God stands before the Israelites and entrusts them with the duty of spreading His light
“That then the LORD thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath scattered thee…See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil; In that I command thee this day to love the LORD thy God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments and his statutes and his judgments, that thou mayest live and multiply: and the LORD thy God shall bless thee in the land whither thou goest to possess it. But if thine heart turn away, so that thou wilt not hear, but shalt be drawn away, and worship other gods, and serve them; I denounce unto you this day, that ye shall surely perish, and that ye shall not prolong your days upon the land, whither thou passest over Jordan to go to possess it. I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life” Deut. 30:15 – 19
- Parashat Nitzavim (ניצבים, “standing”) is about an unmediated encounter with God – both as individuals and as a nation. A person can always choose between life and death, blessings and curses. The question is not only whether we should choose life – but more importantly, which sort of life should we lead? A life of submission to transitory pleasures and vices? Or a life of responsibility, repentance, and spiritual growth for ourselves and those around us?
- “Rabbi Elazar explains: Anyone who uses the light of Torah, which is called the dew of light, the light of Torah will revive him” (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate of Ketubot 111b). Light profoundly transforms us and transfers us from a physical to spiritual state of unity. This level is beyond our material existence. Sacrifice for the sake of a sublime or sacred end will instill in us devotion and bring us closer to the divine presence. Therefore, even if we cannot reach the spiritual levels described above, we can nonetheless use other means to come closer. We must approach and assist anyone or anything that can help spread God’s light. When we do this, some of the power will surely remain with us.
Our covenant with God compels us to take responsibility
- The renewed covenant demands that the Israelites take responsibility. Until this point, God has led them directly. From now on, they must act, improve, and stop blaming others for their fate. The greatest good is both our mission and responsibility. Even if we sin, we can correct our actions. Repentance is about going back to our original, pure state.
Pearls of Divine Wisdom: “Standing”
- This Parasha discusses the necessity of taking individual and collective responsibility. A person can always choose between blessings and curses. The question is not only whether we should choose life – but more importantly, which sort of life should we choose? Slavery or a life of responsibility?
- When we take responsibility, we set aside the self – pity and sense of victimhood that has supposedly exempted us from taking action. We become equipped to shape our life’s circumstances. The notion that we can improve our reality is part of our personal redemption and transformation.
- Elul – the last month in the Jewish calendar – stimulates our ability to change our situation for the better. We must face the “husks” that metaphysically envelop us and prevent the light from penetrating our hearts and transforming us. However, in order to cut through these layers, we must first correctly identify them.
- Our memories contain all of the lessons and wisdom that we have acquired throughout our lifetime. These are the tools that can help us discover what must be corrected and improved. We must be brave and release ourselves from the shackles of the past so that they don’t settle down inside of us. Our task is to know who we are and who we could be.
Integrity is honest and uncompromising adherence to our guiding moral principles.