> Weekly Torah Portion > Intermediate > What's Bothering Rashi?

Those Who Are Not Here

Nitzavim-Vayelech (Deuteronomy 29:9-31:30 )

by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek

We have two parshiot this week, Nitzavim and Vayelech. Both are Moses' last words to the Nation-Israel. Moses begins by describing the 'Brit,' the covenant, that God made between Himself and Israel. That covenant was made with all Jews, both those living and present, and even those not living or present. As the following verse says:

Deuteronomy 29:14

"For those who are with us here today before Hashem our God and (also) those who are not here with us today."



And those who are not here - Rashi: Even generations destined to be [born].



A Question: Rashi's comment seems somewhat far out. Why the need for it? Why can't he understand these words simply as all those not present at this assembly? And how does someone make a covenant with someone not yet alive?

Hint: See the previous verses.

What's bothering Rashi?

Your Answer:



An Answer: The first verse in the parsha (29:9) says explicitly who were present at this assembly. They included "the heads of the tribes, your elders, your law officers, every man of Israel."

If every man of Israel was present, who could be meant by "those not present here today"?

This is what's bothering Rashi.

How does Rashi's comment deal with this?

Your Answer:



An Answer: "Those not here today" means "those not here today!" The emphasis is on "today," which implies those here at some other time – in the future.

But the question has been asked: How can an agreement be made with someone not yet born?

Can you answer this?

Your Answer:



An Answer: From a legal point of view this may be difficult to justify. But from an historical or sociological perspective this is quite normal. Of all the possible legacies that parents could hand over to their children, religion is the most universal and most long lasting. Parents can pass on to their offspring any one of a number of allegiances - political, national, intellectual, social, philosophical and others. But none is as common as transmitting one's religious affiliation to the next generation. Nor is any as binding as the religious commitment. Why this is so may be a mystery, but it remains a fact of human society. Rashi's comment reflects this phenomenon. The nation that stood at Sinai and the next generation who heard Moses' final oration in the land of Moav, accepted God's Covenant, thereby obligating themselves and all their future generations to its fulfillment.



I have shown elsewhere (Studying the Torah: A Guide to In-depth Interpretation) how the Torah emphasizes a theme by repeating a key word seven times within one parsha. The word "today" is repeated seven times in chapter 29, which delineates a parsha (from 29:9 – 28). (Interestingly enough, also chapter 30 has "today" repeated seven times.) What is the message? Obviously "today" was an important day for those present. It was the last day of Moses' life; it was a day that the covenant was made (renewed), the people were warned "today," and they were sustained "today" as God's nation. But in spite of the emphasis on today, even "those not here today" were also included in the ceremony and the commitment. And that may be because only if "today" has the seeds of future "todays" within it, does it have any lasting significance.


Shabbat Shalom,
Avigdor Bonchek

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