This week’s parasha, Nitzavim-VaYelech, is a double portion (this is done so we can complete the reading of the entire Torah in one Jewish year). Moses continues his farewell to the people, and states that the covenant is not only with them, but with all of the people of Israel, past, present and future.
Moses foretells of the people’s rebellion against God after his death, and describes to them the evil that will befall them because of this rebellion. After a time, the people will repent and God will restore them to the Land of Israel. Moses tells the people that they have a choice between life and death, and charges them to choose life, by choosing to obey God and God’s commandments.
Moses continues and explains that he is no longer able to be an active leader. He appoints Joshua as the next leader of the People of Israel. God instructs Moses to write down a poem that will serve as a witness warning the people against their upcoming rebellion. The parasha closes with Moses preparing to deliver the poem to the People of Israel.
“For this commandment that I command you today – it is not hidden from you and it is not distant. It is not in heaven, [for you ] to say, ‘Who can ascend to the heaven for us and take it for us, so that we can listen and perform it?’ …Rather, the matter is very near to you- in your mouth and your heart – to perform it.” Deuteronomy 30:11-14 tells us that the law which we must know and observe is not beyond reach. Everyone is capable of studying and understanding it.
There is a midrash (interpretative story) on this verse. A fool went to the synagogue and asked how one might begin to learn the law. The Rabbis answered that study begins with the Torah, then the Prophets, followed by the Writings. After you have studied the whole Tanach (Torah, Prophets and Writings), one learns, Mishnah, Talmud and Halacha (Jewish Law). The fool thinks, how can I do all of this, and turns to leave. The wise person learns one chapter each day until one completes the task (Deuteronomy Rabbah 8:3).
The hardest part of a journey is taking the first step. With the Jewish New Year approaching, what a wonderful time to take that first step in making Judaism a more permanent part of our lives.