In its brief 40 verses, Parashat Nitzavim immediately presents us with tensions between confidence and condemnation, promise and punishment, and ultimately, between humility and hubris. Throughout the text of these two compact chapters—Deuteronomy 29 and 30—Moses consistently oscillates between inspiring the Israelites toward their future and forewarning them about their inherent (and perhaps inevitable) flaws.
The central leaders throughout the Bible share some important characteristics. While each one is appointed or finds him- or herself in positions of significant leadership in very different ancient contexts, each example models core elements of the complexity, potential, and importance of Jewish selecting and supporting of leaders today. A prime example of the multifaceted nature of selecting a new leader is best exhibited in Parashat Vayeilech by the appointment of Joshua as the leader of the Israelites as they prepare to enter the Land of Israel.
This brief and beautiful Torah portion, Vayeilech, is read this year on Shabbat Shuvah, the Shabbat of Return that falls between the High Holidays. Three times within this brief portion we find the words “Be strong and resolute,” as follows: Moses, standing on the cusp of his death, on the brink of ending his service to God and to the Israelites, lays the groundwork for his disciple and successor Joshua to lead the people into the Promised Land.
In this week’s Torah portion, Nitzavim, an aspect of the fundamental genius of Jewish existence is illuminated. In renewing the covenant God's intention is revealed: that human beings are intended to interpret and determine the meaning of Torah.
“I’m not a good Jew.” This is a phrase we hear far too often. But in Parashat Nitzavim, we learn that each and every Jew is valued as a part of the community.
The beautiful, melodious liturgy of Yom Kippur suggests a heavenly court in which God reviews each individual and decrees the destiny of each person for the coming year. This is powerful poetry that should make us stop and think about our lives and our behavior.
The Un’taneh Tokef prayer is undoubtedly one of the most challenging pieces of Jewish liturgy. It encompasses traditional messages of Yom Kippur and the High Holiday season that can prove to be theologically challenging: God is judge and arbiter; Our fate has been determined, and there is nothing that we can do but accept the decree. Regardless of the theological implications found in the text, the prayer does challenge us to confront our own mortality and reflect on how we want to be remembered.
On my first Shabbat in
"And Moses went (Vayeilech) and spoke these words to all Israel" (Deuteronomy 31:1). This opening marks the beginning, not only of the parashah, but also of the long death scene for Moses that will not be completed until the very end of the Torah two portions hence. Traditional commentators noticed an unusual locution. Usually the Torah reads "And Moses spoke … " Only here does it say "And Moses went and spoke … "
Dr. Firestone beautifully suggests that vayeilech Moshe, "Moses went," means that Moses went to the Israelites before his death and spoke words of t'shuvah, encouraging the people to repent, and to pursue peace between each other and between each of them and God. Just a few verses later, the word "to go" appears again, only this time it is God who "goes."
Nitzavim comes in the cycle of Torah readings just before Rosh HaShanah and is particularly appropriate for the High Holidays because it stresses the importance of repentance. The tone of the passage is at once both lofty and terrifying.
It begins with Moses' inspiring address to the entire people of Israel shortly before he is to die, "You stand this day (Atem nitzavim hayom), all of you, before the Eternal your God — you tribal heads, you elders, and you officials, all the men of Israel, you children, you women, even the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to water drawer" (Deuteronomy 29:9-10).
And as we rapidly approach the High Holiday season, it is even more fitting that we evaluate what being in a community means to each one of us, just as Dr. Firestone so poignantly identifies in his well-articulated d'var Torah for this week.
Our Torah portion this week, Nitzavim, begins, atem nitzavim hayom, kul'chem. "You stand this day, all of you." Moses is speaking to the Israelite community one last time before they enter the Promised Land and before he dies. He is holding every member of the community accountable for their actions.
The Chasidic tradition brings us the following story:
Something felt different this year. Tragedy after tragedy opened our eyes to injustice in new, heartbreaking ways.
In Parashat Nitzavim (Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20), Moses is coming to the end of his oration, the end of his leadership
We like certainty: the definitive diagnosis, the quickest route to our destination, the secret formula to ensure acceptance to an elite school.
In Vayeilech, the shortest portion in the Torah, Moses tells the people that he will not be leading them into the Land of Israel, per God's instruction; instead, Joshua
We read this short parashah on Shabbat Shuvah this year during the time that our liturgical tradition is most focused on t'shuvah.