top of page


Parashat Nitzavim Vayeilech

by Joseph Shulam

Deut 29:10 – 31:30 Isaiah 61:1-63:9; John 12:41-50

In this parsha, Moses tells us that we have a fundamental freedom to choose. We can choose blessing or curse, and we need to choose the blessing. Vayeilech recounts the end of Moses’s life. He gives Joshua the mantle of leadership, and tells the people of Israel that though they will turn away from God, causing God to turn from them, He will come back when they make teshuvah.

“‘You are standing today, all of you, before the Lord your God: the heads of your tribes, your elders, and your officers, all the men of Israel, your little ones, your wives, and the sojourner who is in your camp, from the one who chops your wood to the one who draws your water, so that you may enter into the sworn covenant of the Lord your God, which the Lord your God is making with you today, that he may establish you today as his people, and that he may be your God, as he promised you, and as he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. It is not with you alone that I am making this sworn covenant, but with whoever is standing here with us today before the Lord our God, and with whoever is not here with us today. You know how we lived in the land of Egypt, and how we came through the midst of the nations through which you passed. And you have seen their detestable things, their idols of wood and stone, of silver and gold, which were among them. Beware lest there be among you a man or woman or clan or tribe whose heart is turning away today from the Lord our God to go and serve the gods of those nations. Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit, one who, when he hears the words of this sworn covenant, blesses himself in his heart, saying, “I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.” This will lead to the sweeping away of moist and dry alike. The Lord will not be willing to forgive him, but rather the anger of the Lord and his jealousy will smoke against that man, and the curses written in this book will settle upon him, and the Lord will blot out his name from under heaven.’” – Deuteronomy 29:10–20 [ESV]

The first word of this reading in Hebrew is “nitzavim”, it is translated in English as “standing”. However, “standing” is not a strong enough word in English to translate “nitzavim”. The root word of “nitzavim” is translated in other places in the Bible as “standing erect”. Regarding Lot’s wife, it says she became a “nitsav” of salt. The basic meaning of this word is “standing firm/erect/steady”.

So Moses is speaking to the children of Israel, who are standing on the shores of the Jordan River, across from Jericho. Note that we are reading in Deuteronomy chapter 29. This is already towards the end of Moses’ lecture to Israel before he goes up to Pisgah to die.

The people of Israel are already standing in the sun, in the desert, where it is hot and dusty. This is just before Passover. The Jordan River Valley could already be as hot as upper 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The people of Israel are there already a couple of hours or more, old and young men and women and children. Now Moses states “you are standing here erect, not sitting down”.

The first thing that Moses is reminding Israel in his last speech is that God has made a covenant with Israel’s father, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but not with Israel alone. Of this covenant Moses says:

“It is not with you alone that I am making this sworn covenant, but with whoever is standing here with us today before the Lord our God, and with whoever is not here with us today.” – Deuteronomy 29:14,15 [ESV]

This verse is of great importance and it is greatly ignored by both Jews and Christians. The Jews think that God’s covenant is exclusive with Israel and with the Jewish people. It is “our covenant” and no one else’s.

This text is very important for me because it states clearly that the covenant of God with Israel is not exclusively for Israel, but for everyone who is standing with Israel. Not only those of the first generation of Israel standing there with Moses, but with those non-Israelites who were not there at that historical moment.

This text opens a whole big discussion of what the non-Jews, who have joined the “commonwealth of Israel” (Ephesians 2:11,12), ought to do. We have two paradigms on this issue in the New Testament.

We have Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 14. It essentially says that there are more important things in the Kingdom of God than what you eat or what day you keep or don’t keep. The other paradigm is from the teaching of Yeshua, and Paul agrees with it, as said in the story of the rich man and Lazarus:

“‘Then he said, “I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.” Abraham said to him, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.” And he said, “No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” But he said to him, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.”’” – Luke 16:27–31 [NKJV]

I suppose the two paradigms that we find in the New Testament gives each of us the freedom to keep or not to keep the kosher instructions of the Lord to Israel. And the same is true with the feasts of the Lord.

There are more important things for us to do and keep than what we eat or where we celebrate. In fact, today, without a temple and without sacrifices and a kosher priesthood in Jerusalem, the whole question is moot.

bottom of page