Parshas Nitzavim: Everybody Suffers From Multiple Personality Disorder

Our parsha begins with a call to the nation:

Deuteronomy 29:9-11:
אַתֶּם נִצָּבִים הַיּוֹם כֻּלְּכֶם לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם רָאשֵׁיכֶם שִׁבְטֵיכֶם זִקְנֵיכֶם וְשֹׁטְרֵיכֶם כֹּל אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל׃ טַפְּכֶם נְשֵׁיכֶם וְגֵרְךָ אֲשֶׁר בְּקֶרֶב מַחֲנֶיךָ מֵחֹטֵב עֵצֶיךָ עַד שֹׁאֵב מֵימֶיךָ׃ לְעָבְרְךָ בִּבְרִית יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ וּבְאָלָתוֹ אֲשֶׁר יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ כֹּרֵת עִמְּךָ הַיּוֹם׃

You stand this day, all of you, before the LORD your God—your tribal heads, your elders and your officials, all of Israel, your children, your wives, even the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to water drawer — to enter into the covenant of the LORD your God, which the LORD your God is concluding with you this day, with its sanctions.

After beginning with the two repetitious general phrases of “all of you” and “all of Israel,” the Torah then proceeds to elaborate on who, exactly, this would entail in a rather redundant and seemingly extraneous subsequent posuk. The message from this is clear, but far too often overlooked: Torah, and the covenant with God that the Jewish people are called to in our posuk, is for everyone. It is not reserved for the intellectually elite or philosophical Rabbinic scholars. Every single person has his or her own cheilek (portion) in Torah. There are many people that greatly respect the Torah but do not think that the Torah actually speaks uniquely to them. This is, of course, not the case. In short, then, our posukim and their strange redundancy is highlighting emphatically the truth that “everybody” means “everybody”.

There is also a rather fascinating, more homiletical, or midrashic, reading of these posukim. While the following is not pshat, the simple meaning of the posukim, it is important and true nonetheless.

The phrase “all of you” can, of course, mean “each and every one of you,” referring to every unique individual that stood before Moshe. It could also mean, however, “the entirety of a single person,” namely, “all of you.” All elements of one’s personality are being addressed and called to action in our posuk. All disparate elements of one’s personality are called upon, and are to be drawn from, to serve God. There are naturally some aspects of our personalities that are more inclined towards, or obviously useful for, the service of God — curiosity, inspiration, ingenuity, etc. — but we are not monochromatic, nor our personalities monolithic.

This, then, has two immediate and obvious implications. The first is best encapsulated in the famous refrain of “בְּכָל־דְּרָכֶיךָ דָעֵהוּ,” or “in all your ways know Him,” from Mishlei (3:6). In as much as a Beis Midrash or Shul is a place in which we serve God, so too must be our place of work or school. The place we eat our meals, exercise, or relax is as much an opportunity for the service of God as anywhere else. “All of you” means the entirety of your personality and life is to be used in the service of God. We must take our religious inclinations and mold them to the world, no doubt, but Judaism also teaches something more: we must first and foremost mold the world to our religious inclinations. Judaism demands of us, in its ideal paradigm, a constant God-awareness. Judaism dictates not just what sort of person you are to be when you daven or learn, but when you are at your job, or just normally going about your day.

There is also a more basic application of this idea: that all humans are by definition made up of many disparate and inconsistent elements. All humans are comprised of and contain many different personalities. No single person is truly of any single hashkafah, for instance, despite how often people tend to confine others to a single ideology. Labels are a lie, and when people buy into them — especially when we buy into labels attributed to ourselves — the results can be dangerous.

The extensive list in our posuk of different kinds of people refers as much to literal separate people as it does to the various “people” and personality traits that exist inside each and every one of us — all of which is called into the covenant with God. We all suffer from Multiple Personality Disorder, and the sooner we stop labeling people and holding them back from their full potential the better we will all be for it. For in truth, no sin is out of the question for anybody, but neither is any mitzvah.

Parshas Vayelech: The Missing Rashi & Moshe’s Modesty

Some Teshuvah-Themed Lomdus