By Rabbi Lizz Goldstein
This week’s Torah portion is Nitzavim, Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20.
I was blessed to officiate over a baby naming. Like the other two baby namings I have done this year, this was a baby born at the beginning of the pandemic when parents were reluctant to plan any kind of celebration. As much as March through May 2020 was a particularly terrifying and isolating time for all of us, I can only imagine how much more so that was true for parents of a newborn.
And so, it is with so much joy and relief that we gathered, even among rising concerns of the delta variant and the possibility of returning to online High Holy Day services, to finally officially welcome this now-toddler into the Jewish community with a Hebrew name among her vaccinated family and their closest friends.
In this week’s Torah portion, Moses announces to the people of Israel that the Torah he has handed off to them, that was given to them by Hashem, is for everyone. Through that Torah, the covenant was established between God and the Jewish people: all the Israelites and all the mixed multitudes who received the revelation at Mount Sinai, all those standing before Moses on the day he gave the address and all those not standing before him on that day.
Seemingly all of the Meforshim agree that the line “I make this covenant, with its sanctions, not with you alone, but both with those who are standing here with us this day before the Lord our God and with those who are not with us here this day” [Deuteronomy 29:13-14] applies not simply to those who skipped out on the meeting —indeed, Rashi specifies, we already know no one skipped out on the meeting because it says, “You are standing this day all of you before the Lord” [Deuteronomy 29:9]. Rather, Rashi, Sforno and Ibn Ezra all agree that “those who are not with us here this day” refers to the generations to come.
I have long believed that this parshah comes to teach that the covenant is for everyone who accepts it. I love the lines toward the end of the parshah that inform us the Torah is not too lofty for any one of us to grasp. It is not in the heavens or beyond the sea. We don’t need anyone else since Moses handed it to us. He gave it to the Jewish people in perpetuity and now it is ours. It connects and unites us as Jews, and it offers us a firm foundation when all else feels unsettled.
This year has been a long and difficult one that has certainly strengthened our understanding of the need for community. Although these pandemic baby namings are happening later than some might otherwise plan for a newborn, they are happening at the right time for these families. Whenever it happens that we welcome a child into the covenant, it is the right time and this Torah is as much theirs as ours. The moment someone comes to understand that our Torah is their Torah, as this new baby will hopefully grow into knowing as she is raised in our Jewish community, they spiritually become among those standing before Moses in this Torah portion, those he acknowledges though they weren’t able to be physically present that day.
Rabbi Lizz Goldstein serves Congregation Ner Shalom in Woodbridge, Va.