You’re Going to Do What To My Heart?!: Nitzavim 2015

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Moses’ farewell address reaches its dramatic conclusion, and he notes that all of Israel is there to listen – every single Israelite living being, including those of later generations. They will hear that the Torah is completely accessible to all who seek it – and at the same time, as mysterious as ever.

Here is a text from this week’s Torah portion, with commentaries and topics for you to discuss:


Text: “Then your God Adonai will open up [circumcise] your heart and the hearts of your offspring — to love your God Adonai with all your heart and soul, in order that you may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:6)


Commentary #1: “We have a principle that if someone takes the first step in the direction of purifying himself he will experience a Divine assist during his continuing efforts in that direction. Moses assures the repentant sinner that God will assist by removing hindrances, metaphorically described as a foreskin that are strewn on the path to one’s rehabilitation.” – Rosh

Questions: As we approach the High Holidays what are the barriers that prevent us from taking that first step to returning to a better path? How can God, as the Rosh claims, help us to remove those barriers? Who or what else can help us remove them?


Commentary #2: “Once the Lord will remove the obstruction that is closing up your heart, you will be able to enjoy the Torah and its commandments and to delight in them even as you delight in pleasures of the body. Then you will love the Torah just as you love the other things that keep you alive, ‘that you may live.’” – Ohel Yaakov

Questions: Ohel Yaakov challenges us to love the commandments as much, if not more, than sensual pleasures. Must these two kinds of “loves” be separated, or can they ben interrelated? Can one love bodily pleasures too much? Can one love the Torah and commandments too much?


Commentary #3: “Here [Moses] promises that once Israel returns to God, God Himself will remove the psychological impediments to wholehearted devotion. … Several of the prophets said that God would ultimately ‘program’ Israel to be loyal and obedient to Him, so that they would obey Him instinctively and never again experience exile. Moses stops short of saying that: the removal of the ‘foreskin’ implies only that God would remove impediments that prevent Israel from voluntarily following God’s teachings.” – Jeffrey Tigay, Deuteronomy: The JPS Torah Commentary

Questions: Tigay stresses that our quote from this week’s Torah portion still enables mistake-prone people to have an amount of free will in their journeys to improve themselves. To what degree does God give us free will? To what degree is our path toward living a meaningful life already chosen for us? How does your answer to these questions impact your approach to the prayers of the High Holidays? Are you more or less likely to expect God to change you, or are the prayers more of a wake-up call for you to start on a better path?


Emanu-El Happenings: Oh, there isn’t much going on … besides a 9/11 tribute service tonight, a baby-naming tomorrow, a Religious School Open House on Sunday, and of course, Rosh Hashanah beginning Sunday night. It’s a privilege to be with this congregation during such a dizzying time of year, and I know it will be fulfilling. Be a part of it. Click here and here for more information.


The Big Inning at the End: As much as I love baseball, I sometimes question the value of devoting so much time and energy to a game in which adults try to hit a ball with a stick. But it is unmistakable that baseball, as well as other sports, can be a source of healing and renewal. Never was that more on display than the weeks immediately following the September 11, 2001 attacks. Living in New York City at the time, the sense of grief was palpable no matter where I walked. And even though the Yankees are the team I most actively root against, I couldn’t help but feel that their run to the World Series – and several of their dramatic comeback victories – helped to awaken a sense of resilience among even the most cynical of us. During that October and November, baseball was not just an escape from the realities of the day, but also a reminder that the ability to dust our selves off and to rise again is almost unlimited. We remember with love those who perished on that terrible day 14 years ago, and we thank those who encouraged us to embrace life once more.

Shabbat Shalom! And L’shanah Tovah U’Metukah – a happy and sweet 5776!