D’var Torah: I was there when Moses wrote it down


William Motchan

Central Reform Congregation. Photo: Bill Motchan

Rabbi James Stone Goodman 

Maqam Bayat. Every Shabbat is associated with a musical figure, a maqam, Arabic cognate of maqom signifying “place.”

This is the last day of my life, Moshe Rabbeinu said, and he went and spoke these words to all Israel:

“I’m not going out, and I’m not coming in anymore, for the Holy One told me I will not be passing over the Jordan and entering the Land. Joshua will be the one.”

There was sniffling and coughing all around I wanted to help in some way. But how? We were all standing there [nitzavim], and I didn’t want to embarrass myself. Besides, what to say?


Moshe Rabbeinu spoke, he didn’t have much emotion in his voice, and we all knew the decree was done anyway.

Then he spoke to Joshua, his successor.

He told him a couple of things, but what I remember most is the phrase chazak v’ematz, be strong and courageous. I loved it when Moshe Rabbeinu talked about courage. He was always one of the few who did.

He said do not be afraid, that G*d would accompany us, that G*d w

ould not have brought us this far to let us go on alone. That was good, too.

Then Moshe Rabbeinu did something. Wow. He sat down and inscribed the Torah. He wrote the entire document so we would have something for sure to tell the future.

He wrote it down for us — the whole thing.

When Moshe Rabbeinu was done writing, G*d spoke to him.

“Your days are drawing near to die,” G*d said. “Go get Joshua and stand in the Tent of Meeting so I can give Joshua final instructions.”

That’s what they did. Moshe Rabbeinu and Joshua stood in the tent of meeting, and G*d appeared in a pillar of cloud, obscured, so we didn’t catch everything.

What we heard was difficult. It was about the future and what we would forget and how someone would have to remind us now and again what we are all about.

When Moshe Rabbeinu finished inscribing the Torah, he made up a song. That song he taught us that day, it was a song, or a poem, and some of it was heard and is known, and some of it remains secret. The secret song was in the maqam bayat, similar to a natural minor, but it has a tasty half-flat.

There is a known song and a secret song, a known poem and a secret poem.

One is flesh and form, the other is bone and spirit. I heard both.

Rabbi James Stone Goodman serves Central Reform Congregation and is a past president of the St. Louis Rabbinical and Cantorial Association, which coordinates the d’var Torah for the Jewish Light.