9.15.2006

Nitzavim - some questions

My recent attempts to daven more by going to shul more were fairly successful during this past week, and I heard the first three aliyot of Parshat Nitzavim more times than I have in recent memory. Two things were bugging me all week, but I didn't get a chance to do any research that might have led to an answer. Perhaps I will have time over Shabbat. They are:

1. There is a well-known midrash that states that all Jewish souls were present at Mount Sinai when the Torah was given and the covenant was sealed between God and the Jewish people. And yet the verse clearly states:
ט אַתֶּם נִצָּבִים הַיּוֹם כֻּלְּכֶם, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם: רָאשֵׁיכֶם שִׁבְטֵיכֶם, זִקְנֵיכֶם וְשֹׁטְרֵיכֶם, כֹּל, אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל. 9 Ye are standing this day all of you before the LORD your God: your heads, your tribes, your elders, and your officers, even all the men of Israel....
יג וְלֹא אִתְּכֶם, לְבַדְּכֶם--אָנֹכִי, כֹּרֵת אֶת-הַבְּרִית הַזֹּאת, וְאֶת-הָאָלָה, הַזֹּאת. 13 Neither with you only do I make this covenant and this oath;
יד כִּי אֶת-אֲשֶׁר יֶשְׁנוֹ פֹּה, עִמָּנוּ עֹמֵד הַיּוֹם, לִפְנֵי, יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ; וְאֵת אֲשֶׁר אֵינֶנּוּ פֹּה, עִמָּנוּ הַיּוֹם. 14 but with him that standeth here with us this day before the LORD our God, and also with him that is not here with us this day--

What's up with that? I guess you could just say that their bodies weren't there but their souls were, but the whole point of this seems to be that the covenant is binding upon even those were not present at Mount Sinai in any form. (This can be very hard for us post-Enlightenment Jews to accept, but that's a discussion for another time.) It's interesting, because after stating unequivocally that the covenant and the oath are also made with people who were not present at the time, the Torah continues:

טו כִּי-אַתֶּם יְדַעְתֶּם, אֵת אֲשֶׁר-יָשַׁבְנוּ בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם, וְאֵת אֲשֶׁר-עָבַרְנוּ בְּקֶרֶב הַגּוֹיִם, אֲשֶׁר עֲבַרְתֶּם. 15 for ye know how we dwelt in the land of Egypt; and how we came through the midst of the nations through which ye passed;
טז וַתִּרְאוּ, אֶת-שִׁקּוּצֵיהֶם, וְאֵת, גִּלֻּלֵיהֶם--עֵץ וָאֶבֶן, כֶּסֶף וְזָהָב אֲשֶׁר עִמָּהֶם. 16 and ye have seen their detestable things, and their idols, wood and stone, silver and gold, which were with them--

This is clearly talking to a generation who had an intimate knowledge of slavery and other abominations from Egypt, and it starts with the word "כִּי," "because." It's as if to say that "I, God, am making this covenant with you because you, the listeners, had personal experience in Egypt." Later generations were commanded to feel as if (ki'eelu) they had escaped Egypt, which implies that they had not. And yet, they are included in the covenant, even though the reason that the covenant was made with their ancestors does not apply to them.

(Aside: I've never really been clear on the timeline of the forty years that the Israelites spent wandering in the desert, so I'm not sure if the people who are "נִצָּבִים הַיּוֹם," "standing this day," are the generation that left Egypt or if all of those people have already died (except Moses) and this is the generation that was born in the desert. Another thing to possibly look into over Shabbat.)

2. The second thing that was bugging me a little were the dots over "לָנוּ וּלְבָנֵינוּ" in this verse, which is just beautiful:
כח הַנִּסְתָּרֹת--לַיהוָה, אֱלֹהֵינוּ; וְהַנִּגְלֹת לָנוּ וּלְבָנֵינוּ, עַד-עוֹלָם--לַעֲשׂוֹת, אֶת-כָּל-דִּבְרֵי הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת. {ס 28 The secret things belong unto the LORD our God; but the things that are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law. {S}

I think that the little dots mean that Ezra the Scribe or the Masoretes or someone made some corrections/amendations to the text at some point, but I don't really remember. And there might be some other "frummer" explanation given, which would also interest me.

I think that Nitzavim is one of my new favorite parshiyot, joining Vayeira and others that I hold near and dear. Ha'azinu is also pretty damn cool. I have a lot of favorite verses in Nitzavim, but these may take the cake:

יא כִּי הַמִּצְוָה הַזֹּאת, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם--לֹא-נִפְלֵאת הִוא מִמְּךָ, וְלֹא רְחֹקָה הִוא. 11 For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not too hard for thee, neither is it far off.
יב לֹא בַשָּׁמַיִם, הִוא: לֵאמֹר, מִי יַעֲלֶה-לָּנוּ הַשָּׁמַיְמָה וְיִקָּחֶהָ לָּנוּ, וְיַשְׁמִעֵנוּ אֹתָהּ, וְנַעֲשֶׂנָּה. 12 It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say: 'Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, and make us to hear it, that we may do it?'
יג וְלֹא-מֵעֵבֶר לַיָּם, הִוא: לֵאמֹר, מִי יַעֲבָר-לָנוּ אֶל-עֵבֶר הַיָּם וְיִקָּחֶהָ לָּנוּ, וְיַשְׁמִעֵנוּ אֹתָהּ, וְנַעֲשֶׂנָּה. 13 Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say: 'Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, and make us to hear it, that we may do it?'
יד כִּי-קָרוֹב אֵלֶיךָ הַדָּבָר, מְאֹד: בְּפִיךָ וּבִלְבָבְךָ, לַעֲשֹׂתוֹ. {ס 14 But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.

In many ways, these verses symbolize what is more important to me about Judaism, Jewish life, Jewish observant, spirituality...and life. Shabbat is about to start. Maybe I'll write more about this another time. (And I may come back later to add a bunch of links, since I've linked nothing in this post so far.)

3 comments:

JXG said...

Dots: Rashi gives the frummest explanation given by Rashi. The kefiradikke view is that the dots really belong elsewhere in the verse, in places where one would fear to place dots...

David said...

1) RBF made your first point the subject of his drasha. One of the answers: "the souls were present, but the bodies were not." An answer I like more is that the verse is talking about courts - i.e. the decisions/decisors which/who are here today, and the ones which/who are not, implying the continual Rabbinic authority down through the generations to reinterpret the text.

2) one explanation for the dots is that when Ezra encountered the three Torah scrolls, they disagreed in 10 places. In those places, he took 2 out of 3, and added the dots to show the doubt present. Another explanation I've heard is that the dots are to emphasise specific kabbalistic teachings, but I don't do much with kabbalah.

3) I'm with you: Nitzavim is my favorite Parsha, for exactly the verses you quote.

Shana Tova

ALG said...

For the curious reader, Rashi's explanation of the dots over "lanu u'livaneinu" is that from the verse, it seems that the hidden things are for God, and the revealed things are for us, meaning that we could be punished for violating the revealed things. The dots, Rashi says, teach us that the Israelites weren't liable for violating the revealed things until they crossed the Jordan River, and accepted upon themselves the oath on Mt. Grizim and Mt. Aival, and were made responsible (areivim) one for the other.

Okay. I'm not sure how the dots teach that, but Rashi does say that they are "lidrosh," which may imply a not-quite-pshat reading (in case you couldn't tell by the content of what he says).

I heard some sort of drash (sorry I don't remember from whom) at some point about the Israelites accepting the Torah twice--once at Mt. Sinai and once in Persia, after the Purim story happened, when it says "kimu v'kiblu" in the Megillah. This Rashi would seem to imply that there was a third acceptance (or second acceptance, really), which happened after they crossed the Jordan. Interesting things to think about. I sort of feel, post-Enlightenment, at least in modern society, that each individual accepts the Torah and observance upon him or herself, because previous acceptances of it by ancient Israelites seem less relevant, somehow. It's as if we have the choice all over again, and we can each say "na'aseh v'nishma" or ditch it.