Haftarah: Yeshayahu 61:10-63:9 (all) | Seventh of the “Seven of Consolation,” which is read also when Nitzavim is doubled with Vayelech, as it usually is
הפטרה: ישעיהו סא י-סג ט (ע”פ כל המנהגים) | שבע דנחמתא 7, הפטרה שנקראת גם כשוילך נקרא יחד עם נצבים [על התורה]
- “You Stand This Day, All of You”
- Teshuva (Return)
- Torah is Attainable
- Haftarah Summary: שוש אשיש בה’
Parashat Nitzavim is always read on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashana, usually doubled with Vayelech. (Nitzavim is only read by itself if there are two Shabbatot between Rosh Hashana and Sukkot that do not coincide with the holidays.1 There are also a number of authorities, including Saadia Gaon, Abudarham, and the Zohar, who consider Nitzavim-Vayelech to actually be a single parsha that is sometimes split, as opposed to the other way around.) Its themes of assembling, doing teshuva, and hearing future outcomes matches the themes Rosh Hashana. Also, Megilla 31b states specifically that Ezra established that the curses section of Vayikra should be read before Shavuot and the curses section of Devarim should be read before Rosh Hashana (considered for liturgical purposes to refer to Parashat Nitzavim).
“You Stand This Day, All of You”
The parsha begins dramatically, with the entirety of the people assembled and standing at attention (nitzavim – נִצָּבִים). This includes men, women, and children, “ven the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to waterdrawer” (וְגֵרְךָ אֲשֶׁר בְּקֶרֶב מַחֲנֶיךָ מֵחֹטֵב עֵצֶיךָ עַד שֹׁאֵב מֵימֶיךָ). With this assembly, Hashem makes His covenant as He did was Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov—but not only the assembled, but in fact
וְלֹא אִתְּכֶם לְבַדְּכֶם אָנֹכִי כֹּרֵת אֶת הַבְּרִית הַזֹּאת וְאֶת הָאָלָה הַזֹּאת: כִּי אֶת אֲשֶׁר :יֶשְׁנוֹ פֹּה עִמָּנוּ עֹמֵד הַיּוֹם לִפְנֵי ה’ אֱלֹקינוּ וְאֵת אֲשֶׁר אֵינֶנּוּ פֹּה עִמָּנוּ הַיּוֹם
I make this covenant, with its sanctions, not with you alone, but both with those who are standing here with us this day before Hashem our G-d and with those who are not with us here this day.Devarim 29:13-14
It is emphasized that the people saw the many destructive idolatrous behaviors of the Egyptians and must steer clear for them. No one should think that they are safe in practicing idolatry because their teshuva (repentance) will simply be accepted; it will not, and the people will be uprooted from their Land.
This section concludes with the following stirring line:
הַנִּסְתָּרֹת לַה’ אֱלֹקינוּ וְהַנִּגְלֹת לָנוּ וּלְבָנֵינוּ עַד עוֹלָם לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת כָּל דִּבְרֵי הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת
Concealed acts concern Hashem our G-d; but with overt acts, it is for us and our children ever to apply all the provisions of this Teaching.Devarim 29:28
In other words, human actions matter very much, more than the esoteric secrets which are G-d’s province.
Next, the possibility for teshuva, return to G-d, is described. If the people stray from the Torah, the instruction that Hashem has given them, they can choose to return to it and Hashem will accept them with love, reversing their fortunes. If the people have been scattered in exile, they will be returned, together, to their Land. Hashem will make it so that the people flourish more than ever before, and “circumcise” their hearts so they are open to Hashem. Israel’s enemies will see the consequences of their actions.
Torah is Attainable
The text now emphasized that keeping the commandments of the Torah is readily attainable:
כִּי הַמִּצְוָה הַזֹּאת אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם לֹא נִפְלֵאת הִוא מִמְּךָ וְלֹא רְחֹקָה הִוא: לֹא בַשָּׁמַיִם הִוא לֵאמֹר מִי יַעֲלֶה לָּנוּ הַשָּׁמַיְמָה וְיִקָּחֶהָ לָּנוּ וְיַשְׁמִעֵנוּ אֹתָהּ וְנַעֲשֶׂנָּה: וְלֹא מֵעֵבֶר לַיָּם הִוא לֵאמֹר מִי יַעֲבָר לָנוּ אֶל עֵבֶר הַיָּם וְיִקָּחֶהָ לָּנוּ וְיַשְׁמִעֵנוּ אֹתָהּ וְנַעֲשֶׂנָּה: כִּי קָרוֹב אֵלֶיךָ הַדָּבָר מְאֹד בְּפִיךָ וּבִלְבָבְךָ לַעֲשֹׂתוֹ:
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.Devarim 30:11-14
This relatively brief parsha closes with a moving injunction:
הַעִידֹתִי בָכֶם הַיּוֹם אֶת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֶת הָאָרֶץ הַחַיִּים וְהַמָּוֶת נָתַתִּי לְפָנֶיךָ הַבְּרָכָה וְהַקְּלָלָה וּבָחַרְתָּ בַּחַיִּים לְמַעַן תִּחְיֶה אַתָּה וְזַרְעֶךָ: לְאַהֲבָה אֶת ה’ אֱלֹקיךָ לִשְׁמֹעַ בְּקֹלוֹ וּלְדָבְקָה בוֹ כִּי הוּא חַיֶּיךָ וְאֹרֶךְ יָמֶיךָ לָשֶׁבֶת עַל הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע ה’ :לַאֲבֹתֶיךָ לְאַבְרָהָם לְיִצְחָק וּלְיַעֲקֹב לָתֵת לָהֶם
I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day: I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life—if you and your offspring would live—by loving Hashem your G-d, heeding His commands, and holding fast to Him. For thereby you shall have life and shall long endure upon the soil that Hashem swore to your ancestors, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, to give to them.
Haftarah Summary: שוש אשיש בה’
The final haftarah of consolation, which brings us from the Shabbat following Tisha be-Av up until the Shabbat preceding Rosh Hashana, tells of Israel’s final redemption. In particular, the oppressive nation of Edom will be punished by G-d. The people have finished their trajectory from dejection and painful exile to reestablishment and flourishing in their own Land.