Parashat Nitzavim -Vayelech – Erev Shabbat 11 September 2020
Week of 6-12 September 2020
Torah portion: Deuteronomy 29:9-31:30 Haftarah: Isaiah 61:10-63:9
Theme: Blessings and Curses
This Torah portion composed of Parashat Nitzavim (You are standing) and Vayelech (And he went) is read on the Shabbat before the Jewish Rosh ha-shannah, a time for taking to heart the commitment to God’s covenant. It deals with the often repeated theme of covenant fidelity – those who are faithful to the covenant will receive blessings while those who are not, will receive curses.
It starts with Moses, giving his last speech to the Israelites, telling them that they are standing before God (presenting themselves before God) in order “to enter into the Covenant with God . . . with its sanctions.”(29:11) During this covenant ceremony, Moses presents an inclusive listing of those who are to be part of the covenant. Among these are the tribal heads, the elders, the officials, all the men of Israel and their children, their wives and even the strangers in the camp from woodchopper to water drawer: in short, all the members of the community, regardless of rank, sex or of being an Israelite or a foreigner. Moses also includes “those who are not here with us this day” (29:14) to refer to those not yet born. Thus, it is a covenant binding not just those present but also for all future generations and for all times.
Moses’ inclusive listing means that all must commit themselves personally and not through the action of a parent, husband or superior. It is a personal commitment where no one can say: “It is not my responsibility.” Everyone must do his or her part.
Ska (2006) says that it is only in Deut 29:12 that there is an explicit connection between the promises made to the fathers (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) and the covenant at Horeb or the Law. The people are to be blessed with a host of blessings from the gift of land, numerous descendants and long life among others. All the covenant blessings are summarized in 28:1-14 (read in the previous Parasha).
This is, however, followed by a longer listing of curses for failing to keep the covenant. Among these are calamity, panic caused by war, social disorder and pestilence, drought, crop failure and virulent epidemic. The description of the epidemic – consumption, fever, and inflammation, with scorching heat and drought that will cause death (28:22 – the previous Parasha) – brings to mind the present COVID-19 pandemic. Are we being cursed?
The list of blessings and promises in Deut 28 ends with the final reminder “to faithfully observe the commandments of the Lord” (v. 13). The promises depend on a key condition: that they shun all other gods.
The good news is that the people will not stay cursed. Moses shows the way to restoration and states the ways that the LORD God will take those cursed back into his favour (30:1-10). The key lesson is that disobedience will lead to disaster while obedience will lead to the LORD God’s promises of abundance and security.
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. Do you think the corona virus pandemic is a curse from God? 2. Whether a curse or not, what can you do alone or with others to bring people to the knowledge of the true God?
Bibliography: ETZ Hayim: Torah and Commentary (New York, 2001); Guinan, The Pentateuch : Message of Biblical Spirituality (Minnesota, 1990); Ska, Introduction to Reading the Pentateuch (Indiana, 2006)
This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Minerva Generalao, Bat Kol Alumna July 2014