Nitzavim–Choose Life!

© Soulmaps, Jill Minkoff

by Jill Minkoff

We/I again read Nitzavim. The words are the same each time we/I read it. That’s a fact! And yet, there are so many variables that go into the actual experience and impact this reading has on me, and perhaps you as well. Sometimes, it’s a reminder that we are ending the Jewish year and that we are close to culminating the annual Torah reading cycle. Sometimes, there is a verse or a word that catches our attention because someone is focusing on it in a d’var torah, or because they’re scrutinizing each sentence to glean that which is personally meaningful in the moment. Often (for me), there is a wake-up call, shaking one into reality.

“I have set before you this day life and prosperity, death and adversity. For I [Moses] command you this day, to love the Lord your God, to walk in God’s ways, and to keep God’s commandments, God’s laws, and God’s rules, that you may thrive and increase, and that the Lord your God may bless you in the land that you are about to enter and possess. But if your heart turns away and you give no heed, and are lured into the worship and service of other gods, I declare to you this that you shall certainly perish; you shall not long endure on the soil that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth……I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life….” (Deuteronomy/D’varim 30:15-19, JPS with gender neutrality for God added)

Whoa! Reading these words now with the consciousness of being an “elder” (I still can’t believe that I’m an “elder”) my attention is piqued. I wonder, how have I lived so much of life without fully being cognizant or observant of the full set of commandments in the covenant inherited from my people, my ancestors…none-the-less having both consciously and unconsciously chosen only a subset to be part of my life’s beliefs and behaviors? And then there is the question about my role in the community. What is the impact on our collectiveness as a people because I’ve taken the actions that I have lived?

If you’re like me, you might also be reading something else and finding meaning in the surprising intersections and connections. Having recently read Joseph Albers’ The Interaction of Color, I am caught in the surprise that a color isn’t always the color that we think it is. Yes, the wavelength may be the same from use to use; yet, depending on the placement of that color relative to other colors, it may appear different! Albers calls this the difference between “factual” and “actual.” [FACTual is measurable and steadfast like the wavelength of a color; ACTual is the changing perception and understanding of it in the midst of a setting or an ACTion.]

One of the “facts” we are reminded of in Nitzavim is that we have inherited the covenant that God entered into with our ancestors. This covenant is articulated in various parts of the Torah. Those words don’t change; they are “fact.” Through the generations, the meaning, interpretation, and understanding of these words are understood in the context of that generation’s communal and individual perspectives. They are the ACTuality of our being in covenant with God at this time.

Today as I am in the ACT of reading these verses, I see the need for a collective consciousness that guides our collective actions… not just a personal “survival of the fittest” mentality. This is what Moses was saying in his era. And yes, God speaks to us even now.

Like (or unlike) our ancestors, are we mature enough to listen and hear? Or, are we still the children running gleefully in the playground and throwing dirt at other children without regard, without empathy, without understanding, without maturity? We’re all in this together. The curses and the blessings are in front of us–not just me–which do we choose? Will we choose life?

As we learn in the era in which we live, there are worldwide implications of our composite impact. It is not just “one” of us, it is the “community” of us that have gone astray from caring for the planet, our communities, the environment, creation and life.

We are not just our individual selves that can each thrive alone. We are an interrelated community of all beings, all creations. And this Torah, these commandments aren’t in the heavens [see Deut. 30:12]. This is here on earth and in the realms of planetary systems and galaxies and universes. We must each do our part to be part of the greater greatness. Whether we believe in a Oneness (aka: God) or not, we are in this together. There is no escaping; we are on the same precipice (as humanity) at this time as the Jewish people were when Moses shared God’s words to the descendants of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah and Rachel as they were being entered into the covenant with God.

In the past month, we have experienced the collective mourning of destruction and deaths experienced on Tisha B’Av. We are days away from the time of teshuva, of turning back to God, of making amends with those in our communities, of being chosen for the Book of Life or the Book of Death, which are closed at the culmination of the Days of Atonement.

Choose Life!


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