Numbers in [brackets] are the mitzva-count according to the Sefer HaChinuch. Other counts vary.
First Aliya – [29:9-28] – 3+3+14=20 p’sukim
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 Jews, Mitnagdim and Chassidim.) But together theyall stood to reaffirm their commitment to G-d. Jewish Unity has always been our strength, its lack, unfortunately, is our greatest weakness.[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 becomeimportant 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. These second set of three p’sukim 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 andembrace 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 starthim 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 be a recognition that we might not be able to know everything. We can be smart, perceptive, insightful, and we will be able to figure out manythings. But we might not. We do not always understand G-d. There are things that belong to the category of NISTAROT, hidden mysteries. This won’t deter us from searching for answers. But it can comfort us if we are disappointed in the results of those 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 or twenty years into the future. That which weknow 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. As mysteries of this world become revealed “to us and our children”, we are able to put this new knowledge to work forthe 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 andour children’s forever…
Second Aliya – 6 p’sukim (30:1-6)
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 isnot 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 passage. The wayward Jew turning back towards HaShem and the Torah, and the exiled Jew from 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.
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. The Baal HaTurim actually says that this is why we say Slichot during Elul. Elsewhere, the Torah “commands” us tocircumcise our own hearts. Here is the partner-pasuk in which G-d says that he will do it. We thus have another indication of the mutual commitments in these matters. G-d is prepared to meet us half way (or even more). If we make the effort to return to Him, if we make the effort to rid our heart of the hardness that interfereswith our adherence to Torah, then G-d will bring us back the rest of the way and will help us soften our hearts to be more receptive to Him.
Third Aliya – 4+4=8 p’sukim (30:7-14)
If 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.
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 attain ing 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 attainablethat 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 IT 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.
Fourth Aliya – (bridge)6+3+3=12 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 attackinga 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. 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 thismost 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, be inspired by the beautiful challenges of Nitzavim, 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. Crossing the N-V border.
Moshe Rabeinu, very near the end of his life in this world, appears before the People to deliver his final messages and blessings. He tells the people that he is 120 years old and is no longer capable of leading them. But – not to worry – G-d has promised to vanquish the enemies the people will face on the other side ofthe Jordan, and Yehoshua will be the new leader.
“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, 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 noG-d. Moshe, alas, will remain in Chutz LaAretz.
G-d will do to the nations in Israel what He has already done to Sichon and Og, the Emori kings. Be strong and courageous, Moshe tells us, don’t be afraid, and G-d will not let us down.
Fifth Aliya – 5th Aliya -3+4=7 p’sukim (31:7-13)
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 carriersof 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, tofear 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”.
Sixth Aliya – 6 p’sukim (31:14-19)
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 Cloud. 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 embraceother 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.
This mitzva is fulfilled by actually writing a Sefer Torah, by commissioning one to be written, and even by participating in the writing and dedication ceremony.
Commentaries point out that since the purpose – as stated in the parsha itself – for writing a Torah is to learn from it and to teach from it, and since in our time we use a variety of s’farim to learn and teach from, it follows that it would also be a fulfillment of this mitzva to write, acquire, buy, Sifrei Kodesh andbuild up a personal Torah library..
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 Torahlibrary. 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.
Seventh Aliya – 5+6=11 p’sukim (31:20-30)
Because, G-d explains, I am bringing the people to a Land flowing with milk & 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/Leviim) 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.)
Moshe commands the Leviim 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 therebelliousness of the People. Moshe speaks the words of the Song – here probably referring to Haazinu – to all the people, in its entirety.
23 p’sukim – Yeshayahu 61:10-63:9
This is the final of the Seven Haftaras 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 thePeople 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.
The sedra talks of return and reconciliation with G-d. Thus, both the Parsha and its Haftara contain prophecies of the time of Moshiach.