In this week's Torah portion, Parashat Nitzavim (which happens to be my favorite!), we are given a little bit of reassurance that the essence of Torah is not beyond our reach.
"For this commandment (hamitzvah hazot) which I command you this day, it is not too hard for you, neither is it far off...[It] is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it." (Deut. 30:12, 14)
It? What's it?
I have always inferred the subject of these verses to be intentionally and necessarily abstract. It creates space for the mystery and possibility of spiritual Mad Libs. Perhaps God is very close? or Torah? or doing the right thing?
Picking up on this same ambiguity, the commentators opted for a more specific read. They recognized that hamitzvah hazot (in the singular) must be in reference to a single mitzvah. For a group of the Medievals, Ramban amongst them, there is an assertion that the one commandment being referred to in this verse is...teshuvah. And, best of all, it's within our grasp! Lo b'shamayim hi - it's not in the heavens, or beyond the sea; no, [teshuvah] is in our mouths and in our hearts.
It makes sense to me that the Ramban would want to say so - because it is so the opposite of most of our experiences. As one member said to me this week, "Maybe I will figure out this Elul thing next year." Even if we can envision Teshuvah in the abstract, it can be hard to understand the practicalities.
With the new year just around the shabbes corner, I am taking the instructions of this week's parsha to heart. I want to extend my own teshuvah practice to each of you. If there is any way in the past year that I have missed the mark as your rabbi, please know that it was absolutely unintentional and I am sorry. I welcome the opportunity while the gates of forgiveness are swinging wide open to make teshuvah with you.
At my installation in April 2017, I shared some wisdom from Pastor Nadia Bolz Weber, founder of the House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver. She hosts a monthly brunch for her new members. At it Bolz Weber explains,
"At some point, I will disappoint you or the church will let you down. Please decide on this side of that happening if, after it happens, you will still stick around. Because if you leave, you will miss the way that God's grace comes in and fills in the cracks of our brokenness. And [it's] too beautiful to miss. Don't miss it."
Bolz Weber is saying, stick around, because the opportunity to do teshuvah is too beautiful to miss. I am very grateful for the opportunity to heal, reconnect, be honest, forgive, let go, and grow together. As all the details come into focus, I am feeling fully that these High Holidays are going to be too beautiful to miss.
Wherever you find yourself for Rosh Hashanah, I wish you a Shana Tova U'Metukah, a year of sweetness and liberation.
Rabbi Ari Lev
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Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek Synagogue through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.