Parashat Nitzavim – Erev Shabbat 23 September (5782)
Week of 18 – 24 Sept 2022
Torah portion: Deut. 29:9-30:20 Haftarah: Isa. 61:10-63:9
Theme: Choose Life
This planet and the species that call it home are facing an unprecedented crisis. Overconsumption, the devastation of ecosystems, pollution, war and widespread injustice are diminishing the quality of life of “nearly eight billion people and eight million species of other creatures” that call this finite planet home (Neril, p. 18). The impact of these crises is being felt most profoundly by the most vulnerable. Both science and theology tell us that all life on this planet is interconnected. The diminishment of life for one also leads to the diminishment of life for all. This week’s parashah offers insights into our connectedness and the decision to choose life before each of us, so that we and those who follow us will live (cf. Deut. 30:19).
The portion begins with Moses addressing those gathered on the plains of Moab. “You stand [nitzavim] this day, all of you, before the Eternal your God…to enter into the covenant of the Eternal your God” (Deut 29:10, 12, emphasis mine). This passage addresses the leaders of tribes, elders, officials, and men of Israel (29:9) as well as children, women and the sojourners (ger) within the camp (29:10). These terms are both inclusive and relational—even though the worldview they represent is patriarchal. Nobody stands alone. This sense of relatedness is also intergenerational, extending to those yet to be born (29:14).
Dalit Rom-Shiloni (in Eskenazi, p. 1218) notes that this text affirms that all who are about to enter the land, as well as generations yet to be born, “have the potential to break or to maintain the covenant”. Thus, all Jewish people can see themselves as presented with the opportunity to choose life over death, highlighted in the concluding section of the parashah (30:15. 19). Because Christianity shares this text with Judaism, Christians must also ask themselves what this choice means for them. The reality of our interconnectedness as members of the community of creation demands that we do so.
“Choose life—if you and your offspring would live—by loving the Eternal your God, heeding God’s commands, and holding fast to [God]” (30:19–20). Christians reading these verses might be reminded of Jesus’ answer to the question, “Which commandment is the first of all?” (Mark 12:28). Jesus’ response to this question begins with the Shema, which states that the Eternal is God, the Eternal alone (Mk. 12:29; Deut. 6:4). Further, one is called to love God with all one’s heart, soul, and might (Mk. 12:30; Deut. 6:5) and to love one’s neighbour as oneself (Mk. 12:31; Lev. 19:18).
To choose life is to choose love. The choice seems straightforward. However, three thousand years of human history demonstrate that this choice is not as easy as it might seem—even if it is in our self-interest. We do not need to look very far to observe people—including ourselves—making numerous choices that lead to the diminishment of life. But we can also look around and see people challenging attitudes, structures and systems that diminish life; and working to transform them so that all may enjoy life. The choice between life and death is ours. What do we choose?
For Reflection and Discussion: In what ways am I asked to choose life on a daily basis? How do these choices contribute to the flourishing of the entire community of creation?
Bibliography: Eskenazi, Ed. The Torah: A Women’s Commentary (URJ, 2008); Neril & Dee, Eco Bible: Vol 2, An Ecological Commentary on Leviticus, Numbers & Deuteronomy (Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development, 2021).
This week’s Parashah Commentary was prepared by
Mark David Walsh, Bunurong Country, Australia,Bat Kol Alumnus: 2001, 2002, 2004, 2013