Friday, September 15, 2006

NITZAVIM – VAYELECH - ano final 5766

22 Elul 5766
Setembro 2006 Elul 5766 / Tishrei 5767

The basis for Judaism and its value system can be summed up in one word –accountability. The gift of freedom of choice and action that God grantedto humans comes, as do most gifts, with a price. And that price is thatall of us are completely accountable for our actions and behavior. We eachhave an account sheet, so to speak, with columns for both credits anddebits. How that account sheet looks eventually determines our fate andour eternity. But, there are those intermediary times when we can takestock.
The Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are such times. Our accountsheet is reviewed as we pass before the Heavenly court without cover orpretense. The message of the Holy Days is a clear one. We are heldaccountable for good or for better for our past deeds and also for ourfuture intents. We are deemed to be responsible individuals and thereforeour account sheet is of vital importance in determining our status in lifeand our future.
Just as all publicly held firms must produce an annual fiscal reportattested to by reputable accounting firms, so too during these Holy Daysdo we individually publish our own annual report. And, the Heavenly courtthat is aware of all of our actions and behavior attests to that report.Because of this it is completely understandable why accountability is thekey word to any understanding of Judaism.
One of the ills of our current society is its acceptance of unlimitedfreedom of choice and behavior but its refusal to be accountable for theresults of this uninhibited freedom. One of the hallmarks of our societyis its inability to admit error in previous decisions, policies andbehavior. No one is held accountable for all of the great mistakes of thepast centuries.
The bankruptcy of those Jewish organizations and individuals who fled fromTorah and tradition is evident to all by now, but many of them – thosestill in existence - continue along their merry way as though there was nopast to reexamine and no true future to contemplate. But the law ofaccountability allows for no exceptions and eventually overtakes everyone.That should be apparent to anyone with even rudimentary knowledge of thestory of Israel throughout the ages.
The final parshiyot of the Torah read in the synagogue over these past andcoming weeks concern themselves almost exclusively with this idea ofaccountability – of reward and punishment and the aspects of the covenantof Sinai between God and Israel. The Torah itself declares thatthis “covenant shall respond to them even till the end of days.” In acovenant, as in a contractual agreement, each side is held bound to itsagreed upon terms and conditions. We are bound to our end of the covenantand the Lord, so to speak, states that He also is bound to Hiscommitments. Again, accountability is the key word to the entirecovenantal experience and challenge.
One should feel that one is accountable not only to God and to one’sfellow human beings but perhaps most importantly to one’s own self. Theprimary question addressed by Judaism is: “Of what purpose is my life -why am I here and what is asked of me?” If this question is never reallyaddressed or if it is sloughed off and defined in purely material ormonetary terms then obviously life has little meaning. If it has no deepmeaning then no dutiful accounting of behavior can ever arise in our mindsand hearts. For life to have any sense of meaning or purpose then the goalof accountability must resonate within each individual.
The prayers of the Holy Days stress not only God’s greatness and man’srelative puniness but also the coming to terms of each individual withone’s own past deeds and future aspirations. True teshuva – repentance –requires this simultaneous look both backwards and forwards regarding ourlife’s actions and our mission and hopes. The concept of rigorousaccountability helps us formulate a meaningful answer to our goals andaspirations in life. It allows us to age and mature gracefully and itcreates the proper backdrop for our future plans and actions. It thereforeis the ultimate blessing in our lives.

Weekly Parsha 22 Elul 5766 / 15 September 2006

This is the final Shabat of the year 5766. It has been a difficult yearfor the Jewish people, for the State of Israel and for me personally. Thisyear of war, death, scandal, disappointment, and an overwhelming feelingof uncertainty - which is really the natural human state of being - leavesus somewhat bewildered and downcast. We pray that the new year that nowcomes upon us will be one of comfort and healing, of good tidings and newand fruitful beginnings, with peace and confidence in our future.
On his final day, Moshe gathers all of Israel to bid them goodbye. Hespeaks not only to those who stand before him in life but also to thosewho are no longer here but whose memory and influence are still presentamongst the living. He also speaks to the generations of Israel stillunborn who are yet to come and shoulder the responsibilities and duties ofJewish achievement and survival. He repeats the unbending and inexorableterms of the covenant between God and Israel. But he promises them that inthe end all will be right somehow and that the blessings of God’s covenantwith us will descend upon us to comfort and refresh us.
There probably cannot be any more fitting introduction to oursupplications and prayers for the new year than these words of Moshe’sthat appear in this week’s parsha. The parsha places the events of ourlife into a Godly perspective so that even our tragedies anddisappointments take on meaning and purpose. God’s covenant with us asindividuals and as a people is still operative. We really cannot ask formore.
Moshe goes to his death with faith but also with regret. He is notprivileged to enter the Land of Israel, being denied his life’s dream andhis children will not succeed him in the leadership of the Jewish people.As is the case with human beings, even Moshe, no one passes away havingaccomplished all that was desired. Yet Moshe dies peacefully, with God’skiss, so to speak, on his face, knowing that the Torah that he taughtIsrael will guarantee its survival as a people and will be a human forcefor all eternity. He is comforted in the knowledge that all of his effortsand travails, all of his disappointments and frustrations will, somehow,not be for naught.
The Torah will remain within the Jewish people and will eventually restorethem to their land and their faith. No matter how distant they may strayfrom their faith and mission, the Torah will not abandon them. God willemploy many different means to keep the covenant effective between Him andIsrael. Moshe can therefore say confidently “It [the Torah] is not anempty thing as far as you are concerned but rather it is within yourmouths and hearts to fulfill its demands and promises.” It is this senseof unending continuity that is the greatest comfort to Moshe on hisdeparture from this earth. It should also be the greatest source ofcomfort and hope for us as we depart from this year and enter into betterand more blessed times.

Shabat shalom.
Rabbi Berel Wein