Nitzavim: A Path to Follow

Robert Alter points out, in a note to verse 30:1, that “the term ‘turn back’ (shuv, reiterated in this chapter) is the thematic center of this passage, alternating between Israel and God in dialectic interplay.”

Nehama Leibowitz points out that, more specifically, the word “turn” [shuv] occurs seven times in the first paragraph of Devarim/Deuteronomy 30, toward the end of the portion Nitzavim:

…your heart shall turn back… (30:1)

And you shall turn back to the LORD your God (30:2)

And the LORD your God shall turn back your former state and have mercy upon you and He shall turn you back and gather you in… (30:3)

And you, you shall turn back… (30:8)

…for the LORD shall turn back to exult over you for good… (30:9)

…when you turn back to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your being. (30:10)

Leibowitz cites the work of Umberto Cassuto on the “significance of the number seven in Scriptures and the ‘key’ or ‘motif’ words that often occur seven times in the same chapter.” (p.312 in Studies in Devarim)

Cassuto (born in Italy in 1883) completed commentaries on Exodus and part of Genesis, but not on other books of the Torah, before his death in 1951. His book on Exodus includes, as noted, many references to seven-fold repetitions of key words.

Here are just three examples:

Notes on the open chapter of Exodus/Shemot: “Seven expressions for increase are used in this verse, a number of indicative of perfection (1) were fruitful; (2) and teemed; (3) and multiplied; (4) and grew mighty; (5) with strength; (6) strongly; (7) so that the land was filled with them…. (p.9, Commentary on Exodus)

Notes on Exodus/Shemot 7:23: “The number seven, which is expressly mentioned in v. 25 (seven days), serves also to emphasize the principal word in the paragraph, namely, Nile, which occurs fourteen times in the course of the paragraph — twice times seven.” (p.100)

Notes on Exodus/Shemot 17:8-15: “It is possibly not fortuitous that the word hand occurs in this paragraph, in both its meanings, seven times.” (p.207)

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