NEW!!! Download this summary as an MP3 audio file (large-ish download – be patient). I know it’s a rough
first second effort; feedback is still VERY welcome! (I fixed my voice in this one – I thought it was better slowed down, because it sounds unnaturally squeaky to me otherwise.)
This is a basic overview of the parsha story in a format that can be adapted for a wide range of ages. Sources include parsha text, commentaries and midrash. When introducing midrash or other non-pshat elements, I use the words “some people think” or something similar. (find out why)
Here we go – it’s the final countdown to the end of the Torah!
Did you know there are 54 parshiyos (that means parshas) in the Torah, but usually only 52 weeks in a year? That means we often have to read two parshiyos in a single week so we can get the whole thing read in one year. This week’s parsha is the second-shortest one in the whole Torah, and it’s often combined with next week’s, Vayeilech, which is the VERY shortest in the Torah. Other parshiyos are sometimes combined, too; luckily, they’re usually both pretty short.
There are only 48 pesukim – sentences – in this parsha, but they are important ones!
Some of the most important ideas are in this parsha, starting with the name of the parsha – nitzavim. It means “standing.” Moshe called everybody to stand together: “Come on! Men, women and children, rich and poor, workers and leaders, come listen!” “Even us?” asked the geirim – people who had chosen to become Jewish. “We don’t matter much.” “Even you,” Moshe said. The Torah is for everybody, no matter how small or unimportant we might think we are.
Before the Torah, ordinary people weren’t important.
Leaders (like Paroh – remember him?) were considered gods and could pretty much do whatever they liked; they made the rules. Ordinary people were considered worthless; they had to follow all the rules made by the wealthy leaders. Hashem changed all that, by choosing a shepherd (Moshe) to give his Torah to slaves. Nobody is small or unimportant to Hashem; everybody counts. (He chose another shepherd to be our mightiest king – remember David HaMelech?)
Wow – what a big idea. But wait – something bigger is coming!
Those simple Jews standing with Moshe were not the only ones receiving the Torah. “It’s not just for you,” he said. “It’s for your children, and their children… for every Jewish child, forever.”
Do you remember the brachos and the curses in last week’s parsha?
They were basically opposites. If we keep the Torah in eretz Yisrael, our crops, children and animals will be healthy and strong. We’ll live in peace, and the nations will say, “Wow – look how much Hashem loves the Jews!” But if we don’t, the opposite will happen – our crops, children and animals will be sick and weak; enemies will chase us out of the land.
But here’s the sad part: all those bad things actually happened.
Bnei Yisrael did live happily, for a while. But gradually, secretly, in their hearts, some of them stopped believing the Torah, stopped doing mitzvos. Now, a tree in a forest can stand for a long time, even while insects are living inside, eating away the wood and making it weak and sickly. It looks perfectly fine until one day – with a CRASH! – it collapses.
Like with that tree collapsing, things suddenly turned bad for bnei Yisrael!
Their crops, homes and families, even the bais haMikdash were destroyed; they were chased out of eretz Yisrael by enemies. That was a very, very long time ago, and only a short time ago – just a little more than 60 years, perhaps when your grandparents were kids – we were finally allowed to rebuild Israel after more than a thousand years.
That’s the amazing thing: Hashem waits for us to come back.
Hashem knew all the punishments would happen eventually, and Moshe probably did, too. But they also knew Hashem would bring us back – long ago, from Babylonia; today, from Australia and France and Morocco and Ethiopia and Canada. Last month, on Tisha b’Av, we read in Megillas Eichah (a very sad book indeed): “הֲשִׁיבֵנוּ יְהוָה אֵלֶיךָ וְנָשׁוּבָה, חַדֵּשׁ יָמֵינוּ כְּקֶדֶם,“ “bring us back to you, Hashem, and we’ll come back.” If we try hard, Hashem will give us the strength to leave our homes and do the mitzvos in eretz Yisrael. Then we will have all those brachos once again. This week’s parsha tells us there’s nothing so bad that Hashem can’t forgive us.
What a great reminder before Rosh Hashanah!
In Elul, we concentrate on Teshuvah, returning to Hashem. We apologize to people we’ve hurt. Just like Hashem, they forgive us and we forgive anyone who’s done something wrong to us. We fix our friendships and also apologize to Hashem for forgetting His mitzvos. But in case you might think mitzvos are too hard, Hashem says in this parsha, “the Torah isn’t hidden and it’s not far away… it’s very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, so you can do it.” Hashem didn’t give the Torah to malachim and He didn’t give it only to certain perfect people. Remember the beginning of this parsha? He gave it to ordinary people, like us, carpenters and water-carriers and children. We all make mistakes, but we can also make good choices and try really hard not to disappoint Him.
Have you ever been to a buffet?
Life is like a buffet, says Hashem. All our choices are spread out, just like food on a table in front of us. Some of the choices are good, and some are not. We could be kind to our friends or rude to them; trip people or help people. Hashem lets us choose, but he asks us, so many times: “please choose life.” Make good choices.
Now we are very near the Torah’s end. Next week, we will read what Moshe did on the very last day of his life.