“You stand this day, all of you, before Adonai your God – your tribal heads, your elders and your officials, all the men of Israel, your children, your wives, even the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to water drawer – to enter into the covenant of Adonai your God, which Adonai your God is concluding with you this day…” (Deut 29:9-11)
All of you. All of us. I’m not sure if there is a more concise, clear statement that acknowledges that all of us are included in this covenant than the one that appears here in this week’s parasha, Nitzavim. Moses makes this blanket statement, so that the entire community will be invested in the success of the experiment to come: entering and settling the Land. The people will be creating a society that values righteousness as a group, enacted by the way the most vulnerable are treated. The widows and orphans, the least powerful members in town, are to be protected. The needy will be taken care of with dignity.
As Dianne Cohler-Esses says in her commentary to this text in The Torah: A Women’s Commentary (p1230), focusing on the words, “this day”: “It is for us, as students of Torah and members of the covenental people ,to help construct our very lives in a way that takes text out of its historical context, out of its male dress or costume and applies it to our own time. In this way, we redress Torah – and address it to ourselves and our own community, much as the rabbis who authored the Midrash and Talmud did.”
Maybe in the past, most of the laws and subsequent traditions revolved around men. They were the tribal leaders, the “heads of households”, and admittedly, the women were relegated to background roles. But “this day” means today. It means that the way we have struggled and grappled with the texts, and the understandings and insights that have emerged from those interactions are “this day”. They are who we are now. The covenant is being re-accepted every day we encounter it.
A new year begins in a few days, and it’s fitting that we read Nitzavim this week, because it sets a tone for us in the coming year. I wish for us all that we find a way to make “this day” today, the day to claim the sacred story for ourselves. After all, “this Instruction which I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach. It is not in the heavens, that you should say, ‘Who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who among us can cross to the other side of the sea and get it for us, and impart it it us, that we may observe it?” No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it.” (Deut 30:11-14)
Make it yours. Get to know it better. This day. This year.