Ancient Paths

Nitzavim – We Are All Wood Choppers

Shalom Says Hello

Curiously included among those ‘who stand (nitzavim) before God,’ are the  wood choppers and water drawers (Deuteronomy 29:10), people whose jobs require great physical exertion. Who are these menial laborers? Da’at Zekenim (Tosafot) suggest a variety of interpretations, including that they are the slaves of the Israelites. They also suggests though, that they are the Israelites themselves, in that they are akin to slaves. The Jews are slaves in that they have no choice when it comes to God’s commandments. We are Gods ‘wood choppers and water drawers.’

This is a troubling conceptualization, in that in modern times our relationship to Judaism, practically speaking, is entirely one of personal choice. The notion of religious obligation smacks uncomfortably close to religious coercion.  And yet, the language of mitzvah, commandment, makes the point clear enough. Still, what is the objective of a system which requires us to follow God’s will, as opposed to leaving…

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