By Rabbi Douglas Goldhamer, Torah Columnist
Torah Portion: Nitzavim (Deuteronomy 29:9 – 30:20)
In our Torah portion this week, Nitzavim, G-d, through Moses, makes a promise to the Jewish people that G-d’s law should be eternally kept by being in their mouths (Deuteronomy 30:14). The prophet Isaiah comments on this text, “As for Me, this is My covenant with them, says the Lord: My Spirit that is upon thee and My words which I have put in thy mouth shall not depart out of thy mouth nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the Lord, from now until forever.”(Isaiah 59:21)
Isaiah is emphasizing that Hashem’s covenant, Hashem’s promise and indeed, the Feminine Presence of G-d, the Shechina, is within you – in your mouth, in your heart, so that the Torah is so easily accessible to you. This is a remarkable concept. The ancient Greeks believed that the Greek gods and their teachings originate high above mankind, looking down from Mt. Olympus. They believed that the gods protected them, loved them, sometimes tricked them and even healed them. But, for us Jews, our G-d is not to be found across the seas and on top of the highest mountain. Our G-d lives within us. Indeed Her covenant and promise is deep within us – in our mouth and in our heart.
What a radical idea, and what a remarkable concept to be reminded of as we prepare for the New Year. When I pray to G-d every morning, I don’t look to Mt. Scopus, but I know that my G-d and my G-d’s promise are within me. And if I keep my part of the covenant, G-d’s part of the contract will be automatically revealed and maintained.
As a matter of fact, at this time of the year, in the month of Elul, each of us children of Israel is encouraged to create our own prayer vision or spiritual contract with G-d. The great Rabbi, Sfat Emet, teaches that during the month of Elul, we call out to Hashem and G-d within us (Shechina) in turn, responds to us, since the Shechina is in our mouth and in our hearts. We call out to G-d by writing a prayer vision, which includes a Divine contract, stipulating what we will do spiritually every day for G-d next year, beginning in the month of Tishrei, the month which begins with Rosh Hashanah.
And we tell G-d that the return on G-d’s investment in us (or ROI) will be very worthwhile. We ask Him to do for us as we are doing for Him. So, for example, in our prayer vision spiritual contract, which we write and say in Elul every day, and on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it might maintain that we promise G-d we will go to shul at least once a month, or we will give twice as much tzedakah this coming year.
Perhaps we will volunteer in our synagogue food pantry at least four times a year. Perhaps we will bring food to our food pantry six times a year. We will pray every day, talking to Hashem every day, as if He were our best friend. We will recite the Modeh Ani prayer every morning when we awake. We will do the Shiviti meditative prayer every day, either aligning all our Sefirot in balance with one another, recognizing their colors and feeling their vibrations, or we will do the Shiviti meditative prayer every day, vibrating on the Sefirot, lifting the Shechina out of Her exile, joining Her to YHVH, thus putting G-d back together again as Hashem Shlemut was in Eden. We will practice many meditative prayers like this at our Kabbalistic Shabbat Shuvah service at Congregation Bene Shalom on October 5, which is open to the public.
We write in our prayer contract what we expect from G-d, and we read it when we are in shul on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (preferably before services or during the silent devotions—not during the rabbi’s sermon). We may ask that G-d blesses our family with extraordinary health this year. We also invite G-d to cure our wife or aunt from the awful disease that has been plaguing her. We also expect to get that new job we have been praying for. We expect our children to do well in school if they study. And we know that if we invest in G-d, Hashem will invest in our prayer vision.
This is a wonderful way to have a more spiritual, blessed New Year. Embrace this spiritual contract most seriously as an opportunity for you to return to our G-d, as the New Year unfolds.
Rabbi Douglas Goldhamer is senior rabbi of Congregation Bene Shalom, Skokie, and president and professor of Jewish Mysticism at Hebrew Seminary, Skokie.