Blog Nitzavim Elul 28 5778 בלוג נִצָּבִים, כ”ח אלול תשע”ח

This is the last Shabbat of 5778. Tomorrow we will enter Rosh Hashanah, our new year, the first of Tishrei 5779 which according to our sages is the time when Adam and Eve were created. In the Torah, the Creator tells us that Nisan is be to the first month of the year for Israel. If that is the case, then Rosh Hashanah is the true new year for all humanity. What’s more important is the practical applications that the Torah brings to us. They may be easy to learn but putting our knowledge into practice is far more difficult. In university we learn a lot of theory but when we get into the real world, that is when we are put to the test. The Creator doesn’t care about how much knowledge we have managed to amass, He prefers to see how much we apply to our lives.

Nitzavim which means “standing” brings to us the idea of “standing at attention”. It is a very short parashah but packed with information. Here we see Moshe Rabenu reminding Israel that the Creator has made a special covenant with us that is “universal”. We know that from Deut. 29:9-14 “All of you are standing here today in the presence of the LORD your God: your tribal leaders, your elders, your scribes, all the men of Israel, with your children and your women and the foreigner who is in your camp, be he your wood-cutter or your water-carrier and you are about to pass into the covenant of the LORD your God,… not only on behalf of those standing here with us in the presence of the LORD our God today, but also on behalf of those not here with us today.”

He is speaking to every level of society beginning with the leaders down to the children, women, and to the lowliest of foreigners. No one is left out. He was speaking not only to those then and there, but also to us here and now. The purpose of Israel was to bring the Torah to the rest of the nations; to be “ohr l’goyim”, light to the nations and sadly today most of Israel does not want that responsibility. It has become a burden and instead they have become morally ‘hoshech – darkness’ to the nations. Jews complain about the missionaries who they accuse of trying to convert them, but we should be ashamed that we are not doing our job of bringing the God of Israel to the nations. Our pride has caused us to keep the Torah only for ourselves and we remain silent as the other religions agree that the Torah is not for them.

Our traditions have replaced our Torah and most of us give more credence to the teachings of men rather than the teachings of the Bore Olam. At the threshold of the new year, we need to search within and ask ourselves who we are following, man or the Creator? Is form more important than our relationship with Him? The Creator told us that if we do not follow His covenant, we would be exiled. We need to return, not to a physical place but to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The word t’shuva (return) is repeated many times in this portion but return where? It means to return to the Creator. We may be ultra-orthodox or secular, living in Israel or abroad yet we can be far away from the Creator. He is not looking at our religion; He is looking at our heart. That is why He said in Deut. 30:6 “The LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and soul, and so will live.” Who is the one who does the circumcision of our hearts? Not only does He do that to us but also to our descendants. This means that there is continuity, we need to keep living. The Creator is a God of life, unlike other religions in which death is more important than life. How are our hearts metaphorically circumcised by the Creator? That is what being chosen is all about; that is what makes us part of Israel. Everyone is included, male and female. The Jewish boy doesn’t choose to be circumcised and neither do we. In the same way, He chooses us!

In Deut. 30: 11-14 we read “For this Torah which I am laying down for you today is neither obscure for you nor beyond your reach. It is not in heaven, so that you need to wonder who will go up to heaven for us and bring it down to us, so that we can hear and practise it? Nor is it beyond the seas, so that you need to wonder who will cross the seas for us and bring it back to us, so that we can hear and practise it? No, the word is very near to you, it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to put into practice.” Other religions falsely teach that no one can keep the Torah or that if we keep it, we are under a curse. The Creator tells us quite the opposite – demonstrated by everything we say (mouth) and do with the right intention (heart). Is our Creator a liar? Would He tell us to do things that were impossible so that we would have to totally depend upon Him? Biblical Judaism teaches us that by giving us free will we were made partners with Him in caring for His creation.

Let us be careful especially at this time of year, not to blame others for our faults. It is a time for introspection and returning to the Creator. In Deut. 29:21-24 Moshe is speaking to the future generations who would see great devastation happening to our land and our people and ask why? The response is “Because they deserted the covenant of the LORD, God of their ancestors…” He doesn’t punish us; we punish ourselves and then blame Him. Let us accept our responsibility, acknowledge what we have done wrong to our fellow man and then make it right. Sometimes reparations cannot be done and that is when we need His help. We have an opportunity to begin a new year with excitement and gratitude that our Creator is the God of new beginnings.