Shabbat Shalom. It is good to see so many of you here this morning, just a handful of days Rosh Hashanah and the High Holy Day season. But before we get to a whole new year, I want to spend a few minutes thinking about the week that has just passed. If you could count the number of times you left your house and went out somewhere - anywhere - the grocery store, the drug store, the doctor’s office, a friend’s house, etc. How much running around would you have done this week? How many different places were you; 10, 15, 20? Now I want you to think about the number of times you have stopped and looked at a flowering tree, smelled the fresh air, smiled at a stranger, in short how many times you have paused to appreciate and think about your life. How many times did you think about the things you’ve done right or wrong this week? If you are like me, and most other people, you have probably spent much more time running around to keep up with your life than you have enjoying or contemplating your life. Earlier this week I got home at 5:45pm then had to run to the grocery store to pick up something for dinner and then upon returning had to go right back out after discovering a family member was out of a daily medicine that they needed right then! There was little standing. Lots of going. In fact, this is so much a part of our lives that I honestly feel a little silly to even point it out. However, I point it out this morning because of a commentary I once read on our portion.
To understand what I mean we have to talk about Nitzavim-Vayelekh. Specifically we need to talk about the name of the portion. You see, names always mean something in the Torah and the name Nitzavim-Vayelech contradicts itself. Nitzavim means “to stand”. Vayelech means “and to go.” This raises the question, how do we both stand and go simultaneously? This is a seemingly impossible task. However, I once read that the dilemma is easily resolved if you do not translate the word “vayelech” to mean “and to go,” but rather use the equally valid translation of “but [then] to go.” I have never forgotten this interpretation because it is a truism that anyone who has ever tried to move forward with their lives eventually comes to realize. We cannot truly move forward until we have first taken a stand, paused and evaluated our lives.
But at this time of year our tradition always asks us to stop and evaluate ourselves, to do a Heshbon Nefesh - a literal accounting of the soul. Sometimes however this is a daunting task. It is no fun to acknowledge our many personal failures as compared to our achievements. However here too the Torah contains words of wisdom. We read this morning: כִּ֚י הַמִּצְוָ֣ה הַזֹּ֔את אֲשֶׁ֛ר אָֽנֹכִ֥י מְצַוְּךָ֖ הַיּ֑וֹם לֹֽא־נִפְלֵ֥את הִוא֙ מִמְּךָ֔ וְלֹֽא־רְחֹקָ֖ה הִֽוא: - For the commandment that I command you this day: it is not too extraordinary for you, it is not too far away! It is not in the heavens for you to say: who will go up for us to the heavens and get it for us and have us hear it, that we may observe it? And it is not across the sea, for you to say: Who will cross for us, across the sea, and get it for us and have us hear it, that we may observe it? Rather, near to you is the word, exceedingly, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it!
It is a beautiful verse that raises an interesting question. You see, the text says: “ THE commandment” that I command you this day, not the “commandments.” The question then arises, to which commandment is Moses referring? As with most questions from the commentators, there are multiple answers. One answer I find particularly meaningful is found in a book entitled the “Book of Principles.” There we read: “The text is certainly alluding to teshuvah, repentance. A pointer to this are the words: “in your mouth and in your heart to do it.” Teshuvah involves confession of the lips and remorse of the heart. The phrase: “it is not in heaven...” places an even greater value on teshuvah, implying that no effort is too great, even if it involves ascending to heaven, in order to achieve repentance.
Thus we see that we are not only specifically commanded to do teshuvah, we see that it can indeed be achieved, if only we commit our whole heart and mind to doing it. With effort we can change our patterns of thought and behavior. We can learn to give the other person the benefit of the doubt, to have more patience, etc. We can do it and we must, for ourselves and for those around us. There comes a time when we must stop and take a stand. That time is now. Then, starting Wednesday evening, we can move forward together into a new year full of joy and hope.