We are one week away from Rosh Hashanah, a time of spiritual reckoning. Our parsha, or Torah portion, this week is Nitzavim, meaning “ones standing.” In the parsha, Moses tells the Israelites that all the people stood before G-d to enter into the covenant. What would it be like to imagine ourselves standing before G-d right now? What would it be like to imagine ourselves standing before G-d moment by moment?
Rabbi Shai Held suggests that we ask ourselves what we would do if we thought G-d was watching. Some of us may not believe in G-d, and many of us may not believe in a G-d who watches us moment by moment. But when addressing a group of Jews before the High Holy Days, Thich Nhat Hanh once said, “It is my understanding that the purpose of all Jewish practice is to live every moment in the awareness of G-d’s presence . . . and that is mindfulness.” That is the reason we turn to the JMC.
This parsha, which is traditionally read the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah, speaks repeatedly of teshuvah, often translated as repentance, but literally meaning turning. In the parsha, we are instructed to turn back to G-d. Rabbi Alan Lew, a great mindfulness teacher, wrote of this time of year as the moment of turning, the moment when we turn away from denial and begin to face exile and alienation as they manifest themselves in our own lives—in our alienation and estrangement from G-d, and in our alienation from ourselves and from others. To heal this alienation and find at-one-ment, he says we should anchor ourselves in the ground of our actual experiences. To discover what we know deep down to be the truth of our lives.
The parsha instructs us to listen to G-d’s voice, but I sometimes call this voice “the still, small voice inside.” Whatever you call it, this parsha tell us that it is not too wondrous for us nor is it distant. It is not in the heavens . . . and it is not beyond the sea . . . but the word is very close to us, in our mouths and in our hearts . . . clearly, we must be able to hear it when we sit still and allow it to arise.
The parsha goes on to say that if our heart turns away, and we do not listen, we will surely perish. Again, I’m not sure how many of us actually believe we will die in the year 5775 if we do not heed the voice, but I believe that failing to hear it could cause a kind of spiritual death.
At the end of the parsha, G-d calls to witness for the Israelites the heavens and the earth. So this week, my kavannah, or intention, for us is to imagine that we stand before G-d, that we stand before the heavens and the earth, both as we sit on our cushions and as we live our lives off the cushion. What would you do if G-d was watching? What would you do if you weren’t furiously defending against what you knew deep down to be the truth of your life?