Rabbi Weisblum's Commentary on ParshaNetzavim-Vayelech Published in the Baltimore Jewish Times on September 10, 2004
This Shabbat is the 25th day of Elul, the anniversary of the creation of the world, and the start of the Slichot prayer for forgiveness. In just a few days, on Rosh Hashanah, we will hear the sound of the shofar, together with our families, neighbors, and friends, and spend time in prayer and introspection. We will give thanks for the ways in which we have been blessed, and strive to improve our relationships by asking forgiveness and making amends. We will acknowledge G-d as the creator and ruler of the universe, and renew and strengthen our commitment to a Jewish way of life. And we will pray for a sweet new year—a peaceful year.
This Shabbat also marks the third anniversary of the tragedy of September 11, 2001, when thousands of innocent lives were lost to terrorism. The coinciding of these two seemingly incongruous events compels us to ask: How do we remain grateful to G-d for creating the world and blessing us with life, when we see that there are those who oppose freedom and peace and who aim to destroy the lives of others? And we ask ourselves, how can our individual actions, prayers, and resolutions have any positive effect on the confrontation with evil that is now brewing in many parts of the globe?
An answer can be found in this week’s Torah portions, Netzavim-Vayelech. On the very last day of his life, Moshe, at the age of 120, gathers the entire Jewish nation together and asks them to reaffirm their acceptance of the Torah. Without hesitation and of their own free will, every single Jew agrees to keep the Torah’s commandments and honor the Jewish people’s partnership with G-d.
Today, too, every Jew has a choice. Each one of us has the free will to decide how to direct our thoughts and actions. Moshe’s message to the Jewish people is "Choose life!"—and these words speak directly to us now, just as they did long ago. Each of us can choose to hold on firmly to the principles and values of the Torah—our Tree of Life. Each of us can choose to do one more mitzvah, one more act of kindness, to help tip the balance of the world toward good.
On Rosh Hashanah, we look to our past, as well as to our future, for the spiritual strength to stay committed to a Jewish life. We reach back into our collective history to draw inspiration and to learn from the wisdom of our heritage. At the same time, we look ahead toward future generations, knowing that what we choose for our own lives today will affect our children, our children’s children, and, indeed, the future of the world. When we choose to align our way of life with Judaism and the Torah, we are doing our part to help create a society that is humane and G-dly. We are fighting the darkness of the world with the light of our mitzvot—the commandments we fulfill and the good deeds we do.
The word teshuva—meaning return, or repentance—appears seven times in this week’s parsha. It is significant that we read this portion just before Rosh Hashanah, when we are focused on the process of improving ourselves and coming closer to G-d. By actively engaging ourselves with doing teshuva—through self-evaluation, reconciliation, prayer, and giving an extra measure of charity—we are choosing life, just as the generation in the desert did after they heard Moshe’s message. Hopefully then we will see the good that emerges even in the midst of darkness, and we will recognize that every one of us has the power to bring peace by the choices that we make.
May the Almighty bless all of us with a happy and healthy new year, and may we achieve our goals to become better people and better Jews. And may our individual and collective prayers be answered, bringing a new era of lasting peace to our world.Shabbat Shalom.L’shana Tova to all.