28 Elul 5776 פרשת נִצָּבִים, כ”ח אלול, תשע”ו
This is the last portion before we start our High Holidays which is spiritually charged both positively and negatively for the Jewish people. There is a heaviness that we feel for it the time when we do our checks and balances for the past year. Many businesses have their year-end at this time, as we examine whether they have been profitable or not. It is similar to our lives; have we been profitable or deficient? We are to search within our soul, our neshama and ask God to show us where we are deficient. Many of us do not truly understand what it means to do this searching. In Hebrew there is a term called teshuva. This word has been terribly misused. It comes from the word “shuv” to return or come back but many people interpret it as repentance yet it is so much more. The only way that we can return to the Creator is by acknowledging what we have done through honest examination of ourselves. We often may not even know if we have done something wrong which is why this is the time to ask the Creator to show us as it is written in Psalm 139. This way we can see it and then make it right. This is an important step. Without reparation there is no true teshuva. Sometimes we cannot repair what we have done. That’s when we need to confess it to our Creator and truly show Him our sorrow. If it has been toward a person, we need to ask forgiveness and to make restitution, with interest. Saying sorry is not enough. We need to make things right. Once we have done this, the Sha’ar Hashamayim- the Gates of Heaven open and we can enter into a relationship with the Creator. This is the true teshuva or korbanot, offering of ourselves to the Creator.
Our set of beliefs is so beautiful. We have been given the understanding about Ha Sefer ha Chaim, the Book of Life starting with Moshe Rabeinu when he said to the Creator, please forgive these people, don’t destroy them and erase my name from your Book of Life. There are several places in the Tanach that refer to this Book as well as in the Book of Revelation in chapter 20 which speaks about the last judgment and who will be written in this special Book. At Rosh Hashanah there are greetings like “L’Shana Tova Tikateivu – May you be written for a good year or L’shana Tova u’Metuka, May you have a good and sweet year. Before Yom Kippur we say, Gamar Chatima Tova, May you be written in the Book of Life. We have some beautiful traditions, with wonderful meaning and wonderful songs.
This parashah is usually done before Rosh Hashanah or Yom Teruah, the Blowing of the Shofar. The blowing of the shofar is the festival of the announcement or proclamation, to be ready. It begins with Deut. 29: 9 “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, 10 with your children and your wives and the foreigner too who is in your camp, be he your wood-cutter or your water-carrier…” Here he is simply saying that this call is to every level of society, from the richest, most powerful to the least. This is a hierarchical system. At this point in history, the women were lower than the children and a little higher than the foreigner and the common laborer. The Torah has done so much to raise the status of the woman although few realize it. Our Creator is showing us here that everyone is equal; we are all one in His sight. We will all stand before Him and swear our loyalty to the Creator, accepting His constitution — the Torah which will be the guidelines for how we will live our lives, not only for those standing there that day but for every generation to come. Every year when we read Nitzavim, we stand and tell the Creator that we once again accept His Torah as our constitution.
This short parashah contains many important teachings which have been misinterpreted especially in Christianity. The book of Romans has Rav Shaul state something totally different to what is written here in Deuteronomy, something that he would never say. We will start with Deut 30:7 to give context: And the Lord your God will put all these curses upon your enemies, and on those who hate you, who persecuted you. And you shall return and obey the voice of the Lord, and do all his commandments which I command you this day. 9 And the Lord your God will make you abundantly prosperous in every work of your hand, in the fruit of your body, and in the fruit of your cattle, and in the fruit of your land, for good; for the Lord will again rejoice over you for good, as he rejoiced over your fathers. :10 If you shall (obey) listen to the voice of the Lord your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes which are written in this book of the Torah, and if you turn (shuv) to the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul.
Turning to God with all your heart has to do with free will – bechira chofshi. You cannot hold a pistol to someone’s head to make them love you. The heart refers to the intention, the will, thought.
This next part has been so misunderstood.
11 For this commandment which I command you this day, is not hidden from you, nor is it far off. 12 It is not in heaven, that you should say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it to us, that we may hear it, and do it? 13 Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it to us, that we may hear it, and do it?
Our God is not a tricky God who tries to deceive you. He doesn’t ask something of you that you cannot do and then blame you for not doing it. Many religions have projected that God is a temperamental God who is waiting to point his finger at you as if saying “I got you”. He has been portrayed in pictures as being an old man with white hair and a long beard whose finger is pointing down at you in an accusatory manner. Remember He told us not to make images of Him. What kind of god do they have? He is not a material god; he is ethereal and is with us in a way that we can sense and understand as a wonderful father always asking us to come to Him with extended arms.
He has not given us anything impossible to keep. In another religion I learned that it is impossible to keep the Word of God. I remember asking myself “what kind of God do they have? He must be really evil playing dirty. Condemning me for not being able to do something that He made impossible to do! Then they will say: That is why we don’t need the Word of God; thank goodness that someone took this away from us! Now we are free. We only need grace. They don’t understand! Grace comes when we acknowledge who we are and return to Him, not before.
14 But the word is very near to you, in your mouth, and in your heart, that you may do it. 15 See, I have set before you this day life and good, and death and evil;”
Don’t look at these words in the theological way. It’s not so complicated. It is near your mouth and heart. God spoke the world into being. This alludes to through your words you make things happen; you take action. In your heart you believe and that makes you act upon it. The heart is the seat of intuition, intelligence and intention. This is to choose life. Verse 19: I call heaven and earth as witness today against you that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing. Therefore choose life! Why would God ask us to choose life? Who among us has this power? We just learned about the death of a very dear friend. Didn’t he choose life? Did he want to die? How can we understand choose life? This is secret of understanding the Word of God for what it says, not what we have made it to say.
In the book of Genesis we read how God created life. He blew into the nostrils of man who he made from the dust. This action indicates that our Creator came to us. If we have life it is because he is with us. When we get rid of Him, we have death. We immediately transfer ourselves from the world of spirit to the material and miss the meaning of this passage. I have been teaching this over and over. When you are in the Presence of the Creator, He gives you part of His life. Our God is eternal which makes us eternal. This is the special meaning for this time of year. We know that we are eternal when our names are written in the Book of Life.
I call heaven and earth as witness today …He called His Creation that what He told us is being fulfilled. Choose life that both you and your descendants may live. We have continuity through our children. What does it mean to have life? It means to be in His Presence and death is to be without the Creator. It has nothing to do with being holier than thou or better than anyone else. The only one we need to compare ourselves with is ourselves. We need to make our life right.
Vs 20 That you may love the LORD your God, that you may obey his voice, cling to him; for in this your life consists, and on this depends the length of days that you remain in the land which the LORD swore to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that he would give them.’
We need to understand first what it means to have life. It is to be with Him in relationship and everything falls in line. We are here in this world as transient beings. This is a temporary place. We are speaking of eternity. It is my prayer that while we prepare for this special day, we learn to be honest with ourselves. Charity begins at home. The word for charity in Hebrew is Tsedaka, which means righteous and just. If we cannot be righteous or honest with ourselves, how can be honest with others? How can you ask others to be or do something that you are not or do not do?
We are breaking paradigms from the process of religion to the process of relationship. I call this the Paradigm Shift. Our Creator is asking us all to have a relationship with Him. The beauty here is free will. He could have forced us to do it. He limits Himself to allow us to take that step. As we stand at Nitzavim, we say Oh LORD we want to follow you, have a relationship with your and that your Torah will become part of us. A true Shomer Torah, the true Israelite, is not made by blood or race or religion but is made by relationship with the Creator. At this time of year, we respond to His Bat Kol, His voice, at this time of year as we listen to the shofar blast.