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 10, 2009

Parshat Nitzavim-Vayelech

The Truth That is Israel

After all the trials and tribulations of last week's parsha, this week's parsha promises the Jewish people redemption:

"The Lord, your God, will bring back your exiles, and He will have mercy upon you. He will once again gather you from all the nations, where the Lord, your God, had dispersed you" (Devarim 30:3)

As someone who was brought up as and remains an orthodox Jew, I was taught from a very young age that the Torah, the five Books of Moses, were the direct word of God, dictated by God to Moshe during the forty years that Israel through the wilderness.

As a student of Bible, I can see many textual problems with this theology, some of which we have discussed in previous Sedra Shorts. These issues can be very challenging for the believing Jew.

Nevertheless, all those issues are resolved by the pesukim we have just quoted. The impossible has happened. After 2,000 years of forced exile, the Jewish people have returned to their land. Indeed, after only 61 years since the birth of the Jewish state, more Jews now live there than in any other country.

Together with this unparalleled event, Hebrew, a language that had remained dormant for an even longer period than the exile, has been reborn as a modern spoken language.

I cannot resolve all the textual analysis that casts doubt on the concept of Torat Moshe MiSinai, but I can say that those words show that even though God sometimes "hides His face" (ibid 31:17), the Torah made an incredible and highly improbable prediction that has come true.

Nonetheless, many don't see God's hand in the return of the Jewish people to their land. Indeed, much of this return is due to the hard work of many individuals.

This issue can be resolved by another passuk in this week's parsha.

God tells Moshe that he will not cross over the Jordan into Canaan. Yehoshua will take over from him and lead the people into the Promised Land:

"The Lord, your God He will cross before you; He will destroy these nations from before you so that you will possess them. Joshua he will cross before you" (31:3).

The passuk begins by saying that God will cross over into the land before Israel yet ends with the fact that Yehoshua will actually be doing that..

There is no contradiction here. Yehoshua was God's agent on earth. The people did not see a presence of God fighting for them. They saw Yehoshua. Yet, God was there. It was for the people to see that Yehoshua's success came because God was with him. In the Bible, God doing something and people doing something are almost always he same thing; because people are God's agents on earth.

So too, the individuals who made (and still make) a superhuman effort to help bring home Jews from the four corners of the earth can be seen as being the agents of God. That does not mean that they do not deserve the credit for their efforts, but it does mean, that if we look carefully at the workings of the world, we can see God's hand in action.

Last year's Sedra Short on Parshat Nitzavim entitled "Not In Heaven" appears at

Last year's Sedra Short on Parshat VaYelech entitled "The Lantern Shines On" appears at

Another Sedra Short on Parshat Nitsavim-VaYelech, entitled: "Alone in a Crowd" appears at

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

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