How To Choose Life

So that your children may live.

Commentary on Parashat Nitzavim, Deuteronomy 29:9 - 30:20

Maybe it is not coincidental that this Torah portion comes right before Rosh Hashanah when so many flock to the synagogue. And each year there are more people sitting in the pews who come from different religious backgrounds, a direct result of the increasing numbers of interfaith families in our communities. If the giving of the Torah is the central event of the Jewish people, as most will agree, then the primary teaching of that experience is summarized in this core text from this week’s Torah portion:

You stand this day all of you before the Lord your God; the captains of your tribes, your elders, and your officers, with all the men of Israel. Your little ones, your wives, and the stranger who is in your camp, from the hewer of your wood to the one who draws your water. . . And not with you alone will I make this covenant and this oath. But with the one who stands here with us this day before the Lord our God, and also with the one who is not here with us this day. (Deuteronomy 29:9-14)

We are all on this historical journey together, even when we disagree, even when our perspectives conflict with one another. That much is clear. It was perhaps our standing together at Sinai that gives us the strength to continue on the journey, no matter its difficulty.

But there is more to Moses‘ astonishing final message that is recorded in the Torah. If it weren’t so important, why else would we be standing for it? And if you believe as I do that the giving of Torah was not limited to that individual mountain experience — that we can still hear the echoes of that revelation across time, that we need only listen if we want to hear God’s voice speaking — then the principal significance of Moses’ concluding address to the people is unmistakable.

The covenantal community is expansive enough to include those who stood at that moment at Sinai, as well as those who were strangers and yet still were welcome to dwell among the people, and the many who were not present at the time.

But the Deuteronomy text is not finished. It continues, “Choose life so you and your children may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19) We have been presented with that option once again in our time. We can choose life so that all of our children may live. I pray that we make the right choice and welcome in the “strangers in our midst” and “those who are not [yet] with us.”

Let’s open the door to the Jewish community wide this High Holiday season so that many “strangers” may walk through it.

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