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Nitzavim Vayelech 2020

After the severe reprimands in last week’s portion, this double sedra has a completely different mood, and contains some of the Torah’s most emotional language. For the last time, Moshe assembles the entire congregation to initiate them into a covenant with God and delivers a powerful and inspirational message. He declares that the Torah is binding on all generations, present and future, and warns of the consequences that will befall the Jews if they abandon its path.

Nitzavim means “standing firm” and infers a powerful stance of pride and dignity. By standing together irrespective of status, and taking on a collective responsibility for fellow Jews, we redefine ourselves as a part of a greater unified whole.

Vayeilech, in contrast to standing firm, is about moving on, as Moshe bids farewell to his beloved people and transfers the leadership to Joshua. His words still resonate with us today - “Chazak v’ematz” – be strong and courageous.

At first glance, the two sidrot appear to suggest contradictory ideas of standing firm and moving on. Yet if we delve deeper into their inner meaning, the concepts are complimentary. In Nitzavim we commit ourselves to standing together. Only then, once firmly rooted, do we permit ourselves in Vayeilech to move forward and seek new possibilities.

The Torah was intended to be the everlasting possession of the entire people, so we learn of the annual public reading that was to take place – the commandment of HaKhel. Every seven years during Succot, the people were to assemble at the Temple to listen to the king read from Devarim. Until the destruction of the Temple, HaKhel was the single most inclusive gathering of the Jewish people. The energy at this gathering replicated the experience at Mount Sinai. The Torah defined the power of group dynamics over 3,000 years ago, and today it is clear that teamwork inspires us to greater accomplishment. HaKhel activities provide an opportunity for Jewish people to gather together to recharge their spirituality, whether through organized gatherings for Torah study or moments of reflection or a shared prayer.

As we approach Rosh Hashanah, we must strengthen our resolve to stand firm by living up to the Torah’s expectation, and at the same time also move forward spiritually. As Moshe states, the Torah is easily available to everyone. “It is not hidden from you, nor is it remote…rather, it is very close to you – in your mouth and in your heart – to perform it”.

May we succeed in our resolutions and may we be granted a healthy and a good New Year. Shana Tova.

Margery Cohen

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