Author’s Note on Parshat Nitzavim

Author's Note on Parshat Nitzavim

Date: September 9, 2018
29 Elul 5778, Erev Rosh Hashanah

Atem Nitzavim Hayom Kulchem Lif’ney Hashem. You are all standing here today before G-d. The leaders of tribes, the elders, and everyone from the senior officer to the water carrier and wood chopper were all standing to hear G-d’s message. He then called Heaven and Earth as witnesses to what is our ultimate choice “I have put before you life and death, the blessing and the curse; and [therefore] choose life!”

Parshat Nitzavim reminds us that G-d is very concerned with the choices we make. Throughout the Torah, we are constantly confronted with the requirement to choose a way of life. Indeed, our first introduction to the covenant at Sinai was when G-d said “IF you listen to my voice, you will be a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation.” The choice is and always has been our own.

In making our choice, consider why G-d chose to tell us specifically to choose life. G-d set before us life and death, good and bad, the blessing and the curse. I can understand why we shouldn’t choose death or bad or the curses. But why not choose “good”? Why not choose “blessing”?

In truth, we really have no ability to choose “good” or “blessing.” What seems to be good today might turn out not to be so good once we know all the facts. What we think is cursing us today may really be a “blessing in disguise.” If we were told to choose “good” or choose “blessing,” the Torah would be presenting us with an impossible task. We cannot choose an outcome.

Life is not an outcome – it is a direction. To “choose life” means to choose to live your life a certain way with a certain path. How we exercise our choices in life will determine whether and how we bring G-d into this world.

At the same time, we cannot become so caught up in debating our choices of life that we neglect to live it. During the Rosh Hashanah season, we contemplate the image of G-d sealing us in the Book of Life. Parshat Nitzavim with its dictate to “choose life” comes to remind us that being inscribed in the Book of Life for another year means we are commanded to take action — make a choice as to how we are going to live during the upcoming year.

In that spirit, I wanted to share a series of interesting questions (published in a 1996 article by Rabbi William Gershom) that might help us consider our direction during this Rosh Hashanah and remind us of the importance of choosing the right direction in life.

Your children have seen you dance; have they seen you pray?
They have seen you play golf; have they seen you make Shabbat?
Your children have seen you lift a cocktail glass; have they seen you lift a Kiddush cup?
Your children have seen you read the latest novel; have they seen you read the Torah?
Your children have seen us shop; have they seen us give Tzedakah?
They have heard us gossip; have they seen us learn?
They know our politics; do they know our beliefs?
They will remember what they saw. Will they remember that they are Jews?