Parshat Netzavim - Vayelech
On the last day of his life, Moshe gathers together all the people, both young and old, lowly and exalted, men and women in a final initiation. The covenant includes not only those who are present, but even those generations yet unborn. Moshe admonishes the people again to be extremely vigilant against idol worship, because in spite of having witnessed the abominations of Egypt, there will always be the temptation to experiment with foreign philosophies as a pretext for immorality. Moshe describes the desolation of the Land of Israel which will be a result of the failure to heed G-d's mitzvos. Both their descendants and foreigners alike will remark on the singular desolation of the Land and its apparent inability to be sown or to produce crops. The conclusion will be apparent to all - the Jewish People have forsaken the One who protects them, in favor of idols which can do nothing. Moshe promises, however, that the people will eventually repent after both the blessings and the curses have been fulfilled. However assimilated they will have become among the nations, eventually G-d will bring them back to Eretz Yisrael. Moshe tells the people to remember that the Torah is not a remote impossibility; rather its fulfillment is within the grasp of every Jew. The Parsha concludes with a dramatic choice between life and death. Moshe exhorts the people to choose life.
On this, the last day of his life, Moshe goes from tent to tent throughout the camp, bidding farewell to his beloved people, encouraging them to keep the faith. Moshe tells them that whether he is among them or not, G-d is with them, and will vanquish their enemies. Then he summons Yehoshua, and in front of all the people, exhorts him to be strong and courageous as the leader of the Jewish People. In this manner, he strengthens Yehoshua's status as the new leader. Moshe teaches them the mitzvah of Hakhel: That every seven years on the first day of the intermediate days of Succos, the entire nation, including small children, is to gather together at the Temple to hear the King read from the Book of Devarim. The sections that he reads deal with faithfulness to G-d, the covenant, and reward and punishment. G-d tells Moshe that his end is near, and he should therefore summon Yehoshua to stand with him in the Mishkan, where G-d will teach Yehoshua. G-d then tells Moshe and Yehoshua that after entering the Land, the people will be unfaithful to Him, and begin to worship other gods. G-d will then completely hide his face, so that it will seem that the Jewish People are at the mercy of fate, and that they will be hunted by all. G-d instructs Moshe and Yehoshua to write down a song - Ha'azinu - which will serve as a witness against the Jewish People when they sin. Moshe records the song in writing and teaches it to Bnei Yisrael. Moshe completes his transcription of the Torah, and instructs the Levi'im to place it to the side of the Aron (Holy Ark), so that no one will ever write a new Torah scroll that is different from the original - for there will always be a reference copy.
Understanding and Comprehension
“It will be when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse that I have presented before you, then you will take it to your heart… and you will return to the L-rd, you G-d and listen to His voice…” (30:1)
The human mind is like a computer; it has many modes. There is a mode that perceives through ears like microphones and eyes like cameras; it senses movement through the inner ears and the skin; it senses heat and cold. The mind can understand what it is seeing/hearing/feeling. It can piece together a sufficiently accurate picture of reality to act with confidence. It may not be right all the time, but it’s right enough of the time to steer the body through decades of existence.
There’s another part to the mind, however; a part that takes individual pieces of information and processes them into a comprehensive whole — that converts understanding into comprehension.
The history of the Jewish People is written with our blood. We are a byword for exile and suffering. “The wandering Jew” “ghetto” and “genocide” are all words that have entered the lingua franca of the world courtesy of the Jewish People.
When you read the Torah’s dire warnings of what befalls us when we break its eternal laws and compare that to our blood-stained history, chills run down your spine.
On the other hand, the periods of great blessing of prosperity that Jewish People enjoyed in our Holy Land before the exiles must not be forgotten. Distant as they are from us, those were days of incomparable spiritual and physical bounty.
“It will be when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse that I have presented before you, then you will take it to your heart… and you will return to teh L-rd, you G-d and listen to His voice…”
What we know today, our comprehension of both the blessings and the curses of over three thousand of years of Jewish history, will eventually lead to a true return to belief and trust in G-d.
For the incontrovertible evidence of our anti-historical survival, that perspective of thousands of years of history viewed through the reflection of the heart, yields a true perception of our destiny.
- Adapted from Rabbi Shimson Rafael Hirsch