As people age realize they are nearing the end of their lives, they begin to engage in a process called life review. Life review is different for each person and involves a progressive return to memories of our life, actions and the people we’ve encountered. Or, in Jewish speak, it’s our psyche helping us do the work that will enable us to reach a point where we feel like we’ve done enough teshuva so that we can move on to the next stage in peace.
This week’s Torah reading Nitzavim- Vayeilech, found near the end of the Torah, is comprised of two parshioyot which are read together as a single unit. This particular double parsha has always struck me as a sort of life review for the Torah, strange as that may seem. The work of the five books has been to get us ready to be an independent, moral people ready to enter the Promised Land. Here we are, a couple weeks before we complete our Torah cycle, prepared to enter.
It all comes back to the names of the Torah portions themselves. Simply put, Nitzavim means to stand and Vayeilech means “and he walked or he went.” Two words with polar opposite meanings that are supposed to harmonize into one joint meaning. Let’s take a closer look.
Nitzavim is a rarely used word for standing (as in “you stand”) as opposed to the more commonly used word Omdim. According to various sources Nitzavim connotes not merely standing but also making oneself available to the exchange of ideas or taking a stand for something you believe in.
Nitzavim I will associate with Moshe. Why Moshe? The parsha begins “Atem Nitzavem Hayom kulchem” You all stand this day. What is hayom/this day? Moshe’s final day, the day of his death. The whole book of Deuteronomy has been Moshe’s final goodbye, his life review of all that has happened since he answered God’s call to set the People Israel free from slavery, help them accept the Torah and ultimately take them to the edge of the River Jordan.
I read Moshe’s use of the word nitzavim almost as a plea to this group of people who can be as recalcitrant as they can be accepting. Don’t just stand here, but engage, listen, be prepared to entrench, take a stand! `
Vayeilech, and he walked, I associate with Avraham and the famous scene in Parshat Lech Lecha: God said to Abram, “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you (Gen 12:1). The word Vayeilech echoes Abraham as he answers God’s call to leave all that he has ever known to go to an unknown place and begin a new future. A new future of which, through Moshe, you and I have become the recipients.
Life review. The Torah is reminding itself and us that the story began with one person being asked to Lech/Go and ultimately make a covenant with God not only for himself but also for his family, then and in future.
It ends with one person standing and asking others to stand/take a stand/nitzavim at that moment for themselves and also for “him that is not here with us this day” (Deut 29:14).
What are the messages of Nitzavim- Vayeilech? Two opposites can form one single unit. Take a stand in order to move to the next level. Walk into the unknown in order to listen well and know what is worth believing in. All are instructive messages with which to begin our review of this past year and begin planning for the new year.