Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Parshat Nitzavim

Not In Heaven

This week's parsha follows on from the Tochecha, the blessing and the curse that Moshe threatened to Israel.

The penalty that Moshe warns the people is very severe. And yet, there does not seem to be any escape as it would be impossible to ensure that the entire nation would be free of sin since there is no way that so many individuals could be controlled. Therefore, it would be impossible for Israel to remain punishment free.

Therefore, Moshe makes a few statements in order to ease those fears.

Firstly he says: "Perhaps there is among you a man, woman, family, or tribe, whose heart strays this day from the Lord … saying, "I will have peace, even if I follow my heart's desires," … The Lord will not be willing to forgive him… (Devarim 29:17-19).

Israel need not worry about any individual who sins for "The Lord will separate him for evil, out of all the tribes of Israel, according to all the curses of the covenant, written in this Torah scroll" (ibid 20). Therefore, no single individual sinner could possibly cause the curse to be brought down upon Israel. Only a betrayal by the entire nation could bring about the punishment.

Therefore, Moshe then immediately discusses the punishments of the nation. He describes how foreign nations will look at the cruel desolation of the Land of Israel and ask: "Why did the Lord do so to this land?" (ibid 23) Their answer will be "because they abandoned the covenant of the Lord, God of their fathers, [the covenant] which He made with them" (ibid 24).

This emphasizes that the curse would only befall Israel where the nation as a whole to betray God, not when individuals dif. This is further emphasized when he adds: "The hidden things belong to the Lord, our God" (ibid 28). The people need not concern themselves with those who sin behind closed doors, it is not their concern and God Himself will call them to account. "But the revealed things apply to us" (ibid) meaning that the people only need concern themselves with the public betrayal of the covenant. This implies once again, that Israel still has its destiny in its own hands.

Nevertheless, one might think that it is impossible to prevent sin. The Torah is so vast and complex making it unlikely that the people could avoid betraying its principles.

Moshe therefore, adds one further point: "This commandment … is not concealed from you, nor is it far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, "Who will go up to heaven for us and fetch it for us…" Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, "Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us and fetch it for us… "Rather, [this] thing is very close to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can fulfill it" (ibid 30:11-14).

The Torah, God's eternal covenant with Israel, is well within our grasp, if we wish it to be. Therefore, the choice that: "I have set before you today life and good, and death and evil" (ibid 15) is a real choice we have.

Shana Tova to all Israel

Last year's Sedra Short on Parshat Nitsavim, entitled: "Alone in a Crowd" appears at

Another Sedra Short on Parshat Nitsavim-VaYelech entiled: "The Hidden" appears at

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