Nitzavim – A thought for the week by Michael Lewis

Immediately preceding Rosh Hashanah, we will be reading this very short Sedra, Nitzavim. At only 40 verses long it sets out to concentrate our minds. We may think of Rosh Hashanah as the “New Year”, as described by Ezekiel or “Yom Teruah” ("day of blowing the horn") as described in Vayikra or perhaps “Yom Hazikaron” (the day of remembrance) as described in our Machzorim. It is a time when we consider our past and reflect on our future.

The Parashah sees us all standing, “Nitzavim”, together. There is no Mechitza; no separation of men, women, children, elders, leaders or converts. There is no separation of the lowly.

You are all standing this day before the Lord, your God the leaders of your tribes, your elders and your officers, every man of Israel, your young children, your women, and your convert who is within your camp both your woodcutters and your water drawers, your young children, your women, and your convert who is within your camp

It is a time for making promises. We are aware of our past but we do not know the future. We have is the promise contained in the Sedra.

But not only with you am I making this covenant and this oath, but with those standing here with us today before the Lord, our God, and with those who are not here with us, this day

As Jews we are suspicious of the idea that things happen by chance. Albert Einstein remarked

God doesn’t play dice with the universe

Although we cannot anticipate the challenges are ahead we can influence our future by our own decisions. We have choice in how we lead our lives but we also have guidance.

Next week we will hear the sound of the Shofar. In the sections of the Rosh Hashanah service called Malkhuyot, we are accepting that God is our King. In the section Zichronot we remember the covenant, and in Shofarot we physically recall hearing what was given to us at Sinai.

וְהַמָּ֨וֶת֙ נָתַ֣תִּי לְפָנֶ֔יךָ הַבְּרָכָ֖ה וְהַקְּלָלָ֑ה וּבָֽחַרְתָּ֙ בַּֽחַיִּ֔ים לְמַ֥עַן תִּֽחְיֶ֖ה אַתָּ֥ה וְזַרְעֶֽךָ
I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. You shall choose life, so that you and your offspring will live

To choose life we need to act and embrace change: not just in the world about us but also in understanding and strengthening what is within us. We need to do this not just as individuals but within our relationships with one another and within our traditions. Standing together as a “Kehilla Kedosha”, a holy community is an affirmation of that choice.

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