1. Pinner Shul
  2. Sedra Synopsis
  3. Nitzavim-Vayelech 5783

In this week’s double sedra, Moshe speaks to the people at the edge of the crossing of the river Jordan and reminds the people of their covenant with God.

During the month of Ellul, we consider our own actions in the past year, and how we can become better people, in the year ahead. This period of reflection is important to all, whether religious or not.

It is unusual to bind future generations to any contract, but God and the Jewish people have a relationship that transcends the normal human law. Our ancestors at Sinai bound us to God in accepting the Torah. We renewed this on crossing the Jordan and accepting our destiny. It was again renewed, as recounted in the Book of Esther, when our ancestors accepted the Torah.

Rabbi Sacks discussed Moshe’s final days. Moshe issued two instructions, the last of the 613 mitzvot, that were to have significant consequences for the future of Judaism and the Jewish people. The first is known as hakhel, the command that the king summon the people to gather during Succot following the seventh, Shemittah, year.

The second command – the last Moshe ever gave to the people – was contained in the words: “Now write down this song and teach it to the Israelites (Devarim 31:19), understood by the rabbis to be the command to write a Sefer Torah. So why were these two mitzvot specified, at this time?

In these last two commands God was teaching Moshe, and through him Jews throughout the ages, what immortality is – on earth, not just in heaven. We are mortal because we are physical. But we are also spiritual. In these last two commands, we are taught what it is to be part of a spirit that has survived four thousand years.

God showed Moshe, and through him us, how to become part of a civilisation that never grows old. It stays young because it renews itself. The last two commands of the Torah are about renewal.

Hakhel, the covenant renewal ceremony every seven years, ensured that the nation would regularly rededicate itself to its mission. If hakhel is national renewal, the command that we should each take part in the writing of a new Sefer Torah is personal renewal. It was Moshe’s way of saying to all future generations: It is not enough to say, I received the Torah from my parents (or grandparents). You have to take it and make it new in every generation.

Having just been in America for the birth and brit of our 3rd grandson, this concept of passing the tradition between generations, particularly resonated with me. My daughter kindly included my late mum’s name in the Hebrew name of my grandson thus establishing a link of over 100 years, a small timeframe in overall Jewish history, but an important one personally

The only way to stay young and driven is through periodic renewal, reminding ourselves of where we came from, where we are going, and why.

How precisely timed, that at the very moment when Moshe  faced his own mortality, God should give him, and us, the secret of immortality – not just in heaven but down here on earth.

Jon Kalisch

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