Drash on Parashat Nitzavim
Rabbi Jeffrey B Kamins OAM
Emanuel Synagogue, Woollahra, NSW
We approach the Yamim Noraim, the time in which we proclaim God as King. While the metaphor stems from our patriarchal ancestry, we can still use it as a metaphor signifying the awesome power of the universe beyond. Yet that may lead us to question how “the King of Kings” can allow so much evil in world. The teaching of Moshe Rabbeinu, from Parashah Nitzavim, always read the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah, gives us some of our best insight as to what it means for us to proclaim God as King while not blaming that King for the evil that exists. Moshe teaches: “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever to apply the teachings of this Torah” (Deuteronomy 29:28).
There are just some things that are concealed from us, and why they occur will remain unknown, but that they occur is guaranteed. Among these are the amorality of nature and the unfair suffering of innocents through natural disaster and disease. Another of the secret things is the manner and timing of our own death. As we say “God is King”, we acknowledge the Great Mystery over which we have no control, the world of natural disaster and random disease, the world that in one way or another will eventually call us to our end. During these days we proclaim the awesomeness of the Mystery and we cherish and take responsibility for each precious moment of our lives.
We accept responsibility when we acknowledge that “the revealed things belong to us and our children forever to apply the teachings of the Torah.” It is revealed to us that the cause of environmental degradation, animal suffering, war, famine and poverty, sexual abuse and random cruelty is our failure, not God’s. The teachings of Torah, the mitzvot by which we structure our lives, teach us how to repair this world, to bring justice and compassion to it. It is revealed to us how much there is in this world for us to do – and to undo, when it comes to the hurt and pain we cause and endure.
At the end of this parashah, Moshe frames our choice of daily action as follows: “I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life … by loving the Lord your God, heeding God’s mitzvot and holding fast to God.” Ours is to accept the Mystery of the Grandeur of Life into which we are born, and also to accept responsibility for the choices we make and the consequences. It is revealed to us just how much Torah and Mitzvah there is to do to make this world a better place. Shabbat shalom and tizku l’shanim rabbot.