Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Nitzavim
To dedicate this lesson



Rabbi Berel Wein

Elul 5768
One of the shortest and smallest prashiyot of the Torah is this week’s parsha of Nitzavim. Nevertheless the parsha is one of the most important in terms of eternal messages to the people of Israel. For in it, the final oration and words of Moshe to his people after over forty years of leadership are not only meant to be heard by his actual listeners at that time but by all later generations of Jews as well. Moshe reminds all that there is an eternal covenant between God and Israel. The Lord will not allow the Jewish people to wriggle out of that commitment and covenant. Many strange things will happen to the people of Israel over its many centuries of existence. There will be events that are beyond human understanding or comprehension. God’s mind and actions, so to speak, remain inscrutable and beyond our judgment let alone our rationalism. Moshe warns us therefore that "the hidden things are the matter of the Lord but what is clear and revealed to us is that we are to remain faithful to this covenant [of Sinai and of Moshe."] No matter how the Jewish people twist and turn to avoid their end of the covenant they are always ensnared by its consequences and results. Moshe warns them that eventually the price for their abandonment of the covenant would be exacted from the Jewish people. He cautions them not to be too clever regarding the matter. Times change, technology improves, there are new discoveries in God’s world but the covenant of God with Israel remains as it was. Understanding and accepting this truth is the only way to deal with Jewish history and with all of the issues of Jewish life, past, present and future.

The word "nitzavim" itself is important in conveying the above message to us in clarity and perspective. The word means not only present and accounted for but it also means erect and formidable. Moshe fears that the Jewish people will somehow feel itself as not being worthy and strong enough for the rigors of the covenant. He therefore reminds them of their true strength and capabilities. Moshe knows that the lack of self-belief and self-confidence will automatically defeat the intent and goal of the covenant. If someone says to one’s self that "I cannot do it" then that certainly becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom and failure. Moshe reminds the Jewish people that they are "nitzavim" - strong, capable, resilient and can stand up to all crises and problems. Moshe appeals to their self-image and inner strength. This attitude is certainly necessary and correct in this period of time before the High Holydays. One cannot appeal to God so to speak on the basis of personal incompetence and weakness of will and vision. It is like requesting further cash flow from lenders into an obviously failing venture. When we pass before our Creator on the Days of Judgment just ahead we should do so with bent backs and strong hearts. We can and should say "Continue to invest in me and my family and generations. We will not desert the covenant nor shall we fail You."
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