September 29th, 2016

Parshat Nitzavim begins with Moses introducing a speech: “Atem Nitzavim Hayom Kulchem Lifnei Hashem” — “You are all standing here today in front of God”.

Rashi quotes a Midrash that is puzzled by the connection between these opening words and the curses that appear at the conclusion of the previous portion, Ki Tavo. To resolve this question, the Midrash fills in the blank by informing us that upon hearing the list of terrible things that would happen to them if they did not follow the path of God, the Jewish People asked, “how will we ever survive such curses?”

To which Moshe responded, “You’ve done plenty to anger God over the years, and yet — Atem Nitzavim — you’re still standing.” This is puzzling, as it seems to suggest that Moshe was telling them: “don’t worry, don’t pay too much attention to the curses – you can see that despite the frequent misbehavior of the nation, nothing happened to you.”

If that is the case, what was the point of telling them there would be consequences if they drifted from God’s path? Rabbi Dunner focuses on the explanation of Kli Yakar, who addresses this question and a number of others, to arrive at an understanding of this issue that frames Moshe’s introduction as a fundamental lesson to the nation about mortality and eternity.

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