This past week, the day before school began for my grandchildren, we had the pleasure of having them for a day. Off we went to the Franklin Institute and during the course of the visit we found ourselves in the Fels Planetarium for the 2pm show. As usual, it was very entertaining and in the course of the show, which looked at how we see the stars and what the night sky looks like at various times, the guide often changed the sky depending in the time of night. He explained that sometimes, to get a better view of a star of constellation, you had to shift how and where you looked. As they changed the perspective of the night sky, it dawned on me that we read a passage in this week’s portion that speaks directly to this idea.
In Deuteronomy 30:11-14, we read that the instruction (Torah) that is being given is not “beyond reach” but “very close to you”. It occurred to me that this series of verses was like the Planetarium show in that, sometimes, in order to “see” our way in a better perspective we need to change that perspective. We often tell our children (and grandchildren) that, when things get to be challenging, it may be helpful to look at it in a different way, to change the approach, to see with different eyes. We have all done this. A classic verse in the Torah reading for Rosh Hoshonnah, the Akedah echoes this when Avraham, who is about to sacrifice his son, looks up and sees the ram caught in the thicket. The verse tells us that Avraham “raised his eyes and he saw”.To get the answer to an issue, sometimes we need to “look up” and then see what was always present. We have other images of this in Torah, but many on our own life. How many times have we been stuck, only to take some time to change how we looked at a problem, and in doing so, an answer appeared.
One of the messages for our generation from this verse in Nitzavim may be that, as we get older, that we need not fear looking at the world in a diffent light. Indeed, if we have the courage to see thinngs from a different point of view, the result may be that we embrace new possibilities in life. There are millions of Boomers who leave full-time work and who change how they look at life and circumstance and, as a result, find the strength to be empowered. Of course, the flip side of this is that all too often life happens which forces us to change perspectives. Indeed, that is one of the great challenges of our stage of life, how we deal with the real life events that come upon us that we did not choose. Yet, no matter if we choose to change the way we see life, or if we are forced by circumstances to do so, Torah this week reminds us that the choice as to how we respond to these changes rests within our hands. It is the, no wonder then, that Nitzavim will find its way back to us on Yom Kippur, for what better day to be reminded that what we choose and how we choose to respond to life determines the type of person we become.
Rabbi Richard F Address