No Deposit, No Return

The commandment to return to God is always within our reach.

Commentary on Parashat Nitzavim, Deuteronomy 29:9 - 30:20

 

Deuteronomy 8:1

All the commandment that I command you today, you are to take care and observe, in order that you may live and become many and enter and possess the land.

Deuteronomy 30:11-14

For the commandment that I command you this day:

it is not too extraordinary for you.

it is not too far away!

It is not in the heavens, (for you) to say:

Who will go up for us to the heavens and get it for us and have us hear it that we may observe it?

And it is not across the sea, (for you) to say:

Who will cross for us, across the sea, and get it for us and have us hear it, that we may observe it?

Rather near to you is the word, exceedingly, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it!

Your Torah Navigator

This is a very literal translation of the text, why would it read in Deuteronomy 8:1 “All the commandment” instead of “All the commandments?” Is it talking about one commandment or is it talking about many? If it is talking about one commandment what might it be? In Deuteronomy 30:11, if you read the verse as speaking of only one commandment which one would it be?

A Word

In the first citation the people of Israel are exhorted to do the commandment as a condition for entering the land. While in the second citation, Israel is exhorted to keep the commandment as an antidote to exile. If we return to God, then God returns to us, and therefore we will return together to the land that was promised.

Nahmanides says that in Deuteronomy 8, the commandment is referring to the entire Torah and that the singular is used to emphasize that it represents all of God’s word. In Deuteronomy 30 however, he said it is referring to only one commandment, to return to God, for this is the one thing that is never beyond reach, but “rather near to you is the word, exceedingly, in your mouth and in your heart…”

This is what change is all about — Nahmanides is empowering us to remember that we can always resolve to be different irrespective of where we live, what we have or who we have become. It is always close; it is always within reach because it is within all of us.

Provided by Hillel’s Joseph Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Learning, which creates educational resources for Jewish organizations on college campuses.

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