51/52. NITZAVIM/VAYELECH 5780

FROM THE TORAH

Deuteronomy 29:9-31:30

Sedra Nitzavim is the projected denouement of Israel’s choices as covenantal partner with the Eternal.  The covenantal provisions and sanctions have been presented in previous sedras.  Now, “this day,” as Moses surveys them and his people, in the closing of his prophetic career, the future of their choosing and responsibility begins.  In Sedra Vayelech, Moses focuses Israel on its future after his demise.  He reassures them of the Eternal’s protection in their possession of the Land and of his succession by Joshua.  He writes down the Torah, the record to be kept by the Ark, and commands its public recitation before all of the people every seven years.  The people’s future disloyalty is anticipated, and much emphasis is laid upon a poem, in next week’s Sedra Ha’azinu, to serve as a spur to future repentance.

Expectations

PRESENCE FOR COVENANT
29:9-14

You stand ready (Nitzavim) this day, all of you, before the Eternal your God—chiefs, tribes, elders, officers, every man of Israel, children, women, strangers within the camp, from the hewer of wood to the drawer of water—to enter into covenant with the Eternal your God and to accept His admonition—in order to establish you this day as His people and the Eternal as your God, as He promised you and your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—and not with you alone, standing here with us this day, before the Eternal our God, but also with those who are not here with us this day.

SANCTIONS INESCAPABLE
29:15-20

From dwelling in Egypt and traveling through nations you have seen their detestable idols of wood and stone, silver and gold.  If any of you—man, woman, family, or tribe—should devise to abandon the Eternal our God and serve instead the gods of those nations—as the root of a tree that produces bitter and poison fruit—and imagines himself to be immune to the words of divine admonition, safe in his own reckless plan, know that the Eternal will not choose to pardon him but that His uncompromising anger will flare up against that man, and all of the admonition recorded herein (cf. 27:15-26; 28:15-68) shall descend upon him, as the Eternal blots out his name from under heaven!  The Eternal shall separate for punishment, as well, any of the tribes of Israel, in accordance with all of the sanctions of the covenant that is written in this book of the Torah.

FUTURE BETRAYAL PUNISHED
29:21-28

As to the question asked by future generations—your own children and the foreigners who enter from a distant land, and observe the plagues and diseases which the Eternalshall have inflicted upon the Land, its devastation by sulfur and salt, beyond all means of cultivation, devoid of grass, like the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and  Tzevoyim, by the Eternal in His fierce anger—why did the Eternal do this? What made Him so angry?—it shall be answered:  Because they forsook the covenant of the Eternal, the God of their fathers, which He made with them when He brought them out of the land of Egypt, and they worshipped other gods, which they had not before known or been allotted; therefore, the Eternal directed His anger against that Land, releasing upon it all of the curse written in this book, and He furiously uprooted them from their Land and cast them to another land, as is the case today!  Although hidden things are the exclusive realm of the Eternal our God, when things are revealed, it is for us and for our children to observe all of the words of this Torah forever (29:28).

REWARDS OF REPENTANCE
30:1-10

As those blessings (cf. 28:1-14) and those curses (cf. 27:15-26; 28:15-68), which I have set before you, may come upon you, and you repent in your heart within any of the nations to which the Eternal your God may have banished you, and you turn with your children to the Eternal your God and obey Him in all that I command you this day, with all of your heart and with all of your soul, then the Eternal your God will reverse your captivity and mercifully bring you back together, from all of the peoples to which He scattered you.  Even if you were banished to the ends of heaven, from there the Eternal your God will gather you, and from there He will take you and bring you to the Land which your fathers inherited and which you have inherited, and He will make you better and greater than your fathers!

Then the Eternal your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, to love the Eternal your God with all of your heart and with all of your soul, in order that you may live.  He will transfer all of those punishments upon your enemies, who hatefully persecute you.  You will return to obeying the Eternal and to doing all of His commandments, which I command you this day, whereupon He will reward you with abundance in all of your undertakings, in the fruit of your womb, in the fruit of your cattle, and in the fruit of your soil, and rejoice over you for good, as He rejoiced over your fathers.

Yours

NOT IN HEAVEN
30:11-14

For this Mitzvah which I command you this day is not too wondrous for you, nor is it far off.  It is not in heaven, that you should say: Who will go up for us to heaven to bring it to us and teach it to us that we may do it?  Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say: Who will go for us beyond the sea to bring it to us and teach it to us that we may do it?  Its word is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.

CHOOSE LIFE
30:15-20

See, I have set before you this day life and good on the one hand, death and evil on the other.  Now I command you to love the Eternal your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His ordinances, that you may live and increase, and that the Eternal your God may bless you in the Land which you are entering to possess!  But if your heart should turn away and you stop listening, and you are drawn to worship other gods and serve them, then I declare to you this day that you shall surely perish, you shall not long endure upon the Land which you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.  I call heaven and earth to serve as witnesses of what I am saying to you:  Life and death do I set before you, blessing and curse, therefore choose life, in order that you and your offspring may live—to love the Eternal your God, to hearken to His voice and to cleave to Him—for He is your life, and your length of days to dwell upon the Land which the Eternal promised to give to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Succession

MOSES LOOKS TO THE FUTURE
31:1-8

Then Moses goes (Vayelech) and speaks the following words to all of Israel:  I am 120 years old today, no longer able to go out and come in, and the Eternal has said to me, you shall not cross over this Jordan.  The Eternal your God will cross before you and destroy these nations from before you, and you shall dispossess them.  Joshua will cross before you, as the Eternal has said, and the Eternal will do to them as He did to Sichon and to Og, kings of the Amorites, whom He destroyed, and their land.  He will deliver them to you to do to them in full accordance with My command to you.  Be strong and courageous, fear not, tremble not before them, for the Eternal your God it is who walks with you, He will not abandon or forsake you.

Moses then addresses Joshua in the sight of all Israel:  Be strong and courageous, for you shall come with this people to the Land which the Eternal your God promised their fathers to give to them, and you shall apportion it to them.  The Eternal it is who walks before you, He will be with you, He will not abandon or forsake you.  Fear not, and be not dismayed!

MOSES WRITES THE TORAH AND COMMANDS HAKHEL
31:9-13

Moses writes this Torah and gives it to the Priests, sons of Levi, who bear the Ark of the Covenant of the Eternal, and to all of the Elders of Israel, and he commands them:  Read this Torah aloud in the presence of all Israel at the end of the cycle of seven years, during the year allotted for remission of debts (shemittah) (cf. 15:1-3), during the Festival of Booths (Sukkot), when all of Israel appear before the Eternal your God in the place which He shall choose.  Assemble (Hakhel) all of the people—men, women and children, including the stranger within your gates—to listen and learn, that they may fear the Eternal your God and carefully observe all of the words of this Torah.  Thereby shall their children, who did not have the current experience, also listen and learn to fear the Eternal your God for as long as you live upon the Land which you are crossing the Jordan to possess.

THE POEM AS TESTIMONY
31:14-30

The Eternal then says to Moses:  Behold, your days to die are drawing near.  Summon Joshua to stand with you at the Tent of Meeting, and I shall charge him.  Moses and Joshua then present themselves at the Tent of Meeting.  The Eternal is manifested in a pillar of cloud positioned at the entrance of the Tent, and He says to Moses:  When you lie with your fathers, the people will arise and go astray after foreign gods of the Land which you are entering, and shall forsake Me and violate My covenant with them.  Then in My anger shall I forsake them and hide My face from them, so that they will be prey for numerous evils and troubles.  The people shall attribute these woes to the absence of their God from their midst.

Therefore write for yourselves this poem and teach it to the Children of Israel, placing it in their mouth, to be My witness against them.  For when I bring the people to the Land which I promised its fathers, a land flowing with milk and honey, and the people eats to satiety, grows fat and turns to other gods, and as they serve them, they despise Me and violate My covenant, and those evils and troubles then find them, then this poem will serve as witness before the people, as it will not be lost from the mouth of its offspring.  For I know the people’s evil impulse as it exists even today before I bring it into the Land which I have promised.

Thus Moses writes the poem on that day and teaches it to the Children of Israel.  He charges Joshua son of Nun: Be strong and courageous as you bring the Children of Israel to the Land which I promised them, and I shall be with you.

When Moses has completed recording in writing the words of this Torah, he instructs the Levites, bearers of the Ark of the Covenant of the Eternal, to place the Torah scroll next to the Ark and remain there for them as testimony.  “For I know how rebellious and stiffnecked you are: now, while I am still alive with you, you are contentious with the Eternal, and so will you be after I die.  You will act corruptly and turn aside from the way that I command you.  Punishment will thus befall you in the future for the evil deeds you commit that anger the Eternal.  Therefore assemble before me all the elders of your tribes and your officers, and I will recite in their hearing these words, appealing to heaven and earth as witness!”

Thereupon Moses recites aloud to all the Congregation of Israel all of the words of this poem.

FROM THE PROPHETS

Seventh Haftarah of Consolation
Isaiah 61:10-63:9

Victory

I shall surely rejoice in the Eternal,
as He clothes me
with garments of salvation,
as the bridegroom wears
the diadem of a priest,
and the bride is decorated
with her ornaments.
As the earth reveals its growth,
so shall the Lord God produce
vindication in the sight of all nations!

For the sake of Zion
I shall not be quiet,
until her victory be seen,
by nations and kings,
as the brightest of lights.
A crown of beauty in the hand of the Eternal,
you shall be called by a new name:
instead of “Forsaken” and “Devastation,”
Cheftsi-vah (“My-Delight-is-in-Her”),
Be’ulah (“Wedded”)!
For as a young man joyfully weds a virgin,
so shall your God rejoice over you.

 I have posted guards on the walls of Jerusalem,
watchful day and night until the Eternal
shall establish her a praise in the earth.
For the Eternal has sworn with His right hand
never again to allow her enemies to take away her food,
but that those who have grown it shall eat it
and bring it to “My holy courts.”

Make way through every gate,
open a highway of the people,
raise a banner over the nations;
the Eternal announces to the farthest end,
say to the daughter of Zion:
Your salvation has been earned
and is coming,
let them be called the holy people,
redeemed of the Eternal,
a city no longer forsaken.

Who is this one coming from Edom,
red-covered from Botzrah,
handsomely attired,
strong in his carriage?

“I announce victory,
mighty to save!”

Why is your raiment red,
as if you have been
treading in the vat?

“Indeed treading,
alone,
trampling the peoples
in My fury,
their blood splattered
on My garments
like the juice of grapes!
I was ready for My day of vengeance,
but none was prepared to help Me,
so My own arm brought forth My salvation,
My own anger was My support.”

Actually I am mentioning the Eternal’s lovingkindness,
in accordance with all that the Eternal has bestowed upon us,
the House of Israel, in His mercy.
He is thinking,
they are My people,
My children, who will not be untrue,
so He becomes their Savior:
He shares their suffering,
His angel seen will save them;
with love and compassion does He redeem them,
and so shall He bear them
for all days forever.

FROM TALMUD AND MIDRASH

Tanchuma Nitzavim 2
The Power of One

“You stand ready this day, all of you,
before the Eternal your God—
chiefs, tribes, elders, officers, every man of Israel,
children, women, strangers within the camp,
from the hewer of wood to the drawer of water…”
(29:9-10)

Even though I have appointed for you chiefs, elders and officers, all of you are equal before Me, as was said, “every man of Israel!”

Another interpretation:  All of you are bound one with the other.  Even with only one righteous person among you, all of you share in his merit.  But not only Israel, as this applies to the entire world: with only one righteous person among you, the entire world shares in his merit, as was said, “A righteous person is the foundation of the world.” (Proverbs 10:25) And if one of you sins, the entire generation is punished.

Talmud Shevuot 39a
Inclusive Covenant I

“You stand ready…
to enter into covenant
with the Eternal your God…
and it is not with you alone
that I make this covenant…”
(29:9-13)

So we find that when Moses our teacher adjured Israel, he said: Know that it is not according to your own mind that I adjure you, but according to the mind of God, and according to my mind, as was said, “It is not with you alone that I make this covenant….”

“…but with those who are here with us,
standing this day before the Eternal our God,
and with those who are not here with us today.”
(29:14)

From the words, “with those who are here,” I understand: those who were standing, as it were, on Mount Sinai.  But for future generations and those who convert to Judaism in the future, whence?  From the Talmudic implication of the words, “and with those who are not here with us today!”

Tanchuma Nitzavim 3
Inclusive Covenant II

“And it is not with you alone that I make this covenant” (29:13): The generations that were to come were also there at that time, as was said, “but with those who are here with us (ibid. 14)”! (Otherwise the latter words would be redundant!)

Rabbi Abahu in the name of Rabbi Samuel bar Nachmani parsed the verses differently to arrive at the same conclusion:  “Those who are here with us, standing this day before the Eternal our God” (ibid. 14a) refers to those who were physically present, “standing,” while the following words, “And with those who are not here with us today” (ibid. 14b) refer to those whose souls were there but whose bodies were not yet created, hence the omission of “standing!”

Deuteronomy Rabbah 8:3
How accessible is the Mitzvah?

“This Mitzvah which I command you this day
is not too wondrous for you, nor is it far off.
It is not in heaven, that you should say:
Who will go up for us to heaven
to bring it to us and teach it to us
that we may do it?”
(30:11-12)

That is what is meant by the verse:

“Wisdom is high for the ignorant;
in the gate he opens not his mouth.”
(Proverbs 24:7)

Said Rabbi Tanchuma: An uneducated person enters the synagogue and sees them discussing the back-and-forth arguments of the Talmud.  Since he does not understand what they are saying, he is embarrassed, as was said, “In the gate he opens not his mouth!” and “gate” may refer to Sanhedrin, as is written: “His (widowed) sister-in-law shall go up to the Gate to the Elders” (Deuteronomy 25:7).

According to the Rabbis: The uneducated person enters the synagogue and sees them engaging in Torah.  He asks them, “How does a person begin the study of Torah?”  They say to him, “First he learns from children’s books, then he studies individual portions of the Torah, then the entire Torah, then the Prophets and the Writings.  Having learned the Written Torah, he then proceeds to learn the Oral Torah of the Talmud, Midrash, Halacha and Aggadah.”  Hearing this, the fool says in his heart, “How can I possibly learn all of this?”  So he withdraws from the gate, as it says, “In the gate he opens not his mouth.”

Rabbi Yannai likens it to a loaf of bread which is seen suspended in the air.  The uneducated fool, dismissing hope, says, “It is in heaven, who can possibly bring it down?”  The uneducated though wise person reasons, “Didn’t someone put the loaf up there?” so he fetches a ladder or a stick and brings it down.  Similarly, the fool says, “When shall I find time to read all of the Torah?” while the wise person acts: he learns one chapter every day until he has completed all of the Torah!

Hence says the Holy One, blessed be He: “This Mitzvah which I command you this day is not too wondrous for you” (30:11): If it is “too wondrous,” “for you” it is too wondrous, which can be read, “from you,” that, is from your inaction, from your not engaging in it!

Deuteronomy Rabbah 8:5
Trustees of the Mitzvah

“This Mitzvah…is not in heaven, that you should say:
Who will go up for us to heaven
to bring it to us and teach it to us
that we may do it?”
(30:11-12)

“This Mitzvah” is a rare gift.  To what may it be likened?  To a king who owned a precious gem, which he entrusted to his faithful subject.  He said to him:  I ask you to pay constant attention to it and treat it with care.  If you lose it, you will never be able to make it up to me, and I do not have another to replace it—“It is not in heaven…to bring it to us…,” so you would be sinning against me and against yourself, so keep the Mitzvah for both of us!  Accordingly, Moses said to Israel:  If you keep the Torah, it is not only for yourself that you perform righteousness, but both for me and for yourself.  Whence do we have this?  As was said, “Righteousness will be ours”—mine and yours—if we observe faithfully all of this Mitzvah before the Eternal our God, as He has commanded us!” (6:25)

Deuteronomy Rabbah 8:6
Complete Torah

Moses said to them that they should not think that another Moses will arise and bring us another Torah from heaven: I therefore warn you, “It is not in heaven” (30:12), that is to say, no part of it has remained in heaven.

Maharzu (Ze’ev Wolf Einhorn, 19th cent.)Whatever is called by the name of Torah or Mitzvah is included in this Torah that was given through Moses, and whatever the Prophets innovated or prophesied, as well as what they might prophesy in the future, is commentary to this Torah…and when he says, “You should not think that another Moses will arise,” what he means is not literally “Moses” but another prophet like Moses, for just as there is not another Torah, so there has not arisen and will not arise another prophet like Moses.  This applies also to the Messiah, who will not deliver another Torah but will uphold and explain this Torah.

What is the meaning of, “It is not in heaven?”  The sage Samuel said: The Torah is not to be found among astrologers, whose art is in the heavens.  They said to Samuel: But you are an astrologer, and yet you are also great in Torah!  Whereupon he replied: I only engage in astrology when I am free from studying Torah.  “When is that?” they asked.  “When I am in the bathroom.”

Talmud Eruvin 55a
Implications of “Not in heaven” I

What is the meaning of the verse, “It is not in heaven…?”

Rav Avdimi bar Chama bar Dosa:

That if it were in heaven, you would have to go up after it.

Rashi (11th cent.): This is consistent with the view that the teacher should make a great effort for the Torah to be retained by its students by presenting mnemonics and developing educational tactics.

Rava:

The Torah is not found in one whose mind is focused above it as heaven.

Rabbi Yochanan:

The Torah is not found in those who are arrogant of spirit.

Deuteronomy Rabbah 8:9
Implications of “Not in heaven” II

Rabbi Acha taught:  It is not in the arrogant of spirit, who ascend upwards.  So where does it reside?  In those who make themselves nothing.

Talmud Bava Metziah 59a-59b
Implications of “Not in heaven” III

We have learned in the Mishnah: “If they made an oven out of separate tiles and placed sand between each tile, Rabbi Eliezer declared it pure, but the Sages declared it susceptible to impurity.  This is the Oven of Aknai.”  (Kelim 5:10)

In the debate between Rabbi Eliezer and the Sages, Rabbi Eliezer presented various “arguments” based upon miracles, but the Sages rejected them.

He said to them:  If the law agrees with me, let this carob tree prove it.  A carob tree was torn out of its place by 100 cubits.  They answered him: We do not present evidence from a carob tree.

Again he spoke to them:  If the law agrees with me, let the stream of water prove it.  The stream of water started flowing backwards.  They answered him: We do not present evidence from a stream of water.

Again he said to them:  If the law agrees with me, let the walls of the house of study prove it.  The walls of the house of study inclined as if to fall.  Rabbi Joshua rebuked the walls: If Torah scholars are disputing each other over halacha (Talmudic law), how is it of your concern?  And so, the walls did not fall, out of respect to Rabbi Joshua, and they also did not stand upright, out of respect for Rabbi Eliezer, and they are still standing thus inclined.

But Rabbi Eliezer again addressed the Sages:  If the halacha agrees with me, let it be proved from heaven!  A heavenly voice came forth and said, “Why do you dispute Rabbi Eliezer, as the halacha always agrees with him?”  But then Rabbi Joshua arose and said, “It is not in heaven!”

What is the meaning of the words, “It is not in heaven?”  Said Rabbi Jeremiah: They mean that the Torah has already been given on Mount Sinai; we pay no attention to a heavenly voice because on Mount Sinai there was written in the Torah, “After the majority must one incline” (Exodus 23:2)!

When Rabbi Nathan encountered the prophet Elijah, he asked him:  What was the Holy One, blessed be He, doing at that time?  He said to him:  He was laughing and saying, “My children have defeated Me! My children have defeated Me!”

Deuteronomy Rabbah 9:1
A Matter of Days

“The Eternal then says to Moses:
Behold, your days to die are drawing near…”
(31:14)

Halacha:  An Israelite whose dead is lying before him, what may he be allowed to pray?  Thus taught the Sages:  One whose dead is lying before him is exempt from the recitation of Shema and from the Tefilah.  Why?  One who is directly confronted with his anguish is agitated of mind.  But once his dead is buried, for all seven days of mourning he is subject to every commanded matter.  Whence that mourning is for seven days?  Said Rabbi Abba bar Avina:  Thus we find with respect to Joseph, “He mourned for his father for seven days” (Genesis 50:10), and the Sabbath is included in the counting of seven.

Said Rabbi Yosi bar Zevida in the name of Resh Lakish:  This may be learned from a different place.  Whence?  “I shall turn your festivals into mourning” (Amos 8:10)—just as the days of the “festival” (understood by the Rabbis as Sukkot) number seven, so then shall the days of mourning be seven!

It occurred in the days of Rabbi Shimon ben Chalafta that he went to celebrate a brit milah (covenant of circumcision).  The infant’s father arranged a seudah (a meal to celebrate the mitzvah) and provided wine which was seven years old.  He said to them:  I will store away some of this wine for my son’s wedding!  They were at the present seudah until midnight.  Rabbi Shimon ben Chalafta, feeling confident, began his journey home to another city at midnight.  On the way he encountered the angel of death, who was wearing a sardonic grin.  “Who are you?” asked Rabbi Shimon ben Chalafta.  “A messenger of God,” said the angel.  “Why do you wear a sardonic grin?” he asked?  “I? from the conversation of people!  They say: such-and-such will we do in the future; yet no one knows when his time to die will come.  That man, with whom you celebrated the seudah, said to you, ‘I will store away some of this wine for my son’s wedding,’ but his son’s life is destined to end after thirty days!”  Rabbi Shimon ben Chalafta said to the angel: Show me my lifespan.  He said to him: I do not rule over you or others like you.  Sometimes the Holy One, blessed be He, is pleased with a man’s good deeds and grants you an extension of life, as was said, “The fear of the Eternal adds days!” (Proverbs 10:27)

The Rabbis teach:  It is difficult for the Holy One, blessed be He, to decree death upon the righteous.  Whence?  “Costly in the sight of the Eternal is the death of His pious ones!” (Psalms 116:15)  This is shown by the way He treated Moses.  He could simply have said, “Behold, you shall die.”  But He did not say that; instead, He softened the blow and cast it in terms of “days,” as the words of our reading are: “Behold, your days to die are drawing near!”

Deuteronomy Rabbah 9:2
Debilitations of Moses

“The race is not to the swift,
nor the battle to the mighty,
nor even bread to the wise,
nor even riches to the understanding,
nor even grace to the skillful…”
(Ecclesiastes 9:11)

Said Rabbi Tanchuma:  This verse speaks about Moses.  How so?

“The race is not to the swift…”

Yesterday he ascended to the firmament like an eagle, then he sought to cross the Jordan and was unable, as was said: “Ascend to the summit of Pisgah and raise your eyes west and north, south and east, and see with your eyes, for you shall not cross this Jordan!” (Deuteronomy 3:27)

“nor the battle to the mighty…”

Yesterday angels trembled before him, but now he says, “I am afraid of the fiery anger that the Eternal has shown to you…!” (Deuteronomy 9:19)

“nor even bread to the wise…”

Yesterday “a wise man went up to the place of angels and brought down the object of strength and confidence” (Proverbs 21:22) from heaven, but now it has been taken from him and given to Joshua son of Nun.  (Chidushey HaRadal [David Luria, 19th cent.]: “Bread” is a metaphor for Torah, as in Proverbs 9:1,5, “Wisdom has built her house…come, eat of my bread…”)

“nor even riches to the understanding…”

Yesterday the understanding one said to God with the confidence of a rich man, “Turn from your fierce anger!” (Exodus 32:12) and “Pardon, I demand, the iniquity of this people! (Numbers 14:19), but now he speaks like one dispossessed, “I entreated the Eternal at that time…” (Deuteronomy 3:23): Do me a favor!

“nor even grace to the skillful…”

Yesterday he was skilled in appeasing his Creator, “Arise, O Eternal One, let Your enemies be scattered…!” (Numbers 10:35) and “Return, O Eternal One, for the many thousands of Israel!” (Ibid. 36)  (Maharzu: Grace was poured into his lips, God heard him and did what he asked.), but after he supplicated all seven days (Maharzu: 1-7 Adar), at the end the Holy One, blessed be He, said to him, “Behold, your days to die are drawing near…” (31:14)!

Deuteronomy Rabbah 9:8
Why?

“The Eternal then says to Moses:
Behold, your days to die are drawing near…”
(31:14)

To what may the decree of Moses’s death be compared?  To a pregnant woman who was confined in prison, and there she bore a child.  When the child had grown up and the king was walking past the prison, the child began to protest: My lord king, why am I locked up in this prison?  The king answered: You were put here because of your mother’s crime.  Similarly said Moses:  Master of the universe, there are thirty-three crimes in the Torah which are punishable by death at the hands of the Eternal—am I guilty of even one of them?  Why have You decreed my death?!  God answered:  It is because of the sin of Adam that you are condemned to death, as the first man brought death into the world.  This is implied by “Behold…” before “Your days to die are drawing near…,” because it also precedes one of the implications of Adam’s crime: “Behold, the man has become like one of us…” (Genesis 3:22)!

Deuteronomy Rabbah 9:9
Fateful Negotiations

“The Eternal then says to Moses:
Behold, your days draw near (for you) to die…”
(31:14a)

Rabbi Sima explained these words as recognition by the Eternal that the “days” had brought to Him a complaint against Moses: Master of the universe, I cannot move from the sky and set as long as Moses remains alive (until he is allowed “to die”)!

The Rabbis teach:  When Moses learned the day on which he was to die, what did he do?  Said Rabbi Yannai:  He wrote thirteen Torah scrolls, one scroll for each of the twelve tribes, and one he deposited into the Ark, so that if there was a question about the correct reading, it could be confirmed from the scroll that was kept in the Ark.  Moses thought: As long as I am engaged in the Torah, which is life, the edict of my death will have to wait indefinitely and will eventually expire!

What then did the Holy One, blessed be He, do?  He suggested to the sun that it should stand up and offer an objection against Moses.  So the sun argued: If I do not set this day (bringing Moses’s death by its end), Moses will have overruled the law of nature (according to the covenant of creation, cf. Genesis 1:16)!  Thus commented Job: “Did I not weep for the objection put forward by the day?” (Job 30:25), in that the day complained against Moses!

Recognizing the day’s objection, Moses then said to Him:  Master of the universe, give Joshua my office in exchange for letting me live!  The Holy One, blessed be He, responded:

“Summon Joshua to stand with you
at the Tent of Meeting,
and I shall charge him…”
(Ibid.)

He further instructed Moses:
Now see if you can relate to Joshua as he has related to you!

So Moses promptly repaired to Joshua’s house.  In trepidation, Joshua said: Moses, my Rabbi, please come with me!  They went out together, Moses walking on Joshua’s left side.

“Moses and Joshua then present themselves
at the Tent of Meeting.
The Eternal is manifested in a pillar of cloud
positioned at the entrance of the Tent…”
(Ibid. 14b-15)

When they enter the Tent of Meeting, the pillar of cloud comes down and separates them.  When the pillar of cloud is later removed, Moses comes over to Joshua and asks him: What did He say to you?  Said Joshua to Moses: When His word was revealed to you, did I know what He said to you?

Whereupon Moses exclaimed: A thousand deaths, but not a single envy!  Thus commented Solomon: “Love is as strong as death; envy is as cruel as She’ol” (Song of Songs 8:6), these the love that Moses had for Joshua and the envy that Moses felt towards him!

So Moses accepted upon himself that he would die!

Then the Holy One, blessed be He, began to offer him some comfort:  Indeed in this world you led My children, so in the future I shall lead them in accordance with your example. Whence?  “He remembered the ancient days, of Moses’s leading His people.” (Isaiah 63:11)

Pesikta d’Rav Kahana 22:2
The Power of Happiness, Human and Divine

“I shall surely rejoice in the Eternal…”
(Isaiah 61:10)

“This is the day which the Eternal has made:
let us rejoice and be happy in it/Him!”
(Psalms 118:24)

Rabbi Abin taught:  From this verse we might not know in what to rejoice: “in it,” the day? or “in Him,” the Holy One, blessed be He?  But then Solomon came and explained it, “Let us rejoice in You” (Song of Songs 1:4): “in You,” in Your Torah and thereby in Your Salvation!

Rabbi Isaac explained how Solomon’s words, “in You,” can mean in Your Torah and, thereby, in Your Salvation.  The letters of “in You,” vet-chaf, have the numerical value of twenty-two, the twenty-two letters of the Alef-Bet that are used to write the Torah.  From the Torah (cf. Genesis Rabbah 45:3) the mitzvah of “Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:22) leads to Salvation —

Mishnah Yevamot 6:6:  If one has married a woman and lived with her for ten years, during which time she has not borne a child, he may not avoid the commandment to be fruitful and multiply.  He may divorce her, so that she may marry another (who has not yet fulfilled the commandment), and he may stay with her for ten years (so that she might bear his child).  If she aborts, the counting of ten years is reset from the time she aborted.  The man is obligated to be fruitful and multiply, but not the woman.  Rabbi Yochanan ben Beroka teaches: For both of them it says, “God blessed them and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply…’” (Genesis 1:28) —

Now it happened that in Sidon a man married a woman and lived with her for ten years, during which time she had not borne a child.  They came to Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai to be divorced (in accordance with the Torah).  The man said to the woman: Remove everything that is of value to you from my house, and take it to your father’s house.

Then Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai said to them: Just as you were wedded to each other amid food and drink, so must you separate from each other amid food and drink.  So what did she do?  She made a big feast with more than enough wine to make him drunk and indicated to her maids to carry him to her father’s house.  At midnight he awoke from his sleep, and he said to her: How did I get here?  She said to him: Did you not say to remove everything that is of value to me from your house and to take it to my father’s house?  Well, there is nothing more precious to me than you!

When Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai heard this, he prayed for them and they were blessed with a child.  The Holy One, blessed be He, blesses the barren woman with children, but so do the righteous, and so it follows:  If flesh and blood, by bringing gladness to each other, evoke the Holy One’s blessing of happiness upon them, how much the moreso will divine gladness for Jerusalem evoke the Holy One’s blessing of happiness upon her.  Thus does Israel look to its Salvation by the Holy One, blessed be He, as expressed by the prophet: “I shall surely rejoice in the Eternal, as He clothes me with garments of Salvation …” (Isaiah 61:10)…

“A crown of beauty in the hand of the Eternal,
you shall be called by a new name:
instead of ‘Forsaken’ and ‘Devastation,’
Cheftsi-vah (‘My-Delight-is-in-Her’),
Be’ulah (‘Wedded’)!
For as a young man joyfully weds a virgin,
so shall your God rejoice over you.”
(Ibid. 62:3-5)

SHABBAT SHALOM!

Copyright © 2020 Eric H. Hoffman

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