A ‘Bissel’ of Torah: NITZAVIM (DEUTERONOMY 29:9-30:20)

By Joy Scott, Am Haskalah Congregant


After hearing the list of the 98 terrifying curses at the end of last week’s Torah parsha, Ki Tavo, the people were devastated and questioned whether they could possibly withstand such frightful punishments.

Moses responded with the opening statement of parsha Nitzavim: “You are all still standing this day before the Lord, your God; the leaders of your tribes; your elders; and every man of Israel” (1). At this moment, God establishes the covenant: “But, not only with you am I making this covenant and oath, but with those standing here with us before the Lord, our God; and also with all those of future generations (2).

What follows is a continuation of the punishments which will befall any individual or family who strays from the Lord to worship deities of other nations. “This commandment is not concealed from you, nor is it far away; rather, it is very close to you – – in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can fulfill it” (3).

Near the end of parsha Nitzavim, Moses repeats God’s words: “I have provided you with a choice: Life or Death; you shall choose Life” (4). The obvious implication of this verse is that the people should obey God’s commandments and live, or, ignore the commandments (specifically against idolatry) and die.

However, our sages Maimonides and Hillel interpret this relatively short Torah parsha from an entirely different perspective. Hillel taught that to ‘live’ means to enjoy all of God’s gifts in the company of the community. “Do not separate yourself from the pleasures of involvement with your community; if I am only for myself, who am I?” (5). “Let your friend’s honor be more dear to you than your own” (6). Maimonides said that an individual chooses ‘death’ if he exiles himself from his community.

Of the six hundred and thirteen commandments handed down by God, more than half pertain to interactions between individuals in our community. If we are directed to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (7), then we should openly cheer for our friend’s good fortune and compassionately console another who is in poor health or emotionally distraught.

Each of us is unique in our backgrounds, experiences, strengths and weaknesses. It is incumbent upon us to listen and to learn from each other.

“Do not judge a person until you have stood in his place.” (8)

As we approach the ‘Ten Days of Repentance’, it is important to reflect on our past interactions with others and how we might improve upon them….so that we can “walk closer in God’s ways.” (9).



(1) DEUTERONOMY (29:19)

(2) DEUTERONOMY (29:13-14)

(3) DEUTERONOMY (30: 11-14)

(4) DEUTERONOMY (30:19)

(5) Hillel (Avot 2:4)

(6) Hillel (Avot 2:5)

(7) LEVITICUS (9:19)

(8) Hillel (Avot 2:6)

(9) DEUTERONOMY (30:15)