Nitzavim (Standing)

Deuteronomy 29:9 to 30:20

choose LIFEMoses makes his final appeal to the Israelites before they enter the Promised Land. His instruction – Choose Life! – by loving God … following God’s way … following God’s commandments … How is this done?

Following are the words Moses uses as he begins his short, Final Appeal to the Israelites before they enter the Promised Land. This parsha, just thirty-nine verses, and the first eight verses of next week’s text make up this Farewell speech to the people.

“You stand this day, all of you before the Eternal you God – you tribal heads, you elders, and you officials, all the men of Israel, you children, you women, even the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to water drawer – to enter into the covenant of their Eternal your God, which the Eternal your God is concluding with you… … not with you alone, but both with those who are standing here with us this day before the Eternal our God and with those who are not with us here this day” (Deut. 22:9-14)

As he says, Moses is addressing all the people assembled before him. He specifically includes all men, all children, and all women…. The inclusion of children and women is unusual and shows the great significance of the comments that follow. … Also, with the last words of the quote – “those who are not with us this day” – he also includes those of the community who are away … and all future generations of Israelites / Hebrews / and Jews… including us.

In the discourse, Moses looks to the future and see two paths for the people: “See, I set before you this day life and prosperity, death and adversity, for I command you this day, to love the Eternal your God, to walk in God’s ways and to keep God’s commandments …. I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life – if you and your offspring would live – by loving the Eternal you God, heeding God’s commands, and holding fast to God. For thereby you shall have life and shall long endure upon the soil that the Eternal swore to your fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give to them.” (Deut. 30:15-20)

So the choice is given to the generation of Moses … and all succeeding generations including ours. Of course, we Choose Life…. As practicing Jews, we choose to “love the Eternal, to walk in God’s ways, and keep God’s commandments.” Moses also says that this applies to all our actions … including concealed acts that are know only to ourselves. These are just as important as those that are visible to the entire community. (Deut. 29:28)

So we all agree to Choose Life … To walk in God’s ways and keep God’s commandments. But where do we find an explanation of God’s ways and the listing of God’s commandments? Moses gives the answer: “Surely, this instruction which I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach. It is not in the heavens, that you should say, ‘Who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us that we may observe it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who among us can cross to the other side of the sea and get it for us and impart it to us that we may observe it?’ No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it.” (Deut. 30:11-14)

In Biblical time, laws of most nations were written and kept by the king and priests… not available to the common man. But, the Torah was accessible to all the people. The text says that the law is “close to you, in your mouth and in your heart.” The Torah of Moses was presented to the people in an oral manner … few were able to read… so the laws were verbal … laws presented by the “mouth” and then remembered in “your heart.”

Today we have a written Torah…. The laws are now as close as our bookcases.

Now as we approach the High Holidays, many of us are thinking about how we relate to these laws… how we can improve? …. Are we Choosing Life through our actions?

Choosing Life isn’t easy….Anyone can lead a “good life” without actually following God’s ways and commandments as addressed by Moses. But, by “Choosing Life” we are striving toward a better world … we are working toward Tikum Olam – repairing the world. There are many laws and commandments in Torah…. Many not commonly known. How can we follow laws that we don’t know or understand? This is where being a Jew takes some effort. Most of us are taking the first step by studying Torah and attempting to understand it. We quickly learn that it is impossible to follow all the commandments and laws. So, the second step is choosing the laws we feel that we should … and can … keep. The last step is applying these laws our lives and taking the path that allows us to Choose Life. By Choosing Life and following God’s way, we are affirming Torah, and choosing that path that leads to a better world as promised in the Torah we read every week.

Earl Sabes

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