For the week ending 28 September 2019 / 28 Elul 5779

Parshat Nitzavim

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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On the last day of his life, Moshe gathers all the people, 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 despite 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 that will result from failure to heed Hashem’s mitzvahs. 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 - that the Jewish People have forsaken the One who protects them in favor of powerless idols. Moshe promises, however, that the people will eventually repent after both the blessings and the curses have been fulfilled. And however assimilated they will have become among the nations, Hashem will eventually bring them back to the Land of Israel. Moshe tells the people to remember that the Torah is not a remote impossibility, but rather that its fulfillment is within the grasp of every Jew. This Torah portion concludes with a dramatic choice between life and death, with Moshe exhorting the people to choose life.


Coming Home

“And you will return to Hashem, your G-d, and listen to His voice… (30:2)

I guess every family has its more and less religious members. My father was one of thirteen siblings and his father came from Birshenkovitz in the Ukraine. In the early years of the twentieth century my grandfather, his mother and his five sisters all left the Ukraine. I don’t know if they all left together, but all the sisters and their mother, Yocheved, ended up in the US, and my grandfather in England. In the 1920s my grandfather and some of his sons opened a furniture factory that was very successful until the eldest son, Irving, died tragically in a car accident. Without him the business soon went into liquidation. Recently, with the wonders of email, the greater Spivack clan regularly swaps family history stories, and I recently posted the following: “My father (of blessed memory) once told me about a visit of Bobbe Yocheved's to England. She came to their furniture factory one Friday afternoon. There was a lumber delivery taking place. She realized that they were not going to be able to offload all the lumber before Shabbos came in, and so she told the transport company to reload all the lumber, take it back to the depot, and deliver it on Monday morning. They were flabbergasted, but she was adamant and got her way. I don't think that won her too many popularity bouquets from the lumber company, but I was impressed with the length that she was prepared to go to uphold her principles.”

A cousin of mine shot back, “Nice story about our great-grandmother. No wonder the business went bust!”

To which I replied, “Maybe it kept going as long as it did because of her principled action.”

“Maybe!” he replied.

My impression is that the Spivacks were quite religious, and that over the years it lessened — some more than others. Where there is no Torah learning, eventually there is no doing. In my experience, observance rarely extends to more than the following generation unless you can give your children reasons for our customs and observance.

“And you will return to Hashem, your G-d, and listen to His voice,” is both a command and a prediction. The command to return, to regain what we have lost, is written not in the command form but in the plain future tense — meaning that it’s also a prediction. Hashem 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: Eventually an era will dawn when the light of spirituality will infuse the entire world and pervade every soul.

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