This week’s parasha is Parashat Nitzavim. What does Parashat Nitzavim teach us about the state of the Jewish world today?
Nitzavim Parasha In A Nutshell
- Renewal of the Covenant
- Warning against idol worship
- Repentance and redemption
- The choice of life.
There is a fascinating discussion between the commentators as to the meaning of the following mitzvah. The text reads: Deut 30:11-14
כִּ֚י הַמִּצְוָ֣ה הַזֹּ֔את אֲשֶׁ֛ר אָנֹכִ֥י מְצַוְּךָ֖ הַיּ֑וֹם לֹֽא־נִפְלֵ֥את הִוא֙ מִמְּךָ֔ וְלֹ֥א רְחֹקָ֖ה הִֽוא
Surely, this mitzvah which I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach.
לֹ֥א בַשָּׁמַ֖יִם הִ֑וא לֵאמֹ֗ר מִ֣י יַעֲלֶה־לָּ֤נוּ הַשָּׁמַ֙יְמָה֙ וְיִקָּחֶ֣הָ לָּ֔נוּ וְיַשְׁמִעֵ֥נוּ אֹתָ֖הּ וְנַעֲשֶֽׂנָּה
It is not in the heavens, that you should say, “Who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?
וְלֹֽא־מֵעֵ֥בֶר לַיָּ֖ם הִ֑וא לֵאמֹ֗ר מִ֣י יַעֲבָר־לָ֜נוּ אֶל־עֵ֤בֶר הַיָּם֙ וְיִקָּחֶ֣הָ לָּ֔נוּ וְיַשְׁמִעֵ֥נוּ אֹתָ֖הּ וְנַעֲשֶֽׂנָּה
Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who among us can cross to the other side of the sea and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?”
כִּֽי־קָר֥וֹב אֵלֶ֛יךָ הַדָּבָ֖ר מְאֹ֑ד בְּפִ֥יךָ וּבִֽלְבָבְךָ֖ לַעֲשֹׂתֽוֹ׃
No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it.
What is this mitzvah that the text is referring to? It is obviously a central one. According to most opinions, the mitzvah under discussion is the mitzvah of Torah study. The Torah itself is teaching us that there is no excuse not to study Torah. it is a very close thing to you.
Torah Study In Modern Times
In our generation, this is certainly true. There are so many avenues to study Torah, from websites to podcasts, the world of Torah as at our fingertips. On Youtube you can now watch shiurim on any topic, taught by the greatest teachers of the last 50 years. There are inspirational videos, slick presentations. All at the click of a button. There are literally thousands of weekly parasha sheets, divrei Torah for every age and level.
With so much available one would assume that this generation is the most knowledgeable, Jewishly in history. It is all at our fingertips. Yet the greatest irony is that this is the generation which knows the least!
Thousands of Jews have no idea about Judaism. It is a tragedy that the People of the Book, are ignorant about the contents of their own book. How can this be? In Parashat Nitzavim we read,(Deut 29:21)
|אָמַ֞ר הַדּ֣וֹר הָֽאַחֲר֗וֹן בְּנֵיכֶם֙ אֲשֶׁ֤ר יָק֙וּמוּ֙ מֵאַ֣חֲרֵיכֶ֔ם וְהַ֨נָּכְרִ֔י אֲשֶׁ֥ר יָבֹ֖א מֵאֶ֣רֶץ רְחוֹקָ֑ה וְ֠רָאוּ אֶת־מַכּ֞וֹת הָאָ֤רֶץ הַהִוא֙ וְאֶת־תַּ֣חֲלֻאֶ֔יהָ אֲשֶׁר־חִלָּ֥ה יְהוָ֖ה בָּֽהּ׃
And later generations will ask—the children who succeed you, and foreigners who come from distant lands and see the plagues and diseases that the LORD has inflicted upon that land…all nations will ask, “Why did the LORD do thus to this land? Why that awful anger?”
Foreigners In Israel?
There will come a time, states the Torah, that foreigners will come to the Land of Israel and ask what happened that the Land was destroyed– this I can understand, why should they know about Jewish History? But the Torah adds “The children that succeed you- your own descendants will not know about their history, culture or religion! They will come to the Land and will be as surprised as the foreigner. ” Who would have thought that this was even a possibility? Yet in our generation, this is a reality.
Many years ago I ran a Jewish studies camp. A boy in grade 9 was attending the camp for the first time. On the first Shabbat, I saw the boy sitting at the Shabbat table, crying. “What is the matter?” I asked.” He replied, ” This is the first time in my life that I am eating challah!” I was in shock. A boy grows up within a Jewish community attends a Jewish school and is unfamiliar with a basic food like challah! How could it be? Yet we have it!
Just A Click Away
Over the past year, in consultation with educators and community members, this question was raised. “How to engage with those who are not connected? We have the information, the educators and the resources. We need to connect using the modern tools at our disposal.
When I first attended the Yeshiva Gedolah in Johannesburg South Africa, I was inspired by what I experienced. When I returned home, I told my parents that I wanted to become a Rabbi. “Why?” was their question. “Because I want to share with my friends the beauty and heritage that we possess.” That was 30 years ago and hold true to this very day.
I thank you all for joining me on this new project. I have been inspired by your questions and feedback. May the coming year of 5780, be one of continued growth in learning and a deepening of our connection to our Judaism. For Jewish learning is not in the heavens it is merely a click away.
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