The anecdote is told of a man who took out a rather substantial loan. As the payback date approached, the borrower still did not have the finances to pay off his loan. The lender was pressuring him and it was causing him much stress. He came up with a plan to deal with the situation. He procured the precise amount that he owed in counterfeit bills and gave it to his lender. A few weeks later, the man once again found himself in need of money. Now that his debt was paid off, he felt comfortable enough to ask the same lender for another loan. He received the loan. Unfortunately, when he opened the purse he found that all the bills that he received were in fact from the counterfeit bills he had paid off his previous debt with.
The Torah portion of Nitzavim is always read right before Rosh HaShana, the Jewish New Year, and Day of Judgment. The portion opens with the words, “You are all standing this day before the Lord, your G-d” (Deut. 29:9). It is rather timely to read these words as we prepare ourselves to stand before our Creator and be judged for the year to come. As we say countless times during the High Holiday liturgy, it is during this period according to the Jewish tradition that all of humanity is judged; who will live and who will die, how much money will be made and how much will be lost, etc.
When a person meditates upon the above, they are bound to feel overwhelmed and a sense of trepidation. Returning to the anecdote above, we can say that the ball is very much in our court. If we do the work to make amends for our mistakes and to resolve to truly improve with an increase in good deeds, then we so-to-speak will “pay off our loans” and will find ourselves in good standing come the High Holidays. However, if we do not do the work, then we are like the borrower above, who reaps what he sows. When we receive our allotment for the coming year, we may find ourselves lacking G-d forbid. As Moses stresses in the portion, “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life” (Deut. 30:19). The ball is in our court. If we do the work, we will merit good results.
With all the above in mind, there is one more idea that I’d like to stress. G-d is referred to in one of the key pieces of liturgy for this period as “Avinu Malkeinu,” meaning “Our Father, Our King.” While it is true that we stand before Him as a King, awaiting judgment. First and foremost, we are standing before our Father. He wants what is best for us and will do anything for each of us; His children that He loves dearly. As we approach this awe-inspiring period, let us be honest with ourselves to do the work so that we can stand there on the Day of Judgment with our heads held high; confident that we will get a good judgment. Nevertheless, even so, let us recall that at the end of the day, He isn’t just our King but our Father, and as such may we eagerly approach the occasion to coronate our Father and to rededicate ourselves to the relationship.
Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova
– Rabbi Liad Braude