All of you means ALL

Rabbi Roxanne J.S. Shapiro

By Rabbi Roxanne J.S. Shapiro

You stand this day, all of you, before the Eternal your God … to enter into the covenant of the Eternal your God. … I make this covenant … not with you alone, but both with those who are standing here with us this day before the Eternal our God and with those who are not with us here this day.  (Deuteronomy 29:9-14)

Our Torah portion for this week, Nitzavim, offers us a powerful image of a community gathered together to create a covenant with God.  

Unlike other times, when it is Moses who is the conduit or when the heads of the tribes come together, this time it is “all of you.” Lest we not understand “all of you,” the text specifies disparate groups   including those based on gender, age and category.  Commentators declare that the text is so specific that even people of other tribes who served as laborers were included by reference to their work. So that no one person may argue that another was excluded, our text is detailed. 

As the text continues, we read that not only are those of that time period included, but all who were not actually present are as well. Midrash Tanhuma teaches us that the phrase refers to those who were spiritually present, including the souls of future generations. Thus, we can understand this text to be inclusive of all, or at least all who were willing to enter into the covenant with God.

I, like many, believe that our Torah, while written in a different time period, still can speak to us today and offer us so much. We may disagree on points within these interpretations but, for the most part, we are seeking the lessons of the past to consider for our lives today.

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We read about our communities embittered with discrimination and segregation, about vicious words and violence against others, and we wonder how we can make the hatred end. Too many are holding up our sacred text as a weapon against inclusion because they choose some biblical passages and not others or because they read passages out of context.

But as I read these opening lines of Nitzavim, what I comprehend, as the intended teaching for my life, could be expounded to say something like this:

You stand this day, all of you, before the Eternal your God — the heads of your family (the family you are born into and the family you create), your elders (your relatives and those of your community), your officials (the ones for whom you voted and the ones for whom you did not), all of Am Yisrael (the people Israel across the religious and secular spectrum) and all of the peoples of the world (across the racial, gender, ethnic and other spectrums), your children (whether by birth, adoption or those you teach), your partners (in your business life and in your personal life), even the person whom you do not know within your community; from those who feel they have strength of mind and body to those who struggle with health issues and with mental illness; from those who learn and process in a conventional manner and to those who learn and process in their own fashion; from the professional to the laborer to those who are unable to work — to enter into the covenant of the Eternal your God. … I make this covenant … not with you alone, but both with those who are present today and those who are not present today, with those who embrace the covenant with a full heart and mind and with those who are not sure, with those who believe today and with those who still question.  

As we enter the final Shabbat of 5775 and begin to usher in this new year, it is with this lesson of inclusion from Nitzavim that I hope we carry forth. 

This year will surely be filled with debates on the political front, the international front, the social arena and within our homes. While we may adamantly disagree with the perspective of others, it is my hope that we will always remember that the others of different opinions and traditions are still part of our community. 

If we treat each person as if he is one who was present with us as the covenant was made or if she is a person also created b’tzelem Elohim (in the image of God), then although our views and understandings may differ, we still offer respect and thus create peace.

Shanah Tovah!