ֶּאַתֶּ֨ם נִצָּבִ֤ים הַיּוֹם֙ כֻּלְּכֶ֔ם לִפְנֵ֖י יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶ֑ם רָאשֵׁיכֶ֣ם שִׁבְטֵיכֶ֗ם זִקְנֵיכֶם֙ וְשֹׁ֣טְרֵיכֶ֔ם כֹּ֖ל אִ֥ישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃
You stand this day, all of you, before the LORD your God—your tribal heads, your elders and your officials, all the men of Israel,
טַפְּכֶ֣ם נְשֵׁיכֶ֔ם וְגֵ֣רְךָ֔ אֲשֶׁ֖ר בְּקֶ֣רֶב מַחֲנֶ֑יךָ מֵחֹטֵ֣ב עֵצֶ֔יךָ עַ֖ד שֹׁאֵ֥ב מֵימֶֽיךָ
your children, your wives, even the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to water drawer
There is something different about this address given by Moshe. Usually Moshe first speaks to the heads of the tribes and then to the rest of Bnei Yisrael. In this speech, which begins in chapter twenty-nine we read: וַיִּקְרָ֥א מֹשֶׁ֛ה אֶל־כׇּל־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֲלֵהֶ֑ם “Moses summoned all Israel and said to them…’
Why does Moshe change his approach? What is different about this speech?
Rabbi Moshe Alschich offers a beautiful and important answer to this question by referencing the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, which is part of the speech in question.
He notes that the verse “You stand this day, all of you, before the LORD your God—your tribal heads, your elders and your officials, all the men of Israel”, actually clarifies what is going on.
In previous conversations, when questions were brought to Moshe, he would, out of respect, first address the heads of the tribes, but this speech was different - this one was about “You stand this day, all of you, before the LORD” - in order to enter into a Brit (covenant) with God.
Moshe goes on to say that when it comes to standing before God who are we to say who is greater. Maybe those who generally are not honored, like the “wood chopper and water drawer”, are considered the most cherished.
This is such a powerful lesson.
What do we “see” when we encounter others. Maybe we see wealth, maybe we see someone who holds an important position. It is human nature to ascribe importance in certain circumstances. Rabbi Alschich teaches us that God sees things differently. Maybe in God's eyes the person, who to us, seems ordinary, or even less than that, is a gem.
Of course, imitating God in this respect and not basing our opinions of people based on their stature is a key lesson of Rabbi Alschich’s approach.
Rabbi Alschich writes about a man who would respect all others regardless of their position in life. When people asked him about this he replied: “If the person is older than me, then perhaps they did more Mitzvot than I did. If they are younger than me, perhaps they have sinned less than I have. If the person is smarter than me, then I should respect their wisdom. If they are less intelligent. If I am smarter than him nevertheless, I am behind him in morality because he did not understand the seriousness of his sins as I did.
The point is, we can always find reasons to honor and respect others.
I like thinking about this idea as we approach Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Sometimes the judgement aspect of the high Holidays can feel heavy even as we must recognize the importance of personal responsibility.
This approach reminds us that God sees us as we really are and not as others may see us. In that, we can take comfort.
Rabbi Barry Gelman is the new Director of the Bobbi & Vic Samuels Center for Jewish Living and Learning (CJLL). Rabbi Gelman teaches a number of classes at the ERJCC and is working on injecting Jewish content to existing programs as well as developing new programs to highlight the beauty and relevance of Judaism.