Parshat Nitzavim: Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20; Isaiah 61:10-68:9.
Parshat Nitzavim is one of my favorite Torah readings of the entire year: 1) because it contains so much meaningful information that demands reflection in a compact space and 2) because its emphasis on “return,” with its repeated use of the root “shuv,” is the perfect introduction to the High Holiday theme of teshuvah.
As Moses faces his last moments on this Earth, in his final speech before the people, he begins this section by informing us who are signatories of the covenant, who are the ones with whom God has a direct relationship. As might be expected, he first enumerates the officials, the heads of the tribes, the elders and the record keepers. This makes sense because these people are the acknowledged leaders and implementers of God’s word.
However, Moses immediately adds names to the list: children, wives and even the gerim, the resident foreigners in their midst, in other words, people who were often disenfranchised or marginalized in the biblical world. They, too, are to take part in the covenant with God.
But maybe those with the most menial jobs, the overlooked ones could understandably be omitted. Moses goes on to say that even the wood choppers and the water carriers, people who were often non-Israelite transients, need to be included in this event.
Every single member of the people regardless of his/her status has the right, the privilege and the obligation to be part of a timeless covenant with God that was first established with the patriarchs.
Moses tells us that our relationship with God is not in the hands of the few, to be interpreted and then distilled to the masses; each of us has a share.
Moses then anticipates not the reaction of the people massed before him, but the reactions of the generations to follow. In his mind, he perhaps foretells their reaction: “We did not leave Egypt; we did not stand at Mount Sinai; we did not experience the miracles in the wilderness.” So Moses asserts in the text, “Not only with you who are standing here with us today do I mark this covenant and its sanctions, but also with those who are not here today.”
Future generations are automatically included in this moment in time. The covenant is eternal; our relationship with God is forever. HaShem will never forget or forsake us, nor should we ever forsake or forget HaShem.
As we gather in our places of worship in the next few days, we should take some time to visually and viscerally recreate this moment during which each and every one of us stood shoulder to shoulder affirming the covenant. Bayamim hahem, bazman hazeh, in days long past and in our time as well.
Rabbi Mitch Parker is the rabbi at B’nai Israel Synagogue in West Bloomfield.