My weekly d’var Torah 12 September : parashiot Nitzavim-Vayelech נצבים וילך……… here and now!
As Gladys Knight sang, in one of her countless hits, “the road’s gotta’ end somewhere…every road has got to end somewhere”. And so, in these two chapters, Moses’s road is coming, soon, to the end, his end.
This chapter is a relief after the terrible curses that Moses tells us will befall the Israelites (aka: us) in last week’s chapter. Like many people at the end of their lives, his compassion and his love come to center stage replacing the bitterness he felt last week.
The chapters are short but contain some of the greatest wisdom and advice in the Torah. Here in order, and with some repetition of theme, are the highlights:
1. “You stand this day, all of you, before the LORD your God—your tribal heads, your elders and your officials, all the men of Israel, your children, your wives, even the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to water drawer to enter into the covenant of the LORD your God, which the LORD your God is concluding with you this day, with its sanctions”. (DEUT 29:9-11).
Living a moral life does not depend on who you are. It depends on what you do! Your station in life, your wealth, your gender, your age, your nationality, the color of your skin, your sexual orientation : these are irrelevant! Only your behavior matters. And “all of you” (aka: us) are commanded to live moral lives.
2. “I make this covenant, with its sanctions, not with you alone but both with those who are standing here with us this day before the LORD our God and with those who are not with us here this day.” (DEUT 29:13-14).
The Torah speaks to the past, the present and the future. It is, in short, timeless.
3. “And later generations will ask—the children who succeed you, and foreigners who come from distant lands and see the plagues and diseases that the LORD has inflicted upon that land,all its soil devastated by sulfur and salt, beyond sowing and producing, no grass growing in it…..(DEUT 29:21-22)
We are responsible for our environment and for the planet on which we live. If we desecrate it, if we don’t respect it, we will be held as accountable by future generations as we hold past generations.
4. “Concealed acts concern the LORD our God; but with overt acts, it is for us and our children ever to apply all the provisions of this Teaching. (DEUT 29:28).
This may be my favorite insight in this chapter. Basically, it teaches us that we are responsible to each other explicitly, not silently. We may regret saying something wrong, slighting someone, condescending to someone. But if we acknowledge the injury only to ourselves we cannot right the wrong. Gd can wait, people cannot!
5. “Surely, this Instruction which I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach.It is not in the heavens, that you should say, “Who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?”Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who among us can cross to the other side of the sea and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?”No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it. (DEUT 30:11-14)
This is one of the most beautiful teachings in the Torah. And the message is clear : we are all, “woodchopper and water drawer”, able to understand what it means to live a moral life, informed by our responsibility as human beings to one another and to our environment.
6. The penultimate lines in this chapter need no commentary. I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day: I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life!” (DEUT 30:19)
Shana Tova v’metukah שנת טובה ומתוקה
May the new year be good and sweet and may we be renewed!