Shabbat Parshiyot Nitzavim - VaYelech, 5759 "And Not with You Alone Do I Make this Covenant" This weeks Parshiyot, especially "Nitzavim," raises extremely fundamental issues of Jewish belief. To list three, how can Moshe Rabbeinu, when he makes a covenant with Hashem on the last day of his life, bind the entire Jewish People, for all time, into that covenant? As he seems to do, when he says "And not with you alone do I make this covenant...but with whoever is here, standing with us today before Hashem, our G-d, and with whoever is not here with us today" (Devarim 29:13-14).
Secondly, this Parshah is called the Parshah of "Teshuvah," because of its strong focus on Repentance, in many of its aspects. According to the RAMBAM, one of the components of Repentance is that the individual who is "doing Teshuvah" declare that he will never return to that sin again! How is that possible? Is he a prophet, who has access to the future?
And third, this Parshah and the next make predictions about the behavior of the Jewish People long into the future - to what extent does Judaism subscribe to the principle of "Bechirah Chofshit" - "Freedom of Choice?"
At the OU, an occasional query (three times, at any rate) comes in on the meaning of the word "rebbe." The usage of the word is "teacher of Torah." Yet, it has another, related connotation as well, probably closer to its origin; namely "master," as in "eved v'rabo," a servant and his master. The connection with "teacher" is that Judaism assigns to the teacher, and demands from the teacher, significant moral authority.
Thus, the words "Rav," "Rabbi," and "Rebbe" contain the root of mastery within them, as when we say that the local Rabbi is the "morah d'asra;" that is, he has the "halachic" authority, the right to decide questions of Jewish Law, in his location. This element of "mastery" is most evident in the case of the Chassidic Rebbe, where he is given the authority, by his followers, to decide many questions which are not strictly related to Jewish Law.
To this day, we refer to Moses as "Moshe Rabbeinu," Moshe our Teacher, our Master, the quintessential Rabbi and Rebbe of the Jewish People throughout all of its generations. "Moshe Rabbeinu" entered into a Covenant with Hashem which he declared binding upon all Jews who would follow him and perhaps, in a sense, even upon those pre-Sinai "Jews" who had preceded him.
It seems reasonable that anyone who continues to refer to Moshe as "Moshe Rabbeinu" accepts the mastery of Moses and is obligated to observe that Covenant.
At a Jewish wedding, the "chatan," or groom, places an item of value, generally a ring, in the hand or on the finger of the "Kallah," or bride, and declares, "Behold, you are now consecrated unto me, according to the Law of Moses and Israel."
What does the expression "Law of Moses and Israel" mean in this context? I believe it is usually understood as referring to the Written and the Oral components of the Torah. Perhaps an additional interpretation could be offered, in line with the idea developed above, of the long-term relationship between Moshe and the Jewish People. As long as I regard Moshe as my teacher and my master, I will follow his Law, which binds my wife to me, and me to my wife, with ties of loyalty and devotion.
Of course, "his Law" is really G-ds Law, the Torah, and Moshe is "only" His trusted servant, as Hashem Himself testifies concerning Moshe, when He declares Moshe to be the Master of the Prophets, "Different is my servant, Moshe; in all of my palace, He is trustworthy." ("BaMidbar"/Numbers 12:7) And, as we say in the Morning Prayer of Shabbat, "Let Moshe rejoice with his portion, because You have called him a "faithful servant."
As for "Free Will," it is never abrogated. Moshe himself says to the Jewish People, "I call today as witnesses the Heavens and the Earth, that I have placed "life" and "death" before you; the blessing and the curse; therefore Choose Life! In order that you live, you and your children. (Devarim 30:19)
The "Baal Teshuvah," the one who dedicates himself to "return" to G-d, says nothing more and nothing less than this, "(of all the paths open to me) I choose to ask for this one from Hashem, that I might sit in the House of the L-rd all the days of my life. To gaze at the pleasantness of Hashem, and to be in His palace." (from "L'David Hashem Ori V'Yishi," - "By David; Hashem is my Light and my Salvation," "Tehilim"/Psalms 27; recited from the beginning of the month of Elul through the end of "Shmini Atzeret").
And as for the certainty of the "Baal Teshuvah" that he will succeed in his efforts, he has the promise of Hashem that he will succeed against seemingly insurmountable odds, described in the Midrash, "(You try, and if you) open up a path for me the size of the eye of a needle, I will make the opening as large as the entrance to the Temple."
Rabbi Pinchas Frankel
Rabbi Frankel is an Educational Coordinator at the OU