Monday, August 30, 2010


It can't be a coincidence that this parasha is read on the Shabbat before Rosh HaShanah every year.  It could not be more closely tied to the concepts that underlie Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur.  Let's look at some of the Big Ideas:

Big Idea #1
     Change is challenging

Questions you might want to think about

  • What are the changes that are about to occur in the parasha?
  • What are the changes that occur in your life at this time of the year?
  • What are the changes in the lives of your students?
  • How will the Israelites react to their changes?
  • How will you react to your changes?
  • What do you expect from your students as a reaction to the changes in their lives?
Big Idea #2
     We are responsible for our actions

Questions you might want to think about
  • If Moshe has given the people God's instructions for how they are to behave, how do you explain the fact that they disobey those instructions on a regular basis?
  • If God knows the people are going to disobey, why doesn't God stop them?
  • What does God expect the people to do when they make mistakes?
  • Everyone makes mistakes.  Do we always know they are mistakes when we are making them?  What do you do when you realize you have made a mistake?  What does God have to do with this?
Big Idea #3
     We can be responsible for agreements made by others

Questions you might want to think about
  • What does it mean when the Torah says,
ט  אַתֶּם נִצָּבִים הַיּוֹם כֻּלְּכֶם, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם:  רָאשֵׁיכֶם שִׁבְטֵיכֶם, זִקְנֵיכֶם וְשֹׁטְרֵיכֶם, כֹּל, אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל.9 All of you are standing today before Adonai your God: your leaders, your tribes, your elders, and your officers, all the men of Israel,
י  טַפְּכֶם נְשֵׁיכֶם--וְגֵרְךָ, אֲשֶׁר בְּקֶרֶב מַחֲנֶיךָ:  מֵחֹטֵב עֵצֶיךָ, עַד שֹׁאֵב מֵימֶיךָ.10 your little ones, your wives, and the stranger who lives in your camp, from the woodcarver to the water-drawer;
יא  לְעָבְרְךָ, בִּבְרִית יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ--וּבְאָלָתוֹ:  אֲשֶׁר יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, כֹּרֵת עִמְּךָ הַיּוֹם.11 in order to enter into the brit, the covenant, of Adonai your God--and into God's oath--which Adonai your God makes with you today;
יב  לְמַעַן הָקִים-אֹתְךָ הַיּוֹם לוֹ לְעָם, וְהוּא יִהְיֶה-לְּךָ לֵאלֹהִים--כַּאֲשֶׁר, דִּבֶּר-לָךְ; וְכַאֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע לַאֲבֹתֶיךָ, לְאַבְרָהָם לְיִצְחָק וּלְיַעֲקֹב.12 that God may establish you today as a people, in order to be your God, as God spoke to you, and as God swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
יג  וְלֹא אִתְּכֶם, לְבַדְּכֶם--אָנֹכִי, כֹּרֵת אֶת-הַבְּרִית הַזֹּאת, וְאֶת-הָאָלָה, הַזֹּאת.13 Not only with you do I make this brit and this oath;
יד  כִּי אֶת-אֲשֶׁר יֶשְׁנוֹ פֹּה, עִמָּנוּ עֹמֵד הַיּוֹם, לִפְנֵי, יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ; וְאֵת אֲשֶׁר אֵינֶנּוּ פֹּה, עִמָּנוּ הַיּוֹם.14 but with the person who stands here with us today before Adonai our God, and also with the person who is not here with us today--

  • How can God make a covenant, a brit, with people who are not there?
  • What are some other agreements that you have to follow even though you were not part of the group that created them?
  • What would it mean if you were only responsible for things that you personally agreed to?  How would the world be different?
Big Idea #4
     It's not over until it's over

Questions you might want to think about:  What (root) word do the following phrases from Chapter 30 have in common?  How is this related to this season of the year?
  • וְשַׁבְתָּ עַד-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ
  • וְשָׁב יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֶת-שְׁבוּתְךָ
  • וְשָׁב, וְקִבֶּצְךָ מִכָּל-הָעַמִּים
  • וְאַתָּה תָשׁוּב וְשָׁמַעְתָּ בְּקוֹל יְהוָה
  • כִּי תָשׁוּב אֶל-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ

And finally, here are two interesting commentaries on these parashot that you may enjoy reading:
  1. You may remember Dr. Aaron Demsky who many of us were privileged to study with throughout the years.  His commentary explains how it came to be that the Torah was read aloud to the people on a regular basis.  The Command of Assembly
  2. I'm not sure how to categorize this next link, but I think you may find it unusual and thought-provoking.  Please read it to the very end (and feel free to share your thoughts).  Urban Parsha Nitzavim/Vayelech

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