For the week ending 27 September 2008 / 27 Elul 5768

Parshat Netzavim

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.


The Country Club

“And it will be that when he hears the words of this curse, he will bless himself in his heart, saying, ‘Peace will be with me...” (29:18)

On hearing that the country club to which he belonged discriminated against Jews, Groucho Marx sent the following letter of resignation, “Dear Sir, I do not wish to belong to any club that will have me as a member.”

In last week’s Torah portion we read 98 terrifying curses that result from neglecting the Torah and failing to serve G-d with joy and goodness of heart.

How, after this terrifying litany, could anyone think that they could just turn their back on G-d and get away with it?

If you look at the curses in Ki Tavo you’ll notice that they are in the singular. When the Torah uses the singular it means that it is talking to the Jewish People as a klal, as a group. So, someone hearing those curses might think, “Those curses are only for the group. I’ll resign from the group and I’ll be fine.”

Thus Moshe, on the day of his departure from this world, brings the Jewish People into a separate covenant that defines the two previous covenants (at Sinai and 40 years later at Arvot Moav). That covenant teaches we are all both jointly and separately responsible for keeping the mitzvot of the Torah. A person cannot voluntarily decide to opt out from keeping the Torah.

The Jewish People is not a country club from which one can resign.

  • Source: Aderet Eliyahu

The Same Boat

“You are standing, today, all of you...”(29:9)

Quietly, he entered his cabin and closed the door behind him. Down here in the bowels of the ship you could hear the massive turbines droning and the ocean slipping under the keel inches beneath the steel floor.

Opening a small closet he removed an anonymous-looking briefcase, laid it on the bed and moved the combination to its correct position. The latches of the case sprung open. He lifted the lid. There it was. The smallest and most powerful laser blowtorch that you could buy anywhere in the Far East. He removed it from its velveteen bed and held in lovingly in his arms. Then he pushed aside the bed and took up the rug to reveal the dull steel of the hull. He flicked the switch and the laser sprang to life. As the beam met the metal floor the ship gave out a banshee wail like a smitten beast.

Within a minute, there were loud knocks on the door. “What are you doing?” “Open the door!” “Open this door!” “What’s going on in there?”

“I’m cutting a hole in the floor. Go away.”

“Are you crazy, you’ll kill us all!”

“Mind your own business. What’s it to do with you? I’m only cutting a hole in my own cabin...”

In the first of this week’s Torah portion of Nitzavim Moshe assembles every member of the Jewish People on the last day of his life. From the youngest to the oldest, from the least to the most exalted, Moshe initiates them into a new covenant. Why did they need a new covenant? Hadn’t they already entered a covenant with G-d at Sinai, and again Arvot Moav

What was different about this covenant was that it created a mutual responsibility between all Jews. Not just responsible in the sense that we have to look after each other, feed and clothe the sick and the poor, but I am responsible for everything you do, like a big brother. This idea is hinted to by the very first words of the parsha, “You are standing, today, all of you...” meaning, “You are all standing over each other.”

‘Religious coercion! Big Brother is watching you!’ All too often we hear these words screaming from newspaper headlines. And what a tragic mistaken idea it represents. When a Jew cries out ‘Shabbos!’ to someone driving past his home on Shabbat, he’s crying in pain. He feels the responsibility that we all accepted for each other.

The Jewish People are but sparks of one soul. A mystical connection exists between us all. What each of us does affects all the rest of us. A Jew cannot say: “Look if you guys want to keep Shabbat that’s fine, but why should I be coerced into doing things that I don’t believe in? It’s my life. I’m my own person.”

With utmost respect — it’s not your life. You were given it. And you’re not just your own person. Every action we do ripples across the physical and the spiritual world. There is no action without re-action. No man is an island entire to himself. And no man has a cabin in which he can cut a hole in the floor. We are all in the same boat.

  • Source: Heard from Rabbi Mordechai Perlman

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