For the week ending 1 October 2016 / 28 Elul 5776

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.


Subtle as a Brick

“You are standing today…” (29:9)

Rashi comments on this verse: “For when Israel heard a hundred curses minus two (in the previous parsha), their faces turned green. They said, ‘Who can stand these (curses)?’ Moshe began to mollify them (with the first words of this week’s parsha) ‘You are standing…’

If the purpose of the curses was to arouse the fear of Heaven in the hearts or the Jewish People, why did Moshe seek to mollify their effect and dilute the impression they made on the Israel?

An unsophisticated individual is affected by bald threats and explicit warnings. The more intelligent and sophisticated the person, the more subtle can be the reproof, and the greater can be the appeal to logic and reason.

The Jews who left Egypt were the "Generation of Knowledge" — Dor de’ah. Never was there a generation on such an exalted plane. When they heard such graphic and bare-faced curses and threats, their faces "turned green". This means that they were very hurt that they were considered to be on such a low level that they required such overt and explicit physical threats.

Thus Moshe started to placate then and told them that these threats were not directed at them: “You are standing all of you in front of the L-rd, your G-d.” You are still standing on the highest level, close to G-d, and these warnings are not directed at you. However, "not with you alone do I make this covenant... but also with those who are not here today," — with those future generations who will sink to the level that only the most explicit warnings will speak to them.

  • Sources: Kehillat Yaakov in Mayana shel Torah

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