Numbers in [square brackets] are the mitzva-count of the Sefer HaChinuch
Kohen - First Aliya - 3+3+14 p'sukim - 29:11-28
[SDT] Rav Aharon of Karlin pointed out that ATEM is made of the letters of the word EMET, truth. This, he said, is the only was to achieve LIFNEI HASHEM, to stand before G-d.
[SDT] The Alshich points out that the Torah describes the People as "all of you, before G-d", and then proceeds to delineate different types of Jews. Before G-d, we ARE all the same. Whatever differences might exist pale into insignificance in comparison with the fact that we are all G-d's creations. Differences become important from our perspective. We view some people as more valuable than others. But we really have no way to know how G-d views us. In His eyes we are all standing erect this day...
And there is more. The second three-pasuk set proclaim that it is not just the entire People of Israel who were alive at the time, who are making this covenant with G-d, it is also our ancestors to whom G-d made His special promises, and to the generations of Jews in the past AND the future, whose spirit (souls) were present at this covenant.
Perhaps this is the meaning of the prophecy to Avraham Avinu that his descendants will be as countless as the stars of the heavens. Take the millions of Jews alive today, add the millions who have preceded us, add the - how many more? - future generations, and we can truly be called "without number".
As he has done several times before, Moshe Rabeinu presents both sides of the covenant with G-d before the People: You have been in Egypt and you are aware of their abominable practices and those of the other nations which you have encountered. Perhaps there is a rebellious individual among you who will turn from G-d and embrace another faith.
[SDT] The phrase describing what we would today refer to as a "rotten apple" is "Shoresh Poreh Rosh V'laana", literally a poisonous root of gall and wormwood. The initial letters of this phrase rearrange to spell Shofar, the antidote to this negative facet of Jewish life. The Shofar must awaken the one who stray and start him on the road of T'shuva.
A person who turns to another religion will be severely punished, even if he thinks otherwise. These p'sukim are a miniature version of the Tochacha from last week's reading.
The portion concludes with the statement that there are mysteries of this world that are G-d's and there are revealed truths that belong to us and our children. Our challenge is to remain faithful to the Torah.
If someone is trying to understand one of life's difficult questions - How could the Holocaust happen? Why does a baby die? Why do bad things happen to good people? - there must first be a recognition that we might not be able to ever “find answers”. We cannot know everything. We can be smart, perceptive, insightful, and we will be able to figure out many things. But we might not. We do not always understand G-d. There are things that belong to the category of NISTAROT, G-d’s hidden mysteries. This won't (shouldn’t) deter us from searching for answers. But it can comfort us if we are disappointed in the results of our searches.
In the realm of science and nature, we have another application of this pasuk. Look at what scientists know, and what they do not know. Go back ten or twenty years, fifty or a hundred years, and ask the same questions. Imagine what the answers to these questions might be ten, twenty or fifty years into the future. That which we know and understand in this world, belongs to the NIGLOT, that which is revealed to us. There is a constant change in the dynamics of this pasuk from this perspective. Yesterday's NISTAROT are today's revelations. That which is hidden from us today, might be revealed sometime down the line. (And what we think of as “obvious” today, might become mysteries tomorrow.) As mysteries of this world become revealed "to us and our children", we are able to put this new knowledge to work for the betterment of mankind.
Or, we can relate this pasuk to the coming of Mashiach. The fixed time for the Mashiach to come is known only to G-d. We can bring the Mashiach any day, today, if we do T'shuva and keep faithful to the Torah. "HaNistarot (the fixed time) is G-d's; but the Niglot (the revealed method of hastening the Mashiach) is ours and our children's forever...
The wayward Jew turning back towards HaShem and the Torah, and the exiled Jew to a distant land coming back to Israel are presented simultaneously. This represents the dual nature of T'shuva. What a wonderful opportunity beckons each Jew - and the Jewish People as a whole - in being given a second chance to live a true Torah life.
To explain why Rambam does not count T'shuva among the 613, one can say that the Rambam counts only specific, distinct mitzvot. A command which is all-inclusive, such as "Keep My mitzvot", "Be holy", "Be straightforward with G-d", is not numbered on its own, because it is really part of all (or many) other mitzvot. We can view T'shuva in a similar light. Part of the mitzva to Recite the Sh'ma is that if one does not, or does it without kavana, then he must repent his ways and say the Shma correctly. Part of the prohibition of eating non-kosher is that if one does, then he must repent. More than T'shuva being its own mitzva, perhaps Rambam sees it as an add-on mitzva to all the others. This, Rambam would not NUMBER among the 613, although it is still an important mitzva. Perhaps we can call it a SUPER-MITZA.
There’s another way we can look at things here. T’shuva is a gift from G-d. A Golden Opportunity. He doesn’t HAVE to command it. He just has to let it be possible. And we should jump at the opportunity. The Torah doesn’t have to tell us to repent, just how to do it. (That’s what Hilchot T’shuva does. But the basic idea - no need to command. If we will sin, we will repent. Anything less is totally dumb on our part.
On the other hand, there is one aspect of T'shuva that IS
counted by Rambam as a mitzva among the 613 - Vidui, verbal confession. This
is a specific aspect of T'shuva that DOES "qualify" for the Rambam's count.
Shlishi - Third Aliya - 4+4 p'sukim - 30:7-14
But how can we hope to keep our part of the agreement? Is not the Torah so exalted and remote that a mere mortal has no chance of attaining spiritual heights? The answer is eloquently stated in the famous words of the Torah - For this mitzva is not in the heavens nor is it across the ocean. It is so very close and attainable that every Jew can feel confident in taking up its challenges. It is up to us to make the commitment, feel it in our hearts, and ACT upon it.
What is the Torah referring to when it says that THIS MITZVA is not remote...? On the one hand, the mitzva referred to might be T'shuva, since that was the previously discussed topic. On the other hand, "the mitzva" can represent the whole body of Torah and mitzvot. Not only is T'shuva accessible, but all of Torah is. Or both.
The last three words of the portion are very instructive. B'FICHA, in your mouth, U'VILVAV'CHA, and in your heart, LA'ASOTO, to do it. Thoughts, words, deeds. T'shuva, repentance, certainly contains all three elements. One must act repentant, by stopping to do the particular sin and by doing the mitzva. He must sincerely regret having done wrong and accept the proper path for his future. This is in the realm of MACHSHAVA, thought. And Verbal confession to G-d is an essential ingredient of the T'shuva process.
So too, one can see that many mitzvot - the whole Torah, really, is kept with words, thoughts, and deeds. This isn't really an either-or situation. The portion can apply both to the general and the specific.
LO BASHAMAYIM... Chidushei HaRim: If someone is willing to
go even to the heavens or across the ocean to aquire Torah, then it is truly
close to him.
R'VI'I - Fourth Aliya - 6+3+3 p'sukim - 30:15-31:6
The concept of Free Will is beautifully expressed in the concluding portion of Nitzavim. It marks the difference between human beings and all other creations. The sun and the moon "fulfill" G-d's commands without conscious decisions. A bee doesn't think things out and decide to pollinate a flower.
Nor does a lion attacking a weak zebra evaluate the morality of his act. Only humans have the choice to do good or evil. G-d recommends and pleads with us to choose Life and Good, but He leaves the choice to us. That is why we are accountable for our actions; and that is why we stand before G-d in judgment on Rosh HaShana - animals do not. The choice is offered, but not only does G-d "command" us to choose Life, He warns us again of the devastating results of the wrong choice. Heavens and Earth are called upon to witness this most significant fact of human existence. It is the Land of Israel that is the "prize" for choosing wisely, as G-d had promised Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. G-d reconfirms His covenant and promises to us.
Sin will most often be committed by the minority of individuals, not the whole community. We are privileged to know much, but WE DO NOT KNOW EVERYTHING. And we can draw comfort from that fact. We don't HAVE to know the reason for everything. Even when punished and exiled, we will turn back to G-d and He will take us back from our dispersion. We have the golden opportunity to repent our ways and return to G-d. And He will help us in that process. T'shuva is not only possible, it is very accessible to us, well within our abilities.
We have Free Will. We can be whatever kind of people we choose to be. We have His "recommendation" and encouragement to choose Life over Death, Good over Evil. Our proper choices will earn us long life and a firm hold on the Land that He promised our ancestors.
Let us heed the warnings of Nitzavim, let us be inspired by the beautiful challenges of Nitzavim, let us be uplifted by the lofty messages of Nitzavim, and let us have a "successful" Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, and a happy & healthy year of peace & prosperity.
Moshe Rabeinu concludes his words to the People and tells them that at his age of 120 years, he is no longer able to lead them. And that G-d has told Moshe that he will not be crossing the Jordan River, so his journey is truly over. He tells them that G-d will be with them, destroy the nations that they will encounter in Eretz israel, and that Yehoshua will be the one to lead them. Moshe reminds the People of the victories they have had, and tells them to be strong and courageous. G-d won't abandon them.
[SDT] "For G-d, your G-d, He will go before you..." Why YOUR G-d? Why not Elokeinu - OUR G-d? One commentator suggests that this is a poignant reminder that Moshe Rabeinu will not be entering the Land of Israel, as will all the people to whom he is speaking. The Talmud states that he who dwells outside of Israel, is like one who has no G-d. Moshe, alas, will remain in Chutz LaAretz.
When Moshe finished writing the Torah, he gave it over to the Kohanim, "the carriers of the Ark".
Moshe next commands the People concerning the mitzva of "Hak'hel" . On the Sukkot following the Shmita year, when the people gather in Jerusalem for the Chag, the king shall read (parts of) the Torah to the multitude. The people are to gather at the Beit HaMikdash - men, women, and children - in order to learn, to fear G-d, to hear and understand, and to commit to fulfill all the teachings of the Torah. And the youngsters who have not yet learned, will hear and learn to revere G-d "all the days they shall live in the Land your are about to enter".
(Try taking a young child to a big drasha of a big Talmid Chacham. He might not understand a word, but it will make an impression.)
G-d tells Moshe that after his death, the people will (not necessarily immediately, and not specifically that same generation) rebel against Him, stray from the proper path, and embrace other gods. G-d announces that He will show His anger by "hiding His Face" from them. This is a reference to the well-known "hester panim" which manifests itself as G-d "working behind the scenes" only, in hidden, subtle ways.
Next is the command to write "The Song" (namely the whole Torah), to teach it to the people, so that it should serve as a testament among the People of Israel. This is mitzva #613, to write a Sefer Torah.
The RO"Sh (Rabeinu Asher) takes this idea one significant step further - he says that since in our day, the Torah scroll has been relegated to the Aron Kodesh in shul and is used for public reading, but not as a learning text - the MAIN fulfillment of this mitzva "to write a Sefer Torah" is the building of a personal Torah library. Buy Torah texts from which to learn and teach. He adds that it is also praiseworthy if one is privileged to write a Sefer Torah as well. This is an unusual turn-about, which emphasizes the importance of buying sforim - AND USING THEM.
"...and teach it to the People of Israel - place it in their mouths." From here the Gemara teaches us that one must review and review his teachings with his students until they understand. It is not sufficient to just teach; one must work very hard until his students really understand, until it in their mouths.
(Some say that the Torah was in the Aron; others say that it was on a shelf attached to the side of the Aron.) Moshe asks for the leaders of the People to assemble for his final words to them. Moshe tells of the prophecy/prediction of the rebelliousness of the People. Moshe speaks the words of the Song - here probably referring to Haazinu - to all the people, in its entirety.
The last three p'sukim are reread for the Maftir.