Monday, September 3, 2007

A Musing: Nitzavim-Va'yelech 2007

Nitzavim is the shortest weekly portion of the Torah, without any mitzvoth “aseh” or “lo taaseh”, but nevertheless a portion which is powerful and compelling in its message. This parsha is composed of words of comfort and consolation spoken by Moshe, inspired and commanded by God on the eve of his demise. The portion is divided into three sections: A farewell speech ( 29: 9-28); consolation (30:1-14); and life’s choices (30:15-20).

A particularly interesting verse, found in the second section, verse 30:3 has confounded Biblical commentaries for centuries. This verse repeating the word “v’shav” twice seems to render a redundancy which is a typical of Biblical text. Throughout the centuries scholars have been challenged by this redundancy and have offered a variety of interpretations which would explain the redundancy of the term “v’shav”.

Many of the commentaries interpreted the meaning of the text to fit in with current events. Rashi, who lived during the first Crusades, understood the repetition of the word “v’shav” to indicate that God is with Israel whether they are in the Land of Israel or in Galut, He is, according to Rashi, with Israel even in their time of pain and suffering. The Abarbanel witnessed the Spanish Inquisition, and interpreted the repetition of “v’shav” within the reality that he lived. The Jewish people in Spanish Europe were basically split into two groups: Those who refused to compromise their faith and those who publicly renounced their faith while privately practicing their faith. The Abarbanel believes that the mentioning of “V’shav” twice refers to and represents these two troubled suffering communities of Jews.

Another interpretation explaining the doublet of “v’shav” is perhaps found in Rashi’s alluding to the difficulty in redemption. The Jewish people are made up of the collective but also recognized for each individual. The Talmud Yerushalmi, Berachot (4: a), refers to the redemption as “kimaa kimaa”, slow, arduous and one by one. Perhaps the redundancy of “v’shav” represents the community of Israel as well as the individual. The trouble that Rashi may have been referring to can be the difficulty the individual has of coming to terms with who he is and his relationship to his God. There isn’t a uniform principle we can apply to arrive at these truths, each of us has to come to it on his own terms and in his own time.