The Sensation of Freshness / Parashat Netzavim 5776 / Deuteronomy 29:9 -30:20
When I first read the following paragraph in the opening of God in Search of Man (Heschel), I was stunned. Absolutely stunned! Allow me to share these words, add a few comments, get back to our Torah reading and check in with Rebbe Nachman.
It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid. When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion-its message becomes meaningless.
I had been at the crossroads of my Jewishness. So much in Jewish life seemed irrelevant, dull, oppressive, (and) insipid. Fortunately my mother saw my perplexity and put Heschel’s work into my hands. I opened this book with its focus on the decline of Judaism due to a creed, habit, the past, heirlooms etc. Judaism had become stale. And Heschel breathed freshness into Jewish life!
And Heschel was only being true to the text. When you read the Bible and you’ll notice the word הַיּוֹם֙ (today) occurs 458 times in the entire Tanach, 135 times in the Torah, and 13 times in our parasha. אַתֶּ֨ם נִצָּבִ֤ים הַיּוֹם֙ כֻּלְּכֶ֔ם לִפְנֵ֖י יְקֹוָ֣ק אֱלֹהֵיכֶ֑ם – You stand this day, all of you, before the LORD your God . . . The religious life is to be alive, vital and spontaneous. It’s to feel something magnificent, every moment of our lives, about being alive. It’s about being called upon in love and devotion and responding with love, delight and devotion. The Bible is not about history or the past, as it is a command to wake up – today!
And Rebbe Nachman (Sichot HaRan #51) writes that getting old is a betrayal of our identity. It is actually forbidden to get old and we are commanded to practice hitchadshut – to live with freshness and spiritual vitality every day of our lives.
Shabbat Shalom and Shanah Tovah!
Rabbi Dov Bar is a Schechter Alumni Parent and Former Head of School