This Torah portion is one of the shortest in the Torah, with a mere 40 verses. The verses themselves, however, are longer than those in most other portions.
The portion is part of Moses’s final speech to the Children of Israel, delivered on the last day of his life. He uses this opportunity to at once warn the people that their actions have consequences, meaning they will be severely punished if they transgress God’s laws, and to reassure them that God will welcome them back if they repent. He impresses upon them their responsibility for one another.
This week’s portion continues with the theme of renewing the covenant between the Children of Israel and God. Moses addresses the entire nation directly, delineating the specific groups — man, woman, child; elder, convert, servant — who are present, telling them both they and those not present today are entering into a permanent covenant with God. According to this covenant, they are all responsible for serving God. Should anyone think they can continue to do as they please and worship the various gods of the foreign nations without harm, they are mistaken. All the evil listed in last week’s portion will befall them, to the point where others seeing the desolation will realize they are being punished for abandoning God and kindling His wrath. Moses tells the people they are all responsible for one another, and while secrets belong to God alone, public transgressions are the domain of the entire nation to correct.
The Israel Bible notes that this covenantal renewal takes place on the plains of Moab, or Arvot Moav in Hebrew. The word Arvot is reminiscent of the Hebrew word arvut, or mutual responsibility. According to Rabbi Riskin of Efrat, “I would submit that this covenant is that of mutuality, interdependent co-signership, but not necessarily between Jew and Jew – that was already incorporated into the previous covenants – but rather between Israel and the other nations of the world. After all, when Abraham was originally elected, G-d commanded that ‘through you all the families of the world will be blessed’ – through the message of Ethical Monotheism, the vision of a G-d who demands justice, compassion and peace, which Abraham’s descendants must convey to the world. This is the true mission of Israel… This third covenant is the covenant of Israel’s responsibility to the world!”
Points to Ponder
Why do you think Moses specifies the different groups of people standing before him? Why do you think he singles out the “hewer of thy wood [and] the drawer of thy water” (29:10)?
After warning the people what will befall them if they stray from God’s service, Moses reassures them that all is not lost. When these things befall the nation, they will be moved to return to God. God will then bring them back from exile among the nations and restore them to their land, with greater prosperity and blessing than they had before. All that the Israelites suffer will ultimately be revisited upon the heads of their enemies, and with the nation’s complete return to the ways of God, He will rejoice over them as He did over their forefathers.
The Israel Bible points out that this portion is read each year in the week prior to Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. The theme of redemption and return to the Land of Israel is closely related to the themes of the holiday. Rosh Hashanah is a time to restore one’s relationship with God, and recognize His dominion over the whole world. Only when the Jewish People return to their land will the entire world recognize God as the King of the Universe.
Points to Ponder
Moses says God will “circumcise thy heart” (30:6). What do you think this means and why would He do so?
The Torah and its Blessings are Accessible
Just in case everything he has told them seems impossible, Moses tells the people that the Torah is imminently accessible to all of them. It is not in heaven or across the sea, where they would need someone to fetch it for them, but it is a choice which God has given to each person.
Moses explains they must choose between good and life or evil and death, but urges them to choose life. If they choose poorly, all the terrible things he has described will come about, but if they choose wisely, loving and serving God, they will prosper in the land which God has promised them and their forefathers. Moses calls upon the heavens and the earth to bear witness to the choice he has placed before the Children of Israel.
The Israel Bible connects this passage with modern Israel’s Independence Day. Each year, the celebration is preceded by Yom Hazikaron, or Memorial Day, remembering the country’s fallen soldiers. The contrast between the two days, commemorated back-to-back, brings into sharp relief the fact that without the sacrifice of Israel’s soldiers today, the people would not be able to live securely in the land God promised their forefathers.
Points to Ponder
Why do you think Moses calls on the heavens and the earth to bear witness to the covenant?