"Be strong and courageous! Neither fear, nor be dismayed"
We are all now standing before G-d, from the greatest of us to the least of us. Although not always translated as such, in the opening verse of parashat Nitzavim-Vayelech, the Hebrew word culchem means "all of you:" Not just each one of you, but the "all" of each one of you. Israel is preparing to enter the land and we are preparing to greet the new year. What a wonderful and important time to stand together as one! It has been just six generations since Avraham sought out the one G-d and G-d discovered a friend in Avraham. It seems like only yesterday that they stood before one another one to one, and now we, the children of Avraham have become a multitude. G-d's message to Avraham, "Go ... to the land that I will show you" (Genesis 12:1) has remained the same, as He is now prepping Israel for her entry into the land, and by extension we are being prepped for our entry into the new year.
G-d, through Moses, warns and castigates we the people (past present and future) for straying from the path of Torah and attaching ourselves to false gods and idols. He describes a terrible landscape in which the land of Israel lies devastated, a result of Israel's infidelity to G-d. He lists our future challenges, our potential pitfalls, the frightful fate that will befall us if we do not adhere to G-d's word, and the great challenges that await us even if we do serve G-d with all our might. Frankly, one could be forgiven for drawing the conclusion that G-d is a cruel G-d, setting His people up for failure and preparing for them a terrible downfall when they do indeed fall short of His expectations. And then G-d says the following: "Be strong and courageous! Neither fear, nor be dismayed." (Deuteronomy 31:6)
After reading off His long list of our expected failures, G-d then tells us not to fear? Is G-d now mocking us? Of course the answer is no, nor is G-d being cruel. G-d is not addressing us as a distant deity but as a loving father. Any parent who has ever sent off their young child to their first day in grade school can certainly relate to G-d's concerns; to the certainty of His knowledge that his child will face great challenges along the way, and that he will stumble more than once before he learns his lesson. He knows that His child will come face to face with disappointments and even moments of devastation. Just as we know that our first grader will ultimately need to face up to and overcome all these challenges on his own and that this is the only way that he will, in the fulness of days, fulfill his G-d given potential and become the person he is meant to be, so does G-d know this truth concerning Israel. Now of course we soften our words of warning to our six year olds about to set out for their first day of school, but G-d isn't addressing a six year old child, He is addressing a six generation old nation. His words are direct and hard hitting. He pulls no punches and spares no feelings. nevertheless, He closes His words by encouraging Israel to "Be strong and courageous! Neither fear, nor be dismayed," (ibid) just as we do before sending our children off.
But shouldn't Israel be afraid? Not only has G-d warned them of the hostile nations and seductive cultures that await them, He also has warned them of their own inner weaknesses and predilections which will ensnare them over and over again. It sounds like there is plenty to be afraid of. These closing words of encouragement ring hollow.
"Be strong and courageous! Neither fear, nor be dismayed," (ibid) however, are not intended to be words of cheery encouragement. They are the map and the key which will guide us to our ultimate success! If we are courageous in the face of failure we will be fearless in the glow of success. If we are strong in the face of our own weaknesses even as we strive to overcome them, we will show no dismay when faced by external enemies who seek out our destruction. When all is said and done, the horrifying scenarios that G-d has shown us are not meant to defeat us but to spur us to our greatest heights. The same Israel that G-d addressed, past present and future, ("But not only with you am I making this covenant and this oath, but with those standing here with us today before HaShem, our G-d, and also with those who are not here with us, this day"), has for nearly four thousand years stumbled and failed and yet overcome every obstacle on the path to our ultimate place in G-d's plan. And, of course, the same is true for each of us as individuals, as we prepare to enter a new year of our lives. We mustn't be felled by our own fears, either of our own selves, who we have been or what we have or haven't achieved up to this point, nor can we afford to show fear or be dismayed as we ready ourselves for all the challenges that lay in wait. Nothing can impede or defeat us other than our own self-produced fear and dismay. Strength and courage, as G-d tells us, are the keys for making this upcoming year our finest yet!
Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK, a TEMPLE TALK you cannot miss! Are we getting the most out of the month of Elul? In an appeal that is both passionate and personal, Rabbi Richman and Yitzchak Reuven take us to deeper levels of meaning than ever before, as they examine the unique nature of this month, especially in the light of its confluence with this week's double Torah portions of Nitzavim and Vayelech, and the rumbles, rumors and realities of the situation that Israel faces this week. Does Israel have cause for anxiety? Yitzchak shares a personal story of a message that Hashem sent him which brought him to a higher level of Elul-consciousness, and Rabbi Richman recounts a story of bravery, betrayal and faith. Are these the best of times, or the worst of times? Tune into this week's high-voltage TEMPLE TALK and find out!