Parashat Nitzavim is a greatentry-point to Rosh HaShanah. It is filled with the drama of an entire community standing together (nitzavim) before God, faced with a momentous choice between blessing and curse, life and death. The Torah emphasizes that Israel has the ability to choose blessing and life, which is somewhat different from the impression one gets in the Mahzor. Piyutim like “Unetaneh Tokef” imply that it is God who judges and decides who shall live and who shall die. How can this claim be reconciled with the Torah’s insistence that it is for us to choose our destiny?
Deuteronomy 30:6 and also Psalm 34:13 associate life with virtue. If one loves God fully and expresses that love through devotion and ethical conduct, then one has “chosen life” and can expect to live. In the Talmud (Avodah Zarah 19b) we read that Rabbi Alexandrei would gather the people as if he were hawking wares at market and cry, “Who wants to live? Who wants to live?” The people all would shout “Give us life!” and he would cite Psalm 34, telling them to depart from evil and do good. His point was that it does not suffice merely to avoid sin; one must rather act virtuously in the world in order to live. And what is a more virtuous action than to study Torah? This Rabbinic approach is sensible and productive—if you act well, then you will live a worthy life. God, through Torah, teaches virtue, and virtue yields a worthy life; thus we have a divine-human partnership and a viable solution to the conundrum.
Each of us will experience many interactions in the
coming days. We will interact with the Mahzor,
inhale the powerful stories of our ancestors at moments of trial, hear the
primal voice of the shofar, with our inner voice that is often barely
audible. In all of this we will be
acting as the vital force of LIFE washes over us. May we act in ways which
channel that power into positive patterns so that we and all with whom we share
these holy days will capture this force into actions which will write a
narrative of life and blessing for a good new year. May the extraordinary words
of Isaiah which open the haftarah for the seventh and final week of
consolation and turn to the new year ring true: Sos asiss b'Adonai;
tageil nafshi bei'lohai!
“I greatly rejoice in the Lord; my whole being exults in my God!”
Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham