Nitzavim , Vayelech – Moshe’s message on his last day of life

Moshe predicted that the Jewish people would be rebellious after his death just as they had been during his life. He knew that the people would act corruptly and stray from the path that they had been commanded to keep to. He predicted that evil would befall the Jewish people if they “did evil in G-d’s eyes and angered Him through their handiwork”. He therefore had commanded the Levites to place the Torah next to the Ark to be kept at the heart of the nation as he hoped (R’ Hirsch) the words of the Torah would be in the hearts of the people.

 

This prediction of the straying of the Jewish people was juxtaposed several times with indications of how to return to G-d’s way. At the outset, Moshe had said that all the people should enter the covenant with G-d to be His people, and they should not serve other gods or practise idolatory. From all other sins and deviations they could return to G-d.

 

Yeshayahu Leibowitz called Nitzavim the parasha of Teshuvah. The expressions which are related to SHUV include “you will take to heart”, “you will return to the Lord your G-d” , “G-d” will bring back your captives” , “if you return to the Lord your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul”. These concepts, taking to heart, returning , repenting , and redemption from captivity are intertwined and Leibowitz wrote that they “cannot be separated from one another”. Perhaps he meant that they are often steps in the process of Teshuvah, so important in the month of Ellul, the days of Rosh Hashanna, and the days leading up to and including Yom Kippur.

 

There are another two ideas which help to understand this. Moshe said that the commandment is not in heaven or across the sea, but that rather it is “very near to you”, “in your mouth and your heart to perform it”. Arizal said that these were the critical elements in mitzvot, thoughts, speech and action. Tzror Hamor wrote that these words are the key to repentance: confession (mouth), remorse (heart) and the need to correct one’s actions.

 

Moshe’s next statement contains the other important idea. He said “ I have placed before you today the life and the good, and the death and the evil”. And after some elaboration Moshe said “ Choose life to love G-d ….. for He is your life and the length of your days to dwell in the land which He swore to your fathers”. R’ Munk wrote that this is the supreme wish of the religious Jew, and quoted the Talmud (Ketuboth) that it is preferable to live in a city in Israel that is mostly non-Jewish than a city in another land which is predominantly Jewish. Clearly, the Torah repeatedly gives guidance as to how to live in Israel and to successfully hold onto it. 

 

 

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