Torah Talk on Nitzavim 5779
In this week’s Torah portion of Nitzavim, Moses is nearing the end of his leadership—and his life. That gives a special poignancy to his message here. It is the last will and testament of Mosheh Rabeinu, Moses on Management. What will Moses teach us about how to carry on after he is gone? How will our greatest leader pass the baton, and who will he give it to?
The answer comes quickly, and it is a surprise. Here in Nitzavim Moses’ great message is not that he is passing the mantle of control to Joshua. He does that, but his central teaching is that of leadership through empowerment. Each Israelite can grasp the central concepts of our contract with God, and fulfill it. Every single Jew has the capacity to fulfill the Torah, our commitment to God. And we each have the responsibility to do so, and the choice to carry it out or not. And that thousands-of-years-old lesson has meaning for us today.
What makes this particularly appropriate is that we are close to completing Deuteronomy, a text filled with ethical and moral laws for personal conduct: give to the poor, the stranger, the orphan, and the widow; treat employees with generosity and kindness and respect; protect others against negligence; deal honestly in your business, and with others; be gracious and moral in your treatment of animals; reward loyalty; do not seek to humiliate others; live a life of commitment to your ideals; keep your word and your vows.
Of course, we don’t have to actually do any of this, as Moses states so clearly in God’s name here in Nitzavim. We can choose to do otherwise, to act unethically, and that will simply create a rotten world, institutions that are not worthy of respect, personal lives of deception and dishonor. We can choose not to support the needy, to ignore the homeless, to leave those who teach Torah without the means of support to do their essential work.
It is always our choice.
We are approaching the time for Teshuvah, return and repentance. Selichot was last Saturday night at Beit Simcha, Rosh Hashanah less than a week away. And the message in our portion is clear. This Torah of ours is not too hard for us, it is not too far from us… it is here, now, close, in our hands.
And it is up to us to learn it, live it, and do it.
Not a bad last speech from Moses for this final Shabbat of the year. Not a bad lesson for the end of this year, and for the beginning of the next year. Or anytime.