Kohen - First Aliya - 3 p'sukim - 29:9-11
[P>29:11] Having so recently heard the frightful Tochacha and the curses
that are invoked against those who betray G-d, Israel is understandably
"nervous" about its future, to say the least. Nitzavim therefore, begins on
the positive, reassuring note that we are ALL standing before G-d and
entering again into a covenant with Him. These opening p'sukim call our
attention to the "inclusiveness" of the People of Israel. We are made up of
scholars and leaders, judges and functionaries, men, women, and children,
converts, wood cutters and water gatherers (Ashkenazim and S'faradim,
religious and secular, Mitnagdim and Chasidim). But together they all stood
to reaffirm their commitment to G-d. Jewish Unity has always been our
strength, its lack, our greatest weakness.
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 way
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
Levi - Second Aliya - 3 p'sukim - 29:12-14
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) we represent 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". Nations that have come to an end, can be
numbered. An eternal people cannot ever be counted.
Shlishi - Third Aliya - 14 p'sukim - 29:15-28
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
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.
This pasuk has wide applications. In all areas of
human knowledge - science, math, history... - there are mysteries and there
are revealed truths. But remember, today's mysteries can be revealed
tomorrow, next year... or never.
R'vi'i - Fourth Aliya - 6 p'sukim - 30:1-6
[S>30:1 (10)] From the perspective of absolute justice, if we break the
terms of our agreement with G-d, punishment should be swift and complete.
But we could not survive such an existence. This portion of Nitzavim tells
us that if (when) we break the covenant and are dispersed among the nations
of the world as punishment, all hope is not lost. We have the golden
opportunity to return to G-d - and He will help the process along. This too
becomes part of the agreement with G-d. The concepts of return in a physical
and spiritual sense are intermingled in this Torah portion.
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.
Rambam and Sefer HaChinuch (and others?) do not count T'SHUVA per se among
the 613 mitzvot. Sefer HaCharedim, the SMa"K, and others do count T'SHUVA as
one of TARYAG. One can say that Rambam counts only specific, distinct
mitzvot. A command which is all-inclusive, such as "Keep My mitzvot", "Be
holy", "Be straight- forward with G-d", is not numbered on its own, because
it is really part of all other mitzvot. T'shuva can be viewed like that.
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, it is an add-on to all
Or, we can look at T’shuva as a gift from G-d. He
doesn’t HAVE to command it. He just has to let it be possible. And we should
jump at the opportunity. The Torah does not have to command us to breathe.
We do it because it is helpful to living. So is T’shuva. The Torah doesn’t
have to tell us to repent, just how to do it.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. And yet, as mentioned earlier, some mitzva-counters
DO count T'shuva among the 613.
The last pasuk of the portion contains one of
several ELULs, in the form of Rashei Teivot, initial letters. And G-d will
circumcise ET L'VAVCHA V'ET L'VAV zar'echa, your heart and the heart of your
children. Baal HaTurim actually says that this is why we say Slichot during
Chamishi - Fifth Aliya - 4 p'sukim - 30:7-10
If (when) we return to G-d, then G-d will rain the curses upon our enemies.
We have only to be faithful to HaShem and keep His mitzvot, and all His
blessings will be showered upon us. Again a "pitch" is made for T'shuva. And
again. And the T'shuva should be completely sincere.
Shishi - Sixth Aliya - 4 p'sukim - 30:11-14
[S>30:11 (4)] 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.
Sh'vi'i - Seventh Aliya - 6 p'sukim - 30:15-20
[S>30:15 (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.
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.
Haftara - 23 p'sukim - Yeshayahu 61:10-63:9
Final of the 7 Haftarot of Consolation. Yeshayahu prophesies of the time to
come when there will be universal peace and Jerusalem will not only be
rebuilt, but will be the center of universal worship of G-d. But not only
will the nations of the world recognize The One G-d, they will also
acknowledge the People of Israel as His People. The idea of universal
acceptance of G-d fits well with our notion that ALL people are judged by
G-d on Rosh HaShana, not just the Jewish People.
Torah Readings & Haftarot
1st Torah, B’reishit 21:1-34 (34)
According to Tradition, Sara Imeinu was "remembered" on RH, she became
pregnant, and subsequently gave birth to Yitzchak, despite her advanced age
of 90. On the first day of RH we read B'reishit 21, from Vayeira, about the
birth and early years of Yitzchak, and about the Sara-Hagar-Yishmael
episode. This first section of the reading is contained in a single Parsha
S’tuma, is made up of 21 of the 34 p’sukim, and is divided among the first 3
of 5 Aliyot.
The last part of this reading is a single P’tucha
of 13 p’sukim, about the treaty between Avraham and Avimelech. This part of
the reading is divided between the last 2 Aliyot of the first Torah.
Commentaries point out that it was in the merit of the prayers of Avraham on
behalf of the Avimelech's people, that his and Sara's prayers for themselves
were also answered. This fits with one of the powerful themes and messages
of RH, namely the power of prayer.
2nd Torah, Bamidbar 29:1-6 (6)
The Maftir is called to the second Torah and the first 6 p'sukim of Bamidbar
29 (in Parshat Pinchas) are read. The reading is about the Musaf of Rosh
HaShana (mentioning that the Musaf of Rosh Chodesh is also brought on RH)
and the mitzva of hearing the Shofar.
Haftara, Shmuel Alef 1:1-2:10 (38)
The Haftara of the first day of Rosh HaShana echoes and reinforces the theme
of the Power of Prayer, as well as giving us another example of the "barren
matriarch" who conceived after praying, It is the story of Chana, mother of
Shmuel HaNavi. The silent nature of the Amida is attributed to Chana. The
main connection to the Torah reading and the guiding force, so to speak, as
to the choice of this haftara, is the story of a woman who was barren for a
long time and then was blessed with a child. Sara in the Torah reading and
Chana in the haftara, are joined by Rachel from the haftara of the second
day. In a different way, we can add Yosef HaTzadik, who was also
“remembered” by G-d. Tradition tells us that he was removed from prison to
appear before Par’o on Rosh HaShana.
1st Torah, B’reishit 22:1-24 (24)
In the first Sefer Torah, we continue reading from where we left off on the
first day. Five people are called to the Torah in the first Sefer. Perek 22
is the portion of the Akeida. It is arguably the most dramatic and
emotion-evoking portion of the whole Torah. Tradition tells us that the
Akeida took place on Rosh HaShana. ZICHRONOT (remembrances) is one of the
three major themes of Rosh Hashana, and the Akeida is the main element of
ZICHRONOT. Not only is it the topic of the Torah reading, but it is the
basis of the choice of Shofar — namely, the Ram’s Horn — and it is an oft
repeated theme in davening.
We stand before G-d on Yom HaDin and we proclaim
that we are not only the biological descendants of Avraham and Yitzchak (and
Yaakov), but the spiritual heirs as well. We are not just telling stories;
we are inspired to emulate our forefathers and develop a total commitment to
G-d and Torah.
Perhaps it is much more than that. The old
question about the zebra (of Shel Silverstein’s poem), as to whether it is a
black animal with white stripes or a white animal with black stripes, is
very applicable to that average Jew. Each of us does mitzvot which earn us
credit, so to speak, and sins that are held against us. Whatever the ratio,
the question is what kind of Jews are we. Am I a good Jew with episodes of
sin or am I a wicked Jew who does mitzvot from time to time. And this is not
merely a matter of numbers. It is possible that we are evaluated as good
Jews who slip, even if the slipping is significant... because we are the
descendants of the Avot and Imahot. This is part of why we mention the
Akeida so often on Rosh HaShana.
2nd Torah, Bamidbar 29:1-6 (6)
The Maftir from the second Torah is the same as the day before - the RH
Haftara, Yirmiyahu 31:2-20 (19)
Again, we find one of the matriarchs who was without child for a long time.
This time, Rachel Imeinu represents the people of Israel (more specifically,
the tribes of the kingdom of Israel, under the flag of Efrayim, sort of, who
are in bad shape in their countries of Exile. The closing words of the
Haftara contain G-d's promise of mercy.
Aliya-by-Aliya Sedra Summary
Kohen - First Aliya - 3 p'sukim - 31:1-3
[P>31:1 (6)] 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 Yisrael, and that
Yehoshua will be the one to lead them.
Levi - Second Aliya - 3 p'sukim - 31:4-6
Moshe reminds the People of the victories they have had, and tells them to
be strong and courageous. G-d won't abandon them.
Shlishi - Third Aliya - 3 p'sukim - 31:7-9
[S>31:7 (7)] Moshe then speaks to Yehoshua in front of the assembled people,
and asks him to be strong, for he will be leading the people and he will be
in charge of conquering and settling the Land. G-d will be guiding you
"every step of the way".
When Moshe finished writing the Torah, he gave it
over to the Kohanim, "the carriers of the Ark".
R'vi'i - Fourth Aliya - 4 p'sukim - 31:10-13
Moshe next commands the People concerning the mitzva of "Hak'hel" [612,A16
31:12]. On Sukkot following a 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".
Chamishi - Fifth Aliya -6 p'sukim - 31:14-19
[P>31:14 (17)] G-d calls to Moshe to take Yehoshua and appear with him at
the "Ohel Moed". G-d's Presence descended to the Tent in the form of a
G-d tells Moshe that after his death, the people
will 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.
This prophecy by no means “obligates” that
generation, or any generation, to turn to idolatry. It is possible for the
prophecy never to come true. And this would not impugn the truth of Torah or
Moshe’s status as a prophet. We always have the challenge not to turn away
from G-d, and the ability to remain faithful to Him.
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 the last mitzva of the Torah
[613, A18 31:19], to write a Sefer Torah.
Our Sages include in this mitzva the significance of acquiring Sifrei Kodesh
(holy books) from which to learn. Since the Torah itself specifies that the
"purpose" of writing a Torah scroll is to learn and teach from it, then
writing, buying, acquiring all learning texts would be in the spirit of this
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 teaching 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.
SDT "...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.
Shishi - Sixth Aliya - 5 p'sukim - 31:-20-24
Because, G-d explains, I am bringing the people to a Land flowing with milk
and honey, the People will eat in contentment and turn from G-d. The Torah,
however, will not be completely forgotten from the lips (and hearts) of
future generations. (This will be "their ticket back".) Moshe wrote the
Torah on that day (Rambam says that he wrote 13 Torahs - one for each tribe
and one in the care of the Kohanim/Leviyim) and taught it to the People. G-d
"commanded" Yehoshua to be strong and courageous in his new role as leader.
Moshe completed the writing of the Torah. (Some say that Moshe even wrote
the final 8 p'sukim of the Torah, which discuss his death; others disagree.)
Sh'vi'i - Seventh Aliya - 6 p'sukim - 31:-25-30
Moshe commands the Leviyim to take the Torah and place it at the side of the
Aron. (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. 3-pasuk Maftir.
Haftara - 22 p'sukim - Hoshea 14:2-10 (9) Yoel
There are various customs for this haftara
SHUVA YISRAEL AD HASHEM... These opening words of the Haftara give the
Shabbat its name and basically say it all. Return to G-d. The following
pasuk emphasizes the power of prayer in the T'shuva process. The command to
repent is accompanied by wonderful promises (prophecies) of redemption and
restoration of the former glory of Israel.
The passage from Yoel gives us a Shofar connection
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