September 7, 2018

 

9.7.2018 Weekly Torah Portion

Parashat Nitzavim

Nitzavim is the last parashah of the Jewish calendar year. In it are several important items to consider as we stand at the threshold of the year 5779.

At the forefront of the message of this parashah is teshuvah. Over and over the message of “return” is put before us; not just the call “to return” but that one day, we “will return” and listen to the voice of G-d. The Rabbis comment on the word tishma (listen) as referring to the need to do learning. “If you are confronted by your yetzer hara (your desire to do bad), drag it to the House of Learning. Even a stone could melt there.” We learn about t’shuvah through learning. This is why we provide Jewish education – so that we can draw closer to our G-d.

There is also a practical aspect to this parashah. We are taught that this commandment to do teshuvah is not so mysterious or too far away. Rather, is very close to us; it is both within our grasp and our potential to do. The psalmist, King David, wrote in Psalm 145:18 “YHVH is near to all who call Him, to all who call Him with truth.” Our G-d is very accessible to us. We believe, as Jews, that no intermediary is necessary to approach G-d. We can return and come close to G-d at any time. Yes, coming fast upon us are the Ten Days of Teshuvah and the day of Yom Kippur, but, just like we say in the Big Book:

What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition. Every day is a day when we must carry the vision of G-d’s will into all of our activities. ‘How can I best serve Thee – Thy will (not mine) be done.’” (“Into Action,” page 85)

This is teshuvah! Daily we turn our will and our lives back in the direction of G-d.

Free will/freedom of choice is also highlighted in the parashah. “See! Today, I have set life and goodness, death and badness before you…. Choose life…!” Rambam writes:

The potential is granted for each person to turn to the path of good, if he desires…. If he desires, he may turn to the path of evil…. There is no one forcing him or decreeing what he must do, or leading him to either of these paths. Rather, he tends to the path he chooses out of his own personal thought processes…. This is a fundamental principle….
(Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Teshuvah 5:3)

Me’am Lo’ez speaks of three levels of teshuvah:
1) there are those who feel motivated to return to G-d out of their own volition;
2) others are motivated by fear of what they see happening in the world around them; and
3) there are still others who are even less sensitive and will not repent until something happens to them personally and they experience difficulties in their own lives. This parashah asks us, however, to “choose life” – not for its own sake, but instead out of love for G-d.

Even more, Resh Lakish, himself a ba’al teshuvah, made two statements about teshuvah. In one, he argues based on Hoshea 14:2 that teshuvah changes sinful acts done on purpose (zedonot) to acts done by accident (shegagot). In the second, based on Ezekiel 33:19, he teaches that through teshuvah, sinful acts done on purpose (zedonot) are turned into positive attributes (zekhuyot). How so? The Gemara makes a distinction between teshuvah done out of love and that which is done out of fear. That seems simple enough, so let’s choose love.

As we end this year of 5778, let us all freely choose to make this New Year of 5779 a year of daily teshuvah, a year of learning, and a year of love.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Micha’el