Nitzavim & Rosh Hashanah

Torah Reading for Week of September 2 – 8, 2018

“Gathered Together, Then and Now”
By Rabbi Alicia Magal, ’03

The views expressed in this drash are those of the author. We welcome Torah insights and teachings from all viewpoints, and encourage dialogue to strengthen the diversity of our academy.

This portion  – Nitzavim (Deuteronomy 31:1 – 31:30) –   brings us a continuation of Moses’ third farewell speech to Israel.  In Nitzavim the verse begins: “You are all here today…” as Moses emphasizes to the Children of Israel that they are all gathered together, from those in the highest  leadership positions to the lowly water carriers, old, young, male, female, and even the yet-to-be-born of future generations, all receiving the Covenant , and all connected as if neither time nor space would separate them from the immediacy of the message Moses is relaying.  It goes on to affirm that we should choose life, choose blessing, choose mitzvot, and choose to see ourselves as part of a community throughout all time.


What a fitting reading to be studying during these last few days before the Jewish New Year!  During this month of Elul many of us have been preparing for the Days of Awe by reviewing our year, our words and deeds, our “missing the mark,” and doing our best to ask for forgiveness from others, as well as to grant forgiveness to others.


Just as Moses foresaw (in Vayelech, the portion to be read this year on Shabbat Shuvah in between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) that Israel will break the Covenant, imitate the ways of other nations, be misled, and suffer with harsh exile, and yet will always have the doorway of repentance through which to enter, and will again enjoy the blessings of the Covenant, so we too are comforted by the assurance that if we make a sincere step toward living with the values of our tradition,  we too will share in the blessing conferred on our ancestors.


In our synagogue, the Jewish Community of Sedona and the Verde Valley, we prepare a small “Book of Life” for people to fill out at home during the High Holy Days, in which they ask themselves what kinds of goals they set in the past year, how they fulfilled them, and what still remains to be accomplished.  We provide a sticker with which they can “seal” the little folded booklet, metaphorically like the “Chatimah,” the sealing of the Book of Life at the conclusion of Yom Kippur. While we cannot know how long we will live, we do know that our words and deeds of the past year form a record, and it is as if our actions of compassion and generosity are indeed written in the Book of Living Fully, of making each day count.


Just as we are to feel that each of us came out of Egypt in the Exodus, and that each one of us stood at Sinai to receive Torah, this week in our Torah readings we are thrust back again into the moving scene as, at the end of the 40 years’ trek in the wilderness, we are reminded by Moses of our inclusion in the journey of the Israelites up to our own day and on into the future.


May the shofar blasts awaken us and reconnect us with our ancient roots. May our kindest, most generous deeds be recorded, and may we make efforts to repair and heal any mistakes or misunderstandings. May we be granted the gift of another year, as sweet as round challah with raisins. L’Shanah Tovah.