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Posted on September 19, 2022 (5782) By Rabbi Yochanan Zweig | Series: | Level:

“You are standing today, all of you…” (29:9)

Parshas Nitzavim begins with Moshe assembling the entire nation of Israel on the last day of his life. The verse divides Bnei Yisroel into distinct segments and social classes; the first to be mentioned are “Rosheichem” – the political leaders. Why are they named prior to “Zikneichem” – the spiritual leaders of the nation?

After “Rosheichem”, the verse mentions “Shivteichem” – “your tribes”. Rashi explains that “your tribes” should not be interpreted as a separate segment, rather as “Rosheichem le’shivteichem” – “the leaders of your tribes{1}”. If the expressions “Rosheichem” and “Shivteichem” are connected, why does the Torah not insert the preposition “le” – “of” to make the interpretation clearer? Without the “le” which defines the leaders as a function of the tribes, the verse can be understood as “your leaders who are your tribes”, i.e. the tribes are constituted solely of leaders.

The message which the Torah is imparting is that the true definition of a nation is formed by its leadership. The leaders, who are responsible for the political and economic well-being of the nation, create the medium through which the “Zekainim” – “elders”, spiritual leaders can be effective. Without both economic and political support the elders would be powerless.

This notion is borne out by the actions which Yaakov Avinu took when he created a Jewish settlement in the land of Goshen. Yaakov sent Yehuda to establish the Yeshiva, which was to be the center of Jewish life in Mitzrayim{2}. The Rambam teaches that Levi was the Rosh Yeshiva, the spiritual leader of Bnei Yisroel{3}. If so, why did Yaakov send Yehuda, the economic and political leader, to establish the Yeshiva? Clearly, the definition of the Jewish people is formed by its political leaders, who create the forum to facilitate effective spiritual leadership.

The term which refers to a political leader is “rosh”, which means “head”, whereas a spiritual leader is known as either a “zakain”, which has the same etymology as “zakan” – “beard” or “ayin” – “eye”. The head is the central part of the body, while the beard and eyes are merely appendages to it. Similarly, the leader, who provides the economic and political elements for the nation, defines the parameters for all other forces to be effective.

2.Bereishis 46:28
3.Yad Hilchos Avodas Kochavim 1:3

A Benevolent Curse

“You are standing today, all of you…” (29:9)

Rashi relates that after the terrible curses recorded in last week’s parsha, Bnei Yisroel are petrified. Therefore, Moshe calms them by stating “atem nitzavim hayom” – “you are all standing here today{1}.” It is impossible that Moshe is claiming that since Bnei Yisroel are still alive, the curses are not as terrible as they may seem, for in that case he would be questioning the efficacy of the curses. How then, does the fact that Bnei Yisroel are standing here allay their fears?

The Midrash Tanchuma at the beginning of this week’s parsha states that when Hashem punishes the wicked they do not recover, yet the righteous always recover from their punishment{2}. Would this not be obvious, being that the wicked receive harsher punishments than the righteous? However, the Midrash addresses this problem, citing a verse from Malachi which states that only one barrage of arrows will decimate the wicked, while the entire batch of arrows will not overcome the resilience of the righteous{3}. The Midrash is emphasizing that the difference between the wicked and the righteous in their ability to withstand punishment is not the severity of the blow; on the contrary, the righteous receive harsher punishments. How then, are the righteous able to survive, while the wicked perish?

In addition to allowing us to earn a place in the World to Come, observing mitzvos serves another purpose; a mitzva gives a person a sense of reality in this world as well. When a person performs more mitzvos, his vitality and will to survive are strengthened. A person with a strong will to survive is more capable of overcoming life’s adversities. Transgressions create within a person a despondence for life, a feeling that life is transient. The wicked, who lack the resolve to live, cannot cope with the failures they encounter in life, and collapse from these challenges. The righteous, who are driven and motivated to live, possess the strength to endure all of life’s adversities. The same holds true for relationships; a person’s ability to overcome the difficulties which might arise within a relationship is commensurate to the extent that he is driven to maintain that relationship. In contemporary society we lack confidence in most of our relationships, which explains why, at the first sign of adversity we dissolve them.

Bnei Yisroel approach Moshe terrified by the immense burden they feel from the horrific curses they have just heard. Moshe responds by telling them that they have the wrong perspective concerning the nature of a curse. Reward and punishment represent the extent to which a relationship either exists or has been dissolved. A curse reflects Hashem’s desire for a relationship to endure. The curse is the tool which Hashem uses to coerce and cajole Bnei Yisroel into appreciating their relationship with Him. The very existence of curses proves that Hashem will stop at nothing to assure that Bnei Yisroel appreciate their relationship with Him, and that He will not abandon this relationship. Therefore, Bnei Yisroel standing before Moshe, alive and well, indicates that their relationship with Hashem is in good standing; even if there will be times when they will be subjected to the curses, they should take solace in the fact that the curses themselves are indicative of Hashem wanting the relationship to endure.

2.Tanchuma Nitzavim 1