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For Discussion Around the Shabbat Table
Q: As the Torah is the blueprint for the entire creation, our Sages teach that it inherently contains within it hints and allusions to everything which will ever exist or occur in the universe. How is this information stored, and what does it have to say about recent and current events in Jewish history?
A: The Vilna Gaon explains that the Torah’s recounting of the episode of Creation contains the events which transpired in the first 1000 years of history, with the second 1000 years hidden in the remainder of the book of Bereishit, the third 1000 years in Shemot, the fourth 1000 years in Vayikra, the fifth 1000 years in Bamidbar, and the final 1000 years in Devarim. As Devarimcontains 10 portions (counting Nitzavim and Vayeilech as one, as they are often read together as a double portion), each portion hints to the events of one century of the 6th millennium, beginning from Devarim and ending with V’Zot HaBeracha.
Based on this explanation, it has been noted that the early years of the Holocaust, the greatest national tragedy in modern history, fall out in the century which is hinted to in Parsha Ki Tavo, which contains words of rebuke and hair-raising threats of terrible suffering which will befall the Jewish nation. However, consolation may be found by recognizing that we are currently living in the century which corresponds to Parshat Nitzavim-Vayeilech, which is commonly referred to as the portion of repentance, and not surprisingly the years since World War II have seen waves of unaffiliated Jews returning to their roots at unprecedented rates, precisely as predicted by the Torah. This should serve as an inspiration for all Jews to examine and improve their ways as Rosh HaShana draws nearer with every passing day. (Rabbi Ozer Alport)
Q: The Talmud (Sotah 13b) derives from Devarim 31:2 that the righteous die on the day on which they were born, as G-d completes the years of the righteous from day to day and from month to month. If Moses finished out his years, shouldn’t he have died on 6 Adar – the last day of his 120th year – and not on 7 Adar, which was the first day of a new year which he didn’t live to complete?
A: In his commentary Chochmat Shlomo on the Choshen Mishpat section of Shulchan Aruch (35:1), Rabbi Shlomo Kluger uses this very question as a novel support for an original position. Most commentators assume that a child becomes a legal adult as a Bar or Bat Mitzvah at sundown on the day of his or 13th or 12th birthdays, respectively. Rabbi Kluger, however, maintains that this occurs not at sundown but only at the time of day when the child was actually born. He suggests that although Moses was born on 7 Adar, he couldn’t die on 6 Adar, as this wouldn’t be considered a finished year. Rather, he died on 7 Adar just at the time he was born, completing his 120th full year. It should be noted that while interesting, for practical purposes the law is decided in accordance with the majority of commentators who disagree with this opinion. (Rabbi Ozer Alport)
Jumping Points for Discussion and Further Study
SO FAR YET SO NEAR
“Strengthen yourself and bolster yourself, don’t be afraid and do not tremble from before them for Hashem your G-d, He is the One who goes with you, He will not allow you to weaken and will not desert you.” Devarim 31:6
Strengthen yourself and bolster yourself – Now that you know that G-d is the One who fights on your behalf, you can feel secure. – Ibn Ezra
He will not allow you to weaken – This refers to during the war. And will not desert you – Even after the conflict, you can still feel secure that the Almighty will not allow your neighbors to wage war against you. – Sforno
Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, known as “The Netziv,” explains that the promise that He will not desert us should not be taken to mean that He will never allow us to be harmed in any way whatsoever. Certainly, if we fail to live up to our end of the agreement, we will receive whatever is due us. Rather, it means that even when we must receive a dose of discipline, He will stand by in close proximity watching over us and will return immediately following.
NEVER ENOUGH TORAH
“Moses commanded them, saying: ‘After seven years [of Shmittah] have concluded, on the holy day of the Shmittah year, during the Sukkot festival. When all of Israel comes to bask in the presence of your G-d in the Place that He chooses, you shall read this Torah before all of Israel for them to hear.’” Devarim 31:10-11
After seven years have concluded – During the first year of the next Shmittah cycle (the Sabbatical year), meaning the eighth year. Why, then, is it referred to as “the Shmittah year,” if it’s really the beginning of the next (seven-year) cycle? Because there are still Shmittah restrictions which apply [i.e. with the seventh-year harvest, which overlaps after the seventh-year has ended]. – Rashi
The Shmittah year was designated in part to allow those who worked the field [a significant segment of the population] time to engage in Torah study, something usually beyond their ability due to the stresses of farming. The expectation was that they’d use the Shmittah year to make up for lost time. Why then, did the Torah mandate that at the onset of the eighth year, they had to engage in a public Torah reading? Didn’t they just devote an entire year to this purpose? Ahavat Yonasan (Rabbi Yonasan Eibshutz zt”l) explained that surely the farmers were eager to get back their fields and resume their daily habits. The Torah, however, wished to convey to them the importance of making Torah a part of their daily routine and not to be satisfied with the once-every-seven-year routine that they may have practiced until then. Instead, while a full year of study every seven years is mandatory, it is also critical for them to engage in daily study, if only for short periods of time, throughout the six years of toil.
THE SECRET OF OUR STRENGTH
“Take this Torah Scroll and place it beside the Ark …as a witness. For I know your rebelliousness…even during my lifetime you were rebels against the L-rd…” Devarim 31:26, 27
Place it beside the Ark – Our sages debate the meaning of this. Some assert that a tablet emerged from the Ark upon which the Sefer Torah was placed, while others maintain that it was placed within the Ark adjacent to the Two Tablets. – Rashi
This Sefer Torah – On the 7th of Adar, the day of Moses’ passing, he wrote 13 Torah Scrolls and gave one to each of the twelve tribes and admonished them to observe the commandments meticulously. He asked them to be sure to abide by all that was written within it. He took one Torah and placed it by the Ark of the Covenant. – Daat Zekeinim quoting Midrash
The people were about to lose Moses and they feared that without his leadership they’d never succeed in conquering the powerful nations that inhabited the Land of Israel at the time. Joshua was as yet an unproven leader, and they lacked confidence in his ability to lead them in war. Moses reassured them saying that all Jewish leaders are only as good as the power vested in them by G-d, who is the true warrior. As the verse says, “G-d is [the] Master of war…” (Shemot 15:3). Without His assistance, no leader will be powerful enough to lead you to victory. With His assistance, Joshua will be no less successful than I am.
Hey, I Never Knew That
The last commandment in the Torah is the mitzvah for every Jew to write a Torah scroll. The Torah states, “Now therefore write this song for yourselves, and teach it to the people of Israel; put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for Me to the people of Israel” (Devarim 31:19). Though the Torah doesn’t always provide a clear explanation for every commandment, in this case, the Torah explicitly states that the reason for the mitzvah is to “teach it to the people” and “put it in their mouths.” Because of this reason, there are a number of major Jewish legal authorities who maintain that nowadays, since no one actually learns directly from the Torah scroll, the mitzvah is fulfilled by writing and acquiring books of Torah from which we actually do learn (Code of Jewish Law, Yoreh Deah 270:2). So, the next time you buy a Jewish book, keep in mind that you are actually performing a mitzvah, not only when you study it, but even when you buy it.
Word of the Week
The parsha begins with the phrase, “You are all standing here today before the L-rd your G-d” (Devarim 29:9). The word used for “standing” is נצבים — nitzavim, not the usual word, עומדים — omdim. The difference between the words is very meaningful. Omed — עומד refers to one’s posture; one is standing upright, as opposed to sitting. נצב — nitzav means to “stand at the ready” for an appointed task. So the Jews were not merely upright but were “standing ready” for G-d’s appointed task (Rav David Kimchi, Sefer Hashorashim, yatzav)
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Parsha at a Glance
Having sealed a new and eternal covenant with the Jewish people, the time had come for Moses to take leave of the nation. On this final day of his life, Moses walked through the camps of the Twelve Tribes, bidding them farewell. He had lived 120 years.
Moses summoned Joshua before the eyes of the entire nation and reassured them that with Joshua as their leader G-d would bring them into the Land of Israel and destroy the nations before them.
At this juncture, the nation was given a commandment to gather at the Temple every seven years, during the Succot holiday after the Sabbatical year. There the King would read from portions of Devarim. The purpose of this mitzvah, known as Hakhel and incumbent on the entire nation – men, women and children – was to inspire the nation and instill in each individual a passionate commitment to Torah.
As Moses’ end drew near, G-d warned him and Joshua that the Jewish people would indeed stray from the path of Torah and would suffer punishment accordingly.
The portion concludes with G-d commanding Moses to compose the next portion, Ha’azinu. This portion was written in poetic form – a “song of testimony” – that called upon the heavens and earth to bear witness regarding the eternal nature of the covenant between G-d and the Jewish people, and their obligation to uphold the Torah for all time.