an oath before the G-d of Israel to continue in your spiritual fervor even once you have descended from the supernal worlds.
We may nevertheless ask ourselves if, in this world, we can remember what true life is, namely that of the supernal worlds. How can we remember that the soul is a part of godliness? It is because man is told, “Blessed shall you be when you come in.” In other words, in the supernal worlds in which you now find yourself, everything is blessed, and here you fully enjoy spiritual delights. In that lower world, you will be able to take on the aspect of “Blessed shall you be when you go out.” Therefore take care that it too becomes so blessed that you will have no desire to leave it.
We reach these levels only by engaging in Torah study and by fearing G-d. We then feel the existence of G-d in this world just as we felt it in the supernal worlds, and we will then have difficulty leaving this world, constantly yearning to elevate ourselves in Torah study and mitzvot observance. As we have seen, “One hour of repentance and good deeds in this world is better than all the life of the World to Come” (Perkei Avoth 4:17).
If Moses in our verse is explaining to the Children of Israel that he cannot go out and come in, it is because when a person dies he can no longer perform the mitzvah of “when you come in…when you go out.” This is due to the fact that “as soon as he dies he is restrained from [the practice of] Torah and good deeds, and the Holy One, blessed be He, finds nothing to praise in him” (Shabbat 30a). It is therefore appropriate for a person to be careful to rectify everything in this world so as to suitably present himself before G-d and have a more honorable place in the World to Come.
This is why, immediately upon awakening, we must express our gratitude to G-d, Who has returned our soul so that we may continue to engage in Torah study and the performance of mitzvot in this world, the World of Action. Blessings enable us to engage in Torah study, reconnect us to the Torah (which in the supernal worlds we swore to study), and allow us to continuously elevate ourselves. For example, the very fact of taking hold of a lulav and reciting a blessing on it makes us acquire it; it is part of the oath (see Shavuot 38b). Similarly when we raise a Torah scroll, it is as if we took an oath, and when we engage in Torah study we make the evil inclination swear to not disturb us (but only on condition that we have repented beforehand and are studying for the love of study itself, without ulterior motives or personal interest). We then feel ourselves living in a world that is blessed, and we can leave it free of all sin. This is the explanation for the verse that we saw above: “Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out.”
This is why the words that Moses spoke to the Children of Israel on the eve of his death fixed themselves deeply in their hearts. They awoke from their spiritual lethargy and did complete and sincere Teshuvah. It was as if they had just been born, exempt of all sin (Yebamot 22a). Moses encouraged them to put an effort into not extinguishing their fervor, in order that they might see the face of the Supreme King.