Living Torah

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, rabbinic director, United with Israel

There are repercussions for our actions. But to lose hope? To despair? To walk away? Never! We can never let that happen.

This week we read a double Torah portion: Nitzavim and Vayelech (Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20). The Jewish calendar was arranged that this Torah portion would always be the one read on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. In other words, welcome to the last Torah portion of the year! Each of these readings is also among the shortest in the Torah.

The first word of the first reading, Nitzavim, means: “You are standing.”

Standing? What is this referring to?

It’s Not All Fire and Brimstone

Last week’s reading contains several awful curses for those who choose to go on the wrong path in life. We are taught that the Jewish people became so frightened and intimidated from hearing all these curses that they has lost hope. They despaired of ever possibly being good Jews. They felt that they could never properly live up to God’s standards and would therefore be susceptible to all those curses!

The title of this week’s reading is essentially a rebuttal to this concern. “You are all standing!” Let’s face it, the Jewish people certainly weren’t angels during the 40 years of wandering in the desert. They angered God far too many times. Nevertheless – “You are still standing!”

The message: Don’t think that living like a Torah Jew, or for our non-Jewish readers, living like a decent human being, is a difficult task. No! It is all within reach. You can do it! Sometimes there are responsibilities placed upon us that might seem to be overbearing, but we can do it! And when we fail in our missions, God forbid, it’s not all fire and brimstone.

But wait a second. What about all those curses? Was the Torah just trying to scare us? Are the curses meaningless? An empty threat? It’s great that we are all part of the “You are still standing” crowd…but what are the repercussions for our sins?

It is explained that God does want us to fear Him; there’s no question about that. And yes, there are repercussion for our actions. But to lose hope? To despair? To walk away? Never! We can never let that happen.

Do Not Fear the Day of Judgment

This is an important message to keep in mind as we prepare for Rosh Hashana next week.

Rosh Hashana is the Day of Judgment. To a major extent, all aspects of our upcoming year will be decided up there in heaven. We should be somewhat frightened. But no matter how frightened we may be, we can never lose hope. Yes, a lot is expected of us. It’s not easy to be a Torah Jew or a decent human being. There are always those who decide to walk away or shirk their responsibilities. But make no mistake, the job is not insurmountable. You can do it!

The Jewish people are called “Jews” after the tribe of Judah. Why? There are another 11 tribes from where we could have taken our national name. “Levites” perhaps? Maybe “Benjaminites”? Why do we take our name from the tribe of Judah?

It is explained that we are called “Jews”, from the tribe of Judah, because when Joseph confronted his brothers for having sold him to Egypt, they all despaired, became depressed and lost hope of ever coming out of their situation – both physically and spiritually. Only Judah stood strong under the situation, under the test. Judah did not give up hope no matter the circumstances. And that is why we are called “Jews” after the tribe of Judah. We must never give up hope

Rosh Hashana is almost here. Take some spiritual “inventory” regarding the past year and the one ahead. Recommit yourselves to trying to accomplish all that is expected of you. It’s not that difficult. A Torah lifestyle is also very rewarding. Don’t give up hope. And if you occasionally ”fall” – do not panic! Remember: It’s the Torah portion of Nitzavim. You are still standing!