We are soon coming to the close of yearly reading cycle on Simchat Torah. This week’s Parasha is Nitzavim, Deuteronomy 29:9 – 30:20.[i] It is normally read on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah. The Haftarah is Isaiah 61:10 – 63:9, the last of the seven Haftarot of Consolation which are read between Tisha b’Av and Rosh Hashanah. The reading this week from the Apostolic Writings is Hebrews 12:11-15.
The Parasha begins with a foundational characteristic of HaShem’s covenant with Bnei Israel: the covenant is for every Jew and every Jew should keep it. It is not just the leaders, religious (priesthood) or secular (tribal leaders) who are responsible for keeping the covenant; every single person, every man, woman, child, and even the outsider that has chosen to associate themselves with Israel and the God of Israel is to keep it.
You are standing today, all of you, before ADONAI your God—the heads of your tribes, your elders, your officials, all the men of Israel, your children, your wives, and the outsider within your camp (from your woodchopper to your water carrier). Each of you is to cross over into the covenant of ADONAI your God that He is cutting with you today, and into His oath. (Deuteronomy 29:9-11)
This all-inclusiveness assures each individual of their intrinsic worth, both in the community and before HaShem Himself. Remember the half-shekel ransom that was to be paid to the Sanctuary mentioned in Exodus 30:11-16. It was for everyone. No one could pay more, nor could anyone pay less. Before the Presence of ADONAI we all stand the same, whether we are the High Priest or the wood cutter. This is the meaning behind Rav Shaul’s words to the believers in Galicia,
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female—for you are all one in Messiah Yeshua. (Galatians 3:28)
Added to this is the fact that at the very core of Parashat Nitzavim is the notion of choice: obedience versus disobedience, blessing versus curse, life versus death. Daily we make choices on how to use our time and money, how to interact with family, friends, neighbors. We have to make choices on how we respond to other drivers on the road or to others in the stores and restaurants that we frequent. How we respond is our choice. We can be either a blessing or a curse to those with whom we interact. Therefore, the aspect of “choosing life” (Deuteronomy 30:19) not only affects us and our descendants, it affects all those around us. John Donne’s words ring true,
No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.
As we move into the Days of Awe, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it is important to remember that we are to take note of and attempt to make restitution not only for our transgressions and short comings as they relate to HaShem, but equally maybe even more importantly as they relate to our friends, family or others that we may have wronged. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews incapsulates this idea when he wrote,
Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble! And make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame will not be pulled out of joint but rather be healed. Pursue shalom with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God; and see to it that no bitter root springs up and causes trouble, and by it many be defiled. (Hebrews 12:12-15)
If the author’s admonition is correct, “Pursue shalom with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord,” then it is safe to assume that our relationship with HaShem is to a degree dependent upon our relationship with one another. We cannot walk in righteousness and peace with our God if we are not walking in righteousness and peace with our brother and sister.
Finally, as we make final preparations to enter into the Days of Awe, remember the words of HaShem through the prophet Zechariah, “Therefore tell them, thus says ADONAI-Tzva’ot, ‘Return to Me’, it is a declaration of ADONAI-Tzva’ot, ‘and I will return to you,’ says ADONAI-Tzva’ot,” (Zechariah 1:3). The LORD desires to return to His children, He is waiting on our movement toward Him.
[i] Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.