This week’s parsha, Parshat Netzavim, once again describes a speech given my Moshe to Bnei Yisrael as the Nation prepares itself to enter the Land of Israel.
There are, however, some subtle differences between Moshe’s previous speeches in Dvarim and the one we read about here in Netzavim. Understanding the word choices of the Torah, as we will do here, isn’t just about semantics but is integral, especially in this week’s parsha.
Even those commentators who follow the axiom of “There is no order in the Torah” believe that, because Dvarim is an edited speech prepared by Moshe, everything has its place and there is importance in every detail mentioned by Moshe.
What are the new additions we find in this week’s parsha?
For the first time, the Torah (chapter 29:17-19) describes the punishment to those who do not stop sins from happening. “Perhaps you have someone in your midst…” It is an obligation of the community to be responsible for the behavior of the people.
Focus on Family Responsibility and the Family Unit
In the same verse, the Torah details from where we might know this transgressor: “Perhaps you have someone in your midst, a man or woman, or someone in your family or someone from your tribe…”
Up until now in Dvarim, Moshe has refrained from breaking the Nation into smaller groups or excluding people, except in cases of perhaps the Convert. Rather, much emphasis has been put into Bnei Yisrael as a large and unified group. In this week’s parsha, we see a switch where individuals are mentioned.
Welcome Sdom and Amorah
While Moshe has certainly not shied away from describing punishments if the Nation does not follow G-d’s commandments, until now the decimated cities of Sdom and Amorah have not been mentioned. Not during historical review and not as a foil or tool to encourage obedience. Here in Nitavim, Moshe speaks specifically about Sdom and Amorah.
Why all of a sudden do these ideas appear for the first time and is there a connection between them?
So let us remember that while Dvarim has been filled with speeches, the speeches are given in a concentrated manner, given at very specific times, and not spread out throughout the many years that the Jews wandered through the desert.
Dvarim starts the third verse (1:3) with the words: “It was in the 40th year, in the 11th month.” The first chapters of inspiration in their various forms are all given on the same day (or around the same time), one month before Moshe passes away (Moshe died in Adar, the 12th month).
At that time Bnei Yisrael wasn’t close to Israel borders, or at least no closer than they might have been during other times during their 40 year trek in the dessert.
Then Bnei Yisrael moves closer to the border, with a great view of the land. Then comes our parsha, Netzavim. Not just is Eretz Yisrael in clear view, but the Nation’s crossing the Jordan is imminent.
Commentators point to the opening words of “You are standing here today,” to refer to “today”, the very day that Moshe passes away. Entering into the Land of Israel was so close, they could taste it.
So while the topics that Moshe begins to discuss have been heard before, it is a very different experience speaking to the Jews in theory versus detailing something in practice that is about to happen any day now.
As such, if Moshe is to really make a lasting impression on those that might not have listened to his earlier speeches, he needs to change tactics.
To this end, Moshe doesn’t merely mention that sinning is bad, but rather how the Nation as a whole and as individuals can prevent sin. These practical tips were missing until now.
Moreover, lest you think that once you enter Israel the hard work is done and you can’t be kicked out (again, a topic addressed in previous parshiot), Moshe reminds everyone of the examples of Sdom and Amora.
So too, in this year, we all (myself included) will be reviewing ideas, themes, material, customs, and laws that we have encountered before. However, we cannot forget this parsha’s message – that we approach important matters differently depending on our position in life.
There are new perspectives, discussions, and meaning waiting to be uncovered with our fresh perspective.
May we all take advantage of this new vantage point to make for ourselves a fantastic year.