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Dan Has Questions About Inclusion and Choices: Parshat Nitzavim

09/22/2022 12:24:56 PM


Dan Leemon

As we count down to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and prepare for the new year, this week’s Parshah is particularly appropriate. 

This week’s Parshah continues Moses’s final speech to our ancestors before they entered our homeland, Canaan.  The name of the Parshah is Nitzavim, and it opens with a strong statement to call everyone to attention.  Nitzavim means “you are standing”, and Moses says “You are standing today before God, your leaders, your elders, men, women, children, people who used to be strangers, people of all professions, to enter the covenant that God makes with you today, to establish you as God’s people, as promised to Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob, Leah, and Rachel.”  Note how inclusive these words are – God’s covenant is with each of us, and includes all of us. 

- What does it mean to be “God’s people”?

- If you were intending to be inclusive, are there other groups of people you would specifically mention?

Then God, speaking through Moses, says something a little confusing:  “I’m not only making this covenant with you, but those who are not here with us.”  

To whom is God referring:  Who’s not there?

- Do you think God was referring to you?

Moses then predicts that we will forget our covenant with God and disobey the mitzvot, and that we will suffer the curses that are described in detail in prior Parashiot — plagues, famine, loneliness, destruction of all kinds.  But he then predicts that we will return to God, and the blessings that God describes (good health, ample food, community) will be ours and the curses will be only for our enemies.  

- What do you think of this prediction?

Is it inevitable that people (or future generations) will turn away from the mitzvot, from being good people and living lives of kindness and generosity?

- Conversely, is it inevitable that people who have sinned, violated laws, and lived selfish and dishonest lives — or their descendants —  will change and become good? 

Is the prediction that we will become evil and be cursed, but then become good again and be blessed — scary or comforting?  Is it pessimistic or hopeful?

Remember that there are many, many mitzvot we are always supposed to obey (613, to be precise).  Some are not that hard to obey (“do not murder”), and some are a little more difficult for some of us sometimes (“honor and respect your parents”).  Yet here is what God says about the mitzvot:   “These commandments are not are not hidden from you.  They are not far away.  They are not in heaven that you might say ‘who will go up to heaven a get them for me?’  They are not across the sea that you would say ‘who will cross the sea and fetch them for us?’  These commandments are close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, so you can fulfill them.”

- Why do you think God says this?

- What does God mean by “these commandments are in your heart and in your mouth”?

- Are these words comforting?  Do they make you feel that the mitzvot are easy to understand and follow, or not?

God, speaking through Moses, then sums up the message of the book of D’varim, saying “I have set before you today good and life, evil and death, and if you follow the commandments, you will be blessed, and if you do not, you will be cursed.  Choose life, and live in the land God promised to your ancestors.”

- What does it mean to you to choose life? 

In what way can you choose life?

Rosh Hashanah begins on Sunday night.  It is a time of teshuvah, which means both “repenting” and “returning”.   At Rosh Hashanah, we are reminded of the cycle of the year, yet each year finds us with different experiences behind us and different opportunities ahead of us.

- What are you returning to at this time of year? 

- How was the past year different from other years for you?  Better or worse (or maybe both), and why?

- What are you looking forward to in the coming year, and what will you need to try to accomplish?

I wish you all a shana tova u’metukah — a good and sweet year ahead.

Shabbat shalom,


Fri, September 30 2022 5 Tishrei 5783