“But not with you alone do I make this covenant and this oath, but rather with those who stand here with us today, and with those who are not here with us today.”
The obvious question arises, what right or authority did that generation have to take an oath not only upon themselves, but upon subsequent generations, as well?
The “Akeidat Yitzchak” and Maharal answer that the oath the Almighty cast upon Benei Yisrael differs from a halachic oath, which the Torah forbids one from violating. Rather, it creates a certain reality, which no force in the world can ever change. The bond between God and Am Yisrael is not subject to the people’s consideration. We did not choose Hashem; He chose us: “This nation – I created for Myself, that they shall tell My praise.” Just as a “covenant” has been imposed on the natural world that no animal will ever take its own life, and just as even if, unfortunately, certain indisposed people do this, humanity as a whole will never annihilate itself, similarly, Am Yisrael, by nature, will never abandon Hashem, the essence of the nation’s existence. “And you, who are attached to Hashem your God – you are all alive today.” The nation’s inability to detach itself from the Almighty is called an “oath.”
The Aseret Yemei Teshuva (Ten Days of Repentance) will soon be upon us. Many people think that given their current condition, they cannot change their behaviour, for a variety of reasons. The “oath” between the Almighty and us reflects the personal capability of each and every one of us to perform teshuva in any situation.
“You stand today, all of you, before Hashem your God… to enter into the covenant of Hashem your God and His oath… in order that He establish you today for Him as a people, and He will be for you a God.” The Rambam writes in Hilchot Teshuva that it is guaranteed that Benei Yisrael will ultimately do teshuva. This was not merely said with regard to the nation as a whole; it rather applies to each and every individual.
The Gemara says that when a person is born, “An oath is cast upon him: ‘Be righteous, and do not be wicked’.” Here, too, “oath” refers to the inherent power of every person to be a tzadik. The oath is what gives one the strength and ability to connect to God, and such an oath is awfully difficult to break.
From this very concept evolves the term “teshuva,” which literally means “return.” A person “returns” to a place where he had been previously. He need not go to any given place; he needs only to return to his natural, initial location. The Torah therefore emphasizes in our parasha, “It is not too wondrous for you, nor is it distant from you. It is not in the heavens… It is in your mouth and in your heart to do.”
We must therefore remember that this is Am Yisrael’s natural, ingrained quality; each one of us, and every generation, has the ability to perform complete teshuva.
To this the Torah refers when it says, “with those who stand here with us today, and with those who are not here with us today.”