Vayelech: The Collector

Athour’s Note: I have so enjoyed writing my weekly Torah commentary.  Thank you so much for being on this journey with me! If you would like to read my Rosh Hashanah Sermon it’s called,   Into The New, and it’s about the future of Judaism. Have a happy and sweet New Year! L’shanah Tovah! . 

The Torah portion Vayelech is an introduction to the last speech of Moses.  Moses is now in the last hours of his life. The text relates that it is at this point that Moses completes his writing of the Torah. (Deut.31:24)  He hands it to Joshua and reads it to the people. 

The commentator Seforno relates that  the  word “vayelech” (Deut. 31:1) is parallel to the verse that announces Moses’s birth. “Now there went (Heb. vayelech) a man from the house of Levi.” (Exodus 2:1) Both in his coming into this world and his going out, the Torah uses the same word, vayelech, in order to teach that Moses dedicated his life to the most precious thing in the world – the covenant. (Sfrorno ad locum )  These last moments of the life of Moses inspired me to write the following story.  I hope you enjoy!

Once there was a wealthy man who felt deep in his soul the need to collect the most valuable treasures from around the world.  He had the finest tapestries and paintings.  He sought for years the rarest of diamonds. He had the most exquisite collections of antiquities. He displayed them all in his mansion at the edge of town.  

Once, he heard that a traveling art dealer was coming through his province and that this art dealer was carrying the most precious of treasures.  “Priceless. “Invaluable.” “Infinitely unique.”  All the words used to describe the art dealer’s treasure. The Collector was enamored. He was enthralled. He had to meet this art dealer and purchase this very special treasure. 

The Collector sent out messages far and wide that if anyone were to see the art dealer, send him to his mansion.  A few days later a letter arrived saying that the art dealer had been seen and that he would in fact accept the Collector’s invitation. The Collector was ecstatic.  He sent his servants down to the market to purchase the finest steak and wine.  He had other servants clean the house and set the table with the nicest linens and silver, all in preparation for the art dealer’s arrival. 

That night, up to the house came a horse-drawn cart.  Hanging it from it were lanterns and crystals. It was packed high with things under tarps and canopies. In the coachman’s chair a very old man peered up at the mansion over the collar of his overcoat.  He came down from the cart and ascended the stairs.  

The doors of the mansion burst open and with open arms the Collector cheered warm words of welcome.  “He is here! He is here!”  ‘Baruch Haba” “Blessed are you in your coming, my friend.”

The art dealer smiled as he came into the mansion and thanked the Collector for his hospitality.  He removed his coat and the Collector could see that this very old man wore fine clothes, although worn around the edges from traveling.  He walked slowly but with purpose as if the years took no toll. The art dealer’s eyes flashed as he smiled, lit up with an ethereal wisdom. 

The Collector brought out wine and they drank.  They supped together on the finest of food, and all the while the Collector could barely hide his anticipation.  As soon as the food plates were cleared, the Collector dabbed his mouth with the napkin and said, “So, my fine friend.  Now that we have eaten our fill and drank fine wine to lighten the mood, might I ask what you have brought to show me?”

The art dealer smiled with lightning in his eyes.  “I have many fine things. I have jade sculpture from the East, and fine blankets from the West. My dear Collector, what is it that you seek?”  

“I wish to see only the most valuable of your treasures. Nothing else will do. Please show it to me so that I may collect it.”

“I’m sorry to disappoint you,” said the art dealer. “My most valuable treasures are not for sale to just anyone. Only those worthy may collect them.”

Angered, the Collector snarled, “Don’t you know who I am?”  “I am the most successful businessman in town! I give to charity! I already have some of the rarest treasures in the world!  I pay top dollar for them!”

The art dealer’s eyes flashed again. “I see.” He said. “I have no doubt that you are successful in business and that you are a good man.”  He paused. “But, I do not believe I can sell you this treasure.”

Enraged, the Collector yelled, “I brought you into my house, I fed you the finest meat and wine, and when I ask for you to sell me something precious that you are known to have you refuse me?!  At the very least I deserve to know what this treasure is.  I demand it!” 

The art dealer rose from his seat.  ‘Very well. I will show you, but you may not buy them.”  He walked slowly to the front room and retrieved a small velvet bag from his overcoat.  Returning to the table he sat down, slowly exhaling as he did so. 

The Collector moved closer.  Finally, he would be able to see this most hidden and precious treasure! The art dealer reached into his bag slowly.  The Collector leaned in closer to see.  

The art dealer removed a perfect, ordinary stone and placed it on the table. 

The Collector looked on quizzically.  Maybe this is the base or stand for what is going to come out next.  Could it be a jewel? An ancient talisman? 

The art dealer reached into his velvet bag again and this time removed another perfectly ordinary stone and placed it next to the first.  

Now the Collector was getting anxious.  Two stones similar in appearance but certainly not in value.  Holding back his anger, he asked, “Friend, what might have you inside that bag of yours?” – in the hope that what came next was indeed the treasure. 

The art dealer said through his eyes, “You shall see, friend.”  And he removed from the velvet bag a third perfectly ordinary stone and placed it on the table next to the others. 

“What?!” raged the Collector.  “What kind of trickery is this?!”  I asked to see your famed treasure and all you show me is three ordinary rocks!” 

“These are no ordinary rocks,” the old man said.  “This first stone I took from under the tree where I proposed to my wife. This second stone I took from the plot of land the day we started building our house. This last stone, my most precious, is the one that I will bring next month to her grave to place it upon her headstone so she might know that I still love her even though she is gone.”

“You, my friend, are the Collector, but you collect the wrong things. You fill your house with gold and silver, but there is no love here.  You fill your life with linen and silk, but where is the laughter, the warmth of family, the kindness of friends? I indeed sell many precious things, but these you may not have for they are unique.  They are priceless.  They are invaluable. They are mine.”

The art dealer continued. “Instead, find your own stones. Make a life that matters and have meaning. Collect wisdom, not wares.  Collect truth and not things.  Give life where no life was before.”

With that he placed the stones back in the velvet bag and took his leave of the Collector. 

As we come to the end of the Torah, Moses is like the art dealer who reminds us one more time that the most precious thing in the world is the life you make with others.  To heal. To learn. To grow. To love.

Shabbat Shalom

May you be written into the Book of Life.

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