by Cantor David Reinwald
This week, we come to the last of the double portions found in this year’s Torah reading cycle. This portion always falls on the last Shabbat of Elul, one of our last chances for personal reflection and preparation before we head into the new year, and the new month of Tishrei, ushered in soon by Rosh Hashanah.
It is worth noting that this portion is one of the stand-out Torah portions which will be read once again three weeks from now on Yom Kippur morning. Nitzavim speaks to us personally and brings alive the very dilemma which is the heart of Deuteronomy: how do we continue to retell of and confirm again our inheritance of the covenant as set forth from Sinai? Moses reminds the next generation of the covenant in this portion. Throughout Deuteronomy, Moses is continually speaking to a new generation, which seemingly needs to be reminded of all that happened before. Moses notes that this is the covenant of our forefathers, and he passes it along now to all the tribes assembled before him. He notes that the commandment to honor this covenant is one which we must remain close to, and that each generation to follow through each of the tribes will need to remind itself of this.
Moses says that this commandment needs to remain close to the people– it has to be in the mouths and the hearts of the people (Deut. 30:14), because that is where it resides. It does not reside in heaven (30:12), perhaps making references to generations who have passed, nor beyond the sea (30:13), perhaps meaning beyond the confines of our community. The people, thus, cannot ask for someone else to go “beyond the sea” to bring back whatever is needed to complete this commandment. Each and every generation must do it for and by themselves.
Well, I don’t know if it is just me, but this makes me flash forward and think of prominent speeches closer to our day and age. Abraham Lincoln said “a government of the people, by the people, and for the people” in his Gettysburg Address and John F. Kennedy said “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” in his inaugural address. The historical context of these statements may be entirely different, but each and every one of these hallowed phrases calls upon the people to act on and for their own behalf.
I think this is a time of year where we can ask ourselves, what am I doing to secure the future of our temple community and the greater Jewish community? What am I doing to be a part of this community and not just allowing the few to serve the many? After all, a synagogue is known in Hebrew as “beit ha’knesset,” a place of gathering. This means that the synagogue is not just a building or a place that provides services for the needs of its members–it is a place for community. The community must gather both inside and outside its walls to build the connections that a community needs to strengthen itself and each other. I think we do a pretty good job of this at TBS, but there is always room for growth and improvement, and this time of year is one of the best for us to identify our resolutions both individually and collectively.
Chazak Chazak v’Nitchazeik. May we be strong and strengthen each other, strengthen our congregation, and strengthen the bonds of our community near and far.
Shanah Tovah u’Metukah. Wishing you a Happy and Sweet New Year.