We’re dedicating a new Sefer Torah on the first day of Shavuot. In honor of this joyous occasion, we’re using the counting of the Omer to take a whirlwind trip through the Torah
Today’s portion is Nitzavim from the book of Deuteronomy. Today’s insight was generously provided by Laura N.
Verses of note: Deuteronomy 29:9 – 30:20
What caught your attention in this parashah?
The word nitzavim means “standing together” or “assembled.” In this portion, the Israelites are standing together to seal a covenant with God. Moses uses forceful rhetoric to invoke the sanctity of the covenant.
Moses very specifically calls out to every member of the community. The covenant extends to “your heads, your tribes, your elders, and your overseers, every man of Israel … [y]our little ones, your wives, and your sojourner who is in the midst of your camps, from the hewer of your wood to the drawer of your water…” (Deut. 29:9-10). But the covenant extends even further. Moses says “[a]nd not with you alone do I seal this covenant and this oath but… with him who is not here with us this day.” (Deut. 29:14). By identifying everyone who is present as well as those who were not there, the covenant between God and the Jewish people binds all generations of Jews.
What’s one explanation for these verses?
When I first read this passage, I wondered if the phrase “him who is not here with us this day” meant people living at the time of the covenant, but who were unable to be present at the gathering. I am persuaded, however, by the interpretation of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who teaches that “the phrase ‘whoever is not here’ cannot refer to Israelites alive at the time who happened to be somewhere else. That cannot be since the entire nation was assembled there. It can only mean ‘generations not yet born.’ The covenant bound all Jews from that day to this.
As an educator, I see a connection between the extension of the covenant to future generations and the concept that what we teach in the classroom extends beyond our students. When we teach, we provide our students with information and help them generate ideas that they can share with others. Our students take our lessons and pass them forward in their words and deeds. We honor the continuity of Judaism by providing a learning environment and sharing our knowledge.