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”. According to Rabbi Samson
Raphael Hirsh, however, the root is tz.v.v (tzadi, vet, vet), and means “cover
while moving”.  Embodied in the 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
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.
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-
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.
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
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
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’az’vecha”. “Yar’peh” – translated “fail” - is rooted in r. p/f. h (resh, pey/fey, hey), meaning to “become weak, let go, be 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, “leave, abandon or forsake”. It is also used elsewhere in our Parasha, although in a different connotation, as we shall see at once.
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 -
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 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 "read, recite, call”. 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 again, in verses 28 and 29, if compared to verse 12, 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). Whereas the first gathering is of the entire people, the second is addressing only the ones with leadership responsibilities. Thus, if the first “gathering” will not yield the desired results, it will become necessary for the second one to take place.
 The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon, Francis Brown Hendrickson.
 Etymological Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew, Rabbi Matityahu Clark, Feldheim
* “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
In the heaven/sky there are stars
Ba’sha’ma’yim yesh kochavim (kochav – star; kochavim – stars)
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
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.)
Leave (plural) ozveem (m.)