This week we celebrate the final Shabbat of the year, which means that our Torah portion is one of the great sections of the entire year, Nitzavim: you stand here today, all of you, from the oldest to the youngest, from the wealthiest to the poorest, the most famous to the humblest, the leaders of your community and the strangers visiting with you. You are all part of the covenant with the Lord your God. You, and every other generation to come who will be descended from you. You are all engaged in this great berit, the covenant that affirms you will be God's people, and God will be your Lord.
This universal covenant establishes that we are part of a profound and eternal tradition, a connection to our ancestors that will be carried forward to our descendants. Each of us, all of us, are part of this remarkable compact. It is an extraordinarily democratic and egalitarian agreement with God, a berit that is shared with everyone regardless of gender or age: children and women stand with men here, not always the case at the time of the Torah, or even today.
So what is the content of the commandment, the mitzvah that we are now to observe?
At the climax of our Torah portion we are told "ki hamitzvah hazot asher anochi m'tzav'cha hayom, lo nifleit hi mimcha"—Look, this commandment that I command you today is not too awesome for you, and it's not beyond your reach. It's not in the heavens that you should say "Who among us can go up to the heavens and take it for us and teach it to us so that we may do it?" It's not across the sea that you should say "Who among us can cross over the sea and bring it back to us so that we may do it?" No, it's very close to you, already in your mouth and in your heart to do it.
Perhaps the mitzvah, the commandment that Nitzavim speaks about is no more than becoming aware of the presence of Torah in our midst—or, more precisely, of the presence of God, here and now.
In this season we prepare for teshuvah, our repentance. But if God is here right now, then teshuvah is just a way of becoming aware that Torah is already in our minds, and God in our hearts. Teshuvah simply means God saying, "Return to Me, and again become aware of Me always being in your life."
A great thing to remember as we approach Rosh HaShanah and the season of teshuvah, return and repentance.