Parashat Hashavua for Nitzavim-Vayelech
Rabbi Allison RH Conyer
Etz Chayim Progressive Synagogue
“Atem Nitzavim ha’yom kulchem … You stand here today, all of you…” (Deut. 29:9)
In this week’s parsha, Nitzavim-Vayelech, Moses gathered the Israelites for a pep talk as they made their final approach to the Promised Land. Men, women, children, leaders, workers, even strangers stood together, joined in a Divine covenant with their past, present, and future, to follow our Jewish teachings. G-d warned the Israelites not to follow their “wilful hearts”, but rather all that is in the Torah (Deut. 29:18, 21).
At this time of year, we, too, are reminded not to be swayed by the intensity of our emotions as we look upon our future; but rather, we are encouraged to be guided by our traditions. The world is experiencing more uncertainty than ever before during most of our lifetimes. This uncertainty weighs upon our hearts, our minds, and our pocketbooks. We think about our vulnerability in the present, and the instability this pandemic will create for our children, grandchildren, and those who are not yet with us. These thoughts and feelings are incredibly unsettling. We are keenly aware of our impotence to control the situation or the future.
As we approach the High Holy Days, in Hebrew theYamim Noraim, we are called upon to consider the double meaning of this Hebrew phrase: the Days of Awe and Days of Dread. The Hebrew word, norah,encapsulates the awe, wonder, and magnificence of Divine power and care, reinforcing the idea that G-d has our backs and will look after us, ensuring that compassion and justice will be attained in the end. Norah also encapsulates the fear and dread of ultimate judgement, reminding us that so much is out of our control.
This double meaning reinforces the idea that fate and faith go hand in hand. Fate does not imply that we have no free will; rather, it reminds us that our choices have set consequences. If we follow our “wilful hearts”, they will lead us astray. If we give in to our emotional angst, we can lose sight of who we are and where we are going. If we have faith, trust in G-d, we will be comforted in the knowledge that humanity has been dealt “the most challenging of times” in different eras, and has seen them through, emerging stronger because of, or in spite of those challenges. We can take solace in our familiar Jewish rituals. The sun sets and rises each day, and Shabbat concludes our week. The seasons continue to progress through our annual cycle regardless of our challenges.
And so, we now stand together, approaching our New Year of 5781, at home alone, on a virtual platform, or, if we’re lucky, with family and friends at synagogue. We look upon our future with both dread and awe, filled with trepidation and possibilities. As it says in this week’s parsha, “See, I set before you this day: life and prosperity, death and adversity…blessing and curse. Choose life, then you and your offspring shall live…”(Deut. 30:15, 19). The choice is always ours to make. We are guided to resist our wilful hearts and get in touch with our faith to create our fate. Wishing you all a shanah tova u’metukah, shanat briut– A sweet, healthy, and happy new year.