Preparing to cross the river into 5781...

This week, I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that Labor Day weekend is now in the rearview mirror! Time has moved very strangely for me during this pandemic period, but still, it has continued ticking forward, and we now find ourselves less than two weeks out from Rosh Hashanah. We prepare ourselves to conclude one cycle and to begin a new one, uncertain about what the new year will bring, but also with a sense of hope.

This week, I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that Labor Day weekend is now in the rearview mirror! Time has moved very strangely for me during this pandemic period, but still, it has continued ticking forward, and we now find ourselves less than two weeks out from Rosh Hashanah. We prepare ourselves to conclude one cycle and to begin a new one, uncertain about what the new year will bring, but also with a sense of hope.

In our Torah reading cycle too, we move forward towards the end of one story and the beginning of a new and different one. As we draw closer to the conclusion of the Torah this week, in Parashat Nitzavim-Vayeilech, we hear Moses (with a looming sense of his own mortality) adjuring the Israelites about how they should live and act as they prepare to enter into the promised land.


So much of what Moses advised our ancestors on the eastern shores of the Jordan River now resonates for us too, as we stand on the banks of our own river, preparing to cross from one year into the next. Here are just a few of the specific lines of Nitzavim that jumped out at me as particularly relevant as we prepare for Rosh Hashanah:

  • "Ha'nistarot ladonai eloheinu v'ha-niglot lanu u'l'vaneinu ad olam la'asot et kol divrei ha-torah ha-zot." "Concealed acts concern Adonai our God, but when it comes to revealed acts, it is for us and for our children to apply all the words of this teaching forever." (Deut. 29:28) - This verse acknowledges that we can't possibly control everything. The text seems to be saying: let God handle that which lies outside of our purview. However, we do have an obligation to try to make a difference wherever we can, applying the right values to every decision we make. We do so both for our own sake, and for the sake of future generations.
  • "V'shavta ad adonai elohecha... v'shav adonai elohecha et shevut'cha v'richamecha," "If you return to Adonai your God... then Adonai your God will bring you back from your captivity in love." (Deut. 30:2-3) - In life, we can be kept "in captivity" by all sorts of things that hold us back. In this season, we have the possibility to break those chains -- for example, breaking old patterns -- and to try to achieve teshuva/return. We are promised that any attempt to do so will be met with divine compassion and acceptance!
  • "U'mol adonai elohecha et lvav'cha v'et l'vav zarecha l'ahava..." "Adonai your God will open up (literally: "circumcise") your heart and the heart of your offspring to love..."  (Deut. 30:6) - The metaphor of a circumcised heart may feel awkward to our contemporary sensibilities, but the concept very much applies: that it's possible for the human heart to be blocked or rigid. Our ability to love wholeheartedly and to embrace life fully is dependent on cultivating an open, supple heart. Uncovering our hearts, and opening them up to the full range of human emotion, is an important part of the work of this holiday season.
  • "Ki ha-mitzvah ha-zot... lo nifleit hi mimcha v'lo r'choka hi... lo va-shamayim hi... v'lo me'ever la-yam hi... ki karov eilecha ha-davar me'od b'ficha u'vil'vavcha la'asoto," "Surely this Torah is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach... it is not in the heavens... nor is it beyond the sea... rather, this matter is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it." (Deut 30:11-14) - This work of preparation for the next step of a journey can feel so very daunting and overwhelming. I love that Moses gives the Israelites the same kind of reassurance that we need to hear in this moment: this task isn't beyond you. You can do this!

In the ten days that we have left of 5780, these are all such important lessons to take to heart, and so many of the Elul programs we've been running for the Kavana community (and are continuing to run this week and next) are specifically designed to help us all get there.  If you're looking for a quick but powerful place to start, please join us TONIGHT for the Singing Circle with Chava Mirel... a surefire way to cultivate an open and supple heart and feel the music of this powerful season. And, this Saturday night, we'll have another musical treat, as we join together with our friends at the Kitchen (in San Francisco) for Havdalah and an invitation to stand at the open ark, and then cue up the prayers, musical traditions, and teachings of Selichot.

Time feels so hazy right now... much like the world appears on this day, with a thick layer of smoke obscuring our beautiful city and its surroundings. And yet, the calendar reminds us that we're almost there, at the entrance to the new year of 5781. I'll end with a final invitation then: to click here to register to spend the High Holidays with Kavana, so that we can make this crossing together.


So grateful to be sharing this strange and beautiful journey with you,

Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum