January 2023 Bulletin ref2

D’var Torah for September Board Meeting: Nitzavim – “One’s Standing”
Roy Fruiterman

Several years ago, in the time of Rabbi Cashman, I did one of my first d’var Torahs ever (a total newbie). I picked a topic on which to elaborate, from the parasha of the week, sitting around the table in the social hall (ah, for the days of in-person meetings and brownies). And Rabbi Cashman started to look uneasy – he later explained that he thought I was going to go down the same thread that he was planning to go down, for his sermon that Shabbat.

Now, this week’s Torah portion is the portion that is going to be read this weekend, and ALSO on Yom Kippur morning. So, in deference to Rabbi Weisbrot, I promised myself I would find a very narrow thread, one she would probably never use, and I’d make it short and sweet, and hope that I chose the thread into which she has no plans of looking.

This parasha is considered so important, that it is read not only this Shabbat, which is in the cycle, but again on Yom Kippur – maybe because if there’s ever a day when everyone is around to hear it, it’s that morning.

And most ironically, the thread I am choosing to explain is the very portion that I am chanting on Yom Kippur morning. This was an accident. When I learned to chant this Torah portion before, I did not know what I was saying; I truly just memorize the melody, which helps get one through the words (by the way, this is not singular to me; ask any of us chanters who don’t know fluent Hebrew). But this year, thanks to this d’var Torah research that I have done, I’ll actually know what I am saying as I’m chanting.

In this week’s Torah portion, Nitzavim, Moses is nearing the end of his speech to the Israelites, urging them to live righteously when they move across the Jordan River without him.

Moses starts with a grand declaration:

“You are all standing this day before the Lord, your God, the leaders of your tribes, your elders and your officers, every man of Israel, your young children, your women, and your convert who is within your camp, both your woodcutters and your water drawers, that you may enter the covenant of the Lord, your God, and His oath, which the Lord, your God, is making with you this day, in order to establish you this day as His people, and that He will be your God, as He spoke to you, and as He swore to your forefathers to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”

He’s including everyone! – but not really everyone.

These are not the same people that accepted the covenant before – this population  was born into it, in the desert.

And God takes it further: those who are not here with us today (implied: not yet born). In other words, all of their future descendants. God places obligations on those who are not even born yet.

God gives the Israelites a choice:

See, I set before you this day life and prosperity, death and adversity (Deut. 30:15).

רְאֵ֨ה נָתַ֤תִּי לְפָנֶ֙יךָ֙ הַיּ֔וֹם אֶת־הַֽחַיִּ֖ים וְאֶת־הַטּ֑וֹב וְאֶת־הַמָּ֖וֶת וְאֶת־הָרָֽע׃

Life and good…death and evil…pretty heavy stuff.

Also, this is reminiscent of two things earlier in the Torah:

– Sodom and Gomorrah: they pay the price for your actions;

– Adam and Eve: taking fruit from the tree, pay the price.

So, if the Israelites keep the covenant (or reject the Sodom lifestyle, or not eat of the Tree of Life), God will grant you Life and Goodness.

Also, we are supposed to learn that we are all responsible for each other’s actions and decisions. Choose the wrong one? (Sodom) – it won’t only rain stones down on you alone – but on everyone. So when we make a decision – ethical, moral, behavioral – we need to consider others when we make that decision. Our choice will have outcomes for others as well.

Practical example: choose to not volunteer for an event at B’nai Sholom – the responsibilities will fall on fewer – or, the event may be cancelled.

One other point God might be making:

We also need to make up for any of those who do not make the right decision. What’s implied here: yes, there are those who may deliberately not follow God’s commandments – but there are also those who don’t have the ability / the resources / the knowledge to make the good decisions. Example: those with physical or cognitive disabilities.

So it is our responsibility to act on their behalf…from where, one could argue, we get Judaism’s investment in Social Action.

B'nai Sholom Albany NY