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Parashiot Nitzavim & Vayelech
Rav Johnny's original thoughts on the weekly parsha
This Shabbat we read two parashiot, Nitzavim & Vayelech, and in each parsha a single reference is made to the mouth.
In terms of Parshat Nitzavim, Moshe tells the people: ‘For this commandment that I am giving you today is not unattainable to you, neither is it distant. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us, and bring it to us that we may hear it and keep it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross to the far side of the sea for us, and bring it to us that we may hear it and keep it?’ This word is very close to you. It is in your mouth and in your heart for you to keep it.’ (Devarim 30:11-14)
As numerous commentaries explain, these verses either refer to Torah, or to Teshuvah (repentance). Regarding the former, the message is that Torah is within reach of all, while in terms of the latter, it is that Teshuvah is achievable by all.
And given these two parallel explanations, how are we to understand the statement that ‘it is in your mouth’ (v. 14)? Either that Torah is not just a written text but an oral tradition which should be passed by mouth from one generation to the next, or that Teshuvah requires the verbal confessing of our sins.
Moving onto Parshat Vayelech, Moshe instructs the people, ‘So now write down this song and teach it to the Israelites. Place it in their mouths, so that this song may be My witness against them’ (Devarim 31:19).
In contrast to the above-referenced verses, the topic here is clearly Torah and, specifically, the mitzvah of writing a Sefer Torah. Given this, what is the meaning of, ‘place it in their mouths’?
Naturally, many commentaries explain that this refers to the transmission of the oral Torah. However, Rabbi Alexander Zusya Friedman takes this idea a step further by explaining that this comes to teach us that one should not be satisfied with having written (or having commissioned the writing of) a Sefer Torah while, at the same time, not having educated one’s children or grandchildren in Torah. Yes, writing a Sefer Torah is a precious mitzvah. However, since a Sefer Torah remains in an Aron Kodesh for most of the time, an even more important mitzvah is to bring the words of the Torah to life by sharing and teaching them to our children and grandchildren.
Ultimately, if we want our children and grandchildren to choose to be loyal and committed Jews, then we need to set the example by choosing to learn Torah and to do Teshuvah; so if we want Vayelech, we must first choose Nitzavim.
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