I once did a Bibliodrama with a group of 7th grade students at a Jewish day school. They had just finished learning a unit about Moses and the teacher brought me in to do a final activity. There’s a moment in this parasha Vayelech when God tells Moses that he’s about to die. God actually shows Moses where this will happen, that Moses will climb up a particular mountain and there be “gathered to his kin.”
Bibliodrama is a way of studying text , using theater techniques of role playing and improvisation. It allows one’s own voice to come through in a story, through a character and a situation. I cleared the chairs to the sides of the room, put one chair in the middle, and asked the kids to each be Moses, just after God told them they were going to die….right there in that chair, that place. I asked them to imagine the room was the whole Israelite encampment, and directed them to go stand where they think they’d stand in relation to the chair, after having gotten the information about their impending death, from God. When they found their spaces, I asked them why they chose those spots.
I’ll give you a moment to answer that yourself; where would you stand? Why?
Several students went right to the chair, sitting on top of it, in fact. They wanted to be closest to where they thought God was. Others went as far away as possible, trying to stay alive as long as possible. But one student, who was almost out the door, told me that “he” wanted to take as long as possible to walk to the spot where he would die, so he could be concentrating the whole time on the live he’d lived, with God, and with the people. This “Moses” saw himself in total relationship to God, the people, and his own soul, and wanted to take as long as he could to savor that.
This parasha, Vayelech, comes at a time when we are all concentrating on the lives we’ve lived only this year, not 120 years. We see ourselves in relationship to those around us, to our highest ideal (call that God?) and to our own selves. We are in the time between the old and the new year. The end and the beginning. The bridge between the two. And so we read, “Vayelech”, and Moses went out.
Moses is old, now. He’s 120, and he’s too old to “go out or come in”, i.e. too old to be active It’s interesting, though, is the word, that starts the whole portion, here at the end of the Torah, is “vayelech”, coming from the word “lech”, or go. As in the command God first gives Abraham, “Lech l’cha”, go, to a land that God will show him. Vayelech now recalls that earlier use when the story of this group of travelers was just beginning, as it’s beginning now for them in the new land.
The beginning and the end and the beginning. Abraham to Moses to the land, a people formed, a people led, a people tested and a people grown.
Each of us, individually, has been formed and led, tested and grown. At this time, between the writing and the sealing, may we each find moments to reflect and savor the walk we take towards a new year, a new beginning, a new relationship with ourselves, those around us, and God.