Parshat Vayeilech continues with the various events that happen during Moses’ last day of life. Moses is moments from death. God warns that life following his death will not be easy for the Israelites. They will eventually stray, and worship false idols- other gods-to the consequence of God distancing Godself from Israel. God gives Moses a final instruction to write down “et HaShirah hazot” – write down this song, so that it might be a teaching and serve as God’s witness to the people of Israel. What is this particular song? A few verses later Moses clarifies:
לָקֹ֗חַ אֵ֣ת סֵ֤פֶר הַתּוֹרָה֙ הַזֶּ֔ה וְשַׂמְתֶּ֣ם אֹת֔וֹ מִצַּ֛ד אֲר֥וֹן בְּרִית־יְהֹוָ֖ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶ֑ם וְהָיָה־שָׁ֥ם בְּךָ֖ לְעֵֽד׃
“Take this book of Teaching, this Torah…”
The song God instructs Moses to write down for the Israelites is The Torah. This suggests that Torah is more than a collection of our beginnings, our history, and our formation as a people, it is a Shirah- a song, or a poem. Rabbi James Jacobson-Maisels explains that song is the answer to the people’s straying afar. “Song here is meant to awaken the people of Israel, to help them reconnect to their essentially pure nature.”
This is the fundamental meaning of Teshuva. For Rav Nachman of Breslov, a lover of song, it is only through this song of faith, this assertion of meaning, hope, and possibility, that one “leaps over the abyss of God’s distance” to encounter the a sense truth and wholenessthat is both God’s and our own. Heschel teaches that the word Tefilah, and the word Shira hold the same number in the mystical genre of gematria. Song is prayer, and prayer is song. When God feels distant, and yes, this happens more than we would like, it is the song of Teshuva- a genuine prayer of both longing and of faith, hope, and that brings us back to our authentic selves.
These verses teach us that Torah is also a poem, or song. More than a book of teachings and collective history, Torah is our song of truth, our learning, and most importantly our most authentic genuine tefilah-prayer. On this Shabbat Shuvah, Shabbat of return, remember that when we feel lost and seek to return we can do so through song, through prayer, and when we have no song or prayer left to give, we can turn to words of Torah: Through it, we can transform the way we live and fully embrace our true nature–our potential to transform ourselves and the world.