What does it mean to stand before God?
Is it like standing before someone you’ve hurt and accepting their response even if it’s not what you’ve hoped for?
Is it like getting married? A joyful and humble and profound moment that connects you to someone and Something else beyond you?
Is it a cry for help that makes its way from your gut up your throat and out your mouth?
When did you stand before God?
And then what happened next? Most (all?) of us forget where we stand. Sometimes, we make a mess of that very place, or we misstep or get tired of standing.
Nitzavim means “those who stand” – in this case, before God. And all of us, at some time and in a moment of vulnerability, stand before God. Whether getting honest, getting married, or getting help – in that vulnerability – we get free.
Rabbi Heschel, when he writes about freedom, says we must stay loyal to these events that set us free. But often those moments are more like shooting stars than the persistent, nightly kind.
We forget. We misstep. We get into our own stubborn willfulness. This is human. Of course, we forget and mess up and go back out (do not use this as a reason to go back out!). The essential thing is that we return to standing before God, to that moment of vulnerability, to that freedom.
In Nitzavim, Moses says:
“When all these things befall you – the blessing and the curse that I have set before you – and you take them to heart amidst the various nations to which Adonai our God has banished you, and you return to Adonai your God, and you and your children heed Divine command with all your heart and soul, just as I enjoin upon you this day, then Adonai your God will restore your fortunes and take you back in love” (Devarim 30:1-3).
When you act right and attract blessings, when you act wrong and attract curses and destruction, and you take them to heart – you learn from them, and you return to God – then God will receive you. In other words: sometimes you’ll do the right thing and sometimes you won’t. You won’t be perfect in recovery, and you weren’t trash in addiction. You will make good choices and bad. And if you learn from those choices – good and bad – and act responsibly on what you learn, then you are returning to that place where you stood. You are returning to God. You are doing t’shuvah. As Heschel would say, you are staying loyal to the event of your freedom.
But if you stay in your will, if you fancy yourself immune to error or idolatry, thinking, “I shall be safe, though I follow my own willful heart,” then God will not accept your asking for forgiveness (Devarim 29:18-19). If you stay stuck in your own will, then your loyalty is misplaced; when you are loyal only to your own will, imagining that nothing exists beyond or before you, and there’s nothing to stand before.
The key is choice. In recovery, I have a choice whether I stay stuck in my will or if I stand before God. In recovery, I have a choice how rigid or how vulnerable I am in a particular moment. In recovery, I have a choice whether or not I pick up again today. In the words of Moses, all of us have a choice towards blessing or a choice towards curse:
“I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life—if you and your offspring would live” (Devarim 30:19).
Whenever I choose blessing and draw near to what the Divine asks of us, I choose life, and whenever I choose curse and push God away, I choose death.
I’ve learned that my will, my self-righteousness, is not worth my death. I’d rather be alive than be right. In recovery, that’s a choice.
But even if I don’t make a good choice that day, if I’ve chosen curse or death, or forgotten before Whom I stand, God remains faithful to our relationship: God restores my soul to me each morning. God puts beauty before my eyes. God gives me chance after chance after chance to return.
It’s up to me to take that chance. It’s up to you. And it’s much easier to take that chance together.
Last Friday night, during the t’shuvah portion of our service, after two residents made t’shuvah for their choices, another person publicly apologized for his using while at work, and another person apologized for the impact of their relapse. One person’s return to God and community leads another person to return to God and community. One t’shuvah leads to another t’shuvah. And so we help one another. And so we save our lives and one another’s lives.
Living well is not never making a bad choice. Living well is returning to God when you do.
We do that here at Beit T’Shuvah and – especially after these long months of COVID, especially at this time of year – we do that together.
Shabbat Shalom and Shanah Tovah,