Parshat Nitzavim (Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20

Rabbi David Stav 

The central motif of Parshat Nitzavim is the covenant that Hashem establishes with the People of Israel just before they enter the Land of Israel:

You are standing today, all of you, before Hashem, your God: Your heads, your tribes, your elders – all the men of Israel… from the hewer of your wood to the drawer of your water, for you to pass into a covenant of Hashem, your God…(Devarim / Deuteronomy 29:9-10)

The Torah describes the Jewish People in many ways – they are called an “assembly”, an “audience”, a “nation”, and so on. It is striking that the only place in the Torah where the different segments of Jewish society are described in such great detail is in this week’s portion, and it certainly begs an explanation.

Another interesting aspect of this covenant is that it was established with both the generation of Jews that stood at the doorstep to the Land of Israel, and with all future generations through Jewish history. This prompted many commentators to wonder how a generation could have made a commitment on behalf of its progeny, who were never approached and who never consented to this arrangement.

Later, the portion discusses the possibility that certain members of the Jewish people will want to abandon this covenant, and who harbor a deep-seated desire to rid themselves of this commitment to the historic covenant between the nation and its God. The text warns us against getting caught up in this train of thought, which would have dire consequences. But if someone who feels no connection or association with the Jewish People wishes to opt out of the agreement, why shouldn’t they be allowed to do so? After all, quite a few Jews have already withdrawn themselves from our nation, and are living their lives in foreign lands.

The simple answer is that this agreement was struck between God and the entire nation, and as such, it binds all Jews throughout time. However, to feel a sense of commitment to the agreement, they would all need to be physically present when the dotted line is signed, and this is why the text lists all of those present when the accord is concluded. Yet if we accept this argument, we would have to concede that parents can commit their children through their actions, and therefore, the presence of all parts of Jewish society created the commitment of future generations.

However, our rabbis found a deeper meaning in these verses. Hashem doesn’t simply pick out the most pious individuals, or the leadership, and make them into His nation. The Jewish people were not created to produce future generations of Nobel Prize winners or outstanding athletes – even if they would bring us more medals. We are all in favor of excellence, but our calling, as a nation, is to demonstrate that as a nation, with all of the components that comprise us, we must strive to be decent and moral in the eyes of both God and our fellow man.

If some of us don’t participate in the covenant, we have failed in our mission to exist as a healthy society. We can all survive as individuals without our compatriots, but we could no longer represent our nation, as a nation. This is why the Torah emphasizes that we are all present at the covenant, including the water carriers and wood-hewers among us, since without them, we just are not the same nation.

Some interpreted the verse “… you are standing today…” as a hint to Rosh Hashana, when the nation stands in judgment before its Maker. We could therefore say that we can pray, facing our Creator, Who will bless us all with a good year of life, provided that we understand that we are all approaching Him together, as a people.

For many years, we have been facing many perils, and other dangers re-surface regularly, which don’t discriminate between the front and the hinterland, the poor and the rich, or the religious and the secular. We must therefore strengthen the covenant amongst ourselves so that we can stand before our Maker and ask Him to help us in our conflicts with our neighbors.

[Translated from the Hebrew by Ilan Yavor]

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