D‘var Torah: Nitzavim-Vayelech
Eric M. Leiderman, CY alumni ’10 & ’18, MASORTI On Campus Co-Founder & President
This week’s double header, Nitzavim-Vayelech, opens with a dramatic calling. Addressing the entire nation, Moses calls on every last one of us, regardless of our status or station, to remember all the instructions we have received in the desert and the consequences that come from our choices. Each successive generation is bound by this covenant, beginning an eternal dilemma choice between Door #1 and Door #2.
Choosing Door #1 means upholding the covenant and honoring the Torah leading to a reward of life and prosperity. Whereas Door #2 leads us away from God, away from success and blessing.
Looking back at the 40 years from Mt. Sinai to where we are now, on the cusp of entering the Land of Israel, it is no wonder why Moses is reminding us of this
dichotomy. He knows that at this point God is betting we will choose Door #2. We will get distracted by a shiny new toy, a more lucrative opportunity, or be blinded by our own passions that we will completely lose sight of ourselves.
To me, this feels like Moses is playing “good cop” to God’s “bad cop,” a role often adopted by parents hoping their children will make the decisions they want them to make. In my experience though, as a 20-something-non-parent, no matter how many times you tell your children something, they are not going to listen. The trick seems to be having faith that they are learning the lesson even when they are seemingly ignoring the messenger. Okay, I am clearly speaking from my own experience of giving my parents trouble, but this really seems to be the case here with Moses’s latest attempt to set the Children of Israel on the right course.
As we reach the final chapters of Deuteronomy, our time with Moses is running short. He knows that he has taught us complicated lessons, sometimes several times. He spent decades enduring straying, screw ups, disobedience, and nagging questions. However, each of these episodes was met first with rebuke, then lessons learned, and finally, repentance.
“Choose life so you and your children may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19) This is Door #1, which could not be clearer or more timely. As we move into the season of repentance (for Ashkanazim) we will begin reciting Selichot or Jewish penitential poems and prayers this Saturday night
, leading up to the High Holidays. We are forced to simultaneously look back at our life and the year we lived, while looking forward to what we want our life to be in the year to come.
It is, in fact, this turning point in the cycle that leads me to the greatest lesson I can gather from this portion. See mom & dad – I was paying attention! In all seriousness, is it as though during the season of repentance, we have an opportunity to choose between two doors. Choosing Door #2 ends with curses and disaster while Door #1 ends with blessings and joy. Even if we continuously choose Door #2, Door #1 is always there. To me, that is the significance of the high holidays and this Torah portion specifically. No matter what, we can always choose Door #1, but if we happen to choose Door #2 for whatever reason, it is not the end of the world. Because of the covenant, we know there can be repentance and better choices made in the future. May you remember to choose Door #1 and ask forgiveness when you choose Door #2 instead.