Parshat Nitzavim-Vayelech

estimated 5 min read

This week we read Devarim (Deuteronomy) 29:9-31:30. Chabad’s summary may be found here.

Today, I want however, to focus on the first few verses of parshah Nitzavim and a few other “trends” I’m learning about. Please don’t take anything I write as the way it definitely is. I’m just an ignorant lay person currently recovering from some cranky sinuses.

Let’s use this english as it was the easiest for me to cut and paste in [1].

9. You are all standing this day before the Lord, your God the leaders of your tribes, your elders and your officers, every man of Israel,
10. your young children, your women, and your convert who is within your camp both your woodcutters and your water drawers,
11. that you may enter the covenant of the Lord, your God, and His oath, which the Lord, your God, is making with you this day,
12. in order to establish you this day as His people, and that He will be your God, as He spoke to you, and as He swore to your forefathers to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
13. But not only with you am I making this covenant and this oath,
14. but with those standing here with us today before the Lord, our God, and [also] with those who are not here with us, this day.

Woah?!!! With those who are not here with us, this day??? How can that be?

I screeched to a halt at this point and when scrambling to try to find out what others have said on these five verses. First, I stayed with the text and look at Rashi. He says: [2]

And with whoever is not here and also with the generations who are destined to be.

Hmm… this is a bit tough, as Rashi often seems to be for me. It’s obvious that it means those who come in the future (ooh sounds all sci-fi) but how does it still hold? Sometimes I “get Rashi”, oftentimes I don’t. I turned to a book called What’s Bothering Rashi [3] to see if he could help. It did!

Legally it is quite difficult to wrap our heads around this verse. However, from a sociological or historical view it is not as difficult. While a parent cannot easily pass intellect, nationalism, or allegiance onto their child; they do pass religion. This phenomenon is a mystery as to why this is the case, but it “remains a fact of human society”. Rashi’s comment reflects this.

(I have paraphrased and summarized what was written)

I understand this a bit more. Religion is passed le dor v dor (generation to generation). Ok…

Next I continue with those commentaries included in my Chumash and see what Targum Onkelos says. I found English translations for all but Bereshit in my Uni library. He/It says: [4, p 252]

11. to enter into the covenant of the Lord your God and into His oath, which the Lord your God is concluding with you this day;
12. to the end that He may stand you this day before Him as His people and He will be your God, as He told you and as He affirmed to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
13. Not with you alone did I conclude this covenant and this oath,
14. but with those who are standing here with us this day before the Lord our Goad and with those who are not with us here this day.

My inclusion of Targum Onkelos is mostly due to a curiosity of what is written. Targum is an Aramaic word which means, “translation”. There are three complete Targum, and Targum Onkelos is one of the most literal of all these. Traditionally Onkelos has been recognized as the author of this targum. He was a convert and a contemporary to Rabbi Akiva and a student of Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyracanus and Rabbi Joshua ben Hananiah. In the Babylonian Talmud it is stated that he translated the Pentateuch under the eye of his teachers. This translation became the accepted one and jews were urged to read the parshah weekly in hebrew (twice) and once with this “official” translation. [4, pp 1-2] Interesting, no?

Finally, I turned to Nechama. I don’t own a copy for Devarim, but the Uni does. She helps us learn that: [5]
“Neither with you only do I make this covenant and this oath; but with him that stands here with us this day before hashem, our god and also with him that is not here with us this day” (29:13-4) She also wonders how this contract could obligate future generations, who said: “We shall do and we shall hear”.. but how through that can one be bound a priori by revelation at har sinai? Many struggled with this difficulty. Abravanel wrestled with the sages of Aragon about this, and concluded that “as a man who receives a loan is obligated to repay, and his children will inherit his property and debts, so to has hashem conferred a privilege on Israel and they are indebted to him…” Therefore, every jew is a priori bound by this revelation. Look to ezekiel (20:32-33)[6].

Woah.

Sunday (after midnight) we start saying Selichos (or Slichot or Selichot). Two resources may be found here and here.

I leave you this: The word ha-yom (this day/today) was repeated 7 times in chapter 29. (and 7 times in chapter 30). Why? [see 3]

שׁבּת שׁלום

Sources:
I often forgot to write down page numbers. Mea culpa. You may find the sources cited and included at the sections for each of these at the parsha or by the chapter, depending how the source is organized. Thank you.
[1] Chumash with Rashi, accessed 7 Sept 07.
[2] Herczeg, Rabbi Yisrael. Sapirstein Edition Rashi Student Size. Mesorah Publications, ltd. Brooklyn, NY. &copy 1998.
[3] Bonchek, Avigdor. What’s Bothering Rashi? Devarim. Feldheim Publishers: Jerusalem, Israel. © 2002.
[4] Drazin, Israel. Targum Onkelos to Deuteronomy: An English Translation of the Text With Analysis and Commentary (Based on A. Sperber’s Edition) Ktav Publishing House, Inc. 1982.
[5] Leibowitz, Nechama. Studies in Devarim. Jerusalem : World Zionist Organization, Dept. for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora, 1980.
[6] Which is beyond the scope of this short article.