The Covenant with those who are not here with us today

In Nitzavim, the Covenant with Hashem is described as binding future generations. How could those present bind those who are not present?

Danny Ginsbourg ,

Raising the banner of Torah
Raising the banner of Torah
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We read in our Parasha, of the Covenant Bnei Israel entered into with Hashem, (29:14-19)‘

With whoever is here today and with whoever is not here with us today; For you know how we dwelled in the land of Egypt and how we passed through the midst of the nations; And you saw their abominations and their detestable gods..Perhaps there is among you those whose heart turns away today from being with Hashem, our G-d, to go and serve the gods of those nations; Perhaps there is among you a root flourishing with gall and wormwood. And it will be that when he hears the words of this imprecation, he will bless himself in his heart, saying:’Peace will be with me, though I walk as my heart sees fit. Hashem will not be willing to forgive him..Hashem will erase his name from under the heaven’.

How could those present bind those who are not present - the future generations - by this Covenant?

Did not our Sages say: אין חבין לאדם שלא בפניו: ‘You cannot bind a person who is not present, to his detriment’?

Answers the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh:”True! But here it is to their benefit- not detriment.

“You saw their abominations’ with your own eyes, so you know that they are detestable; it is therefore for the benefit of ‘those who are not here today’, that they accept to adjure them”.

The Ramban proffers a different answer:”It is because ‘you saw these abominations’, that there is a need for this covenant. Seeing them may have led some of your hearts to think of going in their ways, to be attracted to the abominations of Egypt, or to the idols of Moab and Amon, which you saw on the way.

“Or lest there be even the ‘root’ of such a thought in your hearts; as, from this root, with the passage of time, bad and bitter flowers may blossom and bloom.

“This is why the covenant can also bind ‘those who are not present here today’, because, as the father is the ‘root’ of the son, and this root is ‘standing with us today’, his blossoms- his children - are also, in a sense, ‘here’ today, and can be bound by the covenant entered into by their father”.

Rav Avigdor Nebenzahl adds:”Moshe warns, that the people here today not only may damage themselves by this, but also adversely affect their future generations. True, that person in whom these idolatrous thoughts may have but taken root, will continue himself to perform all the Mitzvot, and will not actively turn from Hashem.

“However, the root will pass as an ‘inheritance’ to his generations; this principle, that bad attributes pass to the coming generations, is a foundation of our belief; the Torah forbade Moab and Amon from becoming part of our nation, due to the lack of loving kindness, chessed, of their ancestors, because this passes ‘as an inheritance’ to all their generations- even were they to convert to Judaism.

“At the same time, good attributes are also inherited by sons from their fathers. In the coming Days of Awe, we will repeatedly seek the merit of our holy Avot, called zechut avot זכות אבות; Why should their good deeds be a zechut for us?

“Answers Rav Eliyahu Dessler:’The זכות אבות that we claim as a zechut TO US, is to ‘remind’ Hashem that we are the descendants of righteous ancestors, and have therefore inherited their good attributes- and in this merit, it is ‘worthwhile’ to forgive us, as we are, thanks to the midot of our forefathers, able to ‘turn over a new leaf’”.

Rav Chaim Shmulevitz comments similarly:”A tiny root of ‘bad’, though it may be buried and concealed deep in a person’s heart, will likely, with the passage of time, grow into a mighty tree.

“And this passes to his children; though the thought may remain as a ‘root’ in him, may blossom, and produce bad flowers.

“This is alluded to by the words:’Those who are not here with us today’- that, from the root, the father, may have disastrous repercussions for his generations”.

A parting thought from Rav Chaim miVilozhin, on the words of Hamelech Shlomo:(Mishlei 20:7)’He who walks whole-heartedly, is righteous; fortunate are his sons after him’.

Expounds the Rav:”The good midot, which the righteous man acquired with great effort, pass to his sons, and, indeed, become part of his very nature.

“This is beautifully illustrated by Akeidat Yitzchak: Yitzchak Avinu willingly offered himself for Hashem’s Name, because he inherited this wondrous quality from his holy father, Avraham Avinu, who, without hesitation, was self-sacrificing, moser nefesh for Hashem’s Name, in Ur Kasdim.

“This is why, our Sages say, we sound the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, so that Hashem ‘recall’ for us the zechut of ‘Yitzchak the son of Avraham’, and that we, as the descendants of Yitzchak Avinu, inherited these same qualities, and are therefore deserving of being ‘remembered for life’, to continue serving Hashem, in the ways of our holy forefathers”.

May Hashem, in this merit, ‘remember us for life, for Your sake, O Living G-d’, and inscribe us in the Book of Life, for a blessed 5872.

Dedicated with love to my soul-mate, Liz, on her seventy-fifth birthday.

Danny Ginsbourg is a retired lawyer who made aliya from Australia more than a decade ago. He has written five volumes of Torah thoughts in Hebrew,and was awarded the Jerusalem Prize.for the two volume Davsha shel Torah to which there are already several sequels.

לרפואת נועם עליזה בת זהבה רבקה ונחום אלימלך רפאל בן זהבה רבקה, בתוך שאר חולי עמנו.