Parshat Nitzavim/Vayelech

Torah Reading for Week of September 6-12, 2020
By Rabbi Cheryl Weiner, PhD, BCC
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.
Every year we read the same words of Torah and it is as if we are reading them for the first time. The words haven’t changed, but we have. Here is Moses, at 120 years old, proclaiming his legacy. He calls Heaven and Earth as his witnesses. He re-iterates God’s covenant between the Israelites and all who dwell among them— I set before you blessing and curse— the way of blessing is to the good— the way of curse is to the bad. Choose life! Choose blessing!
In this year, in this call to choose life, I hear a call to choose walking in the way of the covenant. What does that mean? It means choosing goodness, and mercy. It means choosing compassion and human dignity. It means choosing justice and truth.
At this moment in our collective history as Jews and as Americans, I hear many reaching for blessing to uphold human dignity. I hear the rage of those who have been violated. I hear the call of those who have been oppressed by racism. I hear the immigrants seeking asylum and the children separated from parents. I hear those who have been murdered at the hands of hatred. I hear the sorrow of those who have lost their places of worship. I hear the fear of the perpetrators of violence who do not acknowledge their systemic racism or their Antisemitism or Islamophobia.
I hear many reaching for blessing to alleviate the impact of climate change. I hear the cries of those who have lost their homes to fire or hurricane or other acts of G-d that have intensified. I hear the irresponsibility of our losing sight of our role as the keepers of the earth and guardians of the planet.
I hear many reaching for blessings to alleviate yearning. Yearning to be with loved ones as they lie with COVID-19 in hospitals or relatives in assisted living facilities where they are unable to visit. I hear yearning to celebrate the High Holy Days face-to face in communities. I hear the yearning for national mandates to wear masks and to test and trace, so that our schools and businesses can re-open safely.
In the Women’s Commentary Chumash, this parsha is labeled as “Covenantal Choices”, with Moses predicting the way that ancient Israel will sin, will receive judgment, will engage in repentance, and will receive deliverance.   It ends with “Moses impassioned plea to choose life by adhering to the Torah, a choice that will guarantee peace and prosperity.”
As modern Jews, we are being given the opportunity to look at the way that we have sinned in terms of providing support for both human and environmental justice. Judgment has been mandated for us to pursue civil rights, environmental preservation and an adherence to science. We are ordered to follow truthful warnings. We have been admonished to choose life. We are obligated to do that by making individual and collective teshuvah to bring about social and environmental justice, hoping for deliverance in the year to come.
The shofar of Elul, calls us to make covenantal choices not only to uphold Torah values, but to uphold our secular constitutional values as well. I can hear its call to choose life; to choose blessing. May the New Year bring peace and prosperity, love and laughter, fulfillment and joy!