As we said previously,1 in the third and final section of the Book of Deuteronomy Moses summarizes the covenantal relationship between God and the Jewish people. After having discussed the consequences of honoring and violating the terms of this covenant in parashat Tavo, he focuses on its essential nature in the following two parashiot, Nitzavim and Vayeilech.

For the public reading of the Torah on the Sabbath, these two parashiot are, in most years, read together. In fact, according to some opinions, they are actually one parashah, which is only occasionally split into two.2 Their common theme, as we said, is the covenant: Parashat Nitzavim focuses on God’s side of this covenant, while parashat Vayeilech focuses on the Jewish people’s side.

This difference in focus is first of all reflected in the names of these two parashiot. Nitzavim means “standing” and Vayeilech means “and he walked.” The adjective “standing,” implying the maintenance of a firm and immutable posture, is most aptly applied to God, who by definition is absolute, unchanging perfection: “I am God, I have not changed.”3 The Jew, however, is intended to walk an infinite road of self-refinement, always changing. “Thus said the God of Hosts: ‘If you walk in My paths and keep My charge, you also will rule My House and guard My courts, and I will enable you to walk, in contrast to these [angels,] who [only] stand stationary.’@”4


A covenant is a bond of love that transcends rationality. Even though the rational reasons that foster love may be absent at some point, the parties to the covenant agree to continue loving each other nonetheless.

The way we evoke this super-rational attitude in how God relates to us is by first evoking it in ourselves, by cultivating our love for our fellow Jews. By loving each other—even when the rational reasons that would foster such mutual love may be absent—we are manifesting our super-rational relationship with our fellow Jews. We are thus taught that loving our fellow Jew is the highest expression of our love of God. “I have loved you, says God,”5 and, in the words of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, “if we truly love God, we love what He loves, the Jewish people.”6

Nonetheless, the mere sentiment of love, however praiseworthy, is not enough; the sentiment must be translated into action. After all, we know God loves us no matter what and He knows we love Him likewise; what the covenant is meant to ensure is that He always treats us lovingly in response to our manifesting our love toward Him. Moses therefore enjoins us not just to love each other but to “stand together,” in unity, treating each other lovingly and functioning together as a whole. This is the preparation and prerequisite for entering into the covenantal relationship of love with God.

Hence, when Moses begins to describe the new covenant the people are about to enter into with God, he points out that its effectiveness is contingent upon all Jews uniting together: “You are all standing today before God, your God—the leaders of your tribes, your elders, your sheriffs, every Israelite man, your young children, your womenfolk, your converts who have been accepted into your camp, your woodchoppers, and your water drawers—in order that you may enter into a covenant with God, your God….”7

How can we truly unite? After all, the Torah itself implies that there are differences between Jews: some are “your leaders” while others are “your water drawers.” What could a prestigious leader and a rank-and-file Jew possibly have in common?

The answer to this is threefold: first, who is to say who is ultimately higher on the ladder of achievement? Appearances can be deceiving, and we tend to over-evaluate ourselves while under-evaluating others. Secondly, even if we have evaluated ourselves correctly, just because we are a leader in one particular aspect of life does not mean that there are not other aspects of life in which others are leaders. In truth, “everyone is completed by his fellow”8; everyone is a leader in some way, and therefore, the perfection of the Jewish people is dependent on the inclusion of every Jew in the collective body.

Thirdly, the conceptual distance between any creature and the Creator is infinite. Thus, when we set out to evaluate ourselves in terms of our relationship with God, the profundity of our own worthlessness in the face of God’s absolute reality will neutralize any presumptions of superiority we may entertain vis-à-vis another person. We will be so overwhelmed by our own smallness that such a comparison will seem preposterous!9

When we consider these three perspectives, we can truly stand together, united, not only with feelings of love toward each other but with behavior that testifies to the truth of those feelings.


There are several levels of unity: There is the loose bond that joins us when we unite for a common cause. We remain individuals with our own private agendas, but our common devotion to a specific goal enables us to unite and act as a unit. This is a pragmatic arrangement rather than true unity, the proof being that once the goal is achieved, the union disbands.

In contrast, a true bond that results when we, as members of a group, sense that every member of the group has a unique contribution to make to all the others. This sense of mutual cross-completion impresses on each of us that we need every other individual, and that we cannot achieve our own fulfillment without them all.

Nonetheless, in such a union, each individual remains aware of himself or herself as an individual. A yet higher unity results when each individual feels as though he is part of a collective body. In a well-functioning body, not only does each limb make a unique and indispensable contribution to the well-being of every other limb; the individual limbs have no real significance outside the context of the body.

These latter two forms of unity are both essential elements of true Jewish unity. Ideally, we should both emphasize our individuality and that of our fellow Jews—our unique contribution to the whole—and surrender our individuality to our identity with the collective whole of the Jewish people. Nonetheless, in daily life, our chief emphasis is on the first of the two types of unity, for being aware of our mutual interdependence despite our individuality is a true indication that Divine consciousness has permeated even our self-awareness, our lower states of consciousness.

Furthermore, these two types of unity are themselves interdependent. Only when we operate on a day-to-day basis on the premise that we are mutually interdependent can we hope to ultimately feel like one entity. And only if we realize that ultimately we are all one entity can we realize on a day-to-day basis that we need each other.


We can now understand why it was so crucial for Moses to reiterate and review the covenantal bond between God and the Jewish people as their final preparation for entering the Land of Israel.

As we said, the covenant with God is reflected in the interdependence of the Jewish people. As they were about to cross the Jordan, it was vital that they be forged into a nation—not remaining a mere confederation of individuals united for a common purpose, but becoming a new entity, a whole greater than the sum of its parts. The expression of this wholeness was the fact that every Jew became responsible for every other Jew’s observance of the Torah’s commandments, encouraging them to perform the commandments and preventing them from violating them.10 In the desert, the Jews could indulge in considering themselves individuals first and members of some vague notion of nation second. Now, as they stood poised to commence a life as a nation, this orientation had to change.

Moses therefore brought us now into the covenant with God a final time. In so doing, he imbued each one of us with the awareness that we can never be complete without all our fellow Jews, and that ultimately, we are all parts of one collective body. With this awareness, we are ready to enter the Promised Land and together transform it and the whole world into God’s home.11