On the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah, we read Nitzavim which, this year, is paired with Vayelech. What is set out describes a possible future, but it is no longer in God’s hands.
I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. You shall choose life
In the Musaf Amidah for Rosh Hashanah, we will be reading the liturgical poem Unetaneh Tokef. Traditionally ascribed to Rabbi Amnon of Mainz in the 11th century it is a chilling reminder of our fate being decreed. It is one of the pivotal moments in the service and supremely sobering. However, it is followed by the possibility to avert disaster; Teshuvah, Tefillah and Tzedakah.
Predestination is not a Jewish concept. As a people we were given freedom to choose. As a guide we were given something that is described as something that:
It is not in heaven
Nor is it beyond the sea
What we have is a tangible connection with the Covenant on every Shabbat.
The original command was from Moses. It was to read the Torah:
At the end of every seven years, at an appointed time, in the Festival of Succoth, after the year of release (the Hakhel)
After centuries of exile the original ceremony developed into the public reading of the Torah on Shabbat. Originally the King read the Torah in public flanked by Ezra the scribe and a Cohen, standing on a platform. In our times the Torah reader never stands alone. There are three people on the bimah, the segan, the reader and the person called to the Torah, representing respectively God, Moses, and the Israelites.
Continuity and choice and the sense that we walk with God can guide us through difficult times.
In the words of the Parasha this week:
Be strong and courageous!