September 14, 2006
Parshat Nitzavim-Vayeilech (Deuteronomy 29:9-31:30)
"How unfair!" they cried. "Those humans will have it all. They get to experience life on earth with all the perks: laughter, tears, ice cream, wasabi, softness, scratchiness. And as if that 'being alive' stuff weren't blessing enough, they get immortality as well!" (If God is eternal, so, too, would be anything made in God's image.)
The angels were furious; no being should merit both ice cream and infinity. If heavenly beings were denied earthly experiences, why allow humans celestial ones?
So, they plotted against the humans. They decided to hide immortality from them, and assembled to determine how it could be done. One angel suggested, "Let's hide it far up in the mountains; I hear humans don't like to shvitz much. They'll never climb that high."
Another disagreed: "That won't work. Those granola hippie Jews God put on the West Coast will surely hike to the top of the mountains and discover it. Better we hide eternality far out in the sea. Most folks won't go farther than a cruise ship will take them."
Again, others dissented. They realized that any God-like being would eventually access the heights of heaven and the depths of the ocean.
Finally, a wise old angel made a brilliant suggestion: "Let us hide the infinite between and within the humans. That will be the last place on earth they would think to look for it."
And so it was.
Parashat Nitzavim illustrates the result of the angels' prank. They succeeded in ensuring that the last place we look for God is right in front of us. The text beseeches the people to take a stand "this day" in testament that the "only God is Eternal," but acknowledges that we have no idea how to affirm that truth. It speaks to our ignorance of accessing the Infinite, and tries to remedy our delusion. We need not struggle to reach the Divine.
Lo bashamiyim hi.
"No, it is not in heaven," God explains. "It is very near to you."
Contact with the Eternal is between us and within us.
The parsha speaks to our fantasy that we must search far and suffer long to retrieve this blessing. Were it not, the wording would be different. God would simply state: "Hey guys, check out this groovy commandment I've placed right in front of you."
Instead, He addresses our misconception that good things are hard to come by. He elaborates: "[It is not] beyond the sea that you should say: 'Who will cross the sea for us and bring it over to us that we may do it."
In other words: "No need for drama, difficulty or complication; you don't need a personal assistant to get this for you. Just open your eyes and see: infinite life is right here, within you."
But we remain blind, instead assuming that if something good happens easily, it is suspicious. We spit three times, even knock on wood, or mumble a "God forbid." We prepare for disappointment, assume a mistake, because in our estimation no blessing comes effortlessly. Life is hard. Good fortune takes work. Right?
Not according to the text.
Lo bashamyim hi.
Our divine legacy is found within us and between us: "See, I have set before you this day life and blessing or death and curse. Choose life."
Easy. Stick with God for an endlessly good time. You'll receive immortal prosperity through generations that will flow through you, always have what you need, and live a life of endless possibility.
Still, we continue cursing ourselves with dissident struggles -- idolizing dramas of the difficult and inaccessible rather than recognizing the abundance we have now. The angels shake their heads as we look everywhere for our hats except our heads, running away from God while He waits within us; She is right here between us.
We need only see that the trees surrounding us don't struggle to grow, they just grow; fish don't try to swim, they just swim. It is their nature. And it is our nature to exist eternally in God's image.
The angels are tired of laughing at us. They forgive us our good fortune and seek to help us remember. We stand this day, testaments of the infinite Divine presence. There's nowhere else to look, no place else to be, nothing else as perpetually filled with blessing. We need only accept this present of a moment, this gift of being human.
We can stand here and now, present to all the feelings that the angels so covet, in eternal gratitude for having them. We can "Choose life, therefore that [we and our] descendents may live - by loving [our] God; listening to God's voice."
By adoring our experience, by hearing His voice in one another's words. We choose life and death: by dying to our attachment to what was and will be.
By surrendering to this moment as being nothing but what it is, by appreciating the blessing of our curses. We choose it all, for it is revealed to us as One and the same present from our creator. Eternally within and between us, and we don't have to shvitz or swim to get it.
Rabbi Karen Deitsch will be teaching at the University of Judaism's continuing education program this fall. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.