For the week ending 12 September 2020 / 23 Elul 5780

Parashat Nitzavim-Vayelech

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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On the last day of his life, Moshe gathers together 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 not yet born. 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 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 — 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 Torah portion 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, Hashem 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. E very seven years, on the first day of the intermediate days of Succot, 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.


Let It Go!

"You are standing…" (29:9)

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that one of the great things about having been part of Ohr Somayach for more around three decades is that I have met some people who are clearly living on a different level to the rest of us mere mortals. One of these great souls distilled the essence of one’s relationship with one’s fellow into three principles: His first principle is, “I was created to serve others, and no one was created to serve me.”

The second is, “I wouldn’t do it to you. But if you do it to me – it’s okay.” This doesn’t mean that a person should be a doormat and invite the world to trample on him, but post facto – if you did something to me that I could really take you to court for and get back at you — and I give up on that — I get forgiven for all my sins.

The source for this is the Gemara that says, “Anyone who ‘passes over on his character traits,’ meaning one who resists the knee-jerk reaction that many have to resent and want revenge — and just lets it go - so, concomitantly, Hashem lets go on all our sins.

It’s true that this level of saintliness is beyond the letter of the law, but it sure sounds like a good deal to me. All of my sins? Another source for this idea is the Tomer Devorah, which says that even though we constantly flout the Will of Hashem and use our G-d-given abilities to go against His Will, nevertheless, He constantly continues to give us the power to continue to do this and doesn’t “hold a grudge.”

During this week, before Hashem opens the Books of Judgment, I can think of no better exercise than to think of someone who has wronged us — and remove all resentment from our hearts. And with that we may approach the Heavenly Throne.

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