This week, our Parshat HaShavua, Nitzavim is being co-sponsored by R’ Raphael and Vivianne Willig of Ramat Beit Shemesh dedicated for health, happiness and security for all of Klal Yisrael in the coming year, and by an anonymous co-sponsor dedicated lilui nismas for Devorah bat Yechiel Michel Of Blessed Memory. To the Willig family and to our anonymous co-sponsor, many thanks for your sponsorship and for your continued kindnesses and good wishes
You can celebrate a Simcha — a birth, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a Chassuna or other Simcha event in your life, or commemorate Yahrtzeit of a loved one, or for whatever other reason by sponsoring (or as the case may be, co-sponsoring) a Parshat HaShevua.
Please forward to your relatives and friends and encourage them to sponsor a Parshat HaShevua. And please be in contact with me with any questions, or for further details.
Our Parsha 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, your G’d [Keilokeichem] …. So that you pass into the Covenant of Hashem, your G’d [Keilokecha] and into His oath which Hashem, your G’d [Keilokecha] 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 coventant and oath, but with whoever is here, standing with us today before Hashem, our G’d [Keilokeinu] 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)
Last year, this author has puzzled over the flipping in these posukim between plural and singular, i.e. “Keilokeichem” and ” Keilokecha.” In questioning the flipping between plural and singular, this author gives thanks to a former chavrusa, Rabbi Yechiel Nussbaum of Ramat Beit Shemesh for words of continuing relevance.
R’ Nussbaum tells that Rashi indicates, in commentaries on other places in Torah, that it would seem that Moshe begins by addressing the entirety of B’nei Yisrael — in the plural, and then flips to singular indicating singling out each person in Am Yisrael who is assembled as Moshe addresses the Am.
R’ Nussbaum further provides his personal thought that Moshe could be trying to convey to B’nei Yisrael collectively, as well as individually, that they are ALL one entity and have no right to split into separate factions or segments. This would be an important lesson seemingly not understood or unlearned by current and successive Israel governances, as well as the multi-fractionalized segments of Jews, both in Israel and in Chutz L’Aretz.
We have asked previously, Weren’t the B’nei 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 )
Rabbi Goldin asks questions, in his sefer, “Unlocking the Torah Text” on Sefer Devarim (pages 307-308):
Halachic law remains the primary vantage point from which the Rabbis will view any contract or agreement.
By what legal right does the generation of the wilderness obligate all Jews of all time to a contract that only they are present to hear and accept?
Even if the Nitzavim covenant can be legally validated, why is this agreement necessary? An eternal covenant had already been contracted between Hashem and the nation during the Revelation at Sinai. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Shemot, Perek 24, posukim 6-9 with a note: The Midrash maintains that two covenants were contracted at Sinai, one before and one after the sin of the Golden Calf — citing Midrash Tanchuma Nitzavim 3) Why must this agreement now be renewed? Any eternal covenant that requires renewal in the next generation can hardly be considered eternal.
This year, as this author contemplates Sefer Devarim, Perek 29, posukm 9-15, as well as Rabbi Goldin’s questions regarding the obligation of this covenant on all Jews for all time, there was this Op-Ed of early August of this year in Israel National News: Jews Calling for the Destruction of Israel at CUNY. The sub-headline is even more abominable: “University-educated Jews encouraging terror against fellow Jews in Israel is not only immoral but grotesque.”
In July, the group, which unambiguously calls itself Not In Our Name: Anti-Zionist Jewish Coalition at CUNY, issued a statement which committed the signers of their document to Palestinian Arab solidarity, support for the BDS campaign, and a denunciation of Israel and Jewish self-determination, including their breathtakingly audacious demand that their fellow students “unlearn Zionism.”
This type of language coming from the traditional campus enemies of the Jewish state is unsurprising; coming from students and faculty who identify as Jews, however, is troubling, especially since their statement is riddled with the factually inaccurate, Marxist language of apartheid, oppression, colonialism, and the purported “genocide” of Palestinian Arabs being committed by Israel. But central to this odious exercise in virtue signaling was the request to CUNY’s Jewish community to “Create networks and programs within the CUNY Jewish population to question, critique, and unlearn Zionism so they may form their own Jewish identity [emphasis added].”
By no means is CUNY alone in it’s anti-Jew, anti-Israel agenda to which many secular Jews have fallen prey due to their loss of connection to Yiddishkiet over generations.
The Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash introduction to Parshat Nitzavim (page 1086) states regarding the question of this “new covenant”:
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.
Rabbi Goldin, in his sefer, “Unlocking the Torah Text” on Sefer Devarim (pages 308-312) now cites The Abravanel, The Malbim and Rabbi Joseph Soloveichik who suggest approaches regarding this covenant which Moshe pronounces in our Parshat Nitzavim:
The Abravanel…. explains…. as the nation stands in the plains of Moav poised to enter their land… Hashem is about to grant them the Land of Israel, not as a gift, but as a loan, on trust that they will continue to obey Hashem’s will and pay homage to NO other gods. (Rabbi Goldin citingThe Abravanel on Parshat Shemot, Perek 24, posuk 7)
…In his third approach [of three approaches], the Malbim… totally redefines the nature of the covenant between Hashem and the B’nei Yisrael. An all-powerful Hashem, the Creator and Sustainer of all, the Malbim argues, does not need “agreement” or “acceptance” from His subjects when He obligates them to a particular task. The B’nei Yisrael would have been required to observe Hashem’s law whether they “accepted” the covenant or not. The purpose of the covenant was instead to involve them, to enable them to view their newfound responsibilities as a product of their voluntary choice. Such a perception would serve to root these obligations more firmly in their hearts and in the hearts of their children across the generations. The obligations exist with or without their agreement. The B’nei Yisrael of Moshe’s generation are instead teaching themselves and their children to view Hashem’s law as a gift they would have chosen to accept, even had they not been obligated to do so. (Rabbi Goldin citing The Malbim on Sefer Devarim, Perek 29, posuk 14)
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. (Rabbi 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)
Once seeing Rav Soloveichik’s understanding of the Nitzavim covenant, that it “represents a direct agreement between Hashem and each Jew, individually across the face of time,” this author reflects on his discussion with Rabbi Nussbaum. One can understand Moshe Rabbeinu’s flipping between plural and singular, i.e. “Keilokeichem” and ” Keilokecha,” in these posukim (Sefer Devarim, Perek 29, posukim 9 – 15) as expressing a covenant with all Jews for all time.
Referring back to the Malbim’s third approach regarding this “new covenant”: That “the purpose of the covenant was instead to involve them, to enable them to view their newfound responsibilities as a product of their voluntary choice. Such a perception would serve to root these obligations more firmly in their hearts and in the hearts of their children across the generations.” But massive numbers of Jews in the United States, and through the world have, through unaffiliation, lack of knowledge of their Judaism, fallen prey to inter-marriage, liberalism (American definition) — progressivism, identifying as Jews in name and Western-gentilesse-acculturation only. Thus, we are witness to Jewish self-hatred, as exemplified by the Jewish students and faculty at CUNY.
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, as well as today’s political governmental leaders, and for Rabbanim to internalize and ponder long and hard during Rosh Hashana and Asseret Yomei Teshuva (Ten Days of Repentance before Yom Kippur).
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, that the thrice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes and the oft-destroyed Yeshiva buildings in Homesh be rebuilt, all at total government expense; due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. Baruch Hashem that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard is now in his second year at home in Eretz Yisrael. May Esther Yocheved bat Yechiel Avraham have an aliyah in Shemayim and may her memory continue to lift Jonathan to at least 120 years. May 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 eight 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 quickly see all of the REAL Jews from the Ukraine, the REAL Jews via matrilineal descent, make Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael. And may we soon and finally see the total end to the Communist Chinese corona virus pandemic and all like viruses. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nei 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 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.