Sforno adopts a heroic viewpoint in his interpretation of the events described in the opening scene of Parsha Vayelech. He envisions a triumphant Moses sallying forth into the encampment, with Joshua, his anointed successor at his side. To emphasize the transition in leadership Moses completed this final parade with a public declaration: “And he gave Joshua the son of Nun a charge, and said: ‘be strong and of good courage; for thou shall bring the children of Israel into the land which I swore unto them; and I will be with thee”.
The Torah then records that after the inauguration of Joshua; “Moses wrote this law, and delivered it unto the priests the sons of Levi, that bore the Ark of the Covenant and unto all the elders of Israel”. Later we are told; “And it came to pass, when Moses had made an end of writing the words of this law in a book, until they were finished, that Moses commanded the Levites, that bore the ark of the covenant saying: ‘Take this book of the law, and put it by the side of the ark of the covenant that it may be there for a witness against thee”. For I know thy rebellion, and thy stiff neck; behold, while I am yet alive with you this day, ye have been rebellious against God; and how much more after my death? In fact, Moses’ prognostication shortly hit the mark. The Book of Judges records that after the death of Joshua and the people of his generation, that a “new generation arose after them that did not know God, nor the deeds that He performed for Israel”. The Torah left by Moses too appears to have been lost until the rule of King Josiah and only became central to the Israelite’s life under the stewardship of Nehemiah and Ezra, who too led the people out of bondage and to the promised lands.
In The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels, Thomas Cahill outlined ten of the more profound contributions Judaism has given humanity. First and foremost, Cahill showed how the Torah changed history by literally creating history. The influence of the Jews in this regard resulted in an utterly transformative way of understanding life. In Cahill’s words, “Most of our best words — new, adventure, surprise; unique individual, person, vocation; time, history, future; freedom, progress, spirit; faith, hope, justice — are the gifts of the Jews”. Judaism differed from other Ancient Civilizations. According to Cahill, in the Jews’ way of viewing life, events actually move forward; they do not merely repeat themselves. Thus history became real and was not an empty myth.
The study of the Torah not only offered a new way to look at life; it created a new way to live. From this intellectual wellspring arose a new style of leadership, where intellectual prowess was the mark of achievement. These scholars devised a framework for the Jewish life; at the center of which was the Torah. And it was this structure that allowed the Torah and its adherents to survive and flourish in often-hostile environments.