Torah Weekly

For the week ending 9 September 2023 / 23 Elul 5783

Parshat Nitzavim

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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On the last day of his life, Moshe gathers all the people, young and old, lowly and exalted, men and women, in a final initiation. The covenant includes not only those who are present, but even those generations yet unborn. Moshe admonishes the people again to be extremely vigilant against idol worship, because despite having witnessed the abominations of Egypt, there will always be the temptation to experiment with foreign philosophies as a pretext for immorality.

Moshe describes the desolation of the Land of Israel that will result from failure to heed Hashem’s mitzvahs. Both their descendants and foreigners alike will remark on the singular desolation of the Land and its apparent inability to be sown or to produce crops. The conclusion will be apparent to all — that the Jewish People have forsaken the One Who protects them, in favor of powerless idols. Moshe promises, however, that the people will eventually repent after both the blessings and the curses have been fulfilled. And, however assimilated they will have become among the nations, Hashem will eventually bring them back to the Land of Israel. Moshe tells the people to remember that the Torah is not a remote impossibility, but rather that its fulfillment is within the grasp of every Jew. This Torah portion concludes with a dramatic choice between life and death, with Moshe exhorting the people to choose life.


Stand Up and Be Counted

“You are standing today…” (29:9)

As modern culture seems to increasingly anesthetize the inherent morality of humanity, a Jew needs to stand up and be counted. As society at large is held to ransom by an autocracy of pseudo-intellectuals whose views are based on little more than their own virtue-signaling and a desperate scramble not to be seen as un-enlightened, we who champion the immutable values of the Torah need to stand up and be counted.

The Chafetz Chaim once said to Rabbi Shimon Schwab, “Do you know why I am a Kohen and you are not?” Rabbi Schwab said, ‘Because your father was a Kohen and your grandfather was a Kohen.” “Okay, so why was my grandfather a Kohen?’ Before waiting for Rabbi Schwab to answer, the Chafetz Chaim explained, “I am a Kohen because three and half thousand years ago, at the scene of the Golden Calf, when Moshe Rabbeinu called out, ‘Who is for Hashem? To Me!” – my great-great-grandfather ran and heeded the call to be counted with Moshe and our holy Torah.”

Today, how do we answer the call of “Who is for Hashem? To Me!” How do we stand up and be counted? When we stand bigger and stronger than temptation. When we turn our heads away, we heed the call.

When we do this, we experience a moment that is totally between us and Hashem, a private moment that no one else will ever know about. The Midrash says on the verse in Mishlei, “My son, give Me your heart and your eyes...” — “The Holy One says, ‘If you give Me your heart and your eyes, I know that you are Mine.”

When we guard our eyes, when we raise our eyes and minds from temptation and look to Hashem – He knows that we are His. We have answered the call of “Who is for Hashem? To Me!” We are standing up and are counted.

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