Parashat Nitzavim-Vayelech – Erev Shabbat 3 September 2021
Week of 29 August – 4 September 2021
Torah portion: Deuteronomy 29:9 – 31:30 Haftarah: Isaiah 61:10-63:9
Theme: Choose life in the LORD your God
This week we have two of among the shorter parashot in our Torah cycle: Nitzavim meaning “stand” or “stationed” (Fox), and Vayelech meaning “(Moses) went”. In both these parashot, all of the then Israel were present and the intention was that all the descendants were included. “All of you before your God” including the stranger among them “from woodchopper to water drawer” (29:9-10). “Moses went and spoke these things to all Israel” (31:1). We are reminded of what happened in Exod. 19 where all the people were gathered below Mount Sinai to hear the instructions of the LORD. Another similar gathering of the people that is special to me since my time of studying Vayikra at Bat Kol in 2008, is Leviticus 19:1 “The LORD spoke to Moses saying: ‘Speak to the whole Israelite community and say to them: You shall be holy, for I, your God the LORD, am holy’”
We look closely at Parashat Nitzavim. Why do the people ‘stand’ before the LORD? Firstly, they are in the presence of the highest Authority who wants to re-iterate and put a stamp on the Covenant promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: “for you to cross over into the covenant of the LORD your God, and into his oath of fealty that the LORD your God is cutting with you today” [29:11 (Fox)]. We talk about “standing your ground”; “I stand by what I say” etc. We stand in our word, our promise. We accept that the LORD is our God (v. 12).
Fox gives the title of “Exile and Return” to chapter 30 and tells us that it is generally accepted that this chapter is a late addition because “(it) envisions a time after the curses have fallen upon the people of Israel and they finally return to God” (Fox, p. 990). Fox encourages us to focus on the ‘key root’ ‘life’ which appears six times in the chapter and “the sevenfold use of the Heb. shuv – ‘return’ or ‘restore’” (Ibid).
To break God’s Covenant as given to us in the Decalogue is to destroy all of God’s creation by imbalance, disharmony, destruction, and death! We are offered blessings and curses; life and prosperity or death and doom! What do we choose? Our question is how do we follow the instructions of the Lord that are so beyond us? God’s law “is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it” (30:14).
In the second part of this week’s Parashah (31:1-30), Moses assures the people that “the LORD your God, will cross over before you” destroying the nations before them, into the Promised Land (vs. 3-5). God commands Joshua, the successor of Moses: “Be strong and resolute: for you shall bring the Israelites into the land that I promised them on oath, and I will be with you.” (v. 23)
The Haftarah (Is 61:10-63:9), known as the Seventh Consolation completes the last ten weeks called: Three weeks of Rebuke and Seven weeks of Consolation. Thus we experience each year the process of rebuke and condolence, destruction and rebuilding, estrangement and reunion as we prepare for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
For Reflection and Discussion: Spend time with the Lord our God by reading and meditating upon these extraordinary chapters from Deuteronomy and Isaiah. What do I need to do or change in my life to be truly in Covenant with God and all of Creation?
Bibliography: Eskenazi, T. C. Weiss, A.L. A Women’s Commentary (New York: 2008); Fox, Everett. The Five Books of Moses (New York: 1997); www.chabad.org Seven Degrees of Consolation – Teachings of Lubavitcher Rebbe.
This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Bernadette Chellew, South Africa, Bat Kol Alumna: 2008