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Parashat Nitzavim (Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20)

“Even if your outcasts are at the ends of the world, from there the
Lord your God will gather you, from there He will fetch you.” (Deuteronomy 30:4)

Parashat Nitzavim proclaims, “Surely, this mitzvah, commandment, which I m’tzav’cha, enjoin upon you, this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach.” (Deut. 30:11) Many commentators read mitzvah to mean the entire Torah. If that’s so, it’s easy to challenge the grand pronouncement: some portions of the Torah can be read and understood easily, but many others are opaque and resistant to comprehension. Despite Nitzavim’s rhetoric (“It is not in the heavens…” Deut. 30:12) many find the Torah intimidating and feel it is out of reach for them.

The Talmud thinks (and demonstrates) otherwise. It tells the story of Rabbi Prida, who has a student who struggles. Patiently, he teaches the lesson 400 times until the student masters it. One time, a stranger interrupts and the student cannot master the material. When Rabbi Prida asks what is wrong, the student responds, “Since that man came in, I’m sure you’ll get up and leave.” Rabbi Prida responds, “Come, I’ll start from the beginning.” (Babylonian Talmud Eruvin 54b)

The rabbis know not everyone is a Torah scholar. They also know that’s OK; with appropriate instruction, everyone can learn some Torah. And that’s why Nitzavim uses m’tzav’cha, in the singular. Nitzavim opens with the entirety of the people standing as one: the highest officials and the lowliest laborers; men, women, and children (Deut. 29: 9-10). This moment of solidarity is what keeps the Torah within everyone’s reach: look to one side and you will find your teacher. Look to the other side and you will find your student. When we behave as a single, connected people, everyone can grasp the Torah.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom
Gut Yohr/Shana Tova

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