Nitzavim-Vayelech

September 18, 2014

Nitzavim-Vayelech

This week’s double parsha brings us to the penultimate words of Moses to the People on the day of his death. He gives them a final warning and and the hope – the blessing of Teshuva (Repentance).

In 29:25 we read another warning against looking for other religions.
“And they went and served other gods and bowed down before them – gods whom they knew not and who were not assigned to them.”

RASHI
Whom they knew not – RASHI: With whom they had never experienced any divine power.

Why does Rashi not accept the more obvious meaning of these words – gods whom they did not know, foreign gods?
What is wrong with such an interpretation?

The verse condemns worshipping “gods they had not known.” But if they worshipped them, in what sense can we say they didn’t know them? They knew them enough to worship them! So these words cannot be taken at face value.

According to Rashi “known” does not mean “being aware of.” As we might say “I know who he is.” Here it means “knowing these gods to be gods,” that is, to be powers that have manifested their might to the benefit of their worshippers. But these gods do not have such power and the people could not have “known” them in such a god-like capacity.

In the second short parasha of Vayelech we read ( 29:14)
“For those who are with us here today before Hashem our God and (also) those who are not here with us today.”

RASHI
And those who are not here – Rashi: Even generations destined to be [born].

Rashi’s comment seems strange. Why can’t he understand these words simply as all those not present at this assembly? And how does someone make a covenant with someone not yet alive?

The first verse in the parsha (29:9) says explicitly who were present at this assembly. They included “the heads of the tribes, your elders, your law officers, every man of Israel.”
If every man of Israel was present, who could be meant by “those not present here today”?
“Those not here today” means “those not here today!” The emphasis is on “today,” which implies those here at some other time – in the future.
But the question arises: How can an agreement be made with someone not yet born?

This question was not answered rationally until the 15th century by Rabbi Isaac Arama and Don Isaac Abarbanel against the background of the Spanish Inquisition.
Why continue to be Jewish?

Arama’s answer that for the entire Jewish people to abandon Judaism was like a species committing mass suicide. Amongst humans and animals there are those who commit suicide, but they are the exception to the rule.
Just as human instinct is to survive, so Jewish instinct is to survive as a Jews. This is what the Torah calls us to do so many times.
The secular call it not giving Hitler a posthumous victory!

Abarbanel pointed out, as we will say in the Rosh Hashana liturgy so many times, that we are not only God’s children, we are also his servants. Avinu Malkenu…….You are our Father, You are our King.

Whereas parents cannot make a covenant on behalf of their unborn children, the children of slaves remain slaves until their Master releases them. God took us out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery to be His chosen people, to serve Him.

Rav JB Soloveitchik of Boston spoke of two covenants.
He developed the idea that Jews have historically been linked together by two distinct covenants. One is the brit yi’ud, “covenant of destiny”, which is the covenant by which Jews are bound together through their adherence to the Torah. The second is the brit goral, “covenant of fate”, the desire and willingness to be part of a people chosen by God to live a sacred mission in the world, and the fact that all those who live in this covenant share the same fate of persecution and oppression, even if they do not live by halakha. Soloveitchik held that non-Orthodox Jews were in violation of the covenant of destiny, yet they are still bound together with Orthodox Jews in the covenant of fate.

My Rebbe, Rav Leperer zatzal used to say that we are born Jewish and we will die Jewish. In between we have to try and find a way to live Jewish!

The Rabbanit joins me in wishing you all another year of meaningful Jewish life in good health and happiness.

Rabbi Meir Wise
Ramat Beit Shemesh

On completing this weeks blog, I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of my dear friend and colleague Harav Shmuel (Sydney) Silberg zatzal. He was the outstanding Talmid of Rabbi Dr Isidore Epstein and Rav Koppul Kahane and the leading pastoral rabbi of his generation. He swam easily in the sea of the Talmud, as well as being a fine biblical scholar. In fact, he was expert in most areas of Jewish studies as well as being an expert Baal tefilla, Baal kore, and Baal tekia. He was a much sought after teacher, nor did he neglect the education of the ladies of the community. All this, he wore lightly without any pretence of pride or looking for honour. He freely gave his pulpit in Hendon to visiting preachers and to the students of his Alma Mater Jews’ College.
In his busy schedule, he never failed to visit the sick, dower the bride, bury the dead ( he headed the Chevra Kadisha and took a very active role) and comfort the mourners. Many of his charitable activities were carried out in secret.
He set the standard for pastoral rabbis to follow.

The prophet Micah (6:8) asked

מיכה ו “הִגִּיד לְךָ אָדָם מַה טּוֹב וּמָה ה’ דּוֹרֵשׁ מִמְּךָ, כִּי אִם: עֲשׂוֹת מִשְׁפָּט,וְאַהֲבַת חֶסֶד,וְהַצְנֵעַ לֶכֶת עִם אֱלֹהֶיךָ”

What does HaShem ask of you? But to do justice and to love chesed and to walk humbly with your God.

My friend Rabbi Silberg besides fulfilling the mitzvot meticulously, fulfilled the high ethical demands of the prophets and was a light to his people.

May the memory of the righteous be for a blessing and may Hashem comfort the mourners amongst the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. May this year and its troubles end and a new year with only blessings and good news begin.

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