On Parshat Nitzavim and the Boston Primary...

This past Tuesday night, I hit refresh on my internet browser every five minutes.  Even though Nika Elguardo had been declared a winner in her race, the numbers were not adding up for me.  So I hit refresh and refresh and refresh. I watched her numbers rise and felt my heart beat faster. High on the election of Ayanna Pressley and Rachael Rollins, I hoped that Nika would also win.  

This week, in synagogues around the world, people will read Parshat Nitzavim.  Here you are, Moses begins, all of you, and I’m going to tell you something: “Surely this mitzvah that I command you on this day is not too wondrous for you, it is not distant from you.  It is not in the heavens… it is not across the sea… it is in your mouth and in your heart. (Deut 30:11)” Ramban (Nachmanides, 13th c, Spain) understands the words “surely this mitzvah” to mean the Torah.  Moses declares to the Israelites: “this Torah that I’ve been serving as the moderator of for the last 40 years, it is for you and you can handle it. This Torah is yours.” Rambam also understands “this mitzvah” to mean teshuva, the act of returning, of repair, of healing.  And so Moses is adjuring all present, “you who stand here this day, all of you (Deut 29:9), you have the capacity to return to their best selves, to heal the wounds they have caused, to repair the trauma of the past.

“This day,” says Moses.  This day in the narrative of the text and this day in the narrative of our lives.  On this day, the set of guidelines that you, that we, are going to live your life by and the capacity to make mistakes and repent, to wander off and to return, are things you, things we, have.  

Torah that I have chosen to live my life by is following the leadership of those who are most impacted by the systems of oppression.  I understand this both as an imperative in its own right and as part of a system of reparations that can heal our world from the racism and other oppressions that has torn it apart.  In Boston this week, we witnessed this Torah in action and, I hope, a small tikkun (healing) take place.  The elections of Ayana Pressley, Rachael Rollins, Nika Elaguardo, and Liz Miranda are evidence that the Torah of racial equity is not to far from us, that the mitzvah of repair and healing is in fact within our grasp.

The Mevassar Tzedek (Rabbi Yissachar Dov Ber of Zlotchov, 18th c, Ukraine) brings a teaching on the words “this day” from the same verse.  He teaches (translation R’ Art Green):

R’Yehoshua ben Levi teaches:  Why does Moses specify on this day?  To teach that mitzvot should be done today, not tomorrow.  Do them today even though you receive no immediate reward (b. Eruvin 22a). It is further taught that you should taste from the food cooking for Shabbat on Friday (Shibboley ha-Leket 82).

To understand this, remember that this world is the Sabbath Eve that prepares for [the ultimate]    Shabbat.   


That is the meaning of the mitzvah that I command you on this day.  This day indeed means that although you must fulfill the commandments today, you will only benefit from them in the future.  Still, it is not too wondrous for you, the reward is not hidden from you, and even in this world you can experience in fulfilling the commandment some of the world to come.  

The verse continues:  it is not distant from you.  The pleasure from mitzvot is not unattainable.  

We should put this Torah into practice today, because this world we live in is the preparation for the ultimate Shabbat, the world to come.  And even more so, by doing these mitzvot we experience the pleasure of them, a taste of the world to come.

My vision of the world to come is one in which every person is able to live their lives in a way that expresses the inherent dignity of their being, in harmony with the earth we live in, and with those who we live with.  The excitement folks around me expressed on Tuesday night, the tears we have wept watching Ayana Pressley find out she won her primary, the thrill of being part of something that is unprecedented and huge -- these are all tastes of the world to come.

Zeh hayom asa Adonai, nagilah v’nismecha bo.  This is the day that Gd has made, rejoice and be joyful in it.  

But we are still not living in the world to come.  These amazing women are not the messiah.  They are smart and passionate and equipped to address the systemic oppression that exists in Boston and in our world.  They are also human.  And so, we must continue to do our part - to elect more progressives, to organize for social change, to raise our own consciousness,  to figure out our role in holding our elected officials accountable - to enact the Torah of justice that is not across the sea, rather in the mouths and hearts of organizers around the world, and in our mouths and our hearts, if we want it to be.  We must continue to walk the path of teshuva, of return, of tikkun, of repair and healing.

May this Shabbat and the coming Days of Awe, return us to our true selves, connect us to community, ground us in holiness, and prepare us to do the holy work of building a more just world.