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Parshiyyot Nitzavim-Vayelech 5780 — 09/12/2020

Parshiyyot Nitzavim-Vayelech 5780 — 09/12/2020

Nitzavim: Devarim 29:9-30:20
Vayelech: Devarim 31:1 – 31:30

See – I have placed before you today life and good, and death and evil, that which I command you today, to love Hashem, your Gd, to walk in His Ways, to observe His commandments, His decrees, and His ordinances; then you will live and you will multiply, and Hashem, your Gd, will bless you in the Land to which you come, to possess it.
But if your heart will stray and you will not listen, and you are led astray, and you prostrate yourself to the gods of others and serve them, I tell you today that you will surely be lost; you will not lengthen your days upon the Land that you cross the Yarden to come there, to possess it. I call heaven and earth today to bear witness against you: Life and death I have placed before you, blessing and curse, and you shall choose life, so that you will live, you and your offspring – to love Hashem, Your Gd, to listen to His voice and to cleave to Him, for it is your life and the length of your days, to dwell upon the Land that Hashem swore to your forefathers, to Avraham, to Yitzchak and to Ya’akov, to give them. (30:15-20)

Or haChaim wonders, in verse 15 it says life and good, and death and evil, whereas in verse 19 it says, Life and death I have placed before you, blessing and curse. In the first verse, likes are paired, while in the second verse opposites are paired, and the clause “I have placed before you” intervenes between the pairs.

In truth, however, the purpose of the verse is to make us aware that [when verse 15 mentioned four promises, two of good and two of bad,] two promises – one good and the other bad – are in this world.  Thus it says in this verse [v. 19], Life and death have I placed before you, that is, the reward and punishment that are placed before you, i.e. in this world, are life and death; if the people will act properly they will live [long] and if they act wickedly, they will die [early]. … And there are another two, namely blessing and curse, and those are promises for the World to Come; blessing and curse are not before the person, but only are experienced after death. …
This is why the verse concludes its statement: and you shall choose life, which is the promise of reward in this world, for a person’s heart is more focused upon what is before him….

I think Torah and Or haChaim are describing a very fundamental dichotomy andchallenge that we have as human beings. Human beings are the junction point between the outer, physical, material world on the one hand, and the inner, spiritual world on the other. The body, which is responsible for interfacing the soul with the material world (through the organs of perception and the organs of action), pulls in the outer direction, while the soul, which is a “Portion of Gd on High,” strives to reunite with its transcendent source – it pulls in the inner direction. Note that neither direction is unequivocally good or bad. What we are required to do is to strike a balance between the two. Thus, both life and death pertain to this world (the outer world) while blessing and curse pertain to the World to Come (inner world). Therefore, when Moshe exhorts us to choose life, he does not expect us to abandon this world and devote ourselves entirely to the inward direction. Rather, he exhorts us to hear/listen to obey Gd’s Voice. If we do that, we get both inner and outer rewards, and vice versa.

Now we have seen that listening to Gd’s Voice means Torah study. Torah study has a surface value – learning the laws that we have to obey Gd’s Will. This study is intellectual in nature and deals with the outer values of compliance with Gd’s Will – determination of right action through analysis of the principles of halachah and their applications. The limitation of this approach is that it is impossible to analyze every situation from first principles while trying to act in the real world – events move faster than our ability to analyze them. Therefore, codes of conduct have developed that allow us to navigate the great majority of situations, and we have access to Rabbis and scholars to help with the more difficult cases. This is what we have been doing for the last two millennia, with mixed results – we have survived, but often just barely.

The deeper level of Torah study takes an inward approach. The most profound level of Torah is the “supernal Torah,” which is the blueprint of creation, the script, so to speak, that Gd used when he spoke creation into existence. It resides in the transcendental, most inward level of life. We can experience this level of life in our own consciousness by allowing our mind to settle down and cease all its activity, transcending thought, feeling and perception. When we repeat this process of transcending often enough, our mind and body become accustomed to maintaining the transcendental value of awareness along with waking, dreaming and sleeping.

Since this transcendental level is where the “supernal Torah” is found, and since all thought and action is based on the level of our consciousness, it follows that all our thoughts and actions will be in accord with this “supernal Torah,” which is the most holistic and integrated expression of Gd’s Will. In such a situation Gd’s Voice and Gd’s Will are so woven into the fabric of our awareness that it is virtually impossible for us to contravene Gd’s Will, and we can therefore expect both outer, material flourishing, and inner, spiritual growth, as Torah promises.

The trick here is to get the mind to settle down to this transcendental level. Since the transcendent is infinitely expanded and infinitely charming to the mind, it should go there automatically. The issue is however, that we normally project the mind outward so that we can interact with the world. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, but it has to be supported by an inner counterweight. If there is no such support, our action is cut off at its root and it becomes weak, fearful, and likely to deviate from the path Gd has prescribed for us. So, as Moshe Rabbeinu tells us, we have a choice: balance our outer experience with the experience of the transcendent and enjoy life in accord with Gd’s Will and the concomitant blessings in both worlds, or the opposite. It’s a pretty obvious choice, isn’t it?

A blessed New Year to all!


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Nitzavim

In Parshat Nitzavim ,“standing”, Moses tells us that we stand before Gd as a nation, not a mere collection of people. It is love of Gd and love of one’s neighbor that binds us together and it is this same love that binds together the different aspects of our personality: our thoughts, our feelings, our body, our routines, our career, family, friends….

So love and Love, Universal Love, are vital for us to live our life in unity wholeness, not as a mere collection of fragments.

Moses tells our ancestors (and us) that Torah is not far from us, it is near, in our hearts to do. It is the Universal Love that allows us to live in Wholeness.  Moses also warns our ancestors (and us) of the desolation that we will incur if we turn from Torah, but comforts us that we will turn back and Gd will gather us together into the Promised Land.

This means that though we may sometimes close our heart and turn away from Torah, yet at any time, we can open our heart and Torah will be seen there as It Always Is (Torah is the Word of Gd, the Liveliness of Gd, never separate, always there).

When we open our heart, we are new people, descendants of the old people that we no longer are, new people, people in whom Torah and Gd are alive in our hearts, our words, our actions and in the response of Gd to us.

Moses tells us we are free to choose: the blessing of Torah, or the desolation of turning from it and he says “You shall choose life”. I am confident that our congregation is honoring Gd’s‘ words spoken through Moses, and is choosing life.

As Rosh HaShanah nears, this is a reminder that the New Year is not only a New Year in calendar time but an opportunity for a new year in our hearts, souls, thoughts, speech, action and in the response Gd gives us — a time when we open even more to Gd and we become more aware that Gd is always open to us so no part of Gd’s Face is hidden and we remember and live the Oneness which we always Are (though we may have hidden from it), and not only remember and live but enjoy everywhere, all around us, Gd/Torah singing to us, dancing to us, within us, within the sky, earth, pebbles, streams and leaves — everywhere.

Today and every day is an opportunity for the celebration of Newness – and Rosh HaShanah is especially so — New Year, New Us, New World.

A great time!

Baruch HaShem