2 Minutes of Torah Study — Vayeilech

P’tirat Moshe, a fascinating midrash, reconciles a textual discrepancy regarding the death of Moses. While this week’s Torah portion makes Moses sound old: “I am now one hundred and twenty years old and can no longer be active;” in just two week’s time we read “his eyes were undimmed and his vigor unabated.” Which is it? Was he ready for his leadership to end or not?

In the words of Midrash:

“The Holy One said to Gabriel: “Go forth and bring the soul of Moses.” Gabriel replied: “He who is equal in important to sixty myriads—how can I bear to watch him dying?” 

Then the Holy One said to Michael: “Go and bring the soul of Moses.” Michael replied: “I was his teacher, and he my pupil. How can I bear to watch him dying?”

Then the Holy One said to Samael: “Go and fetch the soul of Moses.” Now, the angel Samael, chief of all satanic spirits, had long been awaiting the soul of Moses. He immediately clothed himself with anger, girded on his sword, wrapped himself in ruthlessness, and went forth to encounter Moses. Samael found him seated and writing the Ineffable Name in a scroll. The radiance of his appearance was like the radiance of the sun’s visage; indeed, Moses looked like an angel of the Lord of hosts. 

Samael was so frightened and went back and reported to the Almighty. The Holy One commanded once more: Go, bring the soul of Moses. Samael straightaway drew his sword from its sheath and stood over Moses. At that Moses became angry at him, took the rod upon which God’s Ineffable Name was graven, and struck Samael with all his might, until Samael fled from him. With God’s Ineffable Name in his hand, Moses pursued Samael until he overtook him, plucked a radiant beam from between his own eyes, and blinded the eyes of Samael.” 

Though Moses was far from ready to die, at least according to Midrash, the time had come for him to pass on the mantle of leadership. He charged his successor Joshua with the words Chazak V’ematz, be strong and courageous, before God Godself came to collect his soul.