Parshat Netzavim VaYelech


Rabbi Bernie Fox




Hashem’s Covenant is with All Generations

And not with you alone do I enter into this covenant and this curse.  Rather with those who are here with us standing today before Hashem our G-d and those who are not here with us today.  (Devarim 29:14-15)

Moshe’s final address to the people comes to its conclusion.  He tells the nation that they are entering into a covenant with Hashem to observe His Torah.  Moshe explains that this covenant does not bind merely the current generation.  It will establish a relationship that will extend throughout history.  Future generation of Bnai Yisrael will be obligated to observe the commandments as a result of this commitment.  These future generations will be subject also to the blessings and curses that accompany the covenant.  An obvious question emerges.  How could the people Moshe addressed obligate generations that did not exist?  Why should those not yet born be obligated to be faithful to a bargain into which they had not personally entered?

This covenant was not made between Hashem and individuals.  It was an agreement entered into by Hashem and the nation of Bnai Yisrael.  The nation is not just those living in a single generation.  The nation consists of all Jews – those who lived in the past and those who will live in the future.  The present generation is only the current membership of Bnai Yisrael. 

When Moshe’s generation entered into the covenant they acted on behalf of the nation of Bnai Yisrael. Therefore, their commitment was binding upon all members of the nation in all future generations.  This includes those present that day and those not yet born.




We are not Responsible for Hidden Sins

The hidden things are the concern of Hashem your G-d.  Regarding the revealed things, it is ours and our children’s responsibility forever to observe the words of this Torah.  (Devarim 29:28)

The commentaries dispute the meaning of this enigmatic pasuk.  Rashi explains that the nation was to accept communal responsibility for observance of the Torah.  This weighty obligation is not easily fulfilled.  Some sins are performed in the open.  These can be addressed by the community.  However, many of the obligations of the Torah are performed in the privacy of one’s home or in the heart.  How can the community bare responsibility for these private areas of observance?  Rashi understands the pasuk to respond to this issue.  The community is obligated to encourage Torah practice in all of its observable forms.  This obligation does not extend to those observances that are hidden from the community.  In these areas, the community is not duty-bound to ensure observance.  This is Hashem’s domain.  He will deal with the private practices and thoughts of the human being.[1]

Nachmanides offers an alternative interpretation of the pasuk.  Not all of our sins are revealed to us.  Sometimes we commit a sin unknowingly.  The pasuk explains that we are not responsible for these errors.  Instead, we must apply our full attention to repenting from those iniquities of which we are aware.[2]

Nachmanides comments can perhaps be understood on a deeper level.  Repentance assumes that we have the ability to control our actions.  This is not always the case.  Sometimes we are confronted with a behavior we are truly incapable of controlling or altering.  In general, these behaviors stem from motivations we do not fully understand.  Because these motivations are hidden, they are impossible to uproot.  We find ourselves powerless to correct our behavior.  Possibly, Nachmanides is discussing this issue.  These sins are referred to as hidden.  This is because the observable sinful behavior is only the outward expression of the hidden aspects of our personality.  We are not held responsible for these sins that we cannot control.[3]




When all of Israel comes to appear before Hashem you G-d, in the place that He will choose, read this Torah before all of Israel, in their ears.  (Devarim 31:11)

This pasuk discusses the mitzvah of HaKhel.  This mitzvah is observed during the Chag of Succot in the year following the Sabbatical year.  On this date, the entire nation assembles in the courtyard of the Temple.  The king reads, to the nation, portions of Sefer Devarim.[4]

On which day of Succot is the mitzvah performed?  The Talmud explains that the reading takes place on the first day of Chol HaMoed.[5]  This is not specifically mentioned in the Torah.  Why this day?  Rashi explains that the mitzvah should be performed as early as possible during Succot.  However, it is impossible to observe the mitzvah on the first day.  Therefore, the observance is postponed until Chol HaMoed.

Why can the commandment not be observed on the first day of Succot?  Rashi explains that the answer lies in understanding the manner in which the mitzvah is performed.  The king ascends onto an elevated platform.  He reads to the nation from this elevated place.  This platform cannot be assembled before Yom Tov.  The platform would occupy needed space during the first day.  The nation comes to the Temple to offer sacrifices on the first day.  Every inch of the courtyard is required to accommodate the crowd.  The laws of Yom Tov prohibit the construction of this platform on the first day of Succot.  Therefore, the platform cannot be assembled until Chol HaMoed.[6]

Tosefot object to Rashi’s explanation.  They agree that the mitzvah is performed on the first day of Chol HaMoed.  They also agree that the Torah is ideally read from this elevated platform.  However, they argue that the reason for the assignment of the mitzvah to the first day of Chol HaMoed is not related to the requirement of reading from an elevated platform. It is a consequence of other considerations.  Their reasoning is that although a platform is appropriate, the mitzvah is still fulfilled without this element.  If the best time to perform the commandment were the first day of Succot, then the mitzvah would be observed at that time.  The platform would be forgone in order to perform the mitzvah at the proper time![7]

It is possible that the explanation of this dispute lies in understanding the role of the king in this mitzvah.  Why does specifically the king read the Torah to the nation?  There are two possible explanations.  The first is that this is one of the roles of the king.  The king is charged with the duty of leading the nation according to the mitzvot of the Torah.  This requires that he teach its laws to Bnai Yisrael and encourage observance.  The mitzvah of HaKhel provides the king with the opportunity to discharge this duty.

There is a second possibility.  This mitzvah is not one of the duties of the king.  Then why is the king chosen to read to the nation?  This glorifies the Torah.  The king is the highest authority and the most respected individual in the nation. Through his personal involvement in the mitzvah, the importance of Torah observance is communicated.

Rashi apparently maintains that the king’s involvement is required to honor the Torah.  This implies that the king should appear and participate in his glory.  The platform elevates the king above the people.  It emphasizes the importance of the king.  Through honoring the monarch the Torah is glorified.  Rashi may agree with Tosafot that this platform is not absolutely essential for fulfillment of the mitzvah.  However, Rashi would argue that the mitzvah cannot possibly be formulated in manner that is antithetical to its objectives. Therefore, because the mitzvah is designed to glorify the Torah, the appropriate time for its observance must correspond with this objective.  This time is the first day of Chol HaMoed.


Tosefot apparently argue that this reading is one of the duties of the king.  The king can perform this duty without the platform.  Therefore, inability to erect the platform should not dictate postponement of the mitzvah.

[1] Rabbaynu Shlomo ben Yitzchak (Rashi), Commentary on Sefer Devarim 29:28.

[2] Rabbaynu Moshe ben Nachman (Ramban/Nachmanides), Commentary on Sefer Devarim 29:28.

[3] Rav Yisroel Chait, Editor’s notes.

[4] Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam/Maimonides) Mishne Torah, Hilchot Chagigah 3:1-3.

[5] Mesechet Sotah 41a.

[6] Rabbaynu Shlomo ben Yitzchak (Rashi), Commentary on the Talmud, Mesechet Sotah 41b.

[7] Tosefot, Mesechet Sotah 41a.