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  • September 20, 2014

    Shabbat Slichot - Nitzavim-Vayelech Deuteronomy 29:9-63:9

    By Rabbi Shira Milgrom for

    Expanding the Covenant

    At the edge of the Promised Land, Moses convenes his people one last time, to draw them into the covenant between them and their God. This great gathering of the masses evokes the last great gathering, forty years earlier, when the people of Israel were encamped at the foot of Mt. Sinai. Then, in the Book of Exodus, God instructed Moses:

    "Go to the people and warn them to stay pure today and tomorrow. Let them wash their clothes . . . Moses came down from the mountain to the people and warned the people to stay pure, and they washed their clothes. And he said to the people, 'Be ready for the third day; [the men among] you should not go near a woman' " (Exodus 19:10, 14–15).

    The Torah: A Modern Commentary, Revised Edition, 1 added the (corrective!) phrase in brackets, [the men among]. The Hebrew reads simply, "You should not go near a woman." This startling direct address to men calls into question who is being covenanted at Mt. Sinai. To whom is God (or Moses) speaking? It is possible to read this formative narrative of the Jewish people in a way in which only men are brought into the covenant, and indeed, many still do.

    Deuteronomy, however, offers a different read:

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