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Home > Religion > Torah Portion > Nitzavim-Vayelech


Nitzavim-Vayelech

Deuteronomy 29:9-31:30        Haftorah: Isaiah 61:10-63:9
Shabbat, September 23, 2000 - 23 Elul 5760


By YAAKOV FOGELMAN
Torah Outreach Program

Nitzavim
Moshe exhorts Israel: "You are standing at attention today, all of you, before God your Lord- your tribal heads, elders, officers, every Jewish male. your little ones, wives, and your stranger... to transform you (Hirsch) with the covenant of God your Lord and his oath, which God your Lord makes with you today. To establish you today to Himself as a nation, and He will be your Lord, as He spoke to you and promised your fathers...and not with you alone do I establish this covenant and this oath, but with he who stands with us today before God our Lord, and with he who isn't here with us today (29:9-15)".

The last two portions, Ki Tetze and Ki Tavo, began with Jewish activism-fighting evil and settling Israel: "When you go out to war on your enemies..." and "When you enter the land..." Nitzavim opens with the Jews standing still before God, confronting their awesome eternal covenantal mission. Everyone should be an activist, making a better world and better people; but one who acts without periodic stocktaking, without a restatement of goals, and self-examination, will be rushing nowhere.

"The secret things are to God our Lord and those revealed-to us and our Children forever, to do all the words of this torah (29:28)"; one needn't initiate witch hunts for hidden rebels, but must respond to revealed corruption. Mutual responsibility wasn't binding until Israel crossed the Jordan, as Rashi explains.

After blessings and curses within Israel, followed by long exile, the Jews should return to God with all their heart and soul. Then God will gather them from all over the world to rebuild their ancestral land, better than ever. Later, He'll circumcise their hearts to love God and become truly alive. Israel will then heed God, follow His commandments, greatly prosper and live happily ever after. "God will bring back your captivity (30:3)" can be read: "God shall return with your captivity."

"For this commandment which I order you this day isn't incredibly beyond you, nor far off; it's not in heaven...and not overseas...but it's very close to you, in your mouth and in your hearts, to do it" (30:11-14). This process will continue, until all souls have been refined. Life and death are tied to good and evil, in Israel's hands-"no power, above or below, can stop them."

Vayelech
After finishing the renewed covenant, upon completing God's law (Ramban) and Moshe's marathon reproof, his folk returned to their tents; Moshe then left the Levite camp to comfort them over his imminent departure (31:1). He arranged a smooth takeover of leadership by his pupil, Yehoshua. Moshe is a model for future leaders-he, as Shmuel, goes out to his flock, not insisting that they come to him.

"I am 120 years old this day; I can no longer go out and come in (be a war leader or a sharp Torah scholar-Ramban), and God said to me: 'You shall not cross this Jordan.'" He stresses that God goes before the Jews to insure their victory; Joshua will now be his aliyah agent. Israel should be strong and brave, not fear much more powerful enemies, when God is on their side. Moshe himself now publicly charged Yehoshua, per God's word.

Rashi says that Moshe then wrote down the entire Torah, or that portion which he had received up to this point (completing it later-Ramban); he delivered it to the priests & elders. Yehoshua may have written the last verses, dealing with Moshe's death. "This Torah" is to be read in public during Sukkot, after each sabbatical year, when all Jews assemble in Jerusalem. God told Moshe that his time was up, to take Yehoshua into the Tent. God then appeared in a column of cloud, establishing Yehoshua's Divine authority. He warns Moshe that Israel will forsake its part of the covenant, and wander off after "foreign gods of the land" (31:16).

God will accede to Israel's request to be distanced from Him and His mission, to lead a "cool" life; but when he is hidden, tragedies and horrors overtake Israel. Then they will realize that they need God in their midst. Moshe and Yehoshua are both commanded: "Write this song for you, and teach it to the children of Israel; place it in their mouths-that this song bear witness for Me against the children of Israel" (31:19). God, given Israel's past, predicts that they'll turn to alien gods amidst their forthcoming luxury and wealth; this song bears witness to their true mission; it will indeed never be (entirely) forgotten by their descendants.

When Moshe finished writing this Torah, he commanded the Levites to place it alongside (according to Rashi) or inside (according to Ramban) the ark, a witness for Israel. Moshe is blunt-given their bad track record, even when he was around, open rebellion against God is likely after his death. Yet "the people served the Lord all the days of Yehoshua" (Judges 2:70)!

Moshe called upon the elders and officers, especially responsible for delivering his charge; it's now to be witnessed by heaven and earth, as he previously forecast. He predicts an angry response from God to Israel's distant future evil, then delivers his epic song.

Torah Outreach Program, based in Jerusalem, provides a study of every Torah reading and Jewish Holiday, giving exact citations and interfacing modern culture and knowledge with the Torah and Jewish tradition. By its own description, Torah Outreach Program is apolitical, open, modern Zionist, and "truly traditional," believing that the written and oral law are from God. Visit their website at Torah Outreach Program.

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