Shabbat Nitzavim 5777
Rabbi Steinhardt's Sermons

Shabbat Nitzavim 5777

Shabbat Shalom

Last Shabbat as the winds were kicking up, I thought about how meaningful it is to have Shabbat in life’s most difficult moments.

Everything felt uncertain. We didn’t know how bad the storm would be. And then comes Shabbat and it, artificially perhaps, imposes a feeling of order.
This is what we would do. We prepared meals with the kids, we set a beautiful table, something not typically done before a storm. We ate well, we did Kiddush with special fervor, and we joined in song. And I felt this profound connection to that which is essentially a Biblical assumption. It is what the Creation story is about.

Here’s what I think. We have choices as to how we see this world. For some it is all random. For others, it is predetermined. For others yet, the world exists somewhere in between. Some things are random, some things are built into the works of creation. For many this is one place where God is found.

The Biblical author wanted to establish a perspective on Creation. And that is that the world is not one grand mistake or one big accident. Rather, there is order to creation and to the world. There is a purpose and our challenge is to find that purpose, or at least find our role in it.

A few chapters later there is a great flood. And the wisdom of the Bible is to say that it was not a cosmic mistake. Rather, the flood occurred because of human behavior. And so now we have another layer that overlays the cosmos. And that is to say, we make a difference. What we do matters.

Now during the days of the “mabul” that may not have had as much scientific resonance as it does today. Because today we see, we do have a role in these unsettling weather events. Yesterday, I wrote about the impact of global warming on the ferocity of the flooding and the intensity of the winds, as well as the size of the tide’s surge.

Our tradition always wants us to know – we matter. Not only in terms of the value of every life, but we matter in terms of the decisions that we make… every decision can have importance. And, we are part of system to keep this world in order, or orderly.

And one of the ways that order is retained, a way that has everything to do with you and me… all of us, is through teshuvah. We are in the month where this is the primary religious concern.

And, in a meaningful way the juxtaposition of the Torah reading of this week, and our place in the calendar, and the events of the world enlightens all of this.

So let’s dig in.

This is the end of Moses’ leadership. It is a dramatic time for the people. They will enter the Land without the leader who brought them to that moment. They needed Moses. They depended on Moses. Undoubtedly, they loved Moses. Moses was going up Mt. Nebo to die.

And he gives his last speech to the people. He challenges them with the covenant. He reminds them that their behavior will have something to do with the rewards and punishments they will experience.

He says the words that you are familiar with: “See, I set before you this day, life and prosperity, death and adversity.” He exhorts: “Choose life”… How do you live? He continues, “By loving Adonai your God.”

What you see is the following. Although, the people are to make the correct choices, no one ultimately does all the time. And so Moses is presenting a new concept. We are not doomed by mistakes or sins. Rather, we can choose to return, we can come back. We can recreate a life with meaning and order and goodness and. We can make a mistake and return to a life of morality, ethics and mitzvot.

But I think there is another dimension here that we must consider. And it’s not the aspect of our personalities, psychological mind set, or of free will, that allows us to change… it’s also the fact that there is a God who accepts us in our imperfection, waits for us to return and, in fact, loves us.

And that’s really powerful. And that image provides a metaphor for our lives.
So, it’s not only about being forgiven, but it’s also about forgiving.

Here’s the essence… your kids leave home. He or she goes off to school or camp, or marriage. Do you know the most important thing that child can feel? It’s a sense that “I’ll be here for you.” Go on with life, but know that I’m here for you.

That’s what God is saying in the parshah.

We marry, we’re in relationships and we make mistakes. We say something we shouldn’t have said, we are negligent, we are mistrustful, we are sarcastic… we do these things. But the essence of Teshuvah consciousness is that, we will accept the other even as they make mistakes. And our arms will be open when they want to return.

I will always be here for you.

This month we read the most beautiful of Psalm. Psalm 29. And you know it speaks of the uncertainty of life, the great challenges that life presents and in that, there’s an assurance that God will be here. So the Psalmist says…though my father and mother leave me, God will not abandon you.
And therein lies great comfort.

BECAUSE A PERSON OF FAITH, A PERSON WHO FEELS THE PRESENCE OF GOD IS NEVER ALONE.

This then brings me to another idea. And that is that the comfort of teshuvah allows for healing. We heal when we move towards doing what’s right, when we participate in the repairing of the world. We heal when we choose life.

Finally, I want to add that we can’t wait. We can’t wait to do what needs to be done in the world. We can’t wait to be a little better and be kinder.

The call is great and it is present.

And our beautiful tradition recognizes that. We see three times a day, every day, we are called to teshuvah.

And we know that it will always be accepted.

As we learn, the gates of teshuvah never close.

Shabbat Shalom