Rabbi Shmuel Yishai Hochman
Former Rosh Kollel Milan (2006-7)
“You are standing here today” (Devarim 29:9). We are all in the same Parashah, on the same Shabbat, but a year has passed. Once again on Motza’ei Shabbat we will stand and pour out our hearts to heaven, in supplication and prayer. The word used here, “nitzavim” (standing), is the same word that is used when Moshe receives the second tablets and is told, “You will stand there before Me” (Shemot 34:2). So too, we are ready and prepared to serve as God’s extended hand and to do what He asks of us.
Moshe Rabbeinu says, “To enter into the covenant of Hashem your God and its sanctions, which the Lord your God is entering with you today” (Devarim 29:11). God enters into a covenant with each and every one of us, in the simplest way: “Your God . . . with you.” Everything is individual. Moshe is aware of what God has said previously, “Even today, while I am still alive among you, you have been defiant towards God; how much more so when I am dead” (Devarim 31:27). Moshe, specifically at this time of “the beginning of creation” – the time of yearly renewal of the world – wants to bring the Jewish nation to the recognition that it is no longer possible to be part of the crowd and pretend that as an individual I am not under any obligation. Rather, the obligation is real and individual, applying to every single person without exception. Yes, we have a covenant and it is an individual covenant, unlike the communal curses of the previous Parashah. Every individual must wipe off the grime that has accumulated in his soul, and remove the flinty part of his heart.
This is especially necessary during the difficult times we have been experiencing in the past year. Perhaps in the path which we took, we sinned towards God and the Land of Israel, and perhaps we did not undertake the appropriate soul-searching – personal, national and Israeli – which would have allowed everyone to improve. Similarly, our community needs to do some soul-searching – perhaps we pushed away God when we should have publicly sanctified His Name.
For God entered into a covenant with us – first at the Covenant Between the Pieces (Brit Bein HaBetarim, in Bereisheet, Chapter 15), and then at the Covenant when we received the Torah: “These are the terms of the covenant” (Devarim 28:69). We accepted the Torah under oath, and affirmed that sanctions would befall us in cases of disobedience. Today, we need to be like the nation at the times of Moshe – we must reach the level where we assume under oath the obligation to follow God’s commandments.
This is why the Rambam in Hilkhot Ta’anit (1:3) does not include repentance as one of the 613 commandments. Rather, he says that someone who sees individual and national events as merely random is a cruel person. The cruelty is in his using all his strength and might to oppose God, and in not wishing to do what he obligated himself covenantally, years ago in this season. In truth, he continues to be obligated every day and all year round, but this season is particularly auspicious for a successful return to our Heavenly Father. Each and every one of us must view himself as obligated to do God’s will, with all his heart and might. With God’s help, this will lead us to be meritorious and deserving of life. So may it be His will.