A covenant not just for the leaders, but for every man, woman, and child in Israel. * A mysterious mention of woodcutters and water drawers opens up vistas of inclusivity. * On the first reading of Parshas Nitzavim.
In a world craving unity yet struggling with division, the Torah portion of Nitzavim offers a profound model of inclusivity. Moses gathers the entire nation—leaders, elders, men, women, children, and even converts—to stand before God and enter into a covenant. The Torah is explicit, mentioning each group one by one. It's not just a historical event; it's an enduring message for all generations.
We're dealing with the portion of Nitzavim, in the book of Deuteronomy, chapters 29 and 30. Moses stands before the Israelites on the very day of his death, emphasizing the gravity of the moment. The covenant here is not a new one but a reiteration or perhaps a deepening of the existing bond between God and Israel (Deuteronomy 29:9-11).
WOODCUTTERS AND WATER DRAWERS
In a seemingly ordinary listing of the community members, there's a sudden, surprising mention of "your woodcutters and your water drawers" (Deuteronomy 29:10). They're oddly specific, yet their inclusion carries significant weight. Why were these two professions highlighted in a covenant of cosmic importance? The answer lies in the foundational teachings of Rashi.
Rashi is very instructive on these verses. For example, he says that the Canaanites, posing as converts, tried to join the community but were ultimately designated as "woodcutters and water drawers." Rashi's commentary makes us ponder the concept of inclusivity within the covenant. Even those on the fringe of the community—the so-called outsiders—have a role in this eternal contract.
Chassidic teachings take this a step further. According to the Lubavitcher Rebbe (Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 34, p. 103), the mentioning of woodcutters and water drawers serves to illustrate that every Jew has an indispensable role in the fulfillment of Torah and Mitzvot, regardless of their societal status. The woodcutters symbolize those who toil in the realm of the material, and the water drawers represent those engaged in spiritual pursuits. Both are critical in preparing the world for the imminent arrival of Moshiach.
Rashi's explication on "you are all standing" holds a universality that is almost poetic. According to him, Moses deliberately chose the day of his death to gather everyone together. This assembly wasn't just a physical congregation; it was an existential one. Every person, regardless of their station in life, was being included in a single, unifying, eternal covenant. The Lubavitcher Rebbe furthers this by saying that this covenant provides the spiritual fuel that will sustain the Jewish people through the millennia, right up until the days of Moshiach.
Thus, no one is peripheral in the eyes of God. The covenant extends to all, irrespective of age, gender, or social standing. In a time when the world is increasingly fragmented, the Torah shows us the value of inclusivity and the beauty of unity in diversity. In doing so, it shines a beacon of light, subtly hinting at the dawn of a new era where all of humanity will recognize the unity of God.
The teachings found in Nitzavim should resonate with anyone searching for a sense of belonging, unity, and eternal relevance. In embracing these timeless truths, we prepare ourselves and the world for the ultimate unity, for a time when peace will reign and the collective spirit of humanity will be uplifted in the true and complete redemption.