Friday, September 26, 2008

Parshat Nitzavim - פרשת נצבים

"אתם ניצבים היום כולכם לפני ה' אלוקיכם ראשיכם זקניכם ושוטריכם כל איש ישראל."
"You are standing today, all of you, before Hashem your God: Your heads, your tribes, your elders, and your officers - all the men of Israel."
(D'varim, 29:9)

" love Hashem, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live." (D'varim, 30:6)

This weel's Parsha, Nitzavim, is always read the week before Rosh Hashanah. It is not surprising to see the theme of T'shuva appear often in this specific Parsha. In the two quotes above we may focus on the words "כולכם - Kulchem - all of you," and on "למען חייך - L'ma'an Hayecha - So that you may live."

Judaism is unlike Buddhism, for example, in that it is a very active religion. To somebody who is not Jewish or non-observant, it can seem very ritualistic. Judaism has many actions that have to be performed, and many otherwise mundane activities, eating for example, are to be brought into a religious framework by reciting a Bracha. The idea is that we may enjoy from the bounty of this beautiful world, but we have to realise the source of this blessing, we have to thank Hashem for providing us with even the most basic nutrition. It is not enough to simply understand this, it is a continual process. There are two words for an angel in Ivrit, one is "מלך - Malach," and the other is "ניצב - Nitzav." Nitzav means standing, not moving stagnant. That is certainly not a human quality. Man is a progressing being, we continually have to work on ourselves. One of the names for man in Ivrit is "מהלך - M'halech." M'halech comes from the root Halach, mean to go forward. If we allow ourselves to stagnate, we are not fulfilling our purpose. One of the main causes for depression in this world is the feeling of stagnation, of being stuck in a rut. No wonder that our name indicates exactly what we want, what we should truly be; a creature that progresses, a being that builds.

This week's Parsha quotes God as saying: "Behold! I have put before you this day, life and good, death and evil... the blessing and the curse. Choose life in order that you will live, you and your descendants." (Deut. 30:15 - 19)

Both life and death are in front of us. Both are equally available. But how do we "choose life?" Surely we don't "choose" life - that's like saying we "choose to breathe!" The difference is really in how we choose to live. Do we merely soldier on, or do we build, create, really live? Existing is easy, but living requires active participation and choice. We can go through a whole year just existing, but living requires 365 days of choosing life. The Torah is telling us that mere existence equal death. Because if we're not growing, we're decaying. I recently learned a great lesson.

If somebody asks you to tell them who you are in one minute, you will most likely laugh in their face. It's impossible! How can a mere 60 seconds hold everything that's happened to you, that is currently happening to you, and that you hope will happen to you? Now suppose they gave you 5 minutes? Or how about 10, 15 or 20? An hour? A day? It's still impossible.

Now suppose they gave you a lifetime. God gave every one of us a lifetime in which to tell the story of our souls, to get to know ourselves, perfect ourselves, and make a real contribution to the world. That is what life is all about.

You cannot have a meaningful life if you only occasionally do something meaningful. Meaningful lives require many meaningful moments. But how can you make meaningful choices every day? What is there to choose from? For choices to be real and meaningful, there have to be consequences. Choices that have the greatest consequence are the most meaningful. For example, the day you decided to get married or the day you decided on your career were your most meaningful days. You grew as a person because you made choices. People who don't make choices... don't change and don't grow up!

I quote the following from a message I received from Dan Illouz, the creator of

The time of the year we are now in is a time of Teshuvah. Teshuvah is often translated as repentance. However, in Hebrew, Teshuvah really means return. What are we exactly returning to?

We all know about the regular Teshuvah – you sin, feel bad, decide not to sin again and therefore "repent". However, there is a much deeper level of Teshuvah. Rav Avraham Itzhak Hakohen Kook explains that when the world was created, God purposely create a discrepancy between his plan for the world and the outcome of the creation. The example that Rav Kook often gives is called Sod Hanesira – the secret of the separation. We are taught that when men and women were first created, they were linked together back to back. However, afterwards, God moved away from his plan and separated men and women. Now, it has become our job to re-connect with our soul mate. When we finally reconnect with our soul mate and get married to them, our connection is so much stronger because it is not a simply physical connection, but it also has a strong spiritual component. On top of that, it is a connection which was created by us, not by God – this makes it much more powerful because we are the ones who have aligned our own actions to God's original will.

The same is true of the whole world. I won't go into textual proofs but the text of the torah itself shows us that the world as created was different than the world as planned by God. Rav Kook teaches that the reason for this discrepancy is that the world would be created not in a static way, but as a constantly evolving world, a dynamic world which evolves towards going back to the world God wanted it to be at first.

With that in mind, I wish you a Shabbat Shalom, and a good lead-up into Rosh Hashanah.

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