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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Nitzavim: Sandcastles in Time

Devarim: 29: 9-14

It was a beautiful late August day.

They sat on the shoreline, father and daughter, twenty feet from their beach umbrella and sand-covered chairs, and ten feet from the surf. They brought their sandcastle gear, and they were ready to get started.

They had already swum in the salt water and cruised waves on their boogie boards. They had collected shells and thrown the Frisbee around; all the elements that make up a pleasant Jersey shore vacation. But now it was time to get down to business.

Most families have a few plastic molds to use when they build a sandcastle on the beach. A square mold in a turret shape. A round one that looks like a tower. A few long rectangular molds to use as walls. Samantha and her dad had all of those. But they had so much more. Trowels, shovels, rakes, deluxe sand sculpting tools. Pyramids, octagons, hexagons.

Samantha’s dad was a radiologist by training, but deep down he was a frustrated architect. He read Architectural Digest and studied broadly on the topic, but he released all his design dreams into his sandcastles. His beach creations brought people from up and down the beach to watch him work, and he rarely disappointed the crowd.

Samantha and her dad laid down the city walls first, sculpting towers and walls with a bricklike pattern on the longer portions and latticework at the gates. And there were lots of gates, each with its own individual details. And that was just the outside.

Soon buildings began to rise inside the sand village. Towers with swirling outer walls, castles with spires. Samantha and her father worked diligently to build their sand city.

“Dad, you’re building too close to the water,” she told him.

“What do you mean?”

“It’s just about low tide right now, and if you build this close to the water’s edge we’ll be flooded in an hour.”

Dr. Kantowitz just smiled.

The sand buildings continued to rise. Among the exotic designs and frilly creations, Samantha noticed something strange. The biggest building in the center of the sand village looked strangely familiar. It was a bulky structure with a single dome on top and what could be construed as a big, ugly, oversized air conditioning unit on the roof. It looked suspiciously like Congregation Ahavat Achim, where her family prayed. Her father had even traced the design of the stained glass windows on the outside of the building with one of his sand sculpting tools. And next to it was a low, flat building that looked an awful lot like the Nachmanides School, where she was about to start eighth grade. It was a two-story high converted warehouse, and among all her father’s beautiful creations, it stood out like a sore thumb.

Something was definitely up. Her father would never sculpt a building that homely.

The waves were getting very close to the outer walls of the city, and it was nowhere near high tide.

“O.K., Dad, what gives?”

“Whatever do you mean?”

The last wave lapped up on the outer wall, and the sand began to crumble.

“This town is not a typical Sid Kantowitz creation.”

“How astute of you, my oldest daughter.’

“So what’s going on here?”

“Oh this old thing?” he said, pointing to his sand creation. “This is my dvar Torah for the week.”

“I knew something was up!”

The next wave breached the outer wall and began to attack the first castle.

“Do you know what this week’s parsha is?”

Samantha gave her dad a blank stare.

“Really? No idea?”

The sound of the waves was all that was heard.

“It is definitely time for school to start again. The parsha is Nitzavim.”

“Oh, right! Of course, Nitzavim!”

The next wave crushed the first castle and began trickling toward the sand synagogue.

“Yes, Nitzavim. And in this parsha, Moshe discusses a covenant between Hashem and the Israelites. He tells them ‘Atem nitzavim hayom kulchem lifnei Hashem Elokeichem, rasheichem, shifteichem, zikneichem, veshotreichem, kol ish Yisrael. You are standing this day all of you before the Lord your God; (this semicolon is important) your leaders, your tribes, your elders, your officers, all the men of Israel.’ He has gathered all the people.”

The next wave crushed the sand Ahavat Achim and began to threaten the Nachmanides School.

“A few psukim later it says ‘Velo itchem levadchem anochi koret et habrit hazot vi-et ha-ala hazot. Ki et asher yeshno po imanu omed hayom lifnei Hashem Elokeinu vi-etasher einenu po imanu hayom.’ Not only with you alone do I make this covenant and this oath, but with him that stands here with us today and also with him that is not with us today.’ Do you get it, Sam?”

The next wave tore away half of Samantha’s school, but still she did not get it.

“Moshe was making a pact with the Jews who were with him that day and with all the Jews of future generations. We are all just one link in the chain of Jewish life and our nation’s continuity, and after we are long gone, and all our physical institutions have been wiped away, what will be left is the covenant we live by and the traditions that we pass on to the next generation.”

“Just like this sandcastle,” Samantha said.

“Just like this sandcastle,” her father agreed. “Then the next generation, or the one after that, can build their own institutions.

A big wave came along and turned the sand village into a big nondescript lump.

“So then is it worth building them at all?” Samantha asked.

Her father smiled. “Every time.”

“Tomorrow, can we build further back and maybe it will last until the end of the day?”

“We’ll talk about tomorrow, tomorrow,” her father said. And on that note they walked off to get ice cream and reapply sun block.

Larry Stiefel is a pediatrician at Tenafly Pediatrics.

By Larry Stiefel

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