The Joy of Survival: Nitzavim-Vayelech 2017

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: How do we best show appreciation after surviving scary moments? How do we do so in a way that is sensitive to those who are not as lucky?

While Hurricane Irma did some damage in Charleston, for many of us, matters could have been a lot worse. Our Torah portions reflect the kind of gratitude that we can feel – and that God feels – when we endure life’s challenges:

The Pitch: “And the Lord your God will grant you abounding prosperity in all your undertakings, in the issue of your womb, the offspring of your cattle, and the produce of your soil. For the Lord will again delight in your well-being, as He did in that of your fathers, since you will be heeding the Lord your God and keeping His commandments and laws that are recorded in this book of the Teaching – once you return to the Lord your God with all your heart and soul.” – Deuteronomy 30:9-10

Swing #1: “The Lord does good and takes great pleasure in doing good. Particularly does He take delight in being able to deal kindly with the people of Israel. Hence, if we repent of our sins and mend our ways, thereby enabling the Lord to do good to us, we afford Him pleasure by the mere fact that we have made ourselves worthy of receiving His favors. This pleasure we give to the Lord carries its own reward, quite apart from the reward due us for repentance.” – Yakar MiPoz

Swing #2: “The situation of Israel [described here] is very different when compared with that in the earlier parts of Deuteronomy; behind the speaker there lies the period of disobedience and of judgment. The curses in Deuteronomy, which is here understood predominantly as law, have been fulfilled. From this standpoint the speaker looks to the future and announces a redemptive activity by which God himself creates for his people the prerequisites for complete obedience.” – Gerhard von Rad, Deuteronomy

Swing #3: “How can one describe God as actually enjoying our misery? Do we not have repeated statements describing God’s pain and discomfiture whenever the Jewish people undergo afflictions (Megillah 10)? Rabbi Eliezer answers that it is not God Himself who delights in our misfortunes, but rather He causes others to. This answer is supported by the grammatical meaning of the word ‘Yassis,’ used by the Torah. If the Torah were to describe God’s personal delight, it would have written ‘Yassos’ instead. … After describing the penitence of the Jewish people, the Torah says of God: ‘the Lord will again delight in your well-being’ and the expression used is ‘La-ssus’.” – Shney Luchot HaBrit

Late-Inning Questions: How do our commentators describe the way God delights in people following the right path? How does this compare to the way we show our delight in our good fortune? How do we simultaneously show our sensitivity to others who have suffered through no fault of their own?

The Big Inning at the End: The Cleveland Indians have won 22 games in a row. Does this mean they are now caught in a Catch-22? (Thank you, I’ll be here all week.)

Shabbat Shalom!