Parashah of the week: Nitzavim-Vayelech

“For the matter is very close to you, it is in your mouth and in your heart in order to do it” Deuteronomy 30:14


A torah (Hebrew scripture) reading. The "yod" - a hand-shaped silver pointer - is used by the reader to mark his or her place in the text.

Next week, we will be welcoming the New Year and all of us hopefully will be trying to commit to new ways to improve ourselves. And yet I would be willing to bet that many of us will also struggle with this endeavour. It can sometimes feel exceedingly overwhelming to make even the tiniest change in our daily lives, often due to not knowing where to start. 

For this reason, some of us will give up on our plans before even setting out on the journey. But this need not be the case, as we’re reminded in this week’s parashah: “This mitzvah is neither too baffling for you nor beyond your reach, rather it is very close to you — it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you may perform it.” 

At first blush, these are words of encouragement: You can do it! Keep at it! It will come to you! But on closer inspection, these words also offer a simple how-to guide towards enacting the changes we seek.  

In the early 17th-century, proto-Chasidic text, Shnei Luchot Habrit (or Shelah), Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz offers us a three-step process based on this verse. The words “mouth, heart, and perform”correspond to his three steps: confession (or vidui, which must be verbalised); regret (or charatah, which is felt within the heart and mind); and finally forsaking (or azivah, which is when we replace old behaviours with new ones).

In short, we must admit out loud (to others, to God, and most importantly to ourselves) that which we wish to change. We must consider how our past behaviour has impacted others and internalise that feeling of regret in order to dissuade ourselves from backsliding. And we must actively choose to change course, one act at a time.  

Certainly this process can come across as naïve or overly simplistic, but it is certainly a helpful way to ease into a process of character development when we find ourselves feeling overwhelmed. But most importantly, this is precisely the journey upon which we are called to embark every year during the High Holy Days. We apologise to one another and admit our shortcomings. We meditate on the words of Ashamnu, Al Chet and more to consider further our regrets. And we come out of the Ne’ilah service intent on trying to do better in the coming year.

Of course, we will struggle and we might even fail this time around. But that does not mean we should give up. Rather, we must always remember that this task is not too great for us — it is wholly within our ability and our being to perform it. 

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