Saturday, October 27, 2018

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Va’yera B’resheet (Genesis) 18 - 22 With Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use



Va’yera,” which is translated "he appeared," actually means "and he showed himself," and even more literally: “and he caused himself to be seen.”  “Yera” stems from the root r.a.h. (resh, alef, hey), meaning to "see."  Some of its other derivatives are: "seen, to show, to be seen, and sight." Certainly, "seeing" plays a major role in this Parasha.  Yes, YHVH does show Himself to Avraham – but it was up to the latter to do the seeing.  The opening statement in 18:1-2 reads thus: “YHVH appeared to him… and he lifted up his eyes and saw… three men!" This peculiar wording indicates that while looking, Avraham had to see beyond what met his eye. But before we continue, let us note that last week’s Parashat Lech Lecha also had its share of “seeing,” such as in 12:7, where it is ‘seen’ twice (as “appreared”), similar to the way it is used in our Parasha. Then there was the concern of the beautiful Sarai being “seen” by the Egyptians (12:12, 14). In 13:10 Lot “lifts up his eyes” and sees the expanse of land which appeals to him. However, Avram’s magnanimity pays off, as in 13:14ff YHVH promised to give him all the land which his sight captures (and that includes Lot’s territory). Chapter 15 opens up with Avram’s vision, and then with “seeing” the stars that were symbolic of his future progeny. Later, Hagar, who was carrying Avram’s child, “saw that she had conceived, and her mistress became despised in her eyes” (16:4). As a result of the conflict between the two women Hagar fled with her child. There, in the wilderness, she was met by an angel at a spring of water (“spring” is “ayin” in Hebrew, meaning also “eye”), “then she called the name of YHVH… You-Are-the-El-Who-Sees –Me - El Ro’i – for she said, ‘Have I also here seen Him who sees me?’” (16:13). Even the well that was there, was to commemorate this “seeing,” by being named (by Hagar) the well of the Living-One-Who-Sees-Me (Be’er La’Hai Ro’i). This, then, forms the backdrop of all the “seeing” that will be mentioned in our Parasha of Va’yera.

The principle promulgated by Yeshua in Matthew 25:40, namely, "inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me," is apparent throughout chapter 18.  Avraham (as he is called now) appears to be keenly aware of the fact that by entertaining strangers, one could unknowingly (or knowingly), be entertaining (at the very least), angels… (ref. Hebrew 13:2).  The strangers passing by, whether one of them is or is not YHVH Himself, are greeted by their host, in word and deed, with great respect and homage not unbefitting royalty. 

The passage at hand (in chapter 18) contains significant interplays between singular and plural,* as in verse 3 Avraham addresses the three men who had just appeared to him as "Adonai" (“Lords”) saying: “…If now I have found favor in your [single person] sight, pass not away from your servant." Verses 4 and 5, however, employ the second person plural, whereas in verse 10, where the promise of the son who is to be born to Sarah within the year is pronounced, there is a switch to singular again (“and he said I will return,” italics added). It is YHVH who is actually mentioned in verses 13 and 14, as the One addressing Avraham (relating to Sarah’s response), while in v. 16 the “men rise up” and get ready to leave. Starting with verse 17 the scene changes altogether.  In the passage which commences here (describing Avraham's intercession on behalf of the cities of Sdom and Amora – Gomorrah - vs. 23-32), YHVH, and the men who until now seemed to represent Him, are referred to as totally separate entities: “And the men turned their faces away from there, and went toward Sodom. But Abraham still stood before YHVH” (v. 22). The blurred distinction (in regards to YHVH) within the three-person party leaves us baffled as to ‘who is who’ here, and raises the question whether there is a hidden message in this unusual and enigmatic text formulation. Later on, when Lot and the members of his family are being led out of Sdom by the messengers-visitors, there is a similar lack of distinction between YHVH and His ‘agents’ (ref. 19:16-21 with another interchange between singular and plural)*. Thus, although this Parasha is characterized by ‘seeing,’ the reader’s vision is often quite impaired (or challenged).

Back to chapter 18, where Avraham’s guests stand and view Sdom from a distance, while the Elohim who "showed Himself" to Avraham determines (v. 17) to (literally) not "cover" His plans from His servant, and to inform him what He was about to do (to Sdom and Amora).  YHVH then declares that He Himself aims to "come down and see if they had done according to the outcry that had come" to Him (18:21 italics added).  In this instance, the "seeing" is a symbolic "inspection," or a declaration of intent that will obviously be followed by action on YHVH’s part. 

Following Avraham's bargaining scene with YHVH, we meet his nephew Lot as he is sitting in the evening by the gate of Sdom (whereas his uncle had been sitting at the door of his tent in the heat of day).  Now it is his turn to "see" (19:1).  Lot greets the two messengers (quite likely of the same “threesome” who had visited his uncle) by rising up and bowing down, just as his relative had done.  He too offers to have his guests' feet washed, and is anxious to supply them with refreshments.  As it is evening time, Lot also offers them a place for the night, which they are very reluctant to accept (or are they simply testing him?), and do so only after much imploring on the part of their host.  The meal served by Avraham under the tree was far more peaceful than the feast at Lot's house in the city of Sdom (notice that up until now each reference to “city” has been connected to wickedness, Kayin built a city, ref. 4:17; Nimrod was a city builder, ref. 10:11-12, the tower of Babel builders intended to build a city, ref. 11:4).  Before Lot’s guests are about to retire, the town's evil men surround the house (ref. 19:4, 5). The messengers, however, quickly and supernaturally blind the eyes of the would-be-assailants (ref.  19:11). Next, Lot tries to talk his family into leaving town, but his sons-in-law perceive it to be a joke ("laughing" is the word in Hebrew in verse 14). This laughter, however, is only short lived, as in verse 25 YHVH overthrows the two cities and in verse 28 Avraham is mentioned watching (literally “seeing” - “vayar” - of the  root r.a.h) “the smoke of the country.”

Laughter was also part of the above-mentioned scene with Avraham and his guests.  The three visitors came in order to reaffirm, once again, the promise of a son. Sarah, who overheard this conversation, laughed in her tent and later denied it (18:12-15).  What’s more, this is not the last time that she is seen laughing.  After giving birth, exactly within the year as YHVH had declared, Sarah says, "Elohim has made me laugh, and everyone who hears of it will laugh at me" (21:6 italics added).  “And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian… mocking” (the word is again “laughing,” v. 9, italics added). "Seeing" this “laughter” results in the banishment of Hagar and her son Yishmael (Ishmael).  The banished handmaiden wanders in the wilderness by Beer Sheva, and when her drinking water is used up she places her son under a shrub and exclaims: “Let me not see the death of the boy.  And she … lifted up her voice and cried" (v.16 italics added). “And Elohim opened her eyes and she saw a well of water; and she went and filled the bottle with water, and gave drink to the boy” (v. 19 italics added).

Hagar's eyes are opened in the wilderness of Beer Sheva. The episode that follows (21:22 – 32) expounds on the meaning of that town’s name.  Beer Sheva is literally "the well of seven".  The words “adjure, charge, and oath” share the same root (sh.v.a, shin, bet/vet, ayin). “Satisfaction, or to have had enough” (especially regarding food), is “sovah,” being of the same root (although the letter “shin,” “sh” sound, is modified to a “sin,” - “s” sound).  The usage of the number seven is often indicative of “fullness” and “completeness,” and as such it is also a solemn promise, or an oath that can be guaranteed simply by repeating it seven times (or by using multiplications of seven).  The connection between these two words ("seven" and "oath") is well illustrated here in our story, namely in Avraham and Avimelech's settlement.  Avraham places seven (“sheva”) ewe lambs in front of Avimlelech, as a witness to the fact that he had dug the well that was now under dispute.  Following this action "he called that place Beer Sheva, because there the two of them took an oath (sh'vu'ah, v. 31)".  In Matthew 18:21, we see Peter proclaiming that the act of forgiving up to seven times is sufficient.  Yeshua, of course, goes beyond that but He too stays within the ‘realm of seven’ saying, "up to seventy times seven” (v. 22).  Truly, “…The words of YHVH are pure words; as silver… refined seventy times" (Ps.  12:6). The figure ‘seventy’ tells us that His words promise to guarantee full satisfaction.  "…On the day when YHVH binds up the fracture of His people and heals the bruise He has inflicted… the light of the sun will be seven times brighter, like the light of seven days" (Is. 30:26).  Again, the guarantee of fullness in the form of "sevens" renders it like an oath.  The sunrise and sunset dictate the formation of any given day, just as the sun and the moon control the length of the months and seasons of the Biblical year.  The seven-day week, however, seems to be quite arbitrary - but is it?  Elohim chose to create the world in six days and then to add one more at the end, which He set apart for rest, remembrance, and declaration.  The sanctification of the seventh day, the commemoration of the number "seven" (in naming the “week” “shavu’a”), the fullness and completeness of what Elohim has accomplished, and its guaranteed fulfillment are all innately expressed in the Hebrew language by the root sh/s.v.a: "In Your presence there is fullness ("sova") of joy; I will be satisfied (“es'be'ah”) with Your likeness when I awake" (Ps. 16:11 & 17:15). To seal off the episode of Avraham’s test, YHVH declares: "By Myself I have sworn – nish’ba’ti - ’ says YHVH, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only one, blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your seed…” (22:16-17 italics added)    

This blessing is the culmination of Avraham’s test, known as the "binding of Yitzchak (Isaac)," or “Akedat Yitzchak.”  After a three-day journey, set off by the words “lech le’cha”, with Yitzchak and two of his servants “…Avraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar…” (22:4 italics added).  Responding to his son's question, as to the whereabouts of the lamb for the sacrifice, Avraham says, "Elohim will see for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son" (v. 8 literal translation, italics added).  YHVH does indeed "see" (translated as “provide”) a substitute for Yitzchak in the form of a ram…  "And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and behold, a ram was caught in the thicket by his horns.  And Abraham called the name of the place ‘YHVH Yir'eh - will see’ - as it is said to this day - 'it shall be seen on the mountainof YHVH'" (v.13-14 emphasis added). 

In the opening verses of our Parasha we saw Avraham “seeing” YHVH by using his 'inner eyes' and discernment, even when looking upon three men.  YHVH is also seen as the One who reveals His "secret to His servants the prophets" (Amos 3:7) prior to judging Sdom and Amora, though not before doing His own "seeing" of the state of affairs there (ref. 18:21). Further, His messengers' aura of light impairs the vision of the spiritually blind.  Avimelech sees YHVH in a dream which prevents him from sinning with Sarah (ref. 20:3, 4).  What the latter “sees” (ref. 21:9) causes her to send Hagar and Yishmael away, but their needs are “seen to” by YHVH in the wilderness (ref. 21:014-19).  Finally, YHVH is the One who “sees” (present tense) for Himself the sacrificial Lamb provided by Him for all time (ref. 22:8, 14). And so, as it is in the beginning so it is at the end of the Parasha - YHVH reveals Himself.  More on Avraham’s, this time long range vision, is found in the words of Yeshua who declared to the Pharisees: “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad" (John 8:56). Quite likely this is connected to Avraham’s statement regarding the future “lamb for the sacrifice.”

Earlier we noticed that Avraham was sitting at the tent door “in the heat of the day” (18:1) denoting daylight, while Lot was sitting at the gate of the city of Sdom “in the evening” (19:1), denoting darkness (cf. John 3:19, 8:12, 12:35, 46; Romans 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:5,7). But in the Parasha as a whole, it is the expression “early in the morning” that keeps reoccurring. In three out of four times it relates to Avraham (19:27; 21:14; 22:3), and one time to Avimelech (20:8). “And he rose early” is rendered each time, “va’yashkem” of the root sh.ch.m (shin, kaf/chaf, mem) which is also applied to the word “shoulder.” This is illustrated very graphically in 21:14: “And Abraham rose up early  - “va-yashkem” - in the morning, and took bread and a bottle of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder -”shichma” -  (italics added). The connection of those two terms is thought to be imbedded in the very reason for rising early, which is to put one’s shoulders to work. However, the two examples (out of the three) of Avraham’s early rising and setting to do as he is told (“Whatever Sarah has said to you, listen to her voice,” – 21:12; and “… so Abraham… took… Isaac his son… then they came to a place that Elohim had told him, 22:3, 9), have a common theme. In each of those Avraham is told to give up his son, his firstborn. But whereas in the first instance, which appears to be a rehearsal for the second, he contests the word (21:11), when the second episode comes round he obeys implicitly (see 22:12b). Interestingly, Avraham, whose original call was “lech lecha” (12:1), words with which he complied without as much as blinking an eyelid, was once again addressed by these very words when he was told by YVHVH to go to Mount Moriah and there offer up his son (ref. 22:2)  

In 19:37 and 38 we learn of the origin of the Moabites and the Amonites. The fact that they are the product of an incestuous relationship is expressed by the name of the older of the two: “Mo’av” stems from “m’av,” meaning “from a father,” as the boy had been begotten by his mother’s father (his own grandfather). The second boy’s mother names him “Ben Ami” (Ammon), meaning “son of my people,” which is also a reference to the close family tie. Lot’s daughters’ conduct is not surprising, as earlier on, when the men of Sdom demanded that he hand over his guests to them, their father attempted to offer these two daughters in place of the visitors (ref. 19:4-8). If Ham, and especially his son, Kna’an, were cursed for revealing the father’s nakedness (Gen. 9:24, 25), the same, and more, would be applicable to Lot’s descendents, Moav and Amon.


*In all these cases this is much more pronounced in the Hebrew original than in the translations, one reason being that in English there is no distinction between you singular and plural, which there is in Hebrew.


Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

We will “look” at and “see” the usage of “seeing”, roeh/ro’ah (m.f.), as well as at Avraham’s position by the opening – petach - of his tent – ohel - versus Lot’s at the city – eer - gate – sha’ar. As we noted above, “rural dwelling” and its implication is sharply contrasted with “urbanism”. (Also, remember last week’s “country living”?).   
Here we go:
-                     What do you see?
-                     (masculine) Ma ata ro’eh?
-                     (feminine) Ma at ro’ah?
-                     I am seeing Avraham at (the) entrance to the tent
-                     (masculine) Ani ro’eh et Avraham be’fetach ha’ohel.
-                     (feminine) Ani ro’ah et Avraham be’fetach ha’ohel
-                     I am seeing Lot at (the) gate of the city.
-                     (masculine) Ani ro’eh et Lot b’sha’ar ha’eer.
-                     (feminine) Ani ro’ah et Lot b’sha’ar ha’eer
Vocabulary: ro’eh/ro’ah – he/she sees
                  Petach – opening (b’fetach – at opening).
(The p and f sounds are designated by the same consonant,
while the vowels change depending on the placement of the
consonant in the word, thus in this case the “p” sound becomes an “f”)
Ohel – tent (ha’ohel – the tent)
                  Sha’ar – gate (b’sha’ar – at gate)
                  eer – city, town (ha’eer – the city, the town)
Note: as you may have noted, the definite article “the” – “ha” – isn’t used within the sentence in exactly the same way as it is in English.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Va’yelech – Deuteronomy 31 With Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use


While last week’s Parashat Nitzavim (“standing” as compared to “and he went/walked”) focuses on the “crossing over” of the Hebrew people, Parashat “Va’yelech” starts with… the “going” of Moshe: “va’yelech Moshe,” that is  “and Moses went, and continues with: “and spoke these words to all Israel” (31:1). These words of introduction, “Moses went,” regarding the statements that the elderly leader was about to make to his compatriots is quite curious. Was it a hint of his impending departure, and that he was ready to proclaim this fact to all Yisrael? Indeed Moshe continues: “I am a hundred twenty years old today. I can no more go out and come in. Also YHVH has said to me, ‘You shall not go over this Jordan’” (31:2, italics added). Notice the elderly leader’s words, “I can no more go out and come in,” which in Hebrew is: “la’tzet ve-lavo” [literally “to go out” and “to come in”). The pervious Parashot [plural for Parasha], Ki Tetze, “when you go out,” and Ki Tavo,” “when you come in,” seem to be related (respectively) to these words of Moshe about “going out to war” (Deut. 21:10), and “coming into the land” (26:1). Thus, paraphrased, Moshe is implying the following: “I am not able to lead you in war, and neither am I able to enter and lead you into the land

But whereas Moshe will not be accompanying the people, he consoles them saying that “YHVH your Elohim will cross before you” – which is once more the familiar “over” (a.v.r – the root of “Hebrew”). “He will destroy these nations before you,” and in addition Yehoshua will also “go – pass, cross - “over” - before you” (v. 3). Verses 6, 7 and 8, spoken to Yisrael and to Yehoshua summarize all of the above:  "’Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them [the people of the land]; for YHVH your Elohim is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.’  Then Moses called Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, ‘Be strong and of good courage, for you will be the one to go with this people to the land which YHVH has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall cause them to inherit it.  And YHVH is the One who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed.’" Notice the repetition of “be strong and of good courage,” and of “YHVH is the One who goes with/before you.” YHVH is with His people, He is also with their leader, and at the same time is also going before/ahead of both.  this echoes the opening words of the Parasha, regarding Moshe’s “going”, but with a consoling element of YHVH’s “going” (present tense) with His people and being with them.

The third expression which is repeated in the above passage: “He will not fail you nor forsake you” is, “lo yar’pecha, ve-lo ya’azovcha.” “Yar’peh” – translated “fail” - is rooted in r. p/f. h (resh, pey/fey, hey), meaning to “become weaklet gobe negligent, or remove.” In Tehilim (Psalms) 46:10 it says, “Be still and know that I am YHVH.” However, in Hebrew the rendering is “harpu,” literally “let go,” or “become weak.” Because YHVH will not “let go” of His people, they are the ones who must do the “letting go” and become “weak” before Him, and in so doing they will know that He is the Elohim who alone can give them strength. Shaul (Paul) echoes this when he says: “And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’ Most gladly therefore I will rather glory in my weakness, that the power of Messiah may overshadow me” (2nd Corinthians 12:9 italics added). The next verb (of the above-mentioned expression, “lo yar’pecha ve-lo ya’az’vecha”);;is azav (ayin,zayin,bet/vet),’’and’’means,//leaveabandon or 
forsake.” It is also used elsewhere in our Parasha, although in a different connotation, as we shall see at once.

Thus verses 16 and 17 of Dvarim 31 record: “And YHVH said to Moses, ‘Behold, you shall sleep with your fathers. And this people shall rise up and go lusting after the gods of the strangers of the land into which they are going, into their midst. And they will forsake Me – ve’azavani - and break My covenant which I made with them. Then My anger shall be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them - ve’azavtim…’” (Italics added). Verse 5 reveals to us that there is a condition for being preserved by YHVH: “…do to them [the nations in Cna’an - Canaan) according to all the commandments which I have commanded you,” to not “go lusting after [their] gods,” thereby forsaking the true One. Nevertheless, in verse 16 we read that, “This people shall rise up…” which is “ve’kam.” In  Parashat Nitzavim, (Deut. 29:13) it said: “…that He may establish you today for a people to Himself…” which is literally “that He may raise you up… - hakim.” Hence, it is the very people, whom YHVH was raising up – establishing - who “shall rise up and go lusting after the gods of the strangers…” (italics added).

In the two examples above (and in many similar ones throughout the Tanach, some of which we examined very recently), we see the usage of identical words, or derivatives of the same root for the purpose of conveying contrasting messages. This method highlights or enhances an idea, and at times adds a touch of irony and a moral to the story or the description at hand.

YHVH is commanding Moshe to call on Yehoshua in order for both to “present” themselves in the Tent of Meeting (31:14); a command which is designated by the imperative “(ve-hit)yatzvu,” of the root y.tz.v that we encountered in Parashat “Nitzavim”. In presenting himself, therefore, Yehoshua is to make a “firm stand” and a commitment.

Further connection to Parashat Nitzavim is evident in the concept of “witness” – testimony “ – “ed,” masculine, and “eda,” feminine. In the previous Parasha heaven and earth were mentioned as witnesses (30:19). Now the “Song” (which constitutes the following Parasha), the book of the Torah, and heaven and earth (again) are singled out as witnesses. The “Song,” in particular, is to “testify as a witness” against the people, “when many evils and troubles have found them” (31:21). “Testifying” in this particular case is “an’ta” (of the root a.n.h – ayin, noon, hey), meaning to “respond or answer,” as according to verse 19 the “Song” will be “in the mouths of the Children of Israel.” Therefore when they recite this Song, their own words shall “respond” to, or echo, their evil actions and become a testimony against them. This brings to mind Parashat Nitzavim’s: “the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, so that you may do it” (30:14 italics added), which is the other side of the same proverbial coin. Another usage of “ta’aneh,” “respond,” in relationship to “witness” is found in Sh’mot (Exodus) 20:16 and Dvarim (Deuteronomy) 5:20, where it says: “You shall not bear – “ta’aneh”- respond” - a false witness against your neighbor.” In view of this, we may ask: are the things that we say and do but mere responses, or answers bearing testimony to a ‘Primary Moving Cause’ (be it YHVH or the adversary)?

In verses 10-11 we read: “And Moses commanded them, saying, ‘at the end of seven years, at the set time of the year of release, in the Feast of Tabernacles, when all Israel has come to appear before YHVH your Elohim in the place which He shall choose, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing.’” The word for “read” is “kara” (k.r.a, kof, resh, alef), meaning to "readrecitecall.” At the end of the Parasha, in verse 29, it says: “For I know that after my death you will become utterly corrupt, and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you. And evil will happen to you in the latter end of the days…”  Moshe predicts that “evil” will “happen to you,” which is rendered here ve’karat, and shares the same root as the aforementioned “kara” (“read”). However, as a rule the spelling for “happen” (albeit of the same sound as “read” or “recite”), is different and therefore has another root. Thus, the special rendering and spelling of “happen” in this particular case incorporates, as it were, the verb for “reading.” Hearing the Torah read, while turning away from it and from its Giver will result in evil befalling or happening to those who know better yet choose to rebel against its Giver (and against their own better judgment).

Finally, the ironic vein makes its appearance in verses 28, 29 if compared to verse 12, doing so by the usage of the verb “gather” in its imperative form. In the first instance it is the command to gather all the “people, men and women, and little ones, and the stranger… that they may hear and that they may learn to fear YHVH your Elohim and carefully observe the words of this Torah” (that is in the 7th year gathering at Succot). In the second instance, “all the elders of your tribes, and your officers” are to be gathered “that I may speak these words in their hearing and call heaven and earth to witness against them”. The object of this present gathering is in order to predict that after Moshe’s death “You will become utterly corrupt, and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you; and evil will befall you in the latter days, because you will do evil in the sight of YHVH, to provoke Him to anger through the work of your hands" (verse 29).




 “Over” is pronounced like “overt,” minus the “t” sound.

Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

From Parashat Va’yelech we will glean several useful verbs.  “Going”
(or “walking”) and “leaving” are the first obvious ones, being used
in the Parasha in the same way. From the unique usage above of the verb
“to testify” we will ‘borrow’ its other meaning, as we saw above, which is
“to answer”. In the same way, we will ‘take advantage’ of the unusual
spelling of “happen” with its connection to “read” or “call”.

He called: “Don’t go!”
Hu kara: “Al tel’chi!” (feminine, i.e. he is addressing a female)

She called: ”Don’t go!”
He kar’a: ”Al telech!” (masculine, i.e. she is addressing a male)

We (masculine) are reading Hebrew
Anach’nu kor’eem Ivrit
We (feminine) are reading Hebrew
Anach’nu kor’ot Ivrit

There are Israelis that leave the land
Yesh Yisre’elim sheh’ozvim et ha’a’retz
(“sheh” – that – is part of the word. Ha – the – is part of the word)

Leave (singular)
ozev (m.)
ozevet (feminine)

Leave (plural)
ozveem (m.)
ozvot (f.)

Parashot Nitzavim and Va’yelech – D’varim (Deuteronomy) 29:10 - Chapter 31 with Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use


Parashat Nitzavim may be subtitled “The Hebrew People - A Testimony of the Covenant and of the Promises.” Although Nitzavim is translated "You stand…" - it actually means "standing in position, standing firmly, or taking a stand," the root being y.tz.v (yod, tzadi, bet/vet) and the definition is “set, establish or take a stand.”[1] According to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsh, however, the root is tz.v.v (tzadi, vet, vet), and means “cover while moving.” [2] Embodied in these two Parashot is the definition of the nation as well as the ultimate promise of grace. Interestingly, about the “nations” which “rage” and “the peoples” who “contemplate a vain thing”, with their “kings and rulers” (mentioned in Psalm 2:1-2), it is said that they “take their stand together against YHVH and His Anointed…” (v.2). In Hebrew “take their stand” is, again, “yit’ya’tzvu,” which places the latter in a parallel position to those who stood at the foot of Mount Horeb. Thus, with these two “stances” placed side by side, one is left with a choice of, where to stand and with whom

The familiar verb "avor" which means “to pass, go through, go over, enter,” and the noun and verb forms of "witness or testimony” ("ed"), show up more than once. The Hebrew people, YHVH’s witnesses, are characterized, as we know, by ‘crossing’ or ‘passing over,’ hence different aspects of this action are presented in the text.

But why are the “passers over” standing “in position” or “formation”? “That you may enter ("avor") the covenant with YHVH your Elohim, and enter("avor") into His oath [alah – an oath that if broken incurs a curse; in 30:7 it is used as “curse”] which YHVH your Elohim is making with you today, in order that He may establish you today as His people and that He may be your Elohim, just as He spoke to you and as He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Now not with you alone am I making this covenant and this oath, but both with those who stand here with us today in the presence of YHVH our Elohim and with those who are not with us here today" (29:12-15). ). With all the crossing over of the Hebrews, the passing/crossing over into the covenant is of prime importance. Notice also the far reaching aspect of the covenant, to those “not with us today,” thus pointing to the continuity of the people of Yisrael and to generational unity within the boundaries of the covenant. Moreover, in 29:10-11 the text stresses the all-inclusiveness of the covenant by addressing “all of you,” as well as by enumerating the entire social structure of the nation: “your leaders and your tribes and your elders and your officers, all the men of Israel, your little ones and your wives -- also the stranger who is in your camp, from the one who cuts your wood to the one who draws your water.”

Covenant” – “brit” – is of the root b.r.t (bet, resh, tav), meaning to “cut." “Making a covenant” – “karot”- is another verb for “cut” (or fell, a tree, for example). Consequently, in making the covenant there is a double cutting as it were, which points emphatically to separation from one’s former situation, both naturally and spiritually (and is signified by the cutting entailed in the physical circumcision). By the same token, by transgression one may experience a “cutting (again, k.r.t, e.g. Lev. 7:20)… away” from the boundaries prescribed by the covenant.

This covenant, being two-sided, is therefore like a two-edged sword. Abba laid down the conditions, but knowing the infidelity which is characteristic of His children’s heart, He also built into the covenant the promise of grace. In other words, ultimately it will be Him only who will make possible its fulfillment, as is seen so vividly in 30:3-10. In verse 6 He promises that at a latter time He will “circumcise the heart” of His people. “Circumcise” is designated by the root m.u.l (mem, vav, lamed), meaning… “to cut”, once again. In between this promise of grace and the warnings of transgressing His commandments (29:16-28), we read in 29:29: “The things hidden are to YHVH our Elohim, and the things revealed are to us and to our sons -- that wemay do all the words of this Torah” (literal translation, italics added). Disobedience cannot be excused by claiming that the Torah is mystical and concealed, and as if this is not enough it says in 30:11-14: "For this commandment which I command you today is not too mysterious for you, nor is it far off.  It is not in heaven, that you should say, 'Who will ascend into heaven for us and bring it to us that, we may hear it and do it?'  Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, 'Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us that we may hear it and do it?'  But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.” The word for “mysterious” here is different from the one employed in 29:29 for “hidden.” The present term (v. 14) is “niflet,” rooted in p.l.a (pey, lamed, alef. See Shoftim - Judges 13:18 and Tehilim - Psalm 139:6, in both this word is translated “wonderful”). However, having said all of the above, in the next Parasha (chapter 31) there is warning that could result in situations where YHVH will hide His face from His people (v. 17).  

Repentance and turning to YHVH will bring a restoration which is expressed in the 30:3-10 passage where all the verbs are in the ‘active causative form,’ denoting that He is both the initiator and the ‘enactor.’ Not only does He take it upon Himself to enable the fulfillment of the covenant, and at a latter date sends Yeshua to carry all of our afflictions and sufferings, in 31:13 it also says that, "YHVH your Elohim [is He] who will cross (“avor”) ahead of you" (italics added). YHVH is truly the Elohim of the Hebrews! He goes ahead of them by "crossing over" Himself! At the same time, together with the “crossing” or “passing over” we have here one of those Hebraic dichotomies indicated by “standing firmly.” The blend of both is the desired condition and status designated for the People of Yisrael. And indeed, we see Yeshua crossing  - “over”* – ahead of us, entering within the veil giving us a hope which is sure and steadfast – “yatziv” (ref. Heb. 6:19, 20, Hebrew translation of the Greek, being also of the root y.tz.v). Thus, with a “yatziv” (sure) hope, we are enabled to be steadfast and stand firmly in our crossing over journey.

In the meantime, this drama of the covenant nation, its unfaithfulness and the grace granted it, is to unfold in front of the entire universe and creation. The testimony – witness -“ed” – is being established by calling upon heaven and earth (ref. 30:19). The Song of Moses (referred to in Parashat Va’yelech 31:21 and presented in chapter 32) is the written record that serves as a witness, as does the Torah too, which is to be kept in the ark in the Holy of Holies (31:26). The desolate land (29:23-28) will also bear witness to the unfaithfulness of the people, both before their own sons' eyes, and in front of the foreigners (v. 22), as will their banishment from it (i.e. the land). All this is with view toward the end that, the Hebrew people themselves will become a witness and a testimony nation. "You are my witness, declares YHVH" (Is. 43:10), to the fact that He is the Elohim of Yisrael, the Elohim of creation, and the Elohim of the universe.

As we have already seen, the covenant pertains to this preset day generation (see 29:14-15), just as much as it was to those who lived back then. Therefore we too are to "stand firm in position," standing our ground today, to be a covenant people and a witness to the Elohim of the covenant, the Elohim of Yisrael, the Elohim of the Hebrews - the Elohim of grace.

While Parashat Nitzavim (“standing” as compared to “and he went/walked”) focuses on the “crossing over” of the Hebrew people, Parashat “Va’yelech” starts with… the “going” of Moshe: “va’yelech Moshe,” that is  “and Moses went, and continues with: “and spoke these words to all Israel” (31:1). These words of introduction, “Moses went,” regarding the statements that the elderly leader was about to make to his compatriots is quite curious. Was it a hint of his impending departure, and that he was ready to proclaim this fact to all Yisrael? Indeed Moshe continues: “I am a hundred twenty years old today. I can no more go out and come in. Also YHVH has said to me, ‘You shall not go over this Jordan’” (31:2, italics added). Notice the elderly leader’s words, “I can no more go out and come in,” which in Hebrew is: “la’tzet ve-lavo” [literally “to go out” and “to come in”). The pervious Parashot [plural for Parasha], Ki Tetze, “when you go out,” and Ki Tavo,” “when you come in,” seem to be related (respectively) to these words of Moshe about “going out to war” (Deut. 21:10), and “coming into the land” (26:1). Thus, paraphrased, Moshe is implying the following: “I am not able to lead you in war, and neither am I able to enter and lead you into the land.”

But whereas Moshe will not be accompanying the people, he consoles them saying that “YHVH your Elohim will cross before you” – which is once more the familiar “over” (a.v.r – the root of “Hebrew”). “He will destroy these nations before you,” and in addition Yehoshua will also “go – pass, cross - “over” - before you” (v. 3). Verses 6, 7 and 8, spoken to Yisrael and to Yehoshua summarize all of the above:  "’Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them [the people of the land]; for YHVH your Elohim is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.’  Then Moses called Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, ‘Be strong and of good courage, for you will be the one to go with this people to the land which YHVH has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall cause them to inherit it.  And YHVH is the One who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed.’" Notice the repetition of “be strong and of good courage,” and of “YHVH is the One who goes with/before you.” YHVH is with His people, He is also with their leader, and at the same time is also going before/ahead of both. This echoes the opening words of the Parasha, regarding Moshe’s “going”, but with a consoling element of YHVH’s “going” (present tense) with His people and being with them.

The third expression which is repeated in the above passage: “He will not fail you nor forsake you” is, “lo yar’pecha, ve-lo ya’azovcha.” “Yar’peh” – translated “fail” - is rooted in r. p/f. h (resh, pey/fey, hey), meaning to “become weaklet gobe negligent, or remove.” In Tehilim (Psalms) 46:10 it says, “Be still and know that I am YHVH.” However, in Hebrew the rendering is “harpu,” literally “let go,” or “become weak.” Because YHVH will not “let go” of His people, they are the ones who must do the “letting go” and become “weak” before Him, and in so doing they will know that He is the Elohim who alone can give them strength. Shaul (Paul) echoes this when he says: “And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’ Most gladly therefore I will rather glory in my weakness, that the power of Messiah may overshadow me” (2nd Corinthians 12:9 italics added). The next verb (of the above-mentioned expression, “lo yar’pecha ve-lo ya’az’vecha”) is azav (ayin, zayin, bet/vet), and means, “leaveabandon or forsake.” It is also used elsewhere in our Parasha, although in a different connotation, as we shall see at once.

Thus verses 16 and 17 of Dvarim 31 record: “And YHVH said to Moses, ‘Behold, you shall sleep with your fathers. And this people shall rise up and go lusting after the gods of the strangers of the land into which they are going, into their midst. And they will forsake Me – ve’azavani - and break My covenant which I made with them. Then My anger shall be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them - ve’azavtim…’” (Italics added). Verse 5 reveals to us that there is a condition for being preserved by YHVH: “…do to them [the nations in Cna’an - Canaan) according to all the commandments which I have commanded you,” to not “go lusting after [their] gods,” thereby forsaking the true One. Nevertheless, in verse 16 we read that, “This people shall rise up…” which is “ve’kam.” In  Parashat Nitzavim, above (Det. 29:13) it said: “…that He may establish you today for a people to Himself…” which is literally “that He may raise you up… - hakim.” Hence, it is the very people, whom YHVH was raising up – establishing - who “shallrise up and go lusting after the gods of the strangers…” (italics added).

In the two examples above (and in many similar ones throughout the Tanach, some of which we examined very recently), we see the usage of identical words, or derivatives of the same root for the purpose of conveying contrasting messages. This method highlights or enhances an idea, and at times adds a touch of irony and a moral to the story or the description at hand.

YHVH is commanding Moshe to call on Yehoshua in order for both to “present” themselves in the Tent of Meeting (31:14); a command which is designated by the imperative “(ve-hit)yatzvu,” of the root y.tz.v that we just encountered in Parashat “Nitzavim” above. In presenting himself, therefore, Yehoshua is to make a “firm stand” and a commitment.

Further connection to Parashat Nitzavim is evident in the concept of “witness” – testimony “ – “ed,” masculine, and “eda,” feminine. In the previous Parasha heaven and earth were mentioned as witnesses (30:19). Now the “Song” (which constitutes the following Parasha), the book of the Torah, and heaven and earth (again) are singled out as witnesses. The “Song,” in particular, is to “testify as a witness” against the people, “when many evils and troubles have found them” (31:21). “Testifying” in this particular case is “an’ta” (of the root a.n.h – ayin, noon, hey), meaning to “respond or answer,” as according to verse 19 the “Song” will be “in the mouths of the Children of Israel.” Therefore when they recite this Song, their own words shall “respond” to, or echo, their evil actions and become a testimony against them. This brings to mind Parashat Nitzavim’s: “the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, so that you may do it” (30:14 italics added), which is the other side of the same proverbial coin. Another usage of “ta’aneh,” “respond,” in relationship to “witness” is found in Sh’mot (Exodus) 20:16 and Dvarim (Deuteronomy) 5:20, where it says: “You shall not bear – “ta’aneh”- respond” - a false witness against your neighbor.” In view of this, we may ask: are the things that we say and do but mere responses, or answers bearing testimony to a ‘Primary Moving Cause’ (be it YHVH or the adversary)?

In 31:10-11 we read: “And Moses commanded them, saying, ‘at the end of seven years, at the set time of the year of release, in the Feast of Tabernacles, when all Israel has come to appear before YHVH your Elohim in the place which He shall choose, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing.’” The word for “read” is “kara” (k.r.a, kof, resh, alef), meaning to "readrecitecall.” At the end of the Parasha, in verse 29, it says: “For I know that after my death you will become utterly corrupt, and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you. And evil will happen to you in the latter end of the days…”  Moshe predicts that “evil” will “happen to you,” which is rendered here ve’karat, and shares the same root as the aforementioned “kara” (“read”). However, as a rule the spelling for “happen” (albeit of the same sound as “read” or “recite”), is different and therefore has another root. Thus, the special rendering and spelling of “happen” in this particular case incorporates, as it were, the verb for “reading.” Hearing the Torah read, while turning away from it and from its Giver will result in evil befalling or happening to those who know better yet choose to rebel against its Giver (and against their own better judgment).
Finally, the ironic vein makes its appearance in verses 28, 29 if compared to verse 12, doing so by the usage of the verb “gather” in its imperative form. In the first instance it is the command to gather all the “people, men and women, and little ones, and the stranger… that they may hear and that they may learn to fear YHVH your Elohim and carefully observe the words of this Torah” (that is in the 7th year gathering at Succot). In the second instance, “all the elders of your tribes, and your officers” are to be gathered “that I may speak these words in their hearing and call heaven and earth to witness against them”. The object of this present gathering is in order to predict that after Moshe’s death “You will become utterly corrupt, and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you; and evil will befall you in the latter days, because you will do evil in the sight of YHVH, to provoke Him to anger through the work of your hands" (verse 29).


 “Over” is pronounced like “overt,” minus the “t” sound.

Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

Parashat Nitzavim makes reference several times to the witness of “earth”, and even more so to the “heavens”. It also makes reference to “land”, to its demise but also to its restoration, being a reflection of the people of Israel’s heart condition. Last week we used the verb “to love” – le’e’hov – and this time we will focus on the noun “love” – “ahavah”, being the required ingredient for the heart’s restoration. By the way, the word “shamayim” for “heaven” or “sky”, is made up of two words “sham” – there, and “mayim” – water, and together “shamayim” – there is water there. It is always in the plural form, as is also “mayim” – water.

In the heaven/sky there are stars
Ba’sha’ma’yim yesh kochavim (kochav – star; kochavim – stars)

The Land of Israel – the beloved land
Eretz Yisrael – eretz ahu’va (lit. land beloved)

I have love in my heart
Yesh li ahava ba’lev (lir. There is to me love in the heart)

You (m.) have – yesh le’cha
You (f.) have – yesh lach
He has – yesh lo
She has – yesh la

From Parashat Va’yelech we will glean several useful verbs.  “Going”
(or “walking”) and “leaving” are the first obvious ones, being used
in the Parasha in the same way. From the unique usage above of the verb
“to testify” we will ‘borrow’ its other meaning, as we saw above, which is
“to answer”. In the same way, we will ‘take advantage’ of the unusual
spelling of “happen” with its connection to “read” or “call”.

He called: “Don’t go!”
Hu kara: “Al tel’chi!” (feminine, i.e. he is addressing a female)

She called: ”Don’t go!”
He kar’a: ”Al telech!” (masculine, i.e. she is addressing a male)

We (masculine) are reading Hebrew
Anach’nu kor’eem Ivrit
We (feminine) are reading Hebrew
Anach’nu kor’ot Ivrit

There are Israelis that leave the land
Yesh Yisre’elim sheh’ozvim et ha’a’retz
(“sheh” – that – is part of the word. Ha – the – is part of the word)

Leave (singular)
ozev (m.)
ozevet (feminine)

Leave (plural)
ozveem (m.)
ozvot (f.)