For the week ending 8 September 2018 / 28 Elul 5778

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 Dust of Exile

“You are standing today, all of you…” (13:17)

Lyndon Johnson once remarked to Golda Meir that she had no idea what it was like to be the President of a hundred-and-eighty million people. To which Mrs. Meir remarked that Johnson had no idea what it was like to be the president of three million presidents.

There are no taxi drivers in Israel, just budding entrepreneurs biding their time. Get into a cab and the cabbie will need to know your net earnings last year and why you invested in what you invested (what, you didn’t invest?). Maybe you would like to meet his brother who has a sure-fire start-up in hi-tech?

A cursory look through the mishna will show that the Jewish People were primarily a nation of farmers and livestock breeders. True, there were merchants among us — the Tribe of Zevulun’s emblem is a ship and their métier was international trade — but much of traditional Jewish life was centered on the yearly agricultural cycle. Two thousand years of exile and persecution, the inability to join craft guilds and the like have forced us to become businessmen. Why are Jews so prominent in the diamond trade? Because when there is a murderous crowd about to break down your door, you can pack your entire wealth into a small pouch and make a speedy exit.

Two thousand years of exile has left its dust on us. I was born and brought up in England’s “green and pleasant land.” I became accustomed to politeness as a social norm, and, however superficial that might be, it sure makes day-to-day life a lot more pleasant.

My son once spent the best part of a day trying to extricate himself from a telephone company contract. Let’s say the name of the company was Barak. The company representative tried every inducement to keep him with the company. My son kept pointing out that other companies had offered him much better deals, that were cheaper and less restrictive, and he’d spent hours trying to extract himself from the clutches of this particular company. The lady on the other end of the line kept arguing and arguing. Finally she said, “And Barak doesn’t need to make a living?” I doubt that a sales representative in England would have used that as a last-ditch pitch.

“You are standing today, all of you in front of G-d…”

Soon it will be Rosh Hashana and we will all be standing in front of the Master of the World. Every Jew, every farmer, every soldier, every sailor. Even though what divides us is nearly as great as what unites us, in front of G-d we are one nation, indivisible, the sum greater than its parts.

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