Breakdown Parashah Nitsavim is the 51st weekly portion, the 8th in the book of Deuteronomy. It covers Deut. 29:10 – 30:20.It contains 2,123 letters (in the standard Masoretic Text), 553 words, and 30 verses, and generally takes up about 72 lines on a Torah scroll. The title of the portion, Nitsavim, means "standing."
Overview Nitsavim starts off with Moses doing what he does best: exhorting the people to keep the commands of YHWH. Chapter 29 contains his proclamation to the people, and his reminder that those who rebel against YHWH will not go unpunished. The last verse, 29:29, contains a curious statement about the things hidden and the things revealed, and how the revealed things exist so that we may guard the Torah. After the stern reminder of curses, Moses goes on in Chapter 30 to tell the people that there is still hope: YHWH will circumcise the hearts of the people, and they shall possess the land. The end of the chapter is reminiscent of Parashah Re'eh, in that the people are all given the choice: life or death. This Parashah is sometimes combined with Parashah Vayelekh (though not for 2015 or 2016).
29:10-29 10 You stand today all of you before יהוהyour Elohim; your heads, your tribes, your elders, and your officers, even all the men of Yisra'el, 11 your little ones, your wives, and your sojourner who is in the midst of your camps, from the one who cuts your wood to the one who draws your water; 12 that you may enter into the covenant of יהוהyour Elohim, and into His oath, which יהוהyour Elohim cuts with you today; 13 that He may establish you today to Himself for a people, and that He may be to you an Elohim, as He spoke to you, and as He swore to your fathers, to Avraham, to Yitsḥaq, and to Ya'aqov.
14 Neither with you only do I cut this covenant and this oath, 15 but with him who stands here with us today before יהוהour Elohim, and also with him who is not here with us today 16 (for you know how we lived in the land of Mitsrayim, and how we came through the midst of the nations through which you passed; 17 and you have seen their abominations, and their idols, wood and stone, silver and gold, which were among them); 18 lest there should be among you man, or woman, or family, or tribe, whose heart turns away today from יהוהour Elohim, to go to serve the elohim of those nations; lest there should be among you a root that bears gall and wormwood; 19 and it happen, when he hears the words of this curse, that he bless himself in his heart, saying, "I shall have peace, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart, to destroy the moist with the dry."
20 יהוהwill not pardon him, but then the anger of יהוהand His jealousy will smoke against that man, and all the curse that is written in this book shall lie on him, and יהוהwill blot out his name from under the heavens. 21 יהוהwill separate him to evil out of all the tribes of Yisra'el, according to all the curses of the covenant that is written in this book of the Torah.
22 The generation to come, your children who shall rise up after you, and the foreigner who shall come from a faraway land, shall say, when they see the plagues of that land, and the sicknesses with which יהוהhas made it sick; 23 and that the whole land of it is sulfur, and salt, and a burning, that it is not sown, nor bears, nor any grass grows therein, like the overthrow of Sedom and Gomorrah, Admah and Tsevoyim, which יהוהoverthrew in His anger, and in His wrath: 24 even all the nations shall say, "Why has יהוהdone thus to this land? What does the heat of this great anger mean?" 25 Then men shall say, "Because they forsook the covenant of יהוה, the Elohim of their fathers, which He cut with them when He brought them forth out of the land of Mitsrayim, 26 and they went and served other elohim, and bowed down to them, elohim that they did not know, and that He had not given to them: 27 therefore the anger of יהוהwas kindled against this land, to bring on it all the curse that is written in this book; 28 and יהוהrooted them out of their land in anger, and in wrath, and in great indignation, and cast them into another land, as at this day."
29 The secret things belong to יהוהour Elohim; but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this Torah.
Verse 11 immediately brings to mind the account of Joshua 9. The Gibeonites knew the Israelites had come into the land of Canaan, and they feared them. So they dressed themselves up to appear weak, weary, and poor. (vss. 3-5) Then a few of them went to meet with Joshua (vs. 6), and explained to him that they were from a land far away, and that they came to make a covenant with him. (vss. 6-13) So Joshua made a covenant with them, based on their false information. (vs. 15) After three days, they learned the truth, but were duty-bound to keep their word and their covenant. (vss. 16-21) So Joshua told them that although they would be allowed to live, they would be "hewers of wood and drawers of water for the House of Elohim" forever. (vss. 23-27)
Given that, we see that it may well be a sort of prophecy here in Deut. 29, in making mention of the woodcutters and drawers of water. On this note, the Talmud makes mentions that despite how we, as humans, view hierarchy, it is not always the same. While we would consider woodcutters and drawers of water as the "least" in the Kingdom, that may not be so. Indeed, even they are in the covenant. The Talmud reads:
Rav Yosef the son of Rabbi Joshua ben Levi, fell into a trance. When he awoke, his father asked him: "My son, what did you see (in heaven)?" Rav Yosef replied: "I saw an upside-down world. Those who are on top here, are on the bottom there; and those who are here regarded as lowly, are exalted in heaven." Pesachim 50a.
This also reminds us of Yeshua's statement, made numerous times, that:
"The last shall be first, and the first last." – Matt. 19:30; 20:16
In verse 29 in the Masoretic Text, a series of dots appears over the words "to us and to our children forever." These dots, usually called puncta extraordinaria (lit. "dots above"), are also referred to in Jewish literature as "Ezra's points." These dots are found present in some of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and thus are known to pre-date the Masoretic Text. It is believed that Ezra the Scribe instituted this system of dots, using them to denote certain words and readings that were of uncertain meaning or origin. According to the haggadic book "Avot de-Rabbi Natan" Ezra said:
"If Elijah comes and says to me, 'why did you write this?' I shall say to him, 'I made marks over them.' And if he says to me, 'You wrote it well,' I shall take the marks off them."
The exact meaning, or even variant text, is unknown.
Verse 29 should also remind us that despite our thirst for knowledge – and indeed, the noble quest it may be – we are not meant to know everything. We are not given all the answers, and that for a reason. In the haggadic book mentioned above, it is also said that this phrase means that although we are to know the things revealed, the secret [hidden] things will be revealed in the world to come.
Chapter 30 1 It shall happen, when all these things have come on you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you shall call them to mind among all the nations, where יהוהyour Elohim has driven you, 2 and shall return to יהוהyour Elohim, and shall obey His voice according to all that I command you today, you and your children, with all your heart, and with all your being; 3 that then יהוה your Elohim will turn your captivity, and have compassion on you, and will return and gather you from all the peoples, where יהוהyour Elohim has scattered you. 4 If your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of the heavens, from there will יהוהyour Elohim gather you, and from there he will bring you back: 5 and יהוהyour Elohim will bring you into the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it; and He will do you good, and multiply you above your fathers.
6 יהוהyour Elohim will circumcise your heart, and the heart of your seed, to love יהוהyour Elohim with all your heart, and with all your being, that you may live. 7 יהוהyour Elohim will put all these curses on your enemies, and on those who hate you, who persecuted you. 8 You shall return and obey the voice of יהוה, and do all His commands which I command you today. 9 יהוהyour Elohim will make you plenteous in all the work of your hand, in the fruit of your belly, and in the fruit of your livestock, and in the fruit of your ground, for good: for יהוהwill again rejoice over you for good, as He rejoiced over your fathers; 10 if you shall obey the voice of יהוהyour Elohim, to guard His commands and His statutes which are written in this book of the Torah; if you turn to יהוהyour Elohim with all your heart, and with all your being.
11 For this command which I command you today, it is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. 12 It is not in heavens, that you should say, "Who shall go up for us to the heavens, and bring it to us, and make us to hear it, that we may do it?" 13 Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, "Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it to us, and make us to hear it, that we may do it?" 14 But the word is very near to you, in your mouth, and in your heart, [and in your hand] that you may do it.
15 Behold, I have set before you today life and good, and death and evil; 16 in that I command you today to love יהוהyour Elohim, to walk in His ways, and to guard His commands and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that יהוהyour Elohim may bless you in the land where you go in to possess it. 17 But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but shall be drawn away, and bow down to other elohim, and serve them; 18 I have declared to you today, that you shall surely perish; you shall not prolong your days in the land, where you pass over the Yarden to go in to possess it. 19 I call the heavens and the earth to witness with you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse: therefore choose life, that you may live, you and your seed; 20 to love יהוהyour Elohim, to obey His voice, and to cling to Him; for He is your life, and the length of your days; that you may dwell in the land which יהוהswore to your fathers, to Avraham, to Yitsḥaq, and to Ya'aqov, to give them.
The very opening verse of Chapter 30, which is merely a continuation of Moses' words in Chapter 29, is already an ominous statement: YHWH will drive the people to all nations. We still look forward to the fulfillment of verses 1 – 10. We as Believers know that Messiah Yeshua will gather the elect from the four corners of the earth (Mat. 24:31). He will bring us into the Land, and there we will finally dwell with Him. On these 10 verses, Rabbi Moses ben Maim (Maimonides/RaMBaM) wrote:
The Melech HaMashiach (King Messiah) is destined to arise and restore the kingdom of David to its glory of old, to its original sovereignty. He will build the Holy Temple and gather the dispersed of Israel. In his times, all laws (of the Torah) will be reinstated as before; the sacrifices will be offered, the Sabbatical year and the Jubilee year instituted as outlined in the Torah. Whoever does not believe in him or does not anticipate his coming, denies not only the other prophets but also the Torah and Moses. For the Torah testifies about him: "G-d shall return your captivity and have compassion upon you. And He will return and gather you from all the nations amongst whom the L-rd your G-d has scattered you... If your outcasts shall be at the ends of the heavens, from there will the L-rd your G-d gather you, from there He will take you... G-d will bring you..." These explicit words of the Torah encapsulate all that has been said regarding Messiah by the prophets. – Mishneh Torah: Laws of Kings 11:1
How incredible it is that Maimonides understood that Messiah would be the one to gather the people, rebuild the Temple, and reinstate all Torah laws. Then he makes the incredible state (underlined and bolded above). This cannot be overlooked, nor can the similarities between it and the following verses be overstated:
46 "For if you believed Mosheh, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?" – John 5:46-47
This is why, even in Judaism, it is a fundamental requirement to believe in Messiah: for without belief in Messiah, one does not affirm all the words of the Prophets, and the Torah of Moses. Without affirming the words of the prophets and the Torah, one cannot truly believe Elohim, nor believe IN Elohim. So Yeshua's statement that without believing the Torah, you cannot believe Him, makes sense. As does a fundamental requirement for BELIEF in the Messiah! This is echoed an endless amount of times in the NT.
1 John 3:23 - This is His command, that we believe in the name of His Son Yeshua Messiah, and love one another, just as He commanded us.
John 1:12 - But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of Elohim, even to those who believe in His name…
John 3:18 - He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of Elohim.
Romans 10:8-10 – 8 But what does it say? "the word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, 9 that if you confess with your mouth Yeshua as Master, and believe in your heart that Elohim raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.
Hebrews 3:19 – 18 And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief.
Acts 16:31 - They said, "Believe in the Master Yeshua, and you will be saved, you and your household."
Acts 19:4 - Paul said, "John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Yeshua."
I believe this is enough for now, but you get the point. When one truly breaks down and begins looking at how Yeshua fulfilled hundreds of prophecies, it cannot be denied that He is indeed the promised Messiah.
Verses 11-14 are very reminiscent of 1 John.
1 John 5:2-5 - 2 By this we know that we love the children of Elohim, when we love Elohim and do His commands. 3 For this is loving Elohim, that we guard His commands, and His commands are not burdensome. 4 For all that is brought forth of Elohim overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world: our faith. 5 Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Yeshua is the Son of Elohim?
In Deut. 30:11, we are told that obeying the commands is "not too difficult" for us. John echoes this same thing here, when he says the commands are not burdensome. He further echoes this chapter when he says that loving Elohim means obeying the commands. That is, after all, what Deut. 30 is all about: loving Elohim, obeying Him, circumcising your heart.
A Midrash (Deuteronomy Rabbah) states that when a fool enters the synagogue, asks how one can learn the law when he sees everyone else learning it. They inform him that first he studies the children's material (selected portions and rules that do not require advanced reasoning and logic), then the Torah, then the Prophets, then the Writings, then the Talmud, then the Halakha (the way to walk out the laws in every day life), and then the Midrash. When they hear this, the fools ask themselves, "How is it possible to do all of this!?" and then turn to leave. Rabbai Jannai compared it to a loaf of bread suspended in the air. The fool says, "No one can bring this down" but the wise man says, "Someone placed it there, surely it can be brought down." Then he fetches a ladder or stick and brings it down. So fools complain that they cannot learn all the law, yet the wise read a section every day until they have read it all. When Elohim said, "it is not too difficult for you" it is interpreted to mean if you are unable to do it, it is because of your own faults, not because it is too hard.
Paul quotes verses 12 and 13 in his letter to the Romans. However, following common Rabbinic practice, he paraphrases and interpolates his point into the text itself. Here are his words:
Romans 10:5-8 - 5 For Mosheh writes about the righteousness from the law, "The one who does them will live by them." 6 But the righteousness from faith says this, "Do not say in your heart, 'Who will ascend into heaven?' (that is, to bring Messiah down); 7 or, 'Who will descend into the abyss?' (that is, to bring Messiah up from the dead.)" 8 But what does it say? "The word is near you, in your mouth, and in your heart;" that is, the word of faith, which we proclaim:
In the context of Romans 10, Paul says he prays for his fellow Israelites (according to the flesh), and that it was his heart's desire for them to come to the knowledge of salvation. He says they possessed zeal, but did not fully understand what they were zealous for. In the passages that he quotes here, he is applying the same understanding to Messiah as Moses did to the Torah. Just as Deut. 30 is stating that the Torah is not so far away that it cannot be attained. Here, Paul draws on that understanding to state that Messiah is not so far off that one must go far away to find Yeshua. Just as the Torah is right before us to be studied (and obeyed), so Yeshua Messiah is right before us, to be accepted as Savior and King.
The next few verses are perhaps some of the most often-quoted verses in all the New Testament, particularly verse 9.
Romans 10:9-11 - 9 that if you will confess with your mouth that Yeshua is Master, and believe in your heart that Elohim raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For in the heart man believes unto righteousness; and in the mouth is confession unto salvation. 11 For the Scripture says, "Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed."
Just as Paul contrasted the references to being "in heaven" or "in the abyss" [or beyond the sea], so here he contrasts the word being near us, and in our mouths, and in our hearts. While Deut. 30 states this is the Torah, Paul here says it applies to our salvation.
Essentially, it means: if you confess with your mouth that Yeshua is Master, then the word is in your mouth. If you believe in your heart, that Elohim raised Him from the dead, then the word is in your heart. For with the Word in his heart, man believes, and with the Word in His mouth, he confesses unto salvation. And both (Word, and Messiah, which we know from John 1 are one in the same) are near us.
Verse 19 is actually the "life verse" if you will, of Bechirah. It further establishes the doctrine of freewill, noting that we are given a choice. Not only do we possess the ability to make that choice, but we are specifically told to CHOOSE LIFE! (abortion come to mind, anyone?). What I find slightly comical (though grave all at once) about this verse, is essentially the Torah is giving us a multiple choice test. A or B, life or death, blessings or curses. Then it tells us the answer! It says, "Choose life!" Could it get any more plain and simple? Maimonides, again from the Mishneh Torah (Teshuvah 5:1-5), said the following [note: if you've already read the teaching on Parahsha Re'eh, then you've already read this]:
Halacha 1 Free will is granted to all men. If one desires to turn himself to the path of good and be righteous, the choice is his. Should he desire to turn to the path of evil and be wicked, the choice is his. This is [the intent of] the Torah's statement (Genesis 3:22): "Behold, man has become unique as ourselves, knowing good and evil," i.e., the human species became singular in the world with no other species resembling it in the following quality: that man can, on his own initiative, with his knowledge and thought, know good and evil, and do what he desires. There is no one who can prevent him from doing good or bad. Accordingly, [there was a need to drive him from the Garden of Eden,] "lest he stretch out his hand [and take from the tree of life]."
Halacha 2 A person should not entertain the thesis held by the fools among the gentiles and the majority of the undeveloped among Israel that, at the time of a man's creation, The Holy One, blessed be He, decrees whether he will be righteous or wicked. This is untrue. Each person is fit to be righteous like Moses, our teacher, or wicked, like Jeroboam. [Similarly,] he may be wise or foolish, merciful or cruel, miserly or generous, or [acquire] any other character traits. There is no one who compels him, sentences him, or leads him towards either of these two paths. Rather, he, on his own initiative and decision, tends to the path he chooses.
This was [implied by the prophet,] Jeremiah who stated [Eichah 3:38: "From the mouth of the Most High, neither evil or good come forth." Accordingly, it is the sinner, himself, who causes his own loss.
Therefore, it is proper for a person to cry and mourn for his sins and for what he has done to his soul, the evil consequences, he brought upon it. This is implied by the following verse [ibid.:39]: "Of what should a living man be aggrieved? [A man of his sins.]"
[The prophet] continues explaining, since free choice is in our hands and our own decision [is what prompts us to] commit all these wrongs, it is proper for us to repent and abandon our wickedness, for this choice is presently in our hand. This is implied by the following verse [ibid.:40]: "Let us search and examine our ways and return [to God]."
Halacha 3 This principle is a fundamental concept and a pillar [on which rests the totality] of the Torah and mitzvot as [Deuteronomy 30:15] states: "Behold, I have set before you today life [and good, death and evil]." Similarly, [Deuteronomy 11:26] states, "Behold, I have set before you today [the blessing and the curse]," implying that the choice is in your hands. Any one of the deeds of men which a person desires to do, he may, whether good or evil. Therefore, [Deuteronomy 5:26] states:
"If only their hearts would always remain this way." From this, we can infer that the Creator does not compel or decree that people should do either good or bad. Rather, everything is left to their [own choice]. Halacha 4 Were God to decree that an individual would be righteous or wicked or that there would be a quality which draws a person by his essential nature to any particular path [of behavior], way of thinking, attributes, or deeds, as imagined by many of the fools [who believe] in astrology - how could He command us through [the words of] the prophets: "Do this," "Do not do this," "Improve your behavior," or "Do not follow after your wickedness?" [According to their mistaken conception,] from the beginning of man's creation, it would be decreed upon him, or his nature would draw him, to a particular quality and he could not depart from it. What place would there be for the entire Torah? According to which judgement or sense of justice would retribution be administered to the wicked or reward to the righteous? Shall the whole world's Judge not act justly!
A person should not wonder: How is it possible for one to do whatever he wants and be responsible for his own deeds? - Is it possible for anything to happen in this world without the permission and desire of its Creator as [Psalms 135:6] states: "Whatever God wishes, He has done in the heavens and in the earth?"
One must know that everything is done in accord with His will and, nevertheless, we are responsible for our deeds. How is this [apparent contradiction] resolved? Just as the Creator desired that [the elements of] fire and wind rise upward and [those of] water and earth descend downward, that the heavenly spheres revolve in a circular orbit, and all the other creations of the world follow the nature which He desired for them, so too, He desired that man have free choice and be responsible for his deeds, without being pulled or forced. Rather, he, on his own initiative, with the knowledge which God has granted him, will do anything that man is able to do.
Therefore, he is judged according to his deeds. If he does good, he is treated with beneficence. If he does bad, he is treated harshly. This is implied by the prophets' statements: "This has been the doing of your hands” [Malachi 1:9]; "They also have chosen their own paths” [Isaiah 66:3]. This concept was also implied by Solomon in his statement [Ecclesiastes 11:9]: "Young man, rejoice in your youth... but, know that for all these things God will bring you to judgment," i.e., know that you have the potential to do, but in the future, you will have to account for your deeds.
Halacha 5 One might ask: Since The Holy One, blessed be He, knows everything that will occur before it comes to pass, does He or does He not know whether a person will be righteous or wicked? If He knows that he will be righteous, [it appears] impossible for him not to be righteous. However, if one would say that despite His knowledge that he would be righteous, it is possible for him to be wicked, then His knowledge would be incomplete.
Know that the resolution to this question [can be described as]: "Its measure is longer than the earth and broader than the sea." Many great and fundamental principles and lofty concepts are dependent upon it. However, the statements that I will make must be known and understood [as a basis for the comprehension of this matter].
As explained in the second chapter of Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah, The Holy One, blessed be He, does not know with a knowledge that is external from Him as do men, whose knowledge and selves are two [different entities]. Rather, He, may His name be praised, and His knowledge are one.
Human knowledge cannot comprehend this concept in its entirety for just as it is beyond the potential of man to comprehend and conceive the essential nature of the Creator, as [Exodus 33:20] states: "No man will perceive, Me and live," so, too, it is beyond man's potential to comprehend and conceive the Creator's knowledge. This was the intent of the prophet's [Isaiah 55:8] statements: "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor your ways, My ways."
Accordingly, we do not have the potential to conceive how The Holy One, blessed be He, knows all the creations and their deeds. However, this is known without any doubt: That man's actions are in his [own] hands and The Holy One, blessed be He, does not lead him [in a particular direction] or decree that he do anything. This matter is known, not only as a tradition of faith, but also, through clear proofs from the words of wisdom. Consequently, the prophets taught that a person is judged for his deeds, according to his deeds - whether good or bad. This is a fundamental principle on which is dependent all the words of prophecy.
Again according to Maimonides, the Song of Songs (Songs of Solomon) is all about this allegory of love for Elohim; so much so that one becomes lovesick. And in the end of it all, WHY are we to choose life? So that we may CHOOSE to love YHWH, to obey His word, SO THAT He will bring us into the land He promised our fathers. As Believers, as members of the people of Israel, it is our inheritance.
 14 Bracketed section indicates reading present in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Greek Septuagint but absent from the Hebrew Masoretic Text.