Parshat Netzavim - Vayelech
On the last day of his life, Moshe gathers together all the people, both 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 in spite of 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 which will be a result of the failure to heed G-d's mitzvos. 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 - the Jewish People have forsaken the One who protects them, in favor of idols which can do nothing. Moshe promises, however, that the people will eventually repent after both the blessings and the curses have been fulfilled. However assimilated they will have become among the nations, eventually G-d will bring them back to Eretz Yisrael. Moshe tells the people to remember that the Torah is not a remote impossibility; rather its fulfillment is within the grasp of every Jew. The Parsha concludes with a dramatic choice between life and death. Moshe exhorts the people to choose life.
On this, the last day of his life, Moshe goes from tent to tent throughout the camp, bidding farewell to his beloved people, encouraging them to keep the faith. Moshe tells them that whether he is among them or not, G-d is with them, and will vanquish their enemies. Then he summons Yehoshua, and in front of all the people, exhorts him to be strong and courageous as the leader of the Jewish People. In this manner, he strengthens Yehoshua's status as the new leader. Moshe teaches them the mitzvah of Hakhel: That every seven years on the first day of the intermediate days of Succos, the entire nation, including small children, is to gather together at the Temple to hear the King read from the Book of Devarim. The sections that he reads deal with faithfulness to G-d, the covenant, and reward and punishment. G-d tells Moshe that his end is near, and he should therefore summon Yehoshua to stand with him in the Mishkan, where G-d will teach Yehoshua. G-d then tells Moshe and Yehoshua that after entering the Land, the people will be unfaithful to Him, and begin to worship other gods. G-d will then completely hide his face, so that it will seem that the Jewish People are at the mercy of fate, and that they will be hunted by all. G-d instructs Moshe and Yehoshua to write down a song - Ha'azinu - which will serve as a witness against the Jewish People when they sin. Moshe records the song in writing and teaches it to Bnei Yisrael. Moshe completes his transcription of the Torah, and instructs the Levi'im to place it to the side of the Aron (Holy Ark), so that no one will ever write a new Torah scroll that is different from the original - for there will always be a reference copy.
Aristorcracy of Holiness
“You are standing today, all of you, before the L-rd, your G-d; the heads of your tribes, your elders and your officers – all people of Israel.” (13:17)
Rabbi Nota Schiller, Rosh Yeshiva of Ohr Somayach, once remarked, “Judaism is democracy of opportunity and an aristocracy of opinion.” Judaism is democratic, anyone can sit down and open up a Gemara and start to learn, but when it comes to decisions that affect the whole of the Jewish People, we listen only to the great Sages of every generations — the aristocracy of holiness.
But Judaism is a democracy on another level as well.
The halacha says that if someone orders a Jew: “Kill or be killed!” he must let himself be killed. The Talmud’s reasoning (Pesachim 25) is that who’s to say that your blood is redder than his? Maybe G-d thinks his life is more significant than yours. So you have no right to end his or her life.
Thus, even if someone came to the Gadol HaDor, the greatest Jew in his generation, whose righteousness and piety were beyond compare, and said “Kill this little Yidele! Kill this insignificant soul!”, the Gadol HaDor would say,“Kill me! Maybe his life is dearer to G-d than mine.”
Moshe always would speak first to the princes and only afterwards to all the Jewish People (Rashi, beginning of Mattot). In our Parsha, however, he addresses the entire Jewish nation first, as it says above, “And Moshe called to all Yisrael and said to them.…”
For this reason Moshe says, “You are standing today, all of you….” There is no distinction between you and “the heads of your tribes, your elders and your officers” — you are “all men of Israel” and no one knows who is greater than whom — except G-d.
- Sources: Rabbi Moshe Alshich (1508–1593, Safed); Rabbi Simcha Bunim Bonhart of Peshis’ke/Przysucha, Poland (1765–1827)