Monday, August 26, 2013

Selichot; Nitzavim-VaYelech

Deuteronomy 29:9–31:30
By Rabbi Steven Pik-Nathan for Jewish Reconstructionist Communities

Choose Life

This week's parasha is the double portion Nitzavim/Vayeleh. At the beginning of the parasha Moses tells the Jewish People, "You stand this day, all of you, before the Eternal your God . . . to enter into the covenant of the Eternal your God, which the Eternal your God is concluding with you this day . . . that God may establish you this day as God's people and be your God."

Three times, Moses stresses the phrase, "this day," emphasizing the contemporaneity of God's outreach to the Jewish People. Rashi notices this repetition, and comments that the chorus of "this day" indicates that, "just as this day enlightens, so will God enlighten [the Jewish People] in the future." The text reminds us that each one of us stands before God "this day" because God is always present to us. This relationship that continues from generation to generation reminds us not only of our connection to God, but to our ancestors and our future descendants as well. We have stood, stand, and will stand in God's presence, surrounded and filled with the power of Divinity, if we only recognize this. God's presence will then continue to enlighten us for all time. The text applies this to the Jewish people, but we certainly understand this as applying to all who choose to connect with the Divine within their lives.

Traditionally, the way to connect with the Divine has been by following the path of mitzvoth/commandments. The Halakha, usually mistranslated as "Jewish law," but coming from the Hebrew word for "to walk" has traditionally shown us the path. For us today we often ignore about Halakha because, as Reconstructionists, we don't see ourselves as Halakhic Jews (as do the Conservative and Orthodox branches of Judaism). But the reality is that we still need Halakha - a way to go or path to walk - to help us connect to God and the Jewish people. We may need to continually reconstruct the Halakha to give it meaning for us today, but as Reconstructionist we should remember that we consider ourselves to be a movement that is constantly creating new ways of relating to tradition. In a recent issue of "Reconstructionism Today" Dan Cederbaum wrote an article titled Reconstructing Halakha and subtitled "Think kosher, act treyf." Though this statement might seem heretical to some traditionally minded Jews, it makes perfect sense in a Reconstructionist context. We may outwardly seem to be not observing Halakha as it is traditionally understood, but it is the intention of using our actions to connect us to God and the Jewish people that makes our actions "kosher" or within the realm of a Reconstructionist understanding of Halakha.

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