My Dvar Torah this Shabbat at the table of Ilana and David Lev with guests Sophie Simons, Glenda Kantor and my wife, Batya.
The word, to go, is quite present in this week’s Torah portion.
It opens with וַיֵּלֶךְ, מֹשֶׁה; “and Moshe goes”.
And the people of Israel are told that God goes with us: הוּא הַהֹלֵךְ עִמָּךְ as is Yehoshua told the same: וַי-וָה הוּא הַהֹלֵךְ לְפָנֶיךָ, “It is He that goes before you…fear not, neither be dismayed”.
And, of course, that verb is used multiple times throughout the Torah. In Genesis Chapter 22, Abraham arises early and goes to bind his son Yitzhak: וַיָּקָם וַיֵּלֶךְ
But my attention was caught at this verse, 31:14
וַיֹּאמֶר י-וָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, הֵן קָרְבוּ יָמֶיךָ לָמוּת–קְרָא אֶת-יְהוֹשֻׁעַ וְהִתְיַצְּבוּ בְּאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד, וַאֲצַוֶּנּוּ; וַיֵּלֶךְ מֹשֶׁה וִיהוֹשֻׁעַ, וַיִּתְיַצְּבוּ בְּאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד.
And the LORD said unto Moses: ‘Behold, the days approach when you will die; call Yehoshua, and present yourselves in the tent of meeting, that I may give him a charge.’ And Moses and Yehoshua went, and presented themselves in the tent of meeting.
The verbs’ conjugation in the Hebrew go from plural וְהִתְיַצְּבוּ – ‘both of you should present yourselves’ – to singular – ‘went’ – to the plural of ‘presented themselves’.
To make it clear: the verb, in the singular, refers to two persons, and is definitely in the plural relating to the two persons as illustrated by the cantillation marks that join Moshe and Yehoshua:
וַיֵּ֤לֶךְ מֹשֶׁה֙ וִֽיהוֹשֻׁ֔עַ
Even the Aramaic Targum confirms this: וַאֲזַל מֹשֶׁה וִיהוֹשׁוּעַ.
To explain this, let’s look at two comments by Hassidic Admorim.
The first is Yaakov Yosef of Polnoye, a foremost disciple of the Baal Shem Tov, and one of the earliest champions of the Hassidic movement. In his Toldot Yaakov Yosef, published in 1780, he interprets Moshe’s ‘going’ as proceeding from one level to the next:
as if moving from one spiritual level to another.
Another Admor, Kolonymus Kalman Epstein, a pupil of Elimelech of Lizhansk, notes in his Maor VaShemesh,
that the ‘going’ is to be interpreted as at the end of his days, Moshe is preceding to shed off himself his physicality and, in the process of leaving this world, becoming more and more spiritual and at one with God.
Nevertheless, I did not yet find a specific address to the question of the verb alterations. Why use a singular form for two people?
My suggestion is that in their going to the presence of God at the Tent of Meeting, Moshe and Yehoshua become as one. Moshe is talking, we can imagine, with Yehoshua. He may be imparting wisdom, instruction, tips, insight. The pupil is to become soon the master, the leader, the conqueror of Eretz Yisrael and Moshe is trying, just prior to God finalizing this transfer of authority, both spiritual and national, to assure that Yehoshua is prepared.
In that process, the two become as one and the verb form indicates that.And this is unlike what occurred when Avraham walked together with his son Yitzhak: וַיֵּלְכוּ שְׁנֵיהֶם, יַחְדָּו. There, the two ‘went’, in the plural, even though they went ‘together’.
Moshe and Yehoshua are the true ‘together’, as one.
That becoming as one is perhaps one of Moshe’s last successes.