Nitzavim

By Johnny Solomon, September 22, 2008
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"Not with you alone do I make this covenant and this oath, but with whoever is here, standing with us today... and with whoever is not here with us today" Deuteronomy 29:13-14

On the last day of his life, Moses gathered the entire people to remind them of their responsibilities towards God, each other and future generations. Yet in order to understand what he said, we must refer back to another time when the whole people stood together.

When God sought to give the Torah to the Jewish people, our sages teach us that God demanded guarantors that it would be observed. In response to this, the Jewish people said that their guarantors would be their children. It is from here we see that even before the Torah was given, God emphasised the need for Jewish continuity.

Now, on the last day of his life, Moses reminded the people of their promise, and offered some suggestions as to how to ensure continuity.

He began by asking the young children to be present. It did not matter that some may have cried, or needed attention as he spoke. Instead, by doing so, he sent a clear message to the community: children can only play a role in the future if they are made welcome in the present.

At the same time, Moses made a covenant with all those who were not there. Rashi (1040-1105), understands this comment to mean "those who are not yet here" and, quoting the Midrash Tanchuma, explains that it refers to future generations whose souls were present at the giving of the Torah.

However, there is an alternative way to read this verse. Moses wished to tell all those in the Jewish community who are not yet there; who are not yet comfortable in a synagogue or not yet observing the Shabbat, they too are part of the covenant.

Finally, the Or Hachayim (Rabbi Chayim Ibn Attar, 1696-1743) explains that in this verse, Moses emphasised the responsibilities of those present to see to it that their children would observe the Torah. In so doing, he ended his life with the secret of Jewish survival. Jewish continuity begins at home.

    Last updated: 3:58pm, September 22 2008