For the week ending 16 September 2017 / 25 Elul 5777

Parshat Netzavim - 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 dramatically concludes with Moshe's comparing the Jewish People's choice to follow the Torah to a 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.


Not Written In Stone

“(And the L-rd your G-d will circumcise) your heart and the heart of...” (30:6)

Don't you sometimes feel like your life is written in stone? That you can't change? Sometimes we want to go back to a more innocent time, a time when we were pure and our hearts unsullied. But we feel we can't break the mold we're stuck in. We've created a treadmill from past bad decisions, and now we seem doomed to run like a rat round and round, visiting and re-visiting all the mistakes we've ever made.

Hopelessness is the feeling that things are forever written in stone.

When the world came into being, it first existed as primordial matter without form: "Darkness on the face of the deep, and the Divine Presence hovering on the face of the water." The world was then a world of water, the ultimate symbol of matter without form. Water flows where it may, taking any shape at all, waiting for the vessel that holds it to give it shape, to give it true purpose.

There are times when we lose contact with our true purpose. Times when the form that we have made for ourselves is not what the Creator intended. We have become sealed and unresponsive to spiritual reality. In Hebrew this is called tuma, impurity. Impurity means to be cut off from the Source. To be “sealed”. The landscape of that sealed existence is a world of hopelessness.

If only we could return to a world where things were not written in stone, where we could refashion ourselves in the form that the Creator intended for us!

The waters of the mikveh are like an amniotic world where existence has no shape, like a world of formless matter yet to be defined. When we enter the waters of the mikveh we regress to an earlier stage of creation, to that primordial world before definition and form. And in that water we are re-formed, as new.

The word mikveh comes from the same root as the word tikveh — “hope”. The essence of hope is that we are not bounded and trapped by our present reality. Hope says that we can connect to that which is outside and beyond ourselves — to the Source. Every mikveh is like a little sea. The gematria of yam (sea) is 50. The number 50 represents the transcendent. It represents the gateway to that which is “beyond”.

This is the essence of purity, of taharah. Life is not written in stone. Hope tells us that we can return to the world of water to be become purified. This is the essence of hope: That things can be re-made, that we can change ourselves, that we can break the treadmill. The mikveh tells us that we can go back to the world of water, to that world of pure matter. The mikveh tells us that we can regress to a world before form, that we can re-make ourselves and become pure.

The astrological sign of the month of Elul is “Betula” — the Maiden — the essence of purity. Betula is a water sign. The sign of the Hope.

“Your heart and the heart of...”

The first letters of this verse spell “Elul”, the month of teshuva, in which we can return to a state of unsullied purity. And the last letters spell tichatev — “You will be written” — to hint that through teshuva – a return to pristine selves — may we be written and sealed for the good!

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