Nitzavim Vayelech - weekly Torah portion
This Shabbat we read two portions of the Torah, Nitsavim and VaYelech. Moses continues his parting speech and in each portion of the Torah addresses the following. In the Torah portion of Nitsavim Moses refers to the people attending the event, “your chiefs, your tribes, your elders and your officers, even all the men of Israel, your little ones, your wives, and the alien who is within your camps, from the one who chops your wood to the one who draws your water”. In the Torah portion of VaYelech we read, “when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God at the place which He will choose, you shall read this law in front of all Israel in their hearing. Assemble the people, the men and the women and children and the alien who is in your town, so that they may hear and learn and fear the Lord your God, and be careful to observe all the words of this law.”
From the very first time that these words are spoken to the People of Israel they are spoken to everyone, there is no separation, no segregation and no hierarchy. Everyone must listen and everyone must learn. They have to learn individually and they cannot delegate that responsibility to someone else. So that there is no doubt about that Moses notes, “For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it.” It is not a matter of a rabbinate nor of supervisors, but rather of self-responsibility.
Moses and Aaron with the Ten Commandments, painting by Aron de Chavez (c. 1675)
It is reasonable to question here what happens when someone simply cannot learn or is unable to turn inwards to address and resolve issues. Is it forbidden to seek advice, guidance, directions for what is prohibited and what is allowed?! I think that seeking advice and guidance is within the realm of learning and that is justified as a way of learning. However, just accepting about what is prohibited and what is allowed takes us away from learning and gets us closer to coercion, some kind of slavery. It is us accepting upon ourselves slavery instead of using our free spirit when we surely can exercise it. It seems that Moses understands this and therefore repeats, “if you listen the Lord your God to keep His commandments and His statutes which are written in this book of the law”. It is necessary to listen to the voice of God in the written text and not fall into the easy trap of taking notice only of the words as we see them. The voice of God emerges from within these words and we must do our best to try and understand what it is that is there. It is a voice, that if we learn to listen to it is louder than the written word, stronger that the commandments suggested by others, that must outcry other voices, voices of other people who blur the true voice from being understood.
Many human voices will try to move us from the true path of understanding the voice of God, the message that we must first and foremost understand for ourselves. Some of these obstructing voices may sound loud, persuasive and demanding, as if God is speaking from their very own throats. Those who have no hesitation, who’s confidence has no limits, are the ones we have to be most careful of. We must remember that in this process we are not seeking the singular word of men but rather what transpires as a true voice of God. That voice that guides us through complex situations, those that have many aspects and many possible paths towards a resolution. They make us think, demand that we study, request us to listen, and demand that we reach our decisions in the spirit of love, the spirit of “loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days”. Its love while listening to that Voice.
This week we heard the voice of Israel’s Supreme Court on two issues, one voice regarding the monopoly of the chief rabbinate of Israel regarding Kashrut, the other voice had to do with the issue of recruitment of Haredi youngsters to military service. In both cases different voices, not always agreement, came out of the court. Different judges see things differently and come to different conclusions. In an extended panel of judges the court changed the ruling about the Kashrut certificates handed by the Supreme Court by a panel of three judges, even though keeping the monopoly of the chief rabbinate to be a sole issuer of Kashrut Certificate. However, the court concluded, in a majority vote, that a restaurant may describe the procedures it uses in order to prepare the food as well as the sources of the food. Chief Justice Naor defined it a the third gate, not only two gates, one Kosher and the other Non-Kosher (treif). This way everyone can safely decide what it is they wish to consume.
Notably this decision is another achievement of our very own Israel Reform Action Center (IRAC) and the arguments put forward by our best-of-the-best lawyers. This third gate speaks the language of “the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it”. I pray and hope that we shall know how use this language and this voice as we move forward to correct additional aspects of Jewish life here in Israel.
Shabbat Shalom and best wishes for a Shana Tova.
Reuven Marko, 25 Elul 5777, 15 September 2017