Nitzavim-Vayelech (Deuteronomy 29:9-31:30): One Step At A Time For A Lifetime

Detail on synagogue in Rome - A menorah and the Ten Commandments atop the synagogue in the Jewish ghetto in Rome, Italy (S. Cazon photo/ under Creative Commons 2.0 license)
Detail on synagogue in Rome - A menorah and the Ten Commandments atop the synagogue in the Jewish ghetto in Rome, Italy (S. Cazon photo/ under Creative Commons 2.0 license)

This double portion of Nitzavim-Vayelech takes us to the brink of the High Holidays. Moses’s discourses are ending and in 30 he accepts that his earthly time is ending. There is drama and pathos in that chapter. Nitzavim, one of the  most powerful of all our portions of Torah, is filled with famous verses and challenges, not the least of which is 30:19 and the charge that we are to “choose life”.  This portion is so meaningful that we shall meet it again on Yom Kippur.

As we approach the new year, I was struck with a passage from this portion that I think speaks to many of us. The pandemic has allowed so many of our community the time to re-examine life and a relationship with Judaism. Attendance at classes and even worship services have increased. SO many Boomers are re-discovering ancient texts and the values that they offer. So, a passage in the portion gives us valuable advice. In 30:11-14 we are reminded that the teaching of Torah, its lessons and values is not  beyond our reach. In truth, the poweer and meaning of our tradition is “very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it” (30:14). What can this mean for us?

There is a teaching from tradition that says that “fools attempt to learn the whole Torah all at once, and when they fail, they give up altogether. The wise study a little every day” The wisdom contained in Torah cannot be digested in one lump sum. The portion is telling us that to really understand the truths of Torah, we need to  be open to it every day, to take it in slowly and to understand that what as we grow and age, new truths will be revealed. Likewise, this portion reminds us that Torah is open to all, one need not need degrees in Hebrew or Rabbinics to allow the text to “speak” to us. Indeed, for those who attend a weekly Torah study, that truth is evident at every session. Why? Because our life experiences are found in each portion. Each text reflects an aspect of the life we have lived and are living, and in that reflection, we can find a path to the sacred.

So here is a hope for all  of those who may read this and who have not yet begun a relationship with the text. Just try it. Go to your congregation’s Torah study, take a look at the myriad of on-line weekly Torah  interpretations. Make that choice that in this new year, you will begin or enhance that relationship with our tradition. Have the faith in your own self that will allow you to engage the text, to allow that text to speak to you and you to the text. You will be amazed at what will be open to you and what your own life experience will give as a gift to the encounter. Go forth. Fear not. The moment is at hand to open your soul to the texts of our tradition which, in truth, are the texts of each of our lives.

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Richard F Address

About Rabbi Richard Address 696 Articles
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.

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