Torah Portion: Nitzavin (Standing) & Vayelech Devarim (Deuteronomy) 29-31
HafTorah: Isaiah 61:10-63:9
Tonight we read a double portion of Torah, Nitzavim – or Stand, and Vayelech or When You Go. These are always read the two weeks before Yom Ha Truah, which in traditional Judaism begins the ten day period of repentance and soul searching leading up to Yom Kippur. It is fitting that they both speak of repentance and our need to allow the light of G-d to be turned on our lives, that we can grasp who we really are before Him as apposed to who we thing we are. I am sure we all can benefit from such a time. We have all experienced the feeling of being alone spiritually, as if G-d has abandoned us.
Tonight I want to look at our way to recover from this spiritual feeling and even if we feel it is true, has G-d truly abandoned us? To start us on our journey let us look at Deut. 30:3. Please pay attention to the first words of this verse. Translated in English as, ‘G-d will return your exiles.” A more accurate translation based on the verb return would be, “G-d will return with your exiles. This shows that when the people were in exile, G-d was with them. Genesis 48:21 bears out this point. Joseph, in speaking before his death, tells his brothers of the future. They will spend many years in exile but he says, “G-d will be with you.” Psalms 91:15 says, “I am with him in distress.” These verses all point to the fact that G-d does not abandon us in our spiritual exile. We may be unaware of His presence but that is our problem. We have moved. He has not. Our sins have caused a barrier between us but repentance breaks that barrier down and restores our relationship to the Father.
A beautiful picture of how G-d in some ways suffers with us is shown in the story of the burning bush when He calls Moses. (Exodus 3:1-4) Here we see G-d appearing in a burning thorn bush, not a beautiful palm tree giving Moses and us a picture of Him suffering the pricks of the thorns as we suffer the effect of exile from Him. He yearns for our return. He waits for us with open arms. Our role in this reunion is that of repentance.
In Deut. 30:15 we see it set out clearly, life or death, good or evil. The choice is ours. Life and good return us to the Father, death and evil drive us away. The choice is ours. He does not twist our arm. So how are we to make this choice? On the surface we would surely choose life and good but is that really the case? Remember, apply this to our spiritual life or death. When scripture speaks of life it means growing closer to G-d, refining our physical being, facing life and its challenges and growing through them. Death on the other hand, can be taking the easy way out, choosing the more comfortable option. Our physical self prefers to avoid challenges. It is more inclined to pick the easiest way rather than grappling with challenges. In the New Testament we see it referred to as the battle between flesh and spirit. Our spirit has the opposite pull. It would push us toward spiritual growth. It would urge us onward saying, “Don’t take the easy way out. So Moses here is telling the people to choose life, to do good. Don’t give in to the pull of the flesh to take a nap and hope everything will be better. That will lead us to spiritually feel like the people in 31:17-18. (G-d is no longer with us). We might wake up one day and realize that during our nap we have drifted far away from G-d. We have lost our way.
The solution is repentance, turning around, recognizing who we truly are as G-d’s people and changing our actions. We are what we do in many ways. Part of repentance is to change how we act, how we interact, how we spend our time. Then we find our way again and find Him again.