Parashat Nitzavim

Punishments, Land, And People

Even during their long exile from the land of Israel, the Jewish people will retain their covenant with God, despite the punishments God exacts against the land.

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Provided by the Orthodox Union, the central coordinating agency for North American Orthodox congregations.

Moses spoke with frightening detail regarding the destruction that will befall the people of Israel if they are disloyal to Hashem. Siege, famine, poverty, war, exile, desolation--all these are part of the covenant between the people and Hashem.

Then, Moses provides us with a glimpse of the future, after the destruction:

(21) And it will say--the later generation, your children who will arise after you, and the stranger who will come from a distant land--and they will see the plagues of that land and its afflictions with which Hashem afflicted it: (22) "Sulfur and salt, the entire land burnt, not to be sown, nor to sprout, nor for any vegetation to come up on it--like the overthrow of Sodom, Amorah, Admah and Tzevoyim which Hashem overthrew in His anger and His wrath." (23) And all the nations will say: "For what did Hashem do so to this land? What is the heat of this great anger?" (24) And they will say: "Because they forsook the covenant of Hashem, the G-d of their fathers, which He made with them when He took them out of the land of Egypt, (25) and they went and served other gods and prostrated themselves to them--gods that they had not known, and which had not benefited them. (26) And the wrath of Hashem burned against that land, bringing upon it all the curse that is written in this Book. (27) And Hashem uprooted them from their soil, with anger, with wrath and with great fury, and He cast them away to another land, as at this day." (28) The hidden matters are for Hashem, our G-d, but the revealed matters are for us and for our children forever, to fulfill all the words of this Torah (Deuteronomy 29).

Moses hopes, through this graphic depiction of what may happen, to jolt the people from their false sense of security, and to both warn and motivate them to prevent this scene from becoming a reality.

As harsh as this description may be, it is somewhat comforting to know that there will be a future generation to contemplate its effects and learn from it. Still, there are elements of this passage that are hard to understand. Let us examine this passage as explained by Malbim (Meir Leib ben Yechiel Michel, 1809-1879).

To begin with, verse 21 raises a number of questions:

Who will say, and to whom?  What will be said?  Would it not have been more reasonable for the phrase "and they will see the plagues of that land" to come before "And it will say," since the words are a comment on what is seen?

Therefore, Malbim says that this verse is a summary of a future encounter:

(21) And it--the later generation, your children who will arise after you--will say [and remark on the awful, but familiar, condition of the land], and the stranger who [as a result] will come from a distant land [will respond]; and they [the stranger] will see the plagues of that land and its afflictions with which Hashem afflicted it: (22) Sulfur and salt, the entire land burnt, not to be sown, nor to sprout, nor for any vegetation to come up on it--like the overthrow of Sodom, Amorah, Admah and Tzevoyim which Hashem overthrew in His anger and His wrath.

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Rabbi Avraham Fischer

Avraham Fischer is a rabbi at Darche Noam Institutions.