In the beginning of the Torah portion Vayeilech, Moshe tells the Jewish people that it is time to hand over the reigns of leadership to Yehoshua, for "Today I am 120 years old and I can no longer go out and come."1
Rashi2 explains that this does not refer to any physical weakness, since the Torah testifies that at the time of his demise "his eyes had not dimmed and his natural powers had not left him."3 Rather, Moshe could no longer "'go out and come' in words of Torah - the traditions and wellsprings of wisdom became closed to him."
Why does Rashi not use the more common expression "words of Torah became closed to him," instead of the rather unusual phrase "the traditions and wellsprings of wisdom became closed to him"?
By using the terminology that he does, Rashi forestalls a simple but vexing question. How can it be that Moshe "could no longer go out and come in words of Torah" when he goes on to relate the three portions of Vayeilech, Ha'azinu and V'Zos HaBerachah, sections replete with exhortations, Torah laws, etc.?
Moreover, every word of the Written Torah was transmitted by G-d to Moshe together with its commentary4 in the Oral Torah,5 for only then does the meaning of the Written Torah become clear.
Since these three Torah portions were transmitted by Moshe to the Jewish people, he surely told them everything necessary for them to understand it, i.e., the Oral Torah. How can it be that he "could no longer go out and come in words of Torah"?
Rashi therefore states that "the traditions and wellsprings of wisdom became closed to him," for they were not included in the words of these three final portions that Moshe transmitted to the Jews.
"Traditions"6 refer to those aspects of Torah that are not even hinted at in the Written Torah,7 similar to "Laws to Moshe from Sinai" that are often not even hinted at in the Written Torah.8
"Wellsprings of wisdom" do not refer to the actual laws of the Oral Torah but to the pilpul of Torah, the dialectics of Torah, which like a wellspring, flow without end. Understandably, Moshe transmitted the three final portions of Torah, including its oral interpretations, without its endless pilpul.
We thus understand that although "the traditions and wellsprings of wisdom became closed to him," Moshe was still able to transmit the final three Torah portions with their oral commentary. For the "traditions" were not bound up with these three portions at all, while the "wellsprings" need not have been transmitted to the Jews in order for them to know these three portions and their oral commentary.
We must, however, understand the following: the fact that "the traditions and wellsprings of wisdom became closed to him" explains why Moshe could no longer "go out and come," i.e., teach Torah to the Jewish people. With regard to "traditions," this is entirely understandable. Since Jews must know the "traditions" and he could no longer teach them, he could no longer "go out and come."
"Wellsprings," however, need not be transmitted. Why does it serve as a reason for his cessation of leadership?
The very fact that a portion of Torah became closed to Moshe, although this did not affect his transmission of it to the Jewish people, indicated to him that the time of his leadership had ended, and it was time to pass the mantle to Yehoshua.
Especially so, since the sterling quality of Moshe was the attribute of truth,9 which is not subject to change. When Moshe beheld that a change had occurred in him, he knew that a time for change had arrived.
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