Parshat Nitsabim – Rosh Hashana

This week is the last of the 7 Haftarot of Consolation before Rosh Hashanah. A reminder that Rambam Sephardi selihot are at 5:50am at the Elstree Shteible; 7:00am on Sunday followed by Hatarat Nedarim. For our full list of Rosh Hashanah 5777 service times, please click here.

Parshat Nitsabim is the 8th in the Book of Deuteronomy spanning chapters 29:9-30:20. It is always read on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah.

Summary: Moshe reminded Bnei Yisrael they ‘stood today before G-d’ as a nation, from the exalted princes to their lowliest class, established as a divinely-chosen people. Their decision to follow G-d’s Will would affect them and successive generations.

Violation of the expected Code of Conduct, in particular, worshipping idolatry, would unleash a torrent of curses, including Exile from their homeland. Even those secretly planning the private worship of idolatry would be separated out for punishment.

Eventually, nations from afar would wonder in dismay at the devastation, asking ‘what caused this great destruction?’ They’d be told, because the people worshipped other gods they were cast out to foreign lands.

‘Hidden things would be known to G-d; while the revealed would remain an everlasting calling upon Bnei Yisrael to fulfil the Torah’. (Deut 29:28)

Chapter 30 describes the process of return in slow stages, once the people reflected on their misfortune and began seeking G-d again. G-d too would ‘return them’; first, they’d be gathered from exile and restored to their land. They’d be able again in their hearts to worship the Almighty; the curses would be levelled against their enemies instead.

When they resumed performing G-d’s commands in the land, they’d be blessed with good harvests and prolific flocks; leading to a return ‘with their whole heart and soul’.

Moshe reminded the people the Torah wasn’t beyond reach in Heaven or distant beyond the Seas, but in their mouths and hearts. They’d been given a choice between Life & Good and Death & Evil. Choosing to worship G-d would result in blessings; choosing to worship false deities would lead to their destruction.

‘Choose life so you and your offspring shall live. To love, cleave and hearken to the Almighty’s voice, this is your life and the length of your days, to dwell in the land that was promised to your forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’ (Deut 30:20)

Comment: Recited together with VaYelekh except during leap years, Nitsabim repeats the challenge to Bnei Yisael to accept their new covenant with G-d, listed in Parshat Ki Tabo. It contains a final warning from Moshe to Bnei Yisrael that their choice would be as grave as choosing between Life & Death.

Rabbi David Fohrman explained exquisitely that the process of Teshuvah described in Chapter 30 is a ‘dance of rejuvenation’ between the Jewish people and G-d. By their own volition, and trapped in a terrible cycle of curses, an exhausted and exiled Jewish people realise they can only survive by returning to the G-d of their forefathers.

But once they begin the first mental and emotional steps to return, their efforts are aided immensely by Divine benevolence. The more we want to return to G-d, the more our path is made easier. It begins with rational thought, is enhanced emotionally by the small successes we experience, and blossoms into a fully active return of ‘heart and soul’.

For those of us too numb to begin recognising how disconnected we are, the first step is in acknowledging the barriers and mentally willing them to be removed. Though it may seem an impossible task, those who have tried to change just one small issue in their lives have found enormous spiritual support awaiting them.

With Rosh Hashanah less than 4 days away, isn’t it worth the effort to spend a small amount of time in reflection? What do we have to lose?