Nitzavim - 5778

Dear Congregant,


This week’s portion, Parashat Nitzavim, contains one of the most beautiful and inclusive images in the entirety of the Torah.  It speaks of the entire Jewish people – not just the generation then making its way from Egypt to Israel, not just those individuals born into the Jewish faith, but all Jews or would-be Jews of all generations, past, present and future – assembled as a body by the banks of the Jordan, to re-affirm their covenanted relationship with God.

As a Jewish people, we are so prone to fragmentation.  We divide ourselves along denominational lines, by ethnicity, gender, class, halachic (or non-halachic) practice, by the synagogues we attend (or don’t attend), the foods we eat (or don’t), our views on Israel, American politics, world events. 

What would it mean for us – if only for a day – to put those differences aside and stand once again as a people united in our devotion to our faith tradition, our Creator, to our notion of a shared people-hood?

In a message I received earlier today from the Mussar Institute, Rabbi Judith Edelstein, one of the Institute’s members shared a practice that I believe could enrich all of our spiritual lives.  She wrote that after she lights the Shabbat candles on Friday night, she passes her hands over their light three times, each repetition carrying a distinct kavanah (statement of intention):

With the first pass, she thinks of all the people that she loves, those who share her world and bring it richness, and as she circles her hands she imagines herself embracing them.

With the second pass, she thinks of the people who were pillars of her life in times gone by but who no longer walk this earth.  Again, she draws them close with her hands’ motion.

Finally, with the third circle of her hands, she calls to mind all the people whom she has distanced, the ones who have caused her anger or hurt or whom she may have wronged or set at arm’s length.  As her hands complete their arc, she imagines bringing them closer and trying – at least for that moment in her mind’s eye – to close the distance between them.

May we use this season of teshuvah to both embrace the ones we love – those still amongst us and those who live through us in memory – and draw closer those from whom we have become distant.

Wishing everyone a Happy, Healthy Year of Strength and Growth.

Shabbat shalom,

-- Rabbi Rachel Safman