“Surely this Instruction which I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach. It is not in the heavens…no, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it.” These words from Parasha Nitzavim are always read on the Shabbat preceding Rosh Hashanah, reminding us that being part of the Jewish people, those committed to living life by the Torah (i.e. the Instruction) is not reserved for some spiritual elite (in the heavens). Rather, Judaism is a concrete way of life on this earth we are meant to practice. The parasha goes on to remind us that the practice of Judaism is based on walking a path of good, life and blessing.
This Sunday evening, we begin a new month (Tishrei) and a new year – 5777. Tishrei corresponds to the astrological sign of Libra, or the scales. As we begin the New Year, we reflect on the old one and examine our deeds. The rabbis teach that few are perfectly good or wicked; rather, we weigh the balance of our deeds over the year past and think of ways to add to the scale of good, life and blessing. One of the central prayers of the days of awe from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur, U’nataneh Tokef, teaches that through teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah add to the right scale.
Teshuvah requires us to attempt to heal broken relationships; tefillah requires us to examine ourselves in an honest and critical way while working for spiritual growth; tzedakah requires us to approach the other with an open and giving hand. These teachings about self mastery and improvement are “not too baffling nor beyond reach.” While they do require practice and effort, they are “in our mouth and our heart, to observe it.”
So many people in the world are seeking happiness. Yet, in Judaism, we do not wish each other a “happy new year”, but rather a “good new year”. We believe that happiness is actually a derivative of good. Judasim, as learned through study of Torah and judicious practice of its mitzvot, teaches us to live spiritually and ethically, embracing good, life and blessing.
Shabbat shalom and Shana Tova, a good year.