July 14, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

This last sedra of the year, Nitzavim, seems perfect as a precursor to Rosh Hashanah. It begins by stressing the unity of the Jewish people: “You are all here together, from the heads of the tribes to the simple citizens; the men, the women and the children; the natural-born citizens as well as the converts.” It even includes all those who are not present today: our past ancestors, as well as our future descendants.

The sedra reiterates the mutual bond and covenant that exists between us and the Eternal: “You will be My people, and I will be your God.” The two, opposite paths of this relationship are clearly defined: There is a rather fearful warning of what can (and will) happen to us if we stray from the way of Hashem—plagues, fire and brimstone, exile from our land, utter devastation; and a much more pleasant promise of the manifold blessings that will be ours if and when we keep the covenant—prosperity, an abundance of children, victory over all of our enemies and redemption.

All this in one of the shortest parshiyot in the entire Torah!

I suggest that the key to all these momentous events appears in just a very few pesukim where one basic word is repeated over and over again:

“V’shavta ad Hashem Elokecha, you shall return to Hashem your God”;

“V’shav Hashem Elokecha et sh’vutcha, and Hashem will return and redeem you from your captivity”;

“V’shav v’kibetzcha mikol ha-amim, and you shall return and be gathered together from all of the nations”;

“V’ata tashuv v’shamata b’kol Hashem, and you shall return and hearken to the voice of Hashem”;

“Ki tashuv b’chol l’vavcha u’v’chol nafshecha, for you have returned with all your heart and all your soul.”

This central word, of course, is lashuv, to return, and it is the root and the very essence of this process we call teshuva.

Our primary mission, you see, is to return. To return to a time when we were pure, innocent, without sin. When we were less cynical and more wholesome, less critical and more idealistic, less pessimistic and more optimistic.

To return to Hashem—Who loves us eternally, performs daily miracles on our behalf and passionately wants us to reach our fullest potential, if only we choose to walk His path.

And, of course, to return as a nation to Israel—the only land which Hashem created specifically for us, the land “upon which the eyes of God are perpetually focused,” the one land on the planet where our Divine destiny can be most fully realized.

Teshuva, of course, has yet another meaning: the answer. Ironically, even as we go forward to a new year, we must at the same time also go back, we must work to return to being the holy vessel; the pure, pristine person that we were created to be. If the question is, “How can I merit yet another year of life?” then the answer is chadesh yameinu k’kedem, help us to renew ourselves to be as we once were. That is the teshuva, the answer; that is the challenge that lies before us.

May all of our tefillot be answered by Hashem for good—this year and all years.


Rabbi Stewart Weiss is director of the Ra’anana Jewish Outreach Center ([email protected]), leads kosher tours around the world and is a member of the Mizrachi Speakers Bureau (mizrachi.org/speakers).

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