For the week ending 16 September 2006 / 23 Elul 5766

Parshat Nitzavim - Vayelech

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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On the last day of his life, Moshe gathers together all the people, both young and old, lowly and exalted, men and women in a final initiation. The covenant includes not only those who are present, but even those generations yet unborn. Moshe admonishes the people again to be extremely vigilant against idol worship, because in spite of having witnessed the abominations of Egypt, there will always be the temptation to experiment with foreign philosophies as a pretext for immorality. Moshe describes the desolation of the Land of Israel which will be a result of the failure to heed G-d's mitzvos. Both their descendants and foreigners alike will remark on the singular desolation of the Land and its apparent inability to be sown or to produce crops. The conclusion will be apparent to all - the Jewish People have forsaken the One who protects them, in favor of idols which can do nothing. Moshe promises, however, that the people will eventually repent after both the blessings and the curses have been fulfilled. However assimilated they will have become among the nations, eventually G-d will bring them back to Eretz Yisrael. Moshe tells the people to remember that the Torah is not a remote impossibility; rather its fulfillment is within the grasp of every Jew. The Parsha concludes with a dramatic choice between life and death. Moshe exhorts the people to choose life.


On this, the last day of his life, Moshe goes from tent to tent throughout the camp, bidding farewell to his beloved people, encouraging them to keep the faith. Moshe tells them that whether he is among them or not, G-d is with them, and will vanquish their enemies. Then he summons Yehoshua, and in front of all the people, exhorts him to be strong and courageous as the leader of the Jewish People. In this manner, he strengthens Yehoshua's status as the new leader. Moshe teaches them the mitzvah of Hakhel: That every seven years on the first day of the intermediate days of Succos, the entire nation, including small children, is to gather together at the Temple to hear the King read from the Book of Devarim. The sections that he reads deal with faithfulness to G-d, the covenant, and reward and punishment. G-d tells Moshe that his end is near, and he should therefore summon Yehoshua to stand with him in the Mishkan, where G-d will teach Yehoshua. G-d then tells Moshe and Yehoshua that after entering the Land, the people will be unfaithful to Him, and begin to worship other gods. G-d will then completely hide his face, so that it will seem that the Jewish People are at the mercy of fate, and that they will be hunted by all. G-d instructs Moshe and Yehoshua to write down a song - Ha'azinu - which will serve as a witness against the Jewish People when they sin. Moshe records the song in writing and teaches it to Bnei Yisrael. Moshe completes his transcription of the Torah, and instructs the Levi'im to place it to the side of the Aron (Holy Ark), so that no one will ever write a new Torah scroll that is different from the original - for there will always be a reference copy.


After The Fall

“…and you will return to the L-rd, your G-d, and listen to His voice….” (30:2)

Sometimes something happens that makes you proud to be a Jew.

A couple of months ago my daughter lost a wallet containing a large sum of money in Jerusalem. She realized that the wallet was gone when she tried to pay the taxi that brought her home. My wife went back with her and retraced her steps, but to no avail. The wallet was gone. We called around to all the shops she had gone to. Nothing. After a couple of days we thought we’d seen the last of the wallet

About a month later a man telephoned our house and spoke to my wife. He said he had seen the wallet in the street and picked it up. He was a poor person, struggling to keep his head above an ever-rising tide of bills and debts. The sight of such a large some of money overwhelmed him. His son’s school had told him that unless he paid the previous term’s tuition, his son would not be able to return at the end of the summer. He looked down at that full wallet and the temptation was too much for him; he took half of the money and paid for his son’s tuition.

Two days before Tisha b’Av, he called our home: “How can I fast on Tisha B’Av with this on my mind?” he asked. He promised to pay us back as soon as possible. In any event, he wanted to return the rest of the money together with the wallet. My wife said to him, “Don’t worry! Pay us back when you can! Thank you so much for calling!” She suggested he leave the wallet in a nearby store to avoid embarrassment.

Apart from my wife’s response (which didn’t surprise me – she’s a big tzadeket righteous woman), what warmed my heart was the following: Many people might have overcome the temptation to steal and might have returned the wallet intact together with a nice self-applied pat-on-the-back. However, once the desire to steal overcomes a person it’s much more difficult to do the right thing. At that point a person can lapse into despair and think, “Well, that’s it. I took it. Finished. I stole it.” What impressed me was his ability to climb back out of the pit after the fall.

When my wife told me the story, I felt like I had been given a gift (and I don’t mean the return of the money.)

Where do you find a people like the Jewish People in the entire world?

And for those of us who have serious doubts if we have can climb out of the pit, there is a gift called the month of Elul.

“…and you will return to the L-rd, your G-d, and listen to His voice…”.

This verse is both a command and a prediction: The command to return, to mend what we have marred, is written not in the command form, but in the plain future tense. This means that it’s also a prediction. G-d tells us that, whether we want to or not, eventually we must return to Him. Even if we fail to do the job ourselves, there exists in the creation a historical imperative that eventually an era will dawn when the light of spirituality will infuse the entire world and every soul.

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