This week, our Parshat HaShevua for Twin Parshiyot Nitzavim-Vayeilech are being sponsored by Moshe and Marla Braun of Ramat Beit Shemesh and dedicated L’ilui Nishmas for Marla’s Father Nachman ben Yosef. To the Braun family, many thanks for your sponsorship and for your continued kindnesses.
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Our Parshat Nitzavim opens with Moshe Rabbeinu addressing the B’nei Yisrael on the final day of his life:
“Atem Nitzavim HaYom… You are standing today, all of you, before Hashem, Keilokim [your G’d]…. So that you pass into the Covenant of Hashem, Keilokim and into His oath which Hashem Keilokim contracts with you today, in order to establish you today as a people to Him and that He be to you a G’d, as He spoke to you and as He swore to your fathers, to Avraham, to Yitzchak and to Yaakov. And not with you alone do I contract this covenant and oath, but with whoever is here, standing with us today before Hashem Keilokim and with whoever is not here with us today.” (as rendered to English by Rabbi Shmuel Goldin in his sefer “Unlocking The Torah Text,” page 307, Sefer Devarim, Perek 29, posukm 9-15)
Previously, we asked, Weren’t the B’nai Yisrael initiated into the Covenant back at Matan Torah when they gave this response?:
“Everything that Hashem has spoken, we will do… (Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash, Sefer Sh’mos. Perek 19, posuk 8 )
The Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash introduction to Parshat Nitzavim (page 1086) states on this question:
What is new about this Covenant was the concept of responsibility for one and another, under which every Jew is obligated to help others observe the Torah and to restrain them from violating it. This is why Moshe [as the Stone Chumash cites from Or HaChaim]… said that Hashem would not hold them [presumably the collective — the Kehal] responsible for sins that had been done secretly, but that they would be liable for transgressions committed openly. This…. explains why one may not be apathetic to the shortcomings of others and why public desecrations of the Torah are the concern of every Jew of good conscience.
Now, the focus of our vort on Parshat Nitzavim is on posukim 14-15 about which Rabbi Goldin writes in his sefer, “Unlocking the Torah Text” on Sefer Devarim (page 307); “obligate[s] the Jews of all time to a contract that only they [the generation of Bamidbar] are present to hear and accept” :
“And not with you alone do I contract this covenant and oath, but with whoever is here, standing with us today before Hashem Keilokim and with whoever is not here with us today.” (as rendered to English by Rabbi Shmuel Goldin in his sefer “Unlocking The Torah Text,” page 307, Sefer Devarim, Perek 29, posukm 14-15)
Rabbi Goldin, in his sefer, “Unlocking the Torah Text” on Sefer Devarim (pages 308-312) cites several commentators and a number of approaches regarding this covenant which Moshe pronounces in our Parshat Nitzavim, but this vort will focus on Rav Goldin’s citings from Rabbi Joseph Soloveichik::
Rabbi Joseph Soloveichik draws a powerful distinction between the two agreements [the Sinaitic covenant and the Nitzavim covenant.
The covenant at Sinai is a collective agreement representing the “sanctity of the patriarchs.” Through this agreement each member of the B’nei Yisrael, whether by birth or by choice, becomes included in an inherited shared sanctity passed down from generation to generation. (Rav Goldin citing Rav Joseph Soloveichik on Talmud Bavli Sanhedrin 44a, based on a passage in Yehoshua, Perek 7, posuk 11)
The Nitzavim covenant, the Rav maintains, is vastly different. This covenant represents a direct agreement between Hashem and each Jew, individually across the face of time. The terms of the agreement are personal and reciprocal, as each Jew is Divinely invested with individual sanctity in return for his commitment to observe the Mitzvot. Moshe thus states to the nation, concerning the Nitzavim covenant alone, that the agreement is contracted directly, not only with those present, but also with whoever is not here with us today.” When a Jew sins, in any generation, the Rav continues, this personal covenant is damaged and must be repaired.
The Sinaitic covenant and the covenant enacted in the plains of Moav, the Rav argues, are both essential components in the ongoing relationship between Hashem and His people. Each Jew… is… a signatory to a personal agreement with Hashem, dramatically contracted in the plains of Moav on the last day of Moshe’s life. This personal agreement with the Divine carries clear responsibilities and must be perpetually maintained. (Rav Goldin citing Peli, “On Repentance,” 214-20)
This vort will now excerpt from Rabbi Goldin’s Parsha Summary of Parshat Vayeilech (page 305):
The scene changes with the opening of Parshat Vayeilech, as Moshe walks from Shevet [tribe] to Shevet in order to inform the people that he has reached the end of his life and to bid them farewell. He encourages the nation with the assurance that Hashem will successfully bring them into the Land Under Yehoshua’s leadership and publically encourages Yehoshua to be strong and courageous in his new role.
After transmitting a written record of the Torah to the Kohanim, Moshe commands the nation concerning the Mitzvah of Hakhel, the public reading from the Torah once every seven years on the festival of Succot.
Rabbi Goldin provides discussion of what comes next in Parshat Vayeilech (ibid, pages 328-329) beginning with a rendering to English of Perek 31, posukim 14-19 and commentary:
Moshe is about to die; the fulfillment of… [his] dreams will now rest with the nation. Hashem summons him for one final message… [which] is nothing less than devastating:
“Behold, you will lie with your fathers, and this nation will rise and sin after the foreign gods of the land into whose midst they will come; and they will forsake Me and annul the covenant that I have established with them.”
“And My anger will be kindled against them on that day and I will forsake them, and I will hide my face from them and they will be as prey, and many evils and troubles will come upon them. And they will say on that day: ‘Is it not because my G’d is not in my midst that these evils have come upon me?'”
“And I will certainly hide My face on that day, on account of all of the evil that they will have done, in that they turned to other gods.”
“And it will be, when many evils and distresses come upon them, then this song [Hashem referring to Ha’azinu] shall testify before them as a witness, for it shall not be forgotten from the mouth of their offspring…”
[If this author understands R’ Goldin correctly, there are those who may attribute] Ideas that are related to our text [to] an apparent coincidence of the calendar. The parshiot of Nitzavim, Vayeilech and Ha’azinu are read on the Shabbatot surrounding the sanctified days of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Succot. As a result of this convergence, Moshe’s last days serve as a backdrop to the holiest period of our calendar….. As is often the case in the experience of Jews, what seems coincidental is not. A connection can be drawn between the concepts critical to this holiday period and… Moshe’s final journey.
And so, although statues and other forms of physical avodah zora (idol worship) are virtually non-existent in our times, we can tangibly connect our Parshat Vayeilech with the Asseret Y’mei Teshuvah — a period of prayer, repentance for our aveirot [sins], and longing for forgiveness, both on personal and national levels.
Rav Goldin continues his commentary (ibid, pages 331-332):
Our annual struggle on the Yamim Noraim [is] to control the uncertainty of our lives through prayer and repentance….
No matter how hard we pray…, some of our prayers will be answered to our liking and others will not. No matter how hard we work on ourselves over [the period of] Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we will succeed in some of our newfound resolutions and we will fail in others.
One of the most critical lessons of the entire Yamim Noraim experience is that failure refines. Our greatest growth occurs when we “pick ourselves up” after a fall, when, in the face of challenge, we not only persevere but triumph. For this reason, Talmud informs us that with complete teshuvah, repentance and return, an individual’s past transgressions are transformed into Mitzvot. An individual who strives, fails, and then builds from that failure stands on a higher spiritual plane than an individual who never fails at all.
Rabbi Goldin concludes (ibid, pages 333):
Moshe… reassures the nation before his passing: Hashem will strike the appropriate balance in His relationship with you. He will never abandon you, but neither will He weaken you. He will give you the space you need to develop on your own, to succeed or fail through your own efforts. He will let you become the people you need to become.
It seems to this author that this discussion of the “Covenant of Hashem” of our Parshat Nitzavim, and its subsequent reiterations, renewals and reminders, throughout Tanach, are crucial and bear remembrance by the Kehal — the Am, especially at this time in this period of the Communist Chinese corona virus pandemic which has swept the world and affected Am Yisrael greatly, as well as today’s political governmental leaders who should have the interests of our people first and foremost — NOT their own political self-interest and power-lust, and for Rabbanim to internalize and ponder long and hard during Rosh Hashana and Asseret Yomei Teshuva (Ten Days of Repentence before Yom Kippur).
We yearn for the time of the building of the Third and Permanent Beit HaMikdash, Torah-true governance with the Moshiach convening Hakhel, speedily in our days.
Asserting and taking Mutual and unified responsibility, as The Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash introduction to Parshat Nitzavim indicates — it may just be key to The Ge’ula!
May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them and that the thrice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. May our dear brother Jonathan Pollard be liberated and truly free, as Naama Issachar is now free and home — which can only occur when Jonathan is home in Israel and carrying for his ill wife Esther Yocheved bat Rayzl Bracha, and that the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem — as with the return in April, 2019, via Russia, of the remains of Zachariah Baumel, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of five and a half years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!
Good Shabbos! May You, All of My Brothers and Sisters, be Inscribed and Sealed this Yom Noraim for another Year of Life… Now and always!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.