This week’s parsha, Nitzavim, begins with an expression of the universality of God’s covenant with the Israelites. It wasn’t enough to say ‘all of you’ who are standing before God, rather, we are given a list of all those assembled before Moses as he instructed them before they entered the land of Israel. In this list, we see a hierarchy of social and religious significance; we are told that among those present are tribal leaders, elders, officials, men who have households, children, wives, and ‘strangers’, the servants.
Moses continues to remind the Israelites of God’s actions during their journey out of Egypt, the commandments they have been given, and the consequences of both living by and living against the conditions of the covenant. There are warnings of curses and anger and wrath and promises of blessing and sustenance and reward. This is, at its simplest, Moses’ final attempt to give the Israelites a moral compass, a sense of right and wrong in God’s eyes, as they finally cross into the land promised to their ancestors, but without Moses’ leadership.
There is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful pieces of language in the Torah towards the end of Moses’ instructions to the Israelites (Deut. 30 12-16):
[This instruction] is not in the heavens, that you should say, “Who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who among us can cross to the other side of the sea and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?” No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it. I set before you this day life and prosperity, death and adversity. For I command you this day, to love your God, to walk in God’s ways, and to keep God’s commandments, God’s laws, and God’s rules, that you may thrive and increase, and that your God may bless you in the land that you are about to enter and possess.
As Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur near again, this week’s parsha is a reminder that when we are celebrating, showing humility and remorse, asking one another and God for forgiveness, we are equal. The opportunity to act righteously, care for ourselves and others around us, and enjoy prosperity is accessible and within the reach of every one of us, regardless of privilege and position, as is the opportunity near to us to turn from our misdeeds and transgressions towards goodness in the new year.
Shanah Tovah U’metuka
A Happy and Sweet 5783!