Parashat Nitzavim 5780

Rabbi Charley Baginsky – 9th September 2020

Despite the fact that we read the Torah week after week, year after year, beginning a journey and starting it again, the Torah manages to remain firmly in the present.

This week’s portion that begins “Atem nitzavim“, you are standing, is indicative of this.

Here we are standing before Moses, hearing his final words; not just describing the past not just presenting a vision for the future, but speaking to this very moment.

The parasha goes on to give what is one of the most important commands of the Torah, this commandment which I command you this day is not too hard for you, or too remote. It is not in heaven…’ In other words the Torah is supposed to be something which we can touch and experience, understand and live for ourselves. It is supposed to be something relevant and tangible – in our mouths and hearts – that we may live it – today, yesterday and tomorrow.

But despite the idea that there is nothing new under the sun – Judaism did introduce a radical new idea to the world. When the Torah began with the idea that God created the world it asserted that God was therefore separate from nature, and if humanity is made in the image of God then humanity is also separate from nature. This means that we are not trapped in the cycles of nature – in the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, “no moment is similar to another moment. Every moment is completely and radically unique.” Or as my son explained it to me the other day – time is like a spring, a coil, we go forwards in cycles.

The Greeks were convinced that every moment had already happened before and would happen again, more than being similar – it was the same. It meant that for the Greeks any move forward was actually a move backwards. Therefore, the gift of the Torah, the radical essence of Torah was the acknowledgement that there was a future time, something that was not just a repetition of the past.

This year we are perhaps convinced that there has never been a year like this one! Certainly, we have never faced the reality that we cannot choose to be inside our synagogue buildings together. It is very difficult to be in this period of Elul when we are supposed to try and reconnect with ourselves, with others and with God, to feel a sense of location and connection.

Yet, when we turn to this portion we are reminded of the centrality of the Torah, that it is not supposed to be esoteric and difficult, it is not for the leaders alone, not just for the Prophets or the rich or the educated – it is for everyone. Here I am, the Torah says to us. I am speaking to you in the present and giving you hope that a new future can be created together. Here I am says the Torah – I am not in the heavens, or over the sea or even up a mountain – I am not in the heavens, I am in your mouth and in your heart.

In the spirit of being here in the present I would like to share with you my community prayer that we will use over the Chuggim in some of our communities which speaks very much to our current moment:

God bless Zoom

This was the year when the world has been turned on its head, when homes became workplaces and schools and prisons and sanctuaries; when touch became scary and isolation a reality.

This was the year when we counted our blessings and counted the days even when it was not the Omer.

This was the year when heroes were in our hospitals, in our schools and when leadership was shown by those who continued to empty our bins and fill our supermarket shelves.

This was the year when we learnt a new vocabulary of furlough and masks, pandemic and shielding

This was the year we cried out to be together again in person, to kiss at kiddish and to take for granted mundane routine.

This was the year we recognised how many people had been excluded from our communities in years past by the stumbling blocks we did not know we had erected and that this was the year we flung doors, screens and webcams open wide to bring them in.

This was the year we took our foot off the accelerator and watched how our environment flourished, when we heard the birds sing, the traffic stop and the skies clear.

This was the year when there was tragedy, bereavement and despair, inequality and suffering and when we found hope that we can learn and change, even if it is only how to unmute when the time is right.

So may God bless Zoom….

May God bless us for finding the creativity to keep our congregations open, to say even when we shut the doors of our building, we opened ourselves to each other. That we said no one will find themselves alone and we will bring prayer and learning into your homes. If you cannot come to us, then we will come to you.

May God bless us and all the congregations all over the world marking this time in all the diverse and wonderful ways they invented and created. Give us all the strength to continue to be brave, to hold onto the knowledge that this too shall pass and we will be together in person again and mourn all that we have lost and celebrate all we have learnt.

May God bless us and keep us and enter us into the New Year with friendship and hope and a new found gratitude for each other and community.

This may be a year of tragedy but even out of adversity the there is always hope that we can learn even if it is how to unmute when the time is right.

Recent Commentaries

[x_icon t