on Wednesday, 12 September 2012. Posted in Torah Talks
This coming week we celebrate the final Shabbat of the year, which means that our Torah portion is one of the great sections of the entire year, Nitzavim: you stand here today, all of you, the oldest to the youngest, from the wealthiest to the poorest, the most famous to the humblest, the leaders of your community and the strangers visiting with you. You are all part of the covenant with the Lord your God. You, and every other generation to come who will be descended from you. This great b'rit, this covenant affirms that you will be God's people, and God will be your Lord.
This confirms that we are part of a profound and eternal tradition, a connection to our ancestors that will be carried forward to our descendants. Each of us, all of us are part of this remarkable compact. It is an extraordinarily democratic and egalitarian agreement with God, a b'rit that is shared with everyone regardless of gender or age: children and women stand with men here, not always the case at the time of the Torah-or even today.
So it's a very special covenant. But what is the content of the mitzvah that we are now to observe?
At the climax of our Torah portion we are told "ki hamitzvah hazot asher anochi m'tzav'cha hayom, lo nifleit hi mimcha--Look, this mitzvah that I command you today is not too awesome for you, and it's not beyond your reach. It's not in the heavens that you should say, 'Who among us can go up to the heavens and take it for us and teach it to us so that we may do it?' It's not across the sea that you should say 'Who among us can cross over the sea and bring it back to us so that we may do it.' No, it's very close to you, already in your mouth and in your heart to do it."
As Rabbi Lawrence Kushner says, "So the Torah is not somewhere else. It's already in us. We're made of it... Torah is already coded into our protoplasm, our DNA. And that's why it feels so good to live by the Torah, the way of all being: we're just doing what we've been designed for from the very beginning."
Perhaps the mitzvah that Nitzavim speaks about is no more than becoming aware of the presence of Torah in our midst-or, more precisely, of the presence of God in the here and now.
In this season we prepare for our Teshuvah, our return and repentance. But if God is here right now, then Teshuvah is a way of becoming aware that Torah is in our mouths and hearts. This may truly be the mother of all mitzvot, all commandments-for all the other commandments are merely human refractions of the one mitzvah, the awareness of God's presence. And teshuvah simply means God saying "Return to Me, again become aware of Me always in your life."
A great thing to remember as we approach Rosh Hashanah--and always.
May you be blessed with a Shanah Tovah Umetukah--a good and sweet New Year, filled with the awareness of God's presence.