The Temple Institute: Temple Talk: Elul 21, 5770/August 31, 2010

"You are all standing this day before HaShem your G-d"
(Deuteronomy 26:3)

The sublime beauty and harmony of the Torah, the Hebrew calendar, and the appointed meetings between man and G-d, are never more evident, never more clear and tangible, then they are in this season, the weeks and days leading up to Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur. The Torah readings of the past weeks have been imbedded with clear and unmistakable messages of encouragement and practical guidance for all of us who are preparing ourselves for our upcoming appearance before G-d, the King and Judge of all creation. Torah has been quietly shepherding us forward in a way which speaks clearly G-d's love for His people, meaning all people, the entire family of man. But it is this week's double Torah reading, Nitzavim-Vayelech, which pulls out all the stops, in a no-holds-barred, full-court-press, all out effort to make certain that each one of us enters Rosh HaShana confident of who we are, and, even more importantly, who we can be, and that ten days later when we conclude Yom Kippur, we have become finer versions of our own true selves.

How does Torah do it? It is tempting to say that Torah all but shouts out the answers to our upcoming "final exam," but that would be misleading. What Torah does is state the questions that we need to be asking ourselves, and then present the necessary challenges that we must face and accept upon ourselves, in order to acquire the "right answers" to our upcoming test.

"For this commandment which I command you this day, is not concealed from you, nor is it far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, 'Who will go up to heaven for us and fetch it for us, to tell [it] to us, so that we can fulfill it?' Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, 'Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us and fetch it for us, to tell [it] to us, so that we can fulfill it?' Rather,[this] thing is very close to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can fulfill it." (ibid 30:11-14)

There are no other words in Torah quite like these, which express both G-d's love for His people, and His total, unquestioning confidence that they can meet every challenge that Torah presents them, perform every commandment which comes their way, and by doing so, stay fixed on a course of goodness and righteousness. G-d knows, for He created us, that we possess within our hearts and within our souls every tool necessary to aspire to and to attain our very finest selves. We cannot honestly claim that we don't have what it takes to stand before G-d on Rosh HaShana.

"Behold, I have set before you today life and good, and death and evil... " (ibid 30:15) Torah again puts forward in breathtaking simplicity the only issues which need concern us. Good and evil, life and death, the distilled unvarnished essence of what man's sojourn in this world is all about, and why G-d created him. And to strengthen the wavering, and enlighten those who may be in darkness, Torah goes on to say, "I command you this day to love HaShem, your G-d, to walk in His ways, and to observe His commandments, His statutes, and His ordinances, so that you will live and increase, and HaShem, your G-d, will bless you in the land to which you are coming to take possession of it." (ibid 30:16) And if, in spite of these most emphatic words there is still ambivalence in one's heart, Torah concludes, "You shall choose life, so that you and your offspring will live." (ibid 30:19)

It is tempting to say that all one needs to do on Rosh HaShana is to show up. After all, Torah has pretty much given us all we need to know, in these few verses quoted above. Equipped with these answers we can surely embark upon a new year of truth and righteousness. But, of course, temptation and false security is everything the Torah is NOT about.

In reality, Torah has not provided us with any answers. What it has done is provide us with the necessary questions we must ponder and challenges we must face, not just on Rosh HaShana, but in the days and weeks and months that follow. Only we can provide our own answers as to how we will meet these challenges. Only we can represent our selves before G-d, and only we can write our own names into the Book of Life.

What Torah does provide us with is the greatest pep-talk ever. The rest is up to us.

Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK as Rabbi Chaim Richman, off-site, preparing spiritually for the upcoming Days of Awe, leaves it up to Yitzchak Reuven, who, manning the microphone, has what to say about our upcoming "day in court," and about the great lengths this week's double Torah reading of Nitzavim-Vayelech goes to in encouraging and preparing us for Rosh HaShana. Our choices may seem obvious, but they may be deceptively simple, all the same.

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