23 Elul 5774
September 19, 2014
To read parshat Nitzavim is to experience Moses’ renewal of the Jewish covenant with the people of Israel. Doing so in the land of Israel is to experience the fulfillment of prophecy itself.
In his final days on earth, Moses gathers every member of the Jewish people to renew the covenant received at Sinai. From the most exalted of priests and elders, to the lowliest of laborers, “from the hewer of your wood to drawer of your water.” This is a message to a nation and all of its members must be present.
One need not have been a member of dor midbar—the generation of the desert—or the one that followed to experience this renewal; it flows through history. As it is said, “with whoever is here standing with us today before Hashem, and whoever is not.” If we are told from the outset that the entire nation was standing before Moses, this can only mean one thing: we are there too. And what we are about to hear we will have the zchut to experience generations later.
Nitzavim provides one of the Torah’s clearest references to the prophecy of geula—the ingathering of the exiles. As it is said, “Hashem will bring back your captivity and have mercy upon you and He will return and gather you in from all the peoples to which he has scattered you.” The Jewish people will return to the land of its ancestors.
And what if the Jew has been scattered to the depths of the world, from the farthest flung corners of the earth? Moses tells us, “If your dispersed will be at the ends of Heaven, from there Hashem will gather you in.” The covenant applies not only to all generations but to all corners. Taking part in this national drama is accessible to all.
Yet it will not come about without aravut, of national responsibility. The behavior of this nation—its ability to fulfill mitzvoth, to remember its own history and to renew its covenant,–will help determine the extent to which geula can be fulfilled. In the end, we as a nation will have to account for our own behavior. This is not an individual reckoning; it is national.
Moshe makes this clear when he says implicit in the renewal of the covenant is both a bracha and a haklala, a blessing and a curse. Our national redemption, dwelling in the land of our forefathers, having children and finding parnasah will not be ours lest we forget. Lest we forget how we dwelled in the Land of Egypt, the covenant we received at Sinai. Lest we forget the spies who buckled with fear and the mitzvoth which have been laid our for us. If we turn away we will be turned from.
But what if we turn towards our history and affirm it? The Torah does not see the arc of history in a linear fashion. Indeed, even those who were yet to be born were part of the Jewish covenant. And because of this, to turn away from our peoplehood is to turn away from not only from Sinai, but from all of our whole history, the entire spectrum that encompasses our Jewish life, from Safed to Sobibor, or as the parshat tell us, hachayiim hatov v’et hachayiim hamavet.
One of the greatest attributes of a leader is the ability to inspire a people to behave with dignity. And for this reason, there arose no more a prophet in Israel like unto Moses. Through our prophet, Hashem explains, in the clearest and most simple of terms, how we ought to behave to receive the blessing embedded in the covenant. As it is said, “it is not hidden from you, and it is not distant.” We are told that the ability is very near, that it is in our mouth and our heart to perform it.
Herein lies the aravut. The ability to behave as the nation of Hashem lies within us. Mouth and heart. Body and soul. The blessing comes when we can fulfill the synthesis of the two.
As we approach Rosh Hashanah living in the land of Israel, we have the privilege of asking ourselves what it means for a nation to choose hachayim hatov and to renew a covenant with ourselves. What does it mean to act as a Jew, both on an individual as well as a national level?
We can return to the beginning of the parshat for a glimpse of an answer. Moses tells all of us that Hashem is speaking to the nation “as he swore to our forefathers Avraham, Yitzhak and Yaakov.” He speaks to us in the same manner he connected with the greatest of our nation. There is no discrimination. Each of us is given the love that our avot received. The lowliest is treated as if he were a priest. Only in this way will we be able to unite as a nation and bring in those who have wandered off to the farthest of corners, physically and spiritually, using our mouths and our hearts