Ari Sacher

“Amplification and Limitation” Parashat Nitzavim-Rosh Hashanah 5778/9

Am Yisrael stand ready to cross the Jordan River into the Land of Israel. Before they do so, they must first enter into a new covenant with Hashem in which they accept Him as their G-d and He accepts them as His people, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, and so on. Each and every person must enter the covenant [Devarim 29:9]: “You are all standing this day before Hashem, your G-d, the leaders of your tribes, your elders and your officers, every man of Israel”.

In a previous shiur[1], we pointed out that the verse seems to repeat itself, beginning with the words “You are all (kul’chem) standing” and concluding with “every (kol) man of Israel”. At the time, we offered an explanation based on “Talmudic Hermeneutics”, the logical principles in which Oral Torah is extracted from the Written Torah. The most famous of these principles are Rabbi Yishmael’s “Thirteen Principles (Shelosh-esreh Middot) through which the Torah is Interpreted”, recited each morning as part of the Shacharit service. One of these principles is called “Klal u’frat u’klal”, literally, “General and Particular and General”. According to Rabbi Yishmael, the ruling in such a case is applicable for all items similar to the objects listed in the particularization. For example, in its discussion of robbery, the Torah lists items for which a thief is fined double their value [Shemot 26:8]: “For anything, for an ox, a donkey, a sheep, clothing, anything that was lost”. Notice that the list of stolen items is both preceded by and succeeded by the word “anything”. Aren’t oxen and sheep also considered “anything”? Rather, this is a case of “General and Particular and General”. Rabbi Yishmael teaches that repayment is doubled for all items similar to the objects listed in the particularization. This includes any item that is moveable and has inherent worth, and excludes items such as real estate, which is immovable, and contracts, which are essentially pieces of paper that have no inherent worth.

The verse describing the people about to enter into the covenant appears to be a classic case of “General and Particular and General”. The Torah first states the generic “all of you”, it follows with a list of particulars – “the leaders of your tribes, your elders and your officers” – and then it concludes with the generic “every man of Israel”. In our earlier shiur, we interpreted the verse precisely in this fashion. This year, however, I took a closer look and it seems I might have missed something. Specifically, I might have missed the next verse, which adds even more people to the list of people entering the covenant [Devarim 29:10]: “Your young children, your women, and your convert who is within your camp both your woodcutters and your water drawers”. We don’t have a “General and Particular and General” – we have a “General and Particular and General and Particular”! Rabbi Yishmael’s rules do not deal with such a case and so we will have to blaze our own trail.

The easiest way of addressing our problem is by asserting that it does not exist[2]. We could do this by suggesting that the “General and Particular and General” pertain to people who would typically enter a covenant, while the “women, children, and woodcutters” are a separate class of people, people who might not be expected to enter a covenant. Nevertheless, as I am a married man who would like to remain a married man, I would never suggest such a thing.

Assuming we do indeed have a case of “General and Particular and General and Particular”, one way of interpreting the verse would be to break things down into two successive instances of “General and Particular”. The first instance goes from “You are all standing” until “your elders and your officers” and second instance goes from “Every man of Israel” until “your woodcutters and your water drawers”. The problem[3] with this restructuring is that according to Rabbi Yishmael’s rules, a case of “General and Particular” is interpreted such that only the instances explicitly stated in the particular are included. Interpreted thusly, the only people who would be entering into the covenant would be “the leaders of your tribes, your elders and your officers” and “young children, your women, and your convert… your woodcutters and your water drawers”. The average Jew on the street would not be included in the covenant. Obviously, this is not a sustainable conclusion, so we must look further.

We can gain some traction if we use the hermeneutical rules of Rabbi Akiva. As opposed to Rabbi Yishmael, who uses the rule of “klal u’frat” – “General and Particular” – Rabbi Akiva uses the rule of “ribui u’miut” – “Amplification and Limitation”[4]. Rabbi Akiva’s “Amplification and Limitation” is interpreted like Rabbi Yishmael’s “General and Particular and General”, including all items that are similar to those explicitly stated in the limitation. If we were to implement the principle of “Amplification and Limitation”, what would the Torah be adding to the list of people entering the covenant? Between “the leaders of your tribes, your elders and your officers” and “Your young children, your women, and your convert who is within your camp, both your woodcutters and your water drawers”, the entire spectrum of Jewish people is covered. The logical (hermeneutical) conclusion would be that every single person in the nation entered into the covenant. But if this is the case, why did the Torah bother to break things down into amplifications and limitations? Why didn’t it simply write, “You are all standing here today”?

Rav Shaul Yedidya Elazar Taub from Modzitz, writing in “Yisa Beracha”, quotes his grandfather’s interpretation of the verse in which Balaam and Balak try to find a fitting place from which to curse Am Yisrael. The two men find a location where [Bemidbar 23:13] “you will see only a portion of them; you will not see all of them.” Why didn’t they look for some mountaintop where they could clearly see everyone? According to Rav Taub’s grandfather, Balaam knew that he could never curse the entire nation because it is possible to find deficiencies only in the individual but never in the Jewish nation as a whole. “Jews” can be cursed but the “Jewish People” cannot. Rav Taub uses this explanation to explain why the verse in Isaiah [45:7] reads “[I am Hashem] Who forms light and creates darkness, Who makes peace and creates evil” and yet each day we recite the blessing “Who forms light and creates darkness, Who makes peace and creates everything”. Rav Taub explains, “Where there is ‘everything’, there can exist no evil”. When Moshe tells Am Yisrael, “You are all standing this day before Hashem”, he is telling them that they must enter the covenant not as individuals, but as one united nation. As individuals, they will always suffer from deficiencies. They will never be able to stay within the bounds of the covenant. But as a nation, the covenant will make them invincible.

The entering into the covenant was a defining moment for Am Yisrael. It was the event that forged them into a nation. The Torah’s amplifications and limitations, its enumeration of the various types of people who joined that nation, teaches that Am Yisrael is not a monolithic entity. It is an amalgam of people, each with their strengths and their weaknesses, each with their likes and their dislikes, and each with their amplifications and their limitations. The Torah tells us that the sublimation of the individual into a nation does not blur these distinctions, rather, it celebrates them. We are many and we are one.

The Talmud in Tractate Rosh Hashanah [18a] teaches that on Rosh Hashanah, Hashem judges Am Yisrael “in one glance”. He looks at each and every one of us. He sees what we have done over the past year and where we will most likely end up twelve months from now. But before He passes judgement, He sees that we are standing shoulder to shoulder with the officers, the water carriers and the Jew on the street.

And then He has no other choice but to inscribe us in the Book of Life.


Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova,

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5778

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Yechiel ben Shprintza, and Tzvi ben Shoshana.

[1] Nitzavim 5761, one of our first shiurim.

[2] This path was suggested to me by a number of people.

[3] Another potential problem with this restructuring is that the words “every man of Israel” end a verse.

[4] We follow the translation of “Logic in the Talmud”, by Avi Sion.

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over thirty years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including three briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. Ari is a highly requested speaker, enabling even the layman to understand the "rocket science". Ari has also been a scholar in residence in numerous synagogues in the USA, Canada, UK, South Africa, and Australia. He is a riveting speaker, using his experience in the defense industry to explain the Torah in a way that is simultaneously enlightening and entertaining. Ari came on aliya from the USA in 1982. He studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, and then spent seven years studying at the Technion. Since 2000 he has published a weekly parasha shiur that is read around the world. Ari lives in Moreshet in the Western Galil along with his wife and eight children.
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