motzei Shabbos: parashas Nitzavim 5781 – Choose Life

“See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil.”

  • Deuteronomy 30:15, JPS 1917 Tanach

“Behold, I have set before you this day the way of life, wherein is the recompense of the reward of good unto the righteous, and the way of death, wherein is the retribution of the wages of evil unto the wicked.” – Deuteronomy 30:15, Targum Yonaton


Sforno comments, “eternal life, not just life on earth” (sefaria.org). Likewise, the opposite is mentioned “eternal oblivion” (Sforno, ibid.), not only physical death. These are the destinations of the two paths, delineated in Torah – the way of life, and the way of death, corresponding to our two inclinations, the yetzer tov (good inclination), and the yetzer hara (evil inclination). In the modern world, it is not always clear what choices we make will lead us down one or the other road. This is mostly because, there are no signposts to be found, showing us which way we are headed. The world would like us to believe that all roads lead to Rome, Nirvana, or G-d. However, nothing could be further from the truth.


In the Torah, G-d is explicit, concerning the path we are to follow, and the path that we are not to follow. “Behold, I have set before you this day the way of life, wherein is the recompense of the reward of good unto the righteous, and the way of death, wherein is the retribution of the wages of evil unto the wicked” (Targum Jonathan on Deuteronomy 30:15, sefaria.org). If we make an effort to follow our good inclination, by listening to the conscience, and doing what is right, then we will be rewarded for our efforts. Yet, if we give in to the evil inclination, adhering to our “lesser instincts,” falling prey to sin, then we will receive retribution for actions. It is more challenging to do good, than to be lured into temptation by the desires of the heart. For this reason, we can only conquer the yetzer hara with the help of G-d.

Thou Shalt Return

parashas Nitzavim 5781

Thou Shalt Return

“And it shall come to pass, when all these things come upon thee, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before thee, – thou shalt bethink thyself among all the nations, wither the L-RD thy G-d has driven thee, and shalt return unto the L-RD thy G-d, and hearken to His voice according to all that I command thee this day, thou and thy children, with all thy heart, and with all thy soul; that then the L-RD thy G-d will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the peoples, whither the L-RD thy G-d hath scattered thee.

– Deuteronomy 30:1-2, JPS 1917 Tanach

The promise of return to the Land of Israel includes a reassurance of teshuvah; in other words, that the Jewish people will be moved by H’Shem to do teshuvah (repentance).  The commandment to repent is phrased in the future tense, rather than in the imperative command form, because G-d wanted it to be an assurance to the Jewish people that in due time we would repent. Thus, as Rosh HaShannah approaches, we are reminded of the inevitable call towards teshuvah (repentance).

Commentary relates that the phrase vahasheivosa ell’vavecha (then you will take it to your heart;” Deuteronomy 30:1) conveys the understanding that, an intellectual knowledge alone, concerning the importance of the service of G-d, is not enough; rather, it is necessary to bring this awareness into one’s heart – the seat of the emotions. As a result of this endeavor, repentance will follow.

The sense of renewal within the context of the ingathering of the Jewish people to Eretz Yisrael hints at the level of teshuvah that will occur at this time.  The prophet Ezekiel spoke of an unprecedented restoration when we will be gathered in from the nations where we have been scattered:  

“And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh; that they may walk in My statutes, and keep Mine ordinances, and do them; and they shall be My people, and I will be their G-d.”

– Ezekiel 11:19-20, JPS 1917 Tanach

As we approach Rosh HaShannah, we will soon hear the sounds the shofar. This may serve to remind of the time of the ingathering, “All ye inhabitants of the world, and ye dwellers on the earth, when an ensign is lifted up on the mountains, see ye; and when the horn [shofar] is blown, hear ye” (Isaiah 18:3, JPS 1917 Tanach)

Do Not Be Hindered

shiur for parashas Nitzavim 5781

“For I know their imagination how they do even now.”

  • Deuteronomy 31:21, JPS 1917 Tanach

 “For their evil disposition to which they are yielding today, even before I bring you into the promised land, is known to Me.” – Targum Yonaton

G-d knows our proclivity towards aveiros (transgressions). In regard to B’nei Yisrael, He knew that the imagination, i.e., yetzer (inclination) of the people was inclined towards evil. Sforno explains, that the people were about to be brought into the promised land, in order to focus on H’Shem, serving Him through the mitzvot (as mentioned in Psalms 105:44-45); yet, “instead they look forward to gratify their own cravings” (Sforno on Deuteronomy 31:21, sefaria.org) which will lead to an excessive focus on material pleasures, gained from the wealth that H’Shem provides. In other words, they will end up misusing their material goods. By neglecting to focus on H’Shem, after entering the Land, the priorities that were established, “that they might keep His statutes, and observe His laws,” were forgotten (Psalm 105:45).

Although many would like to believe that our natural tendency is to do good, this goes against the grain of understanding. Upon further reflection, we may find that we are inclined to enjoy ourselves, and be entertained by the world, while our efforts to do good are hindered. We may neglect to be kind, considerate, and selfless, unless we seriously strive to do so at all times. As soon as we take our eyes off of H’Shem, especially in this modern world, we will become further distracted, engrossed, and captured by our yetzer hara. Zechirus (vigilance) is of the upmost importance, in order to maintain a sense of deveykus (attachment) to G-d. If we expect to enter into the Promised Land of Olam Haba (the World to Come) with a good place reserved for us there, then, we must keep these points in mind: 1). sur meira, asei tov (eschew evil, do good); 2). show zechirus (vigilance) through constant awareness; and, 3). deveykus (stay connected) to G-d Above, who watches over us from Shomayim (Heaven).

Stand This Day

d’var for parashas Nitzavim 5781

“Ye are standing this day all of you before the L-RD your G-d.”

  • Deuteronomy 29:9, JPS 1917 Tanach

Moshe speaks to the generation of Bnei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) that will soon cross the Jordan River into the Promised Land, under the new leadership of Joshua. Moshe reassures the people that despite their transgressions in the wilderness, they are still “standing this day.” The Hebrew word used for stand in this verse is nitzavim, from the shoresh (root word) NZV, meaning to stand upright. This has the the connotation of moral uprightness.


Moshe explains that they are gathered together, standing before HShem, “that thou shouldest enter (uvalaso) into the covenant of the L-RD thy G-d” (Deuteronomy 29:11, JPS). The shoresh, AVR, meaning to enter, also means to cross over. The use of this word is apropos of Bnei Yisrael’s imminent crossing over the Jordan to Canaan. Figuratively speaking, they are crossing over, i.e., transitioning from wanderers in the wilderness into G-d’s covenantal nation. (The proclamation given by Moses in this passage is a renewal of the covenant).


The Zohar relates the phrase, “Ye are standing this day” to Rosh HaShannah. When we stand before H’Shem on Rosh HaShannah, the Day of Judgment, we are judged for the year; the books are opened, and we hope to be judged favorably, so that we may cross over into a good year. Let us search and try our ways, and return to the L-RD (Lamentations 3:40, JPS), so that we may stand before Him, and be inscribed in the Book of Life.