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Parashat Nitzavim-Vayelech (Deuteronomy 29:9-31:30)

“That day, Moses wrote down this poem and taught it to the Israelites.” (Deut. 31:22)

We read two parashot (portions) this week because of how the Jewish calendar is calculated. Months are determined by the moon’s cycle, but the year is determined by the sun’s. Therefore, a Jewish year can have from 50-55 weeks. Since the number of parashot doesn’t change, some years require that some get “doubled up” on a given Shabbat.

Parashat Nitzavim opens with Moses declaring, “You stand this day, all of you, before the Lord your God-your tribal heads, your elders and your officials, all the men of Israel, your children, your wives, even the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to water-drawer…” (Deut. 29:9-11). The comprehensive listing implies the national mission (entering into the brit, or covenant) is incumbent upon every individual. The Ohr HaChaim (Chaim ben Moses ibn Attar (1696-1743; Moroccan Talmudist, Kabbalist, and commentator) digs a little deeper. He says Moses divides the Israelite people into categories based on the potential to influence others. Tribal heads influence many, woodchoppers not so much. The listing expresses the responsibility each Jew has toward others.

Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Lyadi (1745-1812; founding Rebbe of Chabad, a branch of Chassidism) stresses this connection even further. He says no individual is completely whole. However, within a group, one individual’s missing qualities can be found in another person. That is why Nitzavim says, “Even if your exile (in the singular, referring to what is missing from within) is at the farthest edge of heaven… from there God will gather you (in the plural, referring to bringing people together to complement one another); (Deut. 30:4).

We each are responsible individually, but only through our connection to one another, can we each be truly complete.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom


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