Forty years after his first call, as he prepared to breathe his last, Moses stood again before an anxious people in need of words to fortify and reassure them. What could he tell them that would quell their fears and give them the courage to meet the daunting tasks of entering the Land and reclaiming their birthright without him to lead the way?
Once again, the man who claimed to be slow of speech found words – words that would echo over time and space to plant seeds of hope and strength in the hearts of his people – the words of this week’s parsha:
“Atem nitzavim ha-yom kulchem, lifnei Adonai Eloheichem…” You stand this day, all of you, before the Eternal your God…” (Deuteronomy 29:9)
You are not alone, says Moses, God is with you, now and always. And you are children of the covenant. You have a history and a destiny that you can and will meet. You are nitzavim, not merely ‘standing,’ but positioned for what lies ahead.
Then, in soaring poetic words, he assures them that they have what they need to succeed. The Torah, he says, “is not in heaven, and not across the sea… no, this thing,” this word, this davar, “is very close to you, it is in your mouth and in your heart, and you can do it.”
You can do it, and you will, he assures them. You will succeed. But you will also know failure. You will taste bitter disappointment, and you will not always live up to your calling. But God will not give up on you, and you must not give up on yourselves or each other. You can and must return and renew. This is one of God’s great gifts to us, the gift of repentance, the gift of faith in our ability to begin again and to choose the path of goodness and blessing, no matter how far we may have strayed.
Then, coming to a great crescendo, Moses closes with these words: “See, I have placed before you this day life and death, blessing and curse… choose life that you and your descendants may live.”
Every year we Jews read these powerful words as we stand on the threshold of new beginnings, on the Shabbat before the New Year. And their message comes to fortify and reassure us that we can overcome our fears. God is with us, and we have a compass that points true north, the Torah. Its words are not distant from us. They are in our hearts and souls to give us strength and direction. We will not always live up to their call. We will fail. We will suffer disappointment and defeat. We will face crises, illness, plagues, and evil. There will be times when we will lose our way. But God waits for us to return, a loving parent always ready to receive us back. And our greatest gift is the gift of choice, the freedom to choose, to choose life, that we may live and endure for all time.