Student Teaching in the New Millenium

Aspiring to Humanity (5771 Nitzavim-Vayeilech)

In Deuteronomy on September 25, 2011 at 10:20 pm

Walking through the woods.
I trip on a stone and stumble.
Dust off, move on.

Isaiah 61:10 – 63:9
Deuteronomy 29:9 – 31:30

Why do Nitzavim and Vayeilech almost always get grouped together? The practical aspect is the time of year. Is there thematic significance? Moses reminds the Israelites that the curses previously described will befall anyone and everyone who forsakes the covenant, even the entire nation. This will be followed by exile. When the people make teshuvah, or return, the people will be gathered into the land again, to possess it. This sequence is repeated three times in Nitazavim. Vayeilech discusses God’s poem that shall be My witness against the people of Israel (Deuteronomy 31:19). What is the point of all this if God already knows this people will thereupon go astray after the alien gods in their midst, in the land that they are about to enter; they will forsake Me and break My covenant that I made with them (Deut. 31:16). How, after their time in the wilderness, after their experiences with Og and Bashan and Moab and Midian, can there be alien gods in their midst? Who are these alien gods?

Why does Vayeilech cap Nitzavim’s patterns of straying and redemption with this ominous prophecy? Does it mean we are doomed to fail? Is humankind naturally evil? Are we doomed to wander the wilderness, wherever we may be? Will we always reach for the wrong thing? Is the holy always beneath us?

And the Lord your God will grant you abounding prosperity in all your undertakings, in the issue of your womb, the offspring of your cattle, and the produce of your soil. For the Lord will again delight in your well-being, as He did in that of your fathers, since you will be heeding the Lord your God and keeping His commandments and laws that are recorded in this book of the Teaching (Deut. 30:9)

Why is this statement followed by once you return to the Lord your God with all your heart and soul?

Surely, this Instruction which I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach. It is not in the heavens, that you should say, “Who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who among us can cross to the other side of the sea and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?” No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it. (Deut. 30:11-14)

What is a religious leader? What should they know? What should they do? How should they act? What should they teach? Should they lead us up to Heaven? Or down to Earth?

Who is eligible to lead? Only a few? Or is leadership eligible for all? What is the difference between someone who accepts leadership, and someone who seeks it?

Final question: Why are we built up to be humbled before Rosh Hashanah?


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