28 Elul 5782
How then shall we live?
To listen to the recorded message: https://youtu.be/4iXhXB0TJu4
Parashat Nitzavim is the last parashah of the Jewish year 5782. Tomorrow evening, we begin the year 5783, on the 1st day of Tishrei. According to the Torah, our new year should begin at Pesach, on the first day of the month of Nisan. Most people would say, “so what’s the big deal whether the new year begins in Tishrei according to our rabbis or in Nisan, according to our Torah?”. What comes to mind are God’s Words in Devarim 4:2, “You shall not add to the word which I command you, neither shall you take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.” Our own rabbi would tell us that if a tradition brings us closer to God, then there’s nothing wrong with it however, there are religious leaders who say that no one can keep the Torah and that it’s why now there is a better covenant that God has given us, a covenant of grace, so we can throw away the old and make way for the new. However, in this parashah, in Devarim 30:11, God tells us: “For this commandment which I command you this day, it is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. And verse 14 continues, “…the word is very near you, in your mouth, and in your heart, so that you MAY do it.”
Do we worship a God who is sadistic; who enjoys watching as we struggle to obey something that is impossible and then punishes us for not being able to keep it? The Torah speaks to the exact opposite, about a Creator who only wants good for us, for all humanity and that is why He set down clear boundaries for us, so that this world can live in peace and harmony. Right now, we have strayed to the point that we are not even in harmony with ourselves. Dev.30 continues in verse 15: “Re’eh – See, I have set before you this day life and good, and death and evil, in that I command you this day to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His ordinances; then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God shall bless you in the land where you enter to possess it.”
Look at how often it says “command” in just these three verses. Is God commanding us to love Him? Is He putting a pistol to our heads? How can anyone be commanded to love? Isn’t love a feeling that can’t be conjured up or controlled? The Hebraic understanding of “ahava – love” is not the western idea of a gushy, mushy feeling…it carries the idea of being loyal to someone or something, …and loyalty is a choice. It involves the gift that God gave us…free will. We show love to our spouses by standing by them, for being there even when it gets hard; by remembering the vows we made at the altar. Our God made a covenant with His people, like the ketubah that a husband gives to his wife before they stand under the chuppah. It’s his vow that he will protect her. God is a loyal husband, and He wants us to remain loyal to Him…for our own good, not for His. Today the concept of marriage vows and of being husband and wife according to the Torah, have been robbed from us in this so-called “evolved” society. This is in direct opposition to what our God wants for humanity and is a slap in His face.
In this same verse 15, we see the three words, mitzvot – commandments, chukkim – statutes, and mishpatim – ordinances. These are repeated time and again in the Torah. They point directly to the Covenant that God made with us at Mt. Sinai – His Ten Commandments. The first three, the Mitzvot speak of loyalty between the Creator and His people: the middle two, the chukkim concern being loyal to ourselves, and the last five, the mishpatim, are about loyalty to the rest of society. What did our Rabbi Yeshua, our greatest teacher after Moshe tell us when he was asked to sum up the Ten Commandments? He answered, “Love the LORD your God with all your heart (levavcha), with all your soul (nafshecha) and with all your resources (meodecha – everything that you have left) and love your neighbor as yourself.”
Love is loyalty. How do we treat ourselves? Do we love the body that God created for us in which our soul dwells? The body is an amazing creation. It simply requires a certain amount of good food which contain the vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates. etc. to run like a well-oiled machine. It requires a certain amount of exercise and fresh air, a certain amount of peace and a little stress to keep us motivated. The Torah provides humanity with the key to healthy and peaceful living. The key lies within the Words of our Creator and the level at which we are willing to trust Him. The numbers, however, who do trust Him are very few…basically a remnant. And we all suffer for the decisions imposed upon the world by the majority who trust in everything else but Him. When we say that we have no choice or control over our behaviour, our actions, our lives, we are giving the responsibility to others who can never take as good care of us as we would of ourselves. Verse 15 continues: “…then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God shall bless you in the land where you enter to possess it.” God’s gift of Free Will gives us the freedom to choose to live, to multiply and be blessed.
God told us in chapter 29: 8 and 9 “You shall return and listen to the voice of the LORD and do all His commandments which I command you this day.(Again command.) And the LORD your God will make you over-abundant in all the work of your hand, in the fruit of your body, your cattle, and your land, for good; for the LORD will again rejoice over you for good, as He rejoiced over your fathers;” He tells us that we can choose either life and good or death and evil, so why do we insist on choosing death? It seems it’s in our very nature as we saw in the story of Cain who killed his brother Abel, the first two children on planet earth. They had seen their parents choose death and here chapter 30:7 God tells us “But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but shall be drawn away, and worship other gods, and serve them;” then we are choosing death and curses instead of life and blessings.
So why don’t we believe Him? Why do we prefer to trust the gods – the gurus of this world – more than our Creator? These are the pharmaceutical, the medical, the financial, the technical, and the spiritual as well as the political gurus who, like Pharaoh have set themselves up on high to sit above the Bore Olam. When God tells us in the fourth commandment to take one day a week, the Shabbat and rest with Him, why do we choose to do anything else but that? When He tells us to honor our parents, why do so many choose to blame them for their lives and refuse to speak to them? When God tells us to bring our first fruits to Him, but we choose not to, why? Who are we punishing but ourselves? When He tells us to bring our extra offerings to Him at the Shalosh Regalim, which include Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkoth, why do we ignore Him and instead look for excuses not to. Who are we hurting but ourselves?
Our parashah Nitzavim begins with: “You are standing this day, all of you, before the LORD your God: from the highest leaders to the lowliest of workers, that you should enter into the covenant of the LORD your God–and into His oath–which the LORD your God is making with you this day; so that He may establish you this day to Himself for a people, and that He may be God to you, as He spoke to you, and as He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” I looked up the word “establish” in the dictionary and just a few of the meanings are, “to institute (something, such as a law) permanently by enactment or agreement; to make firm or stable; to introduce and cause to grow and multiply.” We have established universities and hospitals. What a powerful word. God established us as His people for a purpose. He drew up a covenant between Him and us. Not only with those “nitzavim”, standing there that day, who heard His voice at Sinai, but also you and me who are here today. He warns us in this parashah, that if we become so hard-hearted and proud, thinking that we can openly disobey Him and that He won’t notice, “all the curse that is written in this book shall lie upon him, and the LORD shall blot out his name from under heaven.”
How long will this world continue on this downward spiral? How long can we shake our fist at our Creator and think that He will not remember the Words written in this “written” Torah. I am not speaking about the oral Torah, the commentaries. Let us not be enticed into thinking that anyone has the right to change His Words; into believing the leaders of this world who think that they can plan a Great Reset for the course of events that the LORD has chosen for us. Who do they think they are? There is no one, no power greater than our Bore Olam and I am so happy to belong to Him and even though I struggle, I rejoice every day in the blessings that He brings my way knowing that when I lie down at night, He never slumbers nor sleeps.
Chapter 29:28 tells us that “The secret things belong to the LORD our God; but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this Torah.” This is not rocket science. The word is near us; it’s not hidden in mysticism. The world is running after the unknown instead of taking care of the known. Let us not be enticed into run after the secret things which are replete with half-truths. I did that for many years, and it destroyed my life. I am so grateful that God has allowed me to begin my life again on the right path.
God has given us everything we need to live a full life so let us choose life. On Tuesday, when we will meet together to usher in His Moedim, let us listen to the sound of the Shofar and imagine that we are standing, nitzavim, at the base of Mount Sinai where He handed Moshe His Ten Commandments. They are all we need; they are all the world needs. Let’s speak about them through our behaviour and our actions; let’s stop putting on band-aid remedies to the multitude of issues plaguing our planet and let’s heal the root causes of our ailments by teaching and living these Ten precious sayings, given to us by the HAND of GOD. And even though it’s really that simple, I know that it is hard to do, but with the help of our Creator, it is possible. I wish everyone a blessed 5783 and may we pick up the baton that Moshe and Yeshua, our great teachers and even more recently our own rabbi, Netanel ben Yochanan, left in our hands and let’s run with it.