September 2018, Parshat Nitzavim

Dear friends,

As we enter the high holidays I often feel like I cannot believe another year has flown by. For me, different festivals and seasons evokes a sense that time is flying and this time of the year is no different.

Rosh Hashanah is one of the highlights in the Jewish calendar as we reflect on the year that was and make amends with our fellow humans before asking for a good year ahead. I hope to see many of you over the upcoming high holiday period where we can celebrate together and consider our goals for the year ahead.

This weeks’ Parsha, Parshat Nitzavim, is always read the week before Rosh Hashanah. It contains some of the most fundamental mitzvot (commandments) in Judaism, including the future times of the Mashiach (Messiah), the exile of the Jewish people and the importance of obeying Torah law. It also describes how humans have free will to decide for themselves and conveys the importance of choosing goodness over evil.

This week’s Parsha starts by describing the unity of the Jewish people standing before G-d to receive the Parsha’s commandments. Interestingly, the Torah describes the people of Israel standing before G-d to receive the commandments by noting that all the people, from the most important leaders down to the lowliest persons who hewed wood and drew water were present.

The commentators tell us that naming each group of people present, from the leaders down, was an important way to show that at that moment the Jewish people were unified as one.

This unity was crucial to demonstrating the Jewish people’s preparedness for receiving Torah law and instruction just prior to entering the land of Israel where they would no longer have Moshe to guide them.

This is the precise reason why Parshat Nitzavim is always read before Rosh Hashanah as it demonstrates our need for unity and preparedness as we enter into a most sacred and serious time.

Comparing Rosh Hashanah to the Gregorian new year is almost amusing. While New Year’s celebrations on 31 December usually take the form of parties and drinking, the Jewish approach requires more introspection and self-refinement.

Last Saturday night Selichot began. Selichot are special poems and prayers that are recited in preparation of the Jewish new year ahead. In addition to Selichot, the entire month of Elul the Shofar is sounded each day as a way to call our hearts back to G-d and to make amends with our colleagues and families that we may have fought with over the year or offended.

The preparation for Jewish new year is marked by a somewhat sombre approach in which we seriously reflect, and it is through this refinement of self we connect to holiness. We also take this time to reflect on the areas of Jewish observance we can improve on and goals for self-growth for the year ahead.

As Parshat Nitzvaim notes, we as the Jewish people have the freedom to choose our paths. The time we are given leading up to Rosh Hashanah is a gift that should not be wasted. The potential for growth is immense and as we enter this most sacred and holy time let us work towards the best year possible ahead.

We wish for you and your families a meaningful Rosh Hashanah ahead. We look forward to seeing you in Shule.

Shana Tova to you and your families,

Rabbi Gabi and Mushka