Judaism is a study in contrasts. We are meant to see that for every calamity, there is redemption. For every curse, there is a blessing. For everyone in despair, there is hope. Recall that last week, in Ki Tavo, we were cursed for fifty-four verses of the tochecha and then reminded of God’s salvation in the Haftarah from Isaiah. Even in the darkest of times, we are told that there is hope and deliverance. Experiencing such extremes is an emotional roller coaster.
With that being said, Rosh Hashana is coming. The shofar has been sounded every morning of Elul to warn us, and in less than a week the Days of Awe will begin and the Book of Life will be opened. Who among us will not spend some time acknowledging our missteps along the way over the past year, and praying that the coming year will be one in which we are a little bit better?
Nitzavim/Vayelech is the Torah portion this week and is a perfect lead-in to the coming holidays. Like a lot of our teaching and texts, we are presented with stark contrasts. Nitzavim means to be rooted in place. It doesn’t quite mean “standing,” nor does it mean “built” or “erected.” It implies a solid foundation, a strength and roots, and attention. We are nitzavim when we are listening to God and being evaluated, when we are being questioned or questioning ourselves. Saturday night many of you may attend a selichot service, where the serious process of teshuva and repentance really begins, and initiate the process of self-searching and soul-searching.
At the same time, we also read Vayelech, meaning “and he shall go,” this week as the second of the double Torah portion. After the hard questions have been asked, after forgiveness has been asked for, after our sins and misdeeds have been cast off at Tashlikh, after the teshuva and repentance, we are allowed to set off again into the coming year with a clean slate. While Shabbat is a weekly time to pause and take stock, Rosh Hashana and the coming season of repentance is much more intense. We must come to a full stop before we can move forward. We must be ones who are nitzavim before we are allowed to follow the vayelech instruction.