Parashat Nitzavim: Various Teachings From Netivyah Staff
In our desire to provide you with the teaching of Messiah Yeshua in a Jewish context, we provide in-depth teachings of the weekly Torah portions throughout the year. Below are various perspectives from various teachers and staff members from Netivyah Bible Instruction ministry.
Joseph Shulam: Examples of Mysteries in the Torah 
The Torah reading this week is from Deuteronomy 29:10-30:20, from the prophets the reading is from Isaiah 61:10-63:9, and from the New Testament we are reading this Shabbat from John 16:1 – 17:26 and Romans 10:1-13.
Parashat Nitzavim is a very rich portion of the Torah. It is another one of the Torah readings that “puts the monkey on your back”. It forces us, those who believe the Word of God, to make a conscious choice for our life and lifestyle.
The choices that the Torah forces us to make are some of the most important choices of life, or if you wish, of death. In our days, in the post-modern culture, the religious establishment avoids forcing constituents to make life-changing choices.
Yes, they talk about things in a politically-correct way, but the choices that are put before the members of most churches are “vegetarian.” They are more like toothless light recommendations with promises of prosperity and success, promising that everything will be pink roses and New York cheesecake.
The Torah is much more serious, and there is no enticement with pink roses and New York cheesecakes. The motivation is to do what is God’s will, and choose to do things like circumcise your heart, or allow the Lord to circumcise your heart, so that you might be able to serve Him and bring a blessing to yourself and your family, and your tribe and nation.
Nitzavim is a very important Torah portion for every believer in the word of God, and especially to believers in Yeshua the Messiah.
One of the things I particularly care about is in chapter 29:28, verse one out of 10 verses in the Torah that have points on the top of a word or phrase. These points above the words are enigmatic, hard to understand, a phenomena that demands explanation and interpretation.
Rabbi Shimon ben Eliezer was a second-century rabbi who lived in the Galilee, and was a disciple of Rabbi Meir. He says that the above letters that have the dots on top of them ought to be interpreted in a special manner, because this marking of the dots is found only ten times in the Torah, and they are a sign to teach us to pay special attention to these words.
It is therefore very probable that these words, that are under the roof of these dots above each letter, are protecting some secret meaning that is there to bridge the gap between the simple, plain meaning of the words, and much more that is hidden. This means that Torah, in these words, has things to reveal to us that normal words could not or should not be revealing. And therefore the sages (scribes) have hidden them under a roof of dots placed over every letter, as you can see in the above Hebrew text of Deuteronomy 29:28.
I will bring one example that is my favorite. A simple picture from Genesis 33:4:
“But Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.” – Genesis 33:4 [NKJV]
Over the word “kissed him” in the Hebrew text, there is a dot. The Hebrew text looks like this. Please notice the dots above the word “kissed him”:
This is one of my favorite examples of this phenomena. Esau is actually approaching Jacob and his family with murderous intent. He has 400 soldiers.
If you remember from chapter 27 of Genesis, Esau has made a vow to kill Jacob as soon as Isaac, his father, dies. Now there is the encounter between Jacob and his brother, after he was at least 21 years in exile in Aram, with the house of Laban, and now married to Laban’s daughters Rachel and Leah.
Jacob has taken precautions and divided his camp, so that if one part is killed the other will survive. Esau never forgot that Jacob has taken his inheritance by selling him a lentil stew in exchange for it.
So, now Esau is hugging and kissing Jacob. The text puts this dotted roof on top of the word “kissed him”, and the rabbis indicate that if you switch one of the letters in the Hebrew word “kiss”, it would be “bite” and not “kiss”.
So, maybe there is an unspoken revelation given to the reader in Hebrew, indicating that Esau never forgot his hate of Jacob, and his real intention was to bite Jacob in the jugular artery and kill him. The kiss was not a sincere kiss of a brother, but a point of temptation to keep his vow and kill Jacob. But because of the occasion, in front of Jacob’s family and surrounded by military men on both sides, Esau changed his desire at the last moment.
The future relationship between Jacob and Esau proves that Esau never did forgive Jacob. The descendants of Esau continued to hate and war against the descendants of Jacob.
So, these dots above the word “kiss” have a deep and interesting message that could not be expressed in words, but the dots do the job. The simplifying of this text actually respects the fact that he forgave Jacob for the lentil stew.
If we now go back to our portion of the Torah, in Deuteronomy 29:28, we can see that there are dots over the words “to us and to our sons”. Now we can understand that in the Torah, and in all of God’s revelation, we have some important secrets hidden under the dots. Here are some of the interesting implications in the case of the 10 incidents of dots above the text:
- There are 10 places in the Hebrew Bible that have dots above the letters. These are, according to ancient Jewish tradition, places that hold secrets within these words. “Secrets” means that in the plain meaning of these words not all that is intended is revealed or visible. This principle is true about any coded texts, but they are not often marked with a specific mark, like dots above the letters. So, this idea is not new in any context and in any texts. Yeshua was teaching in parables precisely for the same reason. This is what Yeshua told His disciples when they asked Him why He is using parables to teach: “And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.” (Matthew 13:10,11 KJV)
- The text, as it was first received by the Jewish scribes and rabbis, had no dots in it, and it could not be changed. There was a tradition that might have emerged from the difficulty in this text that indicated that there is something mysterious in the interpretation of this text.
- The text itself indicates that there are things that are not revealed by God and kept for His own domain, and what is visible and revealed to men in the Torah is for us to do it, to keep it, to obey it.
- The implication of this simple understanding for all of us is to stop speculating and arguing and dividing the body of the Messiah over things that are not written explicitly in the Word of God, and stay with what is clear and revealed and practical, and do it. The majority of the divisions and denominational splits are not over the simple, practical, clear commandments of God, but over eschatological speculations that have no practical consequences, other than to damage the unity of the Lord’s body.
This portion of the Torah being read in the synagogues of the world on Shabbat, just one day before the evening of the first day of the seventh month (the Feast of Trumpets in the Bible, and the Jewish New Year – Rosh Hashanah), according to Jewish tradition, is important for all of us today.
It is important to leave the things that are not clearly delineated and clearly spelled out in the Word of God. To leave them until the Lord reveals His mysteries and secrets clear and loud. This is the importance of this one verse in the Torah in the reading of Nitzavim.
Joseph Shulam: A Covenant for Jews and Non-Jews Alike 
This week’s Torah reading is one of my favorites, Parashat Nitzavim (Deuteronomy 29:10 – 30:20) the reading of the prophets, the haftarah, is also one of my favorites (Isaiah 61:10-63:9). I will try to take a little from both the parasha and the haftarah.
“‘You are standing today, all of you, before the Lord your God: the heads of your tribes, your elders, and your officers, all the men of Israel, your little ones, your wives, and the sojourner who is in your camp, from the one who chops your wood to the one who draws your water, so that you may enter into the sworn covenant of the Lord your God, which the Lord your God is making with you today, that he may establish you today as his people, and that he may be your God, as he promised you, and as he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. It is not with you alone that I am making this sworn covenant, but with whoever is standing here with us today before the Lord our God, and with whoever is not here with us today. You know how we lived in the land of Egypt, and how we came through the midst of the nations through which you passed. And you have seen their detestable things, their idols of wood and stone, of silver and gold, which were among them. Beware lest there be among you a man or woman or clan or tribe whose heart is turning away today from the Lord our God to go and serve the gods of those nations. Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit, one who, when he hears the words of this sworn covenant, blesses himself in his heart, saying, “I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.” This will lead to the sweeping away of moist and dry alike. The Lord will not be willing to forgive him, but rather the anger of the Lord and his jealousy will smoke against that man, and the curses written in this book will settle upon him, and the Lord will blot out his name from under heaven.’” – Deuteronomy 29:10–20 [ESV]
The first word of this reading in Hebrew is “nitzavim”, it is translated in English as “standing”. However, “standing” is not a strong enough word in English to translate “nitzavim”. The root word of “nitzavim” is translated in other places in the Bible as “standing erect”. Regarding Lot’s wife, it says she became a “nitsav” of salt. The basic meaning of this word is “standing firm/erect/steady”.
So Moses is speaking to the children of Israel, who are standing on the shores of the Jordan River, across from Jericho. Note that we are reading in Deuteronomy chapter 29. This is already towards the end of Moses’ lecture to Israel before he goes up to Pisgah to die.
The people of Israel are already standing in the sun, in the desert, where it is hot and dusty. This is just before Passover. The Jordan River Valley could already be as hot as upper 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The people of Israel are there already a couple of hours or more, old and young men and women and children. Now Moses states “you are standing here erect, not sitting down”.
The first thing that Moses is reminding Israel in his last speech is that God has made a covenant with Israel’s father, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but not with Israel alone. Of this covenant Moses says:
“It is not with you alone that I am making this sworn covenant, but with whoever is standing here with us today before the Lord our God, and with whoever is not here with us today.” – Deuteronomy 29:14,15 [ESV]
This verse is of great importance and it is greatly ignored by both Jews and Christians. The Jews think that God’s covenant is exclusive with Israel and with the Jewish people. It is “our covenant” and no one else’s.
This text is very important for me because it states clearly that the covenant of God with Israel is not exclusively for Israel, but for everyone who is standing with Israel. Not only those of the first generation of Israel standing there with Moses, but with those non-Israelites who were not there at that historical moment.
This text opens a whole big discussion of what the non-Jews, who have joined the “commonwealth of Israel” (Ephesians 2:11,12), ought to do. We have two paradigms on this issue in the New Testament.
We have Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 14. It essentially says that there are more important things in the Kingdom of God than what you eat or what day you keep or don’t keep. The other paradigm is from the teaching of Yeshua, and Paul agrees with it, as said in the story of the rich man and Lazarus:
“‘Then he said, “I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.” Abraham said to him, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.” And he said, “No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” But he said to him, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.”’” – Luke 16:27–31 [NKJV]
I suppose the two paradigms that we find in the New Testament gives each of us the freedom to keep or not to keep the kosher instructions of the Lord to Israel. And the same is true with the feasts of the Lord.
There are more important things for us to do and keep than what we eat or where we celebrate. In fact, today, without a temple and without sacrifices and a kosher priesthood in Jerusalem, the whole question is moot.
Yehuda Bachana: The Hidden Torah and the Visible Torah 
Read the teaching below, or watch a video of the teaching by Yehuda Bachana.
This Shabbat we study Parashat Nitzavim, which is a rather short portion. In fact, all the upcoming weekly Torah portions are concise, however, the excitement builds up towards the completion and the restarting of the weekly Torah reading cycle.
We, together with all the people of Israel, are excited because the holidays of Tishrei are coming up. We are just about to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, which is the first of the appointed times.
The Personal Aspect of the Covenant
In Parashat Nitzavim, Moses declared that the people of Israel were making a covenant with God. All were considered equal and all were to stand together; this applies to the past generations as well as those to come.
Sometimes we think about our personal relationship with God and what Yeshua did for us. I often contemplate how Yeshua released me personally from the burden of the Torah, or at least from the punishments mentioned in it.
Indeed, the covenant is with individuals, but these individuals are all a part of the whole, they are part of the people of Israel. In other words, God was and is making a covenant with all the people of Israel. If I am a part of the Jewish people, than this covenant still applies to me.
Yeshua redeemed me personally, but I am still part of Israel, and due to this I am also part of the covenant.
The Torah Applies to All of the People of Israel as a Whole
If we, the people of Israel, leave the path of God and transgress the covenant, then we will receive the curse; this includes the believers. In fact, we are also to blame, we have not been successful enough in shining the light of the Messiah, the gospel, and the Torah. We did not succeed in being a good influence.
We can see this form of thought woven throughout the stories of the Bible. When the people sinned and got punished, the prophets, the priests, and even those who remained faithful to God suffered and were killed.
The culture we live in today encourages us to think that we live in a personal bubble, that we are the center of the world. This ideology can also be seen with believers today. We have become accustomed to the thought of personal salvation – it’s me and my God.
In my opinion, there is a core concept that must be changed so that we can truly be tools in the hands of God. This is the concept of the overall salvation of the nation, as opposed to the salvation of the individual.
Each person or small group decides what he feels that God wants from him on a personal basis.
The approach that we must adopt is that the gospel is intended for society as a whole.
For example in Israel, we need a vision that suits the entire Jewish people. We have a mutual responsibility like what is found in the saying that ended up becoming one of the foundations of Jewish culture: “All Israel is responsible for each other.” We are responsible to pay the debt.
Each member of the people of Israel took upon himself to pay the debts or the sins of his fellow man.
We are All Responsible for Each Other’s Sins
Last week we read in Deuteronomy 27 about the commandment to stand on Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival in order to perform a ceremony in which the people committed themselves to the covenant of the Torah.
The Biblical understanding is that we have a collective responsibility of each and every member of the nation of Israel, including the sins of others. The example of this is Achan’s sin, when he took some of the loot which was forbidden, and as a result, innocent individuals died in battle. This story appears in chapters 7 and 8 of Joshua.
The Bible mentions the sin of Achan in a general and collective way:
“The Lord said to Joshua… Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies…” – Joshua 7:10a-12a [NIV]
Should We Take Responsibility Only for Public Sins?
Now, there is a disagreement among the sages of Israel on this matter: does this responsibility apply only for public sins or also for hidden sins that no one knows about?
The accepted view today is that we must take responsibility only for the public sins, and even then there is no punishment. That is unless a person was able to protest the sin, but he did not do so.
This issue brings us to the verse that serves as a summary for this covenant:
“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.” – Deuteronomy 29:29 [NIV]
The Hidden Meanings Found in the Torah
In the original Hebrew text found in the Torah, there is a dot above each letter in the words “to us and to our children forever.” No one knows what exactly these dots mean.
Most likely there is a secret hidden within these mysterious markings.Perhaps this means that what is hidden from us, the hidden sins, are revealed to God. It is also possible that the Torah has a hidden side and a visible side: the visible side being the practical commandments and the hidden side as the secrets of the Torah that are revealed only to those who seek God.
In my opinion, this verse asks us to understand the reasons behind the commandments, and to understand the intention of the Torah. On one hand, the whole chapter deals with keeping the Torah and the reward that will follow if you do so. On the other hand, however, there are numerous punishments that will follow if we breach the covenant and choose not to observe the Torah.
The question is, what is the proper observance of the commandments of the Torah? Do we have to know the entire Torah with all of its secrets? Or is it enough to fulfill it only in its clear plain meaning?
I think we can explore, think, pray, and examine the secrets but this is indeed between us and God. The revealed are the actions and things that the Torah commands us to do or to avoid, and they are an obligation for us and our children.
The Torah and the Commandments are Attainable
In our parasha, Moses made two important statements: the first is that we do not know all the secrets of heaven, which is ok. We must leave what is hidden to God and act honestly in the visible plane.
The second important statement of Moses is that the truth is attainable, the Torah and the commandments alike. This includes the will of God, which is close, clear, attainable, and available.
The Long Journey to Find Treasure
I will end with a short story:
There was a man who dreamt of finding a treasure buried under a bridge. After having this same dream repeatedly, he decided to get up and go on a journey for hundreds of kilometers in order to reach that same bridge and the treasure hidden beneath it.
After many days of a difficult journey, he finally reached the bridge. He approached it slowly, examining it carefully, when suddenly a stranger approached him and asked him what he was doing. When he heard the story, the stranger bursted into laughter and said: “So what if you had a dream?! I also dreamt that somewhere there lived a man named…” and here the stranger mentioned the exact name and address of that person. “…under whose kitchen there is a treasure. Do you think I’d just go off on such a long journey just to find some dream treasure?”
The man, who had wandered such a long way, suddenly turned around and went home. When he arrived, he dug in his kitchen floor and found the treasure.
This is a well-known Hasidic story, and can be understood and explained in several ways: It can be understood as a parable for every Torah student who goes far to study the word of God. The meaning behind it is that the treasure was already in his possession. He must dig in his house and within himself in the spiritual sense in order to find his treasure. In other words, only the person himself can decide to follow God. The rabbi, pastor, or leader cannot save you.
“Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven… Nor is it beyond the sea… No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.” – Deuteronomy 30:11-14 [NIV]
One does not have to look for the answer overseas or in the heavens, nor does one need to consult with the rabbi or pastor. The answer lies solely within us.
It is also possible to interpret this story in the opposite way: we must go out and search for the meaning of life, in order to understand that the treasure is at home. Sometimes we have to go to the end of the world to understand that the real treasure can be found right under our noses.
I want to end with the blessing of a happy holiday and a Happy Jewish New Year!
May we all start the year with renewed hope. My prayer is that God will bless the new year with health and mercy. May it be a blessing to the family, and a blessing to the community. I pray that God will bless the work of our hands and our lives, that we will always walk in the light of Yeshua the Messiah. May this year be a year of success, productivity, and faith. I pray this in the name above all names, the name of Yeshua the Messiah.
Published September 9, 2018 | Updated September 26, 2019
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