By Shoshana Rosa
|from the Coffee Shop Rabbi|
In this week's Torah portion, Parshat Nitzavim, the Jewish nation nears the end of its sojourn in the desert. The day is significant for another reason as well: Moshe's death is imminent.
Everyone faces the man who has led them thus far, expectant. Moshe gives his last famous speech, a mussar schmuz (message filled lecture) so powerful that it echos through the coming generations. "You are all standing here today..." Kulchem, all of you, meaning the tribe heads, judges, wise ones, the men, young children and women. The convert within the camp and the blue collar workers (from the wood choppers to the water carriers). The Jewish leader adds that Hashem is also including any Jewish soul that wasn't born yet along with all future converts in this final speech for it concerns the covenant between Hashem [G-d] and His nation. "In order to establish you today as His [G-d's] people... as He spoke to you and as He swore to your forebears, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, 'It is not only to you [the people standing at Sinai] that I am making this covenant and oath... but with those who are not here with us, this day...'" (Deuteronomy 29:12-14).
Naturally, the atmosphere is charged. What does G-d have to say vis a vis Moshe? Like every wise parent figure, G-d first delivers the harsh news then the sweet. "Perhaps there are those among you who still have a desire for idolatry, for hemlock and wormwood. And it will be (perhaps), that when such a person hears My oath, he may bless (or reassure) himself in his heart, 'I will have peace even though I follow my inner heart's desires.' The L-rd will not forgive this person!" (Deut. 29:17-19).
Unfortunately, some of us aren't willing to break bad habits, and no amount of threats will shake us onto changing our ways. Only after we've hit rock bottom do we recognize that there is no direction left but up. This is the silver lining in every storm one forces his loved ones to live through while he slowly destroys himself. They comfort themselves, saying, "At one point, he's going to say, 'I can't live like this anymore. I'm tired of where my binging, drinking and gambling has led me.'" We call this process the laughter behind the tears or the blessing inside the curse, for it this moment that G-d chooses to inform us, "... you [the Jews] will consider in your heart, while [dwelling] among all the nations where I have banished you, and you will return to Me with all your heart and soul... Then the L-rd will bring you back from your exiles... And the L-rd will give you back the land your forefathers possessed... And the L-rd, Your G-d, will circumcise your heart... so that you may love Him with all your heart and soul" (Deut. 30:1-6).
Now, concerning the issue of being able to keep the mitzvot [commandments]. There are so many, six hundred and thirteen to be exact. The list can make a person's skin crawl. Never fear! We don't need an intrepid explorer to bring us the Torah; despite the long list, it is totally accessible. We live with the principle that G-d looked into the Torah and created the world. Knowing this, we need not view cleaving to G-d as a daunting task. He is everywhere, He permeates everything. "It [the Torah] is not beyond you nor is it above you. It is not in heaven... it is not across the sea. Rather, it is very close to you, in your mouth, in your heart, that you may do it" (Deuteronomy 29:13-14).
We've reached an understanding of G-d's sovereignty. Knowledge is power. Let us go into Rosh haShana with a will to serve G-d and may He help us through to a sweet new year!
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