Parsha Nitzavim – Vayelech by David Hartley Mark

“Be patient; God isn’t finished with me yet; I am a Masterpiece in progress.”

–Bumper Sticker that would make a Good Slogan for the Jewish People

I wish Moses had been more of an optimist. Granted, at the time of our parsha/Torah reading, he’s one-hundred-twenty years old, and probably aching in every limb, after forty years of nonstop wandering ‘round the wilderness. He had every right to feel bitter about not being allowed to enter the Land of Israel: hadn’t he worked the hardest to get God’s people there? As the most clear-sighted of the Biblical prophets, he looked far into the future and saw how the Israelites were going to backslide and fall away from worshiping God once they had taken over the Promised Land; after all, their surrounding neighbors were pagans, and pagan-worship had its attractions: temptations would abound. There would be a multiplicity of nature-based godlings, accessibility to orgies, and few, if any, prohibitions on human behavior. God would stand for no such shenanigans, however. As punishment for their faithlessness, God would send other nations to conquer the Israelites—Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans, one after the other—and we would be swept into exile, galut, Diaspora.

And yet, we would survive—you are reading this, after all, and you are either Jewish, or, somehow, attracted to this particular mode of worship. “When you return to the Lord your God and listen to His voice…God will return you, and gather you from among all the nations among which He scattered you, even if your refugees are at the ends of the earth….” (Deut. 30:2-4). Even our exile was supposed to have a happy ending—was it messianic, or was Moses referring to the founding of the Jewish State? I hold with the latter. Somehow, we Jews keep on keeping on.

And so, even if Moses was altogether pessimistic about our future survival, even though Israel is currently facing challenges to both its north and south—many of us grew up in tough neighborhoods, too, and I continue to be, at the dawning of 5774, convinced that we will endure beyond the current tribulations, for surviving is what we do best, and creatively, too.

On behalf of Anbeth, Jordan, and myself, Shana Tova—a most happy and healthy Jewish New Year to all the members of our Temple Sholom Family and Community!

David Hartley Mark is from New York City’s Lower East Side. He attended Yeshiva University, the City University of NY Graduate Center for English Literature, and received semicha at the Academy for Jewish Religion. He currently teaches English at Everglades University in Boca Raton, FL, and has a Shabbat pulpit at Temple Sholom of Pompano Beach. His literary tastes run to Isaac Bashevis Singer, Stephen King, King David, Kohelet, Christopher Marlowe, and the Harlem Renaissance.

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