Nitzavim By Rabbi David Hartley Mark


Nitzavim (פרשת נצבים)
Torah: Deuteronomy 29:9 – 30:20
Haftarah: Isaiah 61:10 – 63:9

You stand this day, all of you, before the LORD your GOD—every man and woman of Israel…from the woodcutters to the water-drawers—to enter into the Covenant with the LORD your GOD…. And not with you alone do I enact this Covenant, with those who are standing with us this day, but also with those [future and past generations of Israelites] who are not standing with us this day…to study this Torah, and to perform it.

–Deut. 29:9-14 (translation mine)


A Report from Warsaw, Poland, during World War I:

There were a great many wagons and coaches parked, but with no drivers in sight. …A young Jewish boy showed me…to the shtibl (prayerhouse) of the Jewish wagon-drivers (Yiddish, balagoolas). [There were] two rooms: one filled with Talmud volumes, the other a room for prayer. All the drivers were engaged in fervent study and religious discussion…I found out…that all professions, the bakers, the butchers, the shoemakers, etc., have their own shtibl in the Jewish district, and every free moment [they can take] off from their work is given to the study of the Torah. And when they get together in intimate groups, one urges the other: ‘Zog mir ah shtickl Torah—Tell me a little Torah.’

Chabad House at Stanford University, Retrieved from


The Talmud-Study Society of Galaxy Andromeda M31

Sept. 25, 2736—22 Elul, 6502

 As NASA Space Flight Engineer Mordechai Kahn eased through the passway of USS Space Cruiser Ticonderoga IV, its airlock doors hissed behind him. He was careful to touch and kiss the mezuzah that NASA Space Regulations (Section XXIII, Subset 432, Lines 6-9) required of all Jewish Personnel Religio-Chambers. Unlike earthly mezuzot, this one was permanently sealed in plastilex; it might not have been acceptable to the extremely religious, but it was necessary in space, so as not to allow alien microbes to find a host amid the parchment and vegetable-based ink.

As the only Jewish member of the Interstellar Expedition to Starform AA Epsilon 4943, and Conservadox at that, Mordechai could not let a day go by without performing the mitzvah-commandment of daily Torah study b’chavruta—with his study partners. As the only Jew on the Ticonderoga, he could not do this face-to-face, but StarShipCommand on SolSystem’s Moon (in the System containing OldEarth, which centuries of pollution and global warming had rendered uninhabitable; hence, all these expeditions to find new planets for humanity to colonize) had handily supplied him with a handy list of other practicing Jews who wished to study SpaceTalmud. This enabled him to fulfill the mitzvah.

Mordechai knew also that there were interested gentiles—a Catholic monk and plant geneticist, Father William Mendel, on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, would often participate when his schedule permitted, and a Buddhist, George Freeh, on leave from writing a Romulan-English lexicon on distant Pluto, would “relax his mind,” as he put it, by chiming in, occasionally.

Mordechai enjoyed their insights, but he was happiest when he could effect an Einsteinian Hologram Linkup with Eliezer Bokospeichik, the youngest son of Grand Rabbi Menachem Mendel Bokospeichik, who was head of the Maldemer Chasidim, a sect that, after early sensing the ensuing destruction of OldEarth, had contracted with an Israeli aerospace firm to build a SpaceArk large enough to float them to Mars, where they were engaged in attempting to convert the Martians, marry them Jewishly, and raise their children in the faith. They were, sadly, finding it difficult to do so, according to Jewish Law—the Martians had three genders.

Back over Epsilon, Mordechai eased into his Study Seat and belted himself in, put on his kipah-skullcap and pulled its elasto-band under his chin. To create the sensation of complete engagement with his study partners, his personal rebbe, Moshe Rochev-Kochav, who had semicha (rabbinical ordination) from Yeshiva ahl Shem Otto Lilienthal—had ruled that he must learn under conditions of Deep Space; hence, no gravity could be present. Mordechai put on his Virtual Helmet and adjusted its ViewScreen to allow for the holograms of his study partners to appear. He was also praying to the Jewish God of all the Cosmos that his other chavruta-partner, Charlie Levine, a navigator on StarShip Bellanca VII, be available—Charlie had promised to alter his work schedule to allow time for Torah.

Flicking at the panel of switches and dials before him, and noting the position of the brightest star in his corner of Galaxy Andromeda M31, Mordechai sent out a homing signal to the two. There was a soft humming, and then, a slight ringing noise as he made contact, first, with Eliezer—Mordechai muttered a soft prayer; Eliezer’s insights were really, well, insightful.

As for Charlie? Hmm—no luck, today. But, wait! Yes—no—the homing signal flashed into space, and found no receiver. Shoot. Oh, well.


“Eliezer, do you read me? Prepare for hologram-transmission,” said Mordechai.


“Up and running, Chaver (Friend, Study Partner) Mordechai,” came Eliezer’s voice.


“Coordinates two-two-zero-fourteen.”


“I read,” said Eliezer.


“And lock.”


The image of his chavruta-partner, Eliezer, appeared in Mordechai’s VirtualHelmet viewfinder. Eliezer smiled: he was seeing Mordechai, as well.


Shalom Aleichem!”


Aleichem Shalom!”


Nu, vos macht ah Yid? (How’s a Jew doing?)”


“Shall we begin?”


“Yes!—I’m on Talmud Kiddushin Chalal, the Tractate of Space-Marriage, Daf Bet, Amud Alef—Folio 2, Side One. I will read and translate, from the Sparamaic:


“’The 23rd Century Mishnah states: “A Venusian female organism may be acquired in five ways: via money—that is, Martian drachmae; a contract—etched only on the leaf of a Boddhi-tree; or coimplantment—by one other Venusian, male, monoplant-choosing. There are also the choices implanted via thought-processes: implant-mental-chip, General Zdrryhnian issue; Freedom of Will from the Creator. And she acquires herself back in two ways.

            “The 24th Century Gemara explains: “Via money—that is, according to Plutonian Rabbi Lychus: a Plutonian drachma. According to Jupiterian Rabbi Hyle: a Jupiterian dinar. And she acquires herself back in two ways: through a writ of divorce, as enacted in a SpaceCommand Jewish Bet Din Law Court, or through the Departure-from-Life-Form of her Male Counterpart.”


“Wow!” breathed Mordechai, “What an amazing piece of Talmud this is! What does NewRashi say?”


NewRashi was the commentary of one Rabbi Shinar ben Yisrael, a Mercurian Jew-by-Choice who, stranded on Pluto’s moon Styx after his exploratory voyage crashed there back in 2527, wrote an extensive commentary on the entire SpaceTalmud, storing it on a LogoDrive which was later discovered; it had become the Universal SpaceTalmud Commentary, noted both for its ease of usage and depth of knowledge. Rabbi Shinar, known by the acronym NewRashi, was regarded as the 26th Century’s Prince of Commentators.


“Well, let’s see,” said Eliezer, “how much time for Torah-study have you got?”


“At least five parsec-lengths,” said Mordechai.


“That should give us time to get up to the mental-chip section,” said Eliezer.


“I love this!” said Mordechai.


“Hey, what does God say about Torah?” laughed Eliezer, far-off in the deep reaches of Space, “’It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who shall go off, and fetch it for us?”


“’Nor is it in the depths of the sea!’” Mordechai chimed in, “’It is as near as the nearest hologram-transmitter!’”


And the universe spun on….



Rabbi David Hartley Mark is from New York City’s Lower East Side. He attended Yeshiva University, the City University of NY Graduate Center for English Literature, and received semicha at the Academy for Jewish Religion. He currently teaches English at Everglades University in Boca Raton, FL, and has a Shabbat pulpit at Temple Sholom of Pompano Beach. His literary tastes run to Isaac Bashevis Singer, Stephen King, King David, Kohelet, Christopher Marlowe, and the Harlem Renaissance.

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