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In Parshat Nitzavim, Moses presents the children of Israel with the choice before them of following or not following God's commandment and, in the image at the end of Nitzavim (30,19), "to choose life".

Another voice

Nitzavim by Ariel Kahn :: 5768

Ariel Kahn is a writer and University lecturer. He is a member of Assif, the egalitarian minyan at the New North London Synagogue (Masorti).

Nitzavim opens with an inclusive vision of the community that God addresses; not just "the stranger in your midst, from the hewer of wood to the drawer of water" (28:10), but also those who "are not present today"; present only as readers of "this book". What might it mean for us to be truly present when we read this parsha? Nitzavim focuses on the dangers of idolatry, which it describes as "a root that bears gall and wormwood". (29:17) Why the profound hostility? What does idolatry mean to us today?

Rav Kook, the mystic, poet, and first Chief Rabbi of pre-mandate Palestine, suggests that Judaism itself can become idolatry. This was Adam's sin, he writes, and the sin of the golden calf: "he listened to the snake, and lost himself, and therefore could not give answer to God's question 'where are you' ... which was also the sin of Israel, who lusted after alien gods." (Orot Hakodesh 3, p.140-141)

This notion of idolatry echoes Shakespeare's. In his play Troilus and Cressida, Hector declares that "it is mad idolatry to make the service greater than the god." (Troilus and Cressida, II.ii.60). In other words, if we focus on the service, and make it greater than the God – forget whom we are serving – it becomes "mad idolatry".

Idol-worship, for Shakespeare and Rav Kook, means worshipping an idea that is not your own; any fixed idea can become an idol. The imperative is to develop our own relationship with God, "worship God with all your heart and soul". (30.10) This suggests prayer, "standing before God" (29:9). The Kotsker Rebbe questioned the order of the opening of the Amidah, the standing prayer; why do we first say "our God", and only then "the God of our ancestors"? Surely, historically the god of our Ancestors should come first? The Kotsker argues that we need to establish our own connection with God first. Only then can we have a real connection to the tradition of our Ancestors.

Rav Kook suggests another way in which we can be truly present, and answer God’s question "Where are you". In Orot Hakodesh he suggests that "Every time that the heart knocks with a true spiritual knocking, and every time that a new and exalted idea is born, we listen, because this is like the voice of an angel which is knocking on the doors of our souls, asking us to open up to it so that it can be revealed in the full clarity of its beauty". For Rav Kook here, the key to serving God is listening to our own inner voice. Sparks of the Divine lie within us, waiting to be discovered; if we nurture our creativity and our prayer, if we step towards God, he will "circumcise our hearts" (30:6), remove the calluses that have grown up around our souls, that prevent us from knowing our true selves, from being truly "present today".


More by Ariel Kahn

Another voice by Jess Gold

Jess Gold is an eco musician and an environmental campaigner. She was elected on to the board of Friends of the Earth in September 2009. Her vision to become a songwriter was first inspired when she sang in Debbie Friedman’s (z"l) choir at the Limmud conference in 1994 and then attended the Hava Nashira song leaders seminar in 1995. She has recorded two albums of original songs, the first Jewish and the second eco themed. Her multi-media eco music resource for primary schools ‘Greening the world one song at a time’ is being launched at the beginning of 2012.

This weeks Parasha tells us that G-d's commandments are in our mouths and in our hearts, not in the heavens and not beyond the sea. We are told that we don't need to send someone to go and find them and bring them back to us. This seems to mirror interesting arguments alive in the environmental movement today – whose responsibility is it to solve the climate problems that the rich North has created? Is it over there, in the hands of the politicians and the powers that be, or do individuals have the responsibility and the accompanying power to make a difference? Are we required to take stock of what choices we make in our lives and see whether they help accelerate climate change, or whether, indeed, we can minimise our own carbon output and reject burning petrol and oil as much as is possible? With the High Holy days rapidly approaching, our tradition points us firmly in the direction of the latter, with a constant and powerful emphasis on personal responsibility. Will you be counting up your air miles as part of your teshuvah this year


More by Jess Gold

Other Divrei Torah on Nitzavim

  • 5766 (Mark Goldsmith)
  • 5766 (Taste of Limmud Team)
  • 5767 (Peninnah Schram)
  • 5767 (Taste of Limmud Team)
  • 5769 (Adam Frankenberg)
  • 5769 (Leanne Stillerman)
  • 5770 (Taste of Limmud Team)
  • 5770 (Taste of Limmud Team)
  • 5771 (Jonathan Arkush)
  • 5771 (Jess Gold)
  • 5772 (Albert Ringer)
  • 5773 (Arik Ascherman)
  • 5773 (Robbie Duschinsky)
  • 5774 (Avi Killip)
  • 5774 (Judith Abraham)