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John Lennon

By Rabbi Jeff Berger

It’s easy to get lost in the Book of Debarim which is comprised of Moshe’s final speeches to Bnei Yisrael, the generation – who unlike their parents – would inherit the Land of Canaan. Of the three lengthy orations given by Moshe, it’s difficult to know where the first ends and the second begins; ditto for the second and third. Verses blend into an indecipherable amalgam. Even the repetition of the mitsvot seems to be in no particular order.

The only clue separating these commanding exhortations is the appearance of the words ‘These are the Mitsvot & Hukim…’. Wherever they’re repeated, we can infer Moshe paused and gave his audience time to do similarly. In this way, the first speech spans chapters 1-10, the second chapters 11-26, and the final speech from chapters 27-34.

If Moshe’s first talk provided a retrospective look at Jewish history up until the present generation and his second charged Bnei Yisrael with the responsibility of obedience to the Almighty and to fulfilling G-d’s Will, the third spelled out the abundant blessings (or terrible curses) resulting from their behaviour.

On that basis, Parshat Nitsabim-VaYelekh (29:9-31:30) follows the prophetic nightmare of Ki Tabo. It provides a more optimistic look at how Bnei Yisrael – despite expectations they’d turn to idolatrous practice and be unfaithful to Hashem ­– can find their way back into G-d’s Presence through Teshuvah (returning).

Parshat Nitsabim famously presents the choice of ‘life & goodness vs. death & evil’ (30:15). Moshe implored Bnei Yisrael to choose life, to love G-d and follow the commandments. The reward was to inherit a land with all its blessings; the alternative was death and destruction.

Those sensitive to the Hebrew may notice Nitsabim uses Hayyim (Life) & Tob (Goodness) paralleling those same words in the first chapters of Bereshith (Genesis). It is as if the Torah, which began with the Goodness of Creation and the Tree of Life, wished to end the same way. Heeding G-d’s words would be the key to humanity’s success.

While it seems simple to opt for Life over Death, surprisingly many of our decisions defy expectation, perhaps because we’re ‘too busy making other plans’. With Selihot started and Rosh Hashana/ Kippur nearly around the corner, there’s still time to make a choice for 5778. Tizku LeShanim Rabot!

 

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