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Parashat Nitzavim-Vayelech (Deuteronomy 29:9-31:30)[1]

“I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day: I have put before you life and death,

blessing and curse.  Choose life—if you and your offspring would live.”(Deuteronomy 30:19)

Parashat Nitzavim opens with three assertions:  the Israelites are embarked on a national mission that requires the participation of every member of the community (“…from your woodchopper to your water carrier (Deut. 29:10)); that the mission is to enter into a brit (covenant) with God; and that the brit is binding upon all generations, present and future.  Of course, this raises a question central to Jewish life:  can an obligation undertaken by our ancestors (the brit) be binding upon us today?

Isaac ben Judah Abravanel (1437-1508; Portuguese commentator and one of the first Jewish scholars influenced by Renaissance writers) compares the brit to a loan, the responsibility for which must be assumed by the children if the borrower dies before paying it back.  This has both theological and sociological implications.  First, regardless of what things look like at any given moment, there is always a promise of better things ahead.  Second, the brit now becomes not only a set of reciprocal obligations between each individual Jew and God, but a signal responsibility between each individual and the entirety of the Jewish past.   And if each Jew accepts that responsibility, the brit becomes a link between all of today.  In that way, the brit is the foundation of Jewish community connecting us both across time and across space.

Good Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom,

David


[1] We read two parashot (portions) this week because of the way 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 (including leap years, which add an entire month) 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.

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