[Numbers] are mitzvot in Sefer HaChinuch
KOHEN – First Aliya – 3 p’sukim (29:9-11)
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 not 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 they all stood to reaffirm their commitment to G-d. Jewish Unity has always been our strength, its lack, our greatest weakness.
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…
LEVI – Second Aliya – 3 p’sukim (29:12-14)
And there is more. These second three verses 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”.
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.
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 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 many things. 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 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 verse 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 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…
R’VI’I – Fourth 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 In loving memory of Harold Klaff öáé äéøù áï îðçí îðãì æ”ì on his tenth yahrzeit ã’ úùøé Lillian Klaff & family 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 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.
According to the Rambam, Sefer HaChinuch, and others, NITZAVIM has none of the 613 mitzvot. Sefer HaCharedim, the SMa”K (Sefer Mitzvot HaKatan), and others do count one mitzva from Nitzavim – The mitzva to do T’shuva. How appropriate for the Rosh HaShana sedra!
To explain why the 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; it is 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.
On the other hand, there is one aspect of T’shuva that IS counted by the 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.
Who is right? That’s not the question. It is a matter of perspective. An argument can be made in either direction. And mitzvot that are not counted might be viewable as “greater” mitzvot than those that are counted. Or not.
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.
CHAMISHI – Fifth Aliya – 4 p’sukim (30:7-10)
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 shouold be completely sincere.
SHISHI – Sixth Aliya – 4 p’sukim (30:11-14)
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 commit ment, 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.
SH’VI’I – Seventh Aliya – 6 p’sukim (30:15-20)
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. 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, 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.
Haftara – 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 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.