Deuteronomy 29:9 – 3:20
Our Torah portion, always read right before the beginning of a New Year, begins with Moses picturing an assembly of the entire community. He declares: “You stand here today – all of you – before the Eternal your Almighty God, from your communal leaders …. to all of Israel, including your children, and the stranger among you, and from the chopper of your wood to the drawer of your water.” (Deut. 29:9 – 10)
As I have explained in earlier discussions of this text, a classic question about this verse is that, unlike the first phrases used, the ending phrases do not seem to indicate a wide range of people. There is a contrast between the leaders and the children. But what is meant by mentioning two kinds of menial workers, the wood chopper and the water drawer? An old answer that I have shared is that these identify not classes of people, but great figures of Jewish history, Abraham, our Patriarch and Elijah, the prophet. (See Torah Sparks, Nitzavim, 5772)
I suggest that, while we identify the “wood chopper” with Abraham, who chopped wood for the altar upon which he planned to offer his son, Isaac, to God, we may identify the water drawer with another early personage: Rivka, Isaac’s wife. She is the first identified water drawer we meet in the Torah, when she offers to draw water for a stranger and all his thirsty animals. If Abraham’s act of chopping wood was an act of absolute obedience and service to God, Rebecca’s act was one of hard physical labor for the sake of helping others in need. It was her readiness to work so hard to help all God’s creatures – human and otherwise – that proved that she was worthy to become our Matriarch.
May we enter the New Year inspired by both these heroes, strengthening our devotion to God as well as to helping others, by being ready to work hard on both these values.
Shabbat Shalom v’Shanah Tovah u-M’tuqah!
Wishing everyone a Sweet New Year!
Rabbi David Greenstein
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