Letter and Spirit

For the week ending 4 September 2021 / 27 Elul 5781


by Rabbi Yosef Hershman
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This Torah portion opens with the next installment of Moshe’s last testament to the Jewish People. In these verses, which follow the depiction of suffering that would be the lot of Jewish history if the Torah is not observed, Moshe refutes two notions, with the intent of keeping commitment to Torah alive for generations. First, he refutes the erroneous notion that Israel’s covenantal commitment to fulfillment of Torah is limited to certain classes of the nation, to certain generations, or to a certain period of time. Next, he refutes the notion that the blessings and curses apply only to national defection. Instead, the individual must also see to it that Torah is upheld personally.

The address begins, Atem nitzavim hayom, kulchem — “You are standing today, all of you.” The word for “standing” is not the term normally used — amad — but rather nitzav. This choice of language denotes not simply standing, but standing firmly, standing powerfully with energetic perseverance.

Our Sages cogently explain the choice of this expression here, instead of the usual word for standing, which is used in a subsequent verse. In the face of all the dreadful suffering described here, you remain nitzavim, standing firm and upright. All the suffering will pass over your heads, and you will outlast them all. While Hashem says, “I will use My arrows up against [the Jewish People],” the Sages teach, “My arrows will be finished, but they [the Jewish People] will not be destroyed.” This is because the suffering itself ensures everlasting endurance, for it will lead to the betterment of the Jewish nation:

You will stand firm; You will live on and endure forever. Even after Moshe departs, and subsequent leaders will come and go, through trials and suffering, the Jewish People will stand with eternal perseverance.

  • Sources: Commentary, Devarim 29:9-10

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