In parshat Nitzavim, we come to Moses’ final summation of his message. He speaks about the brit, the covenant, that is the basis of the relationship between God and Israel. He teaches about the punishment that will result from the inevitable violation of that covenant and the redemption that will follow teshuva, repentance.
Nitzavim is always read — either by itself or in combination with parshat Vayelech — on the Shabbat immediately preceding Rosh Hashana. And in what I would never label a coincidence, this parsha highlights some of the major themes of the Yamim Nora’im, the Days of Awe:
* There are rewards that will follow obedience to God’s commandments and punishments attendant on disobedience, teaching that our actions have consequences;
* God will not only accept, but actively desires, our teshuva and so will not abandon us; and
* It affirms that the power to choose between good and evil is in our hands.
According to tradition, Moses is speaking to the people he has led for 40 years on the last day of his life. He knows that he is about to die, and he is aware of the challenges that lie ahead, and so he tries to encourage the Israelites and fill them with confidence, just as a parent might speak words of encouragement to a child leaving home for college.
Moses concludes his exhortation with these words: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today: I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life — in order that you and your offspring should live.”
But why does Moses say hayom, today — a word that appears 14 times in the 40 verses in this parsha? Isn’t it obvious that he is speaking “today”?
The late Rabbi Moshe Feinstein wrote:
Perhaps this word’s message is that each and every day of our lives, the same choices Moshe described stand before us to be confronted anew. Certainly someone whose behavior has been improper until now is obligated to choose the path of good for the future. But even someone who has already chosen that path and remained firmly on it may not rely on his past performance to guarantee that he will continue to do good, and must make his choice afresh “today” and every day, because every day the path of evil and death also stands before him. Every day, therefore, he must once again consciously choose the good.
It’s a sobering thought — and a very hopeful one — as we prepare for these coming Days of Awe.
L’shana tova tikateivu v’teihateimu!