Oz Torah: Torah reading- Nitzavim



The final Shabbat of the Jewish year tells us that we are all standing before God, about to enter a covenant with Him.

The Hebrew for covenant is “b’rit”. Members of the covenant are “b’nai b’rit”.

It sounds like the name of the brotherhood movement B’nai B’rith and of course this is where the movement got its name.  Long before B’nai B’rith emerged in the United States in the 19th century, the covenant bound Jews to each other and to the Almighty.

The human covenant had two basic principles: I have duties to you as a Jew and you have duties to me.

Between us we form a mini-community.  Neither of us can hide from the other and say, “Leave me alone!” If one is in pain the other hurts; if one has a simchah the other rejoices.

That’s why we take it for granted that we all come when anyone is, God forbid, sitting shivah.  It’s why we all feel involved if there is a happy event.  Historically everyone was welcome at a wedding, not just the close friends and relatives (and the bank manager).

What about the covenant with God?  That’s where it really becomes serious.  No-one needs to be reminded that we have duties to God… but about God’s duties to us?

We cannot help thinking that there are times when He seems to let us down, when, to use a phrase from Megillat Echah,  He seems to have become like an enemy.

I had a colleague who was a Holocaust survivor. He told me,

“Where I come from they used to say, ‘If God lived in my village I’d break all His windows…’.”


There is no point in asking most people to keep something confidential.

Almost always the secret gets out.  Hardly anybody can keep a tight rein on their mind and tongue.

True, a few can be trusted, but experience underlines the Biblical verse,

“He that goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets, but he that has a faithful spirit conceals a matter” (Prov. 11:13).

This verse in fact plays a role in the development of the Jewish concept of privacy; in Judaism a privacy law has existed from Biblical times whereas in Western law it is not much older than about a century.

Secrets figure in the week’s Torah portion in the verse, “Hanistarot laShem Elokenu v’haniglot lanu ul’vanenu” – “The secret things belong to the Lord our God; the revealed things are ours and our children’s” (Deut. 29:28).

Maybe it is human nature to seek to know the inner secrets of the Creation but the sages discouraged this search, adamant that man has enough to do with the “revealed things” which are given into his charge.

Apart from anything else, things that belong to God require a Divine mind, in comparison with which the human mind, however great, is too limited and ephemeral to understand the full sweep of the universe.

This does not prevent man from investigating the scientific structure of the world and the human body, but these are “revealed things”.

To seek to find out the really deep things, especially the nature of the Creator Himself, does not and cannot succeed.


The Kotzker Rebbe had a shrewd interpretation of the opening phrase of the sidra,

“You (‘attem’) are standing this day, all of you, before the Lord your God” (Deut. 29:9).

The Rebbe pointed out that the letters of “attem”, you, are the same as those of “emet”, “truth”.

Truth, he said, is what gives human beings the capacity for standing and stability.

Even the shape of the letters indicates this; the aleph stands on two legs, the mem has a firm horizontal base and the tav has two legs. The word as a whole, and each of its letters, has staying power.

By way of contrast, the opposite, “sheker” (“falsehood”), “ein lo raglayim” – “has no legs to stand on”, as the rabbis remarked.

The shin of “sheker”, in Torah script, swivels on a narrow base, and the kuf and resh each have only one leg.

“Sheker” is bound to topple over, whilst “emet” stands firm.

A comforting thought at a very difficult moment in world history when people and nations tell lies without compunction and the injudicious media peddle half-truths without conscience.

It is hard to live at such a time, and hard to keep constantly vigilant to expose the falsehoods and argue for the truth, but in the end nothing can withstand the power of truth, and “sheker” is bound to collapse.

Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and held many public roles. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem. Rabbi Apple blogs at http://www.oztorah.com

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