At this point, the only thing standing between us and the High Holy Days is Shabbat – a moment of calm and rest before the season of honest introspection and heartfelt self-evaluation. And while many of us might already have our attention focused on Sunday evening, this Shabbat and its Torah portion remind us not to get too far ahead of ourselves.
This week, in Nitzavim, Moses is nearing the end of his reminders and teachings to the Israelite people before his death. The parasha opens with a ceremony recommitting those who have traveled through the desert, as well as their ancestors and descendants, in the covenant made with God. For better or for worse, no one is exempt from the covenant – the old and the young, the governmental official and the citizen, the native-born and the resident alien – all are obligated and privileged to be a part of this holy pact made between Israel and the Eternal. This reminder is made especially poignant with a prophesy regarding the relationship between repentance and the eventual exile from the land promised in the covenant itself.
This month we are incredibly focused on the process of repentance that Moses discusses here. Our Cheshbon HaNefesh (accounting of the soul) might be in draft form, but we are nevertheless deep into the accounting of our actions over the past year, celebrating our victories and apologizing for the times when we missed the mark. Moses and our liturgy remind us that this is both an individual and communal process. We apologize for the sins we have committed on our own. We apologize for the sins we have committed together. We apologize for the sins we have committed intentionally. We apologize for the sins we have committed inadvertently. We apologize to each other. We apologize to God. We do a lot of apologizing.
But what we don’t do, is blame.
One short verse in this week’s parasha drives this point home. Deuteronomy 29:28 says, “Hidden acts concern the Eternal our God; but with overt acts, it is for us and our children ever to apply all the provisions of this Teaching.”
Hidden acts, concealed acts, acts committed in private, or acts committed without awareness – this is not the moment to bring up, remind, or educate those around us of their shortcomings. At a time when we are all extra sensitive to our faults and inadequacies, we care for each other with our own mercy and kindness, not pushing too hard in having a complete accounting. This season does not call us to go digging in the hidden closets of our family and peers, searching for another sin to bring to light. No, in the time of repentance this task is left to God and God alone.
Yet, we do indeed have a weighty and meaningful task. Not only do we apologize (and work to accept the apologies) for the overt sins of the past year, but we continue to act in accordance with the teachings of our ancestors with overt gratitude and grace. This season is not only about our faults, but about our potential as well. We take that same level of intentionality of reflection, into our intentionality of action, becoming especially aware of how we treat those in our circles of community. We apologize with the same fervor as saying thank you. We confess with the same earnestness as sharing a meal. We atone with the same sincerity as wishing each other a sweet and happy new year.
Just as much as this season is about how we didn’t live up to expectations in the past, it’s also about acting in accordance with those expectations right now. Just as much as it’s about being honest how we’ve failed last year, it’s also about setting ourselves up for success in the year to come. Each of us – old and young, governmental official and citizen, native-born and resident alien – can work to make 5780 a year filled with more blessings than we’ve ever had in the past. And that work starts right now. Are you ready?
Shabbat Shalom and Shanah Tovah,