We are a nation that loves lists and rankings. The top ten of this, the “best” of that, etc. As a sports fan, I sometimes think of the fun it would be if we published regular rankings of the top 10 Torah portions. If so, I have no doubt that this week’s portion, “Nitzvaim”, would continue to be among the highest. It is, one of my favorites and is so important that we will see it again on Yom Kippur. The theme of much of the portion is the reality that we have the ability to choose much of what our life will be. The context or the foundation of those choices, according to Torah, must be made on the basis of “mitzvoth”, in order to insure a good life. The famous phrase “choose life” is part of the reading. What this portion does is set the stage for life. The Israelites stand at the end of their Wilderness journey and Moses is finishing his final summary sermon. It is as if he is saying to them, and us, be careful what and how you choose to live your life, choices have consequences and the choices you make do not impact only you; but those who follow you and your community.
This message has never been more powerful and present. In a few days we will enter the year 5776. None of us can know what will happen. Time is moving in an ever quickening pace. As we get older, we are more aware than ever that the choices we have made and the ones that we will make, carry with them more profound implications. Yet, choices we must make. As the tradition reminds us, even making no choice, is a choice, for that impacts the family and community around us.
One of our challenges, as a community, this coming year, will be to continue to choose the type of community we wish. There is more transition and change within contemporary American Judaism than ever before. I am not talking about the Iran deal. I am talking about the sea-change shift in attitudes toward Jewish identity, the synagogue, ritual and prayer and what it means to be Jewish. As we Boomers slowly relinquish leadership to our children’s generation, we will witness the next phase of this new “American” Judaism that is being created before our eyes. It is an exciting and creative time to be Jewish with the stakes for our future at a high level. The choices that we as a community will make in these next years will alter the landscape of what we are and what we leave to our children and grandchildren.
Thus is the power of this Torah portion. On the eve of the High Holidays, it calls us to consider wisely and well what we choose and and how we choose. It is not hyperbole to assume that these choices will and do shape our future.
Shalom and Shannah Tovah
Rabbi Richard F Address