June 23, 2024
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Moshe’s Message for the New Year

What was the last will and testament that Moshe Rabbeinu left to us?

It is difficult for me to speak about Parshat Nitzavim and do it justice. It would be better to let this parsha, a parasha that is full of wonderful passages in beautiful Hebrew, speak for itself. It is also extremely timely, as if Moshe Rabbeinu’s speech was actually written this week. A moment before he passes away, a moment before the new year, Parshat Nitzavim presents the parting speech of Moshe Rabbeinu, which includes several eternal principles:

“You are standing this day before the Lord, your God—the leaders of your tribes, your elders and your officers, every man of Israel… even your woodcutters and your water drawers.”

Moshe gathers the entire nation of Israel together, a single unit with no one missing. This is a unified gathering around Torah, around meaning, and not a superficial unity devoid of content. And all sectors of the nation need to be part of the story, as Rav Kook wrote: “The intellectual elite think they can separate from the crowd, which will be healthier for them alone, giving them a greater sense of well-being and ennoble their thoughts. But this is a fundamental error.”

This covenant also has a connection to the past and the future: “Yet not only with you am I making this covenant and this oath, but with those standing here with us today before the Lord, our God, and also with those who are not here with us today.” Rashi explains: And even with future generations to come!

The following story illustrates Rashi’s thought: Before the founding of the State, during an international debate regarding division of the Land of Israel, Ben-Gurion asked Yitzchak Tabenkin, among the fathers of the kibbutz movement, what he would do. Tabenkin answered: “I need to take counsel.” Tabenkin returned to Ben-Gurion telling him not to agree to the offer of the international community, explaining, “I took counsel with my father who is no longer with us and with my grandson who has yet to be born.” In other words, I took counsel with the past and the future generations; I have responsibility for them even if they are not physically here today.

Our commitment or lack of to Judaism today has repercussions with our ancestors who kept our traditions with love, as well as with all those in generations to come who will either, heaven forbid, disappear or serve as links in the unbreakable chain that stretches to eternity.

The mitzvah of teshuvah appears in Parshat Nitzavim as follows: “And you will return to the Lord, your God… and you will listen to His voice… you and your children.” And immediately afterward it is explained to us that this is not a far-off dream but within easy reach. “…This thing is very close to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can fulfill it.”

In closing, Moshe Rabbeinu parts from us with a crucial message: We have free choice. The future is in our hands. “Behold, I have set before you today life and good, and death and evil… You shall choose life, so that you and your offspring will live.”

Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe once told high school students: “If they were to ask me what I believe in, I would say I believe in the greatness of man! And part of this greatness is his capacity to improve himself, his surroundings, and the entire world. Many people believe in God. This is not something rare. Yet not so many believe in the greatness of man. But I do.”

That’s it! As if Moshe Rabbeinu wishes us a year of unity in 5782 that encompasses past and future generations: a year of teshuvah, a year of free choice. May everyone enjoy a good and sweet new year!

Translation by Yehoshua Siskin


Sivan Rahav Meir is the World Mizrachi Scholar-in-Residence and an Israeli journalist and lecturer.

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