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Nitzavim & Vayelech: A D’var Torah

By Marlana Fireman, NFTY-OV Religious and Cultural Vice President

D’var Torah 8.31.13
Nitzavim + Vayelech

This week’s torah portion is actually a double portion – we read both Nitzavim and Vayelech. This is partly because all of the Torah portions don’t fit in a lunar year (there are 54 torah portions and only 50 weeks in a lunar calendar), and partly because these two portions flow into each other almost seamlessly as the Torah begins to wrap up. In short, Moses tells the Israelites that he isn’t going into Israel with them. He’s too old. At 120, he isn’t exactly a spring chicken and he appoints Joshua to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land. God appears to Moses and Joshua in a pillar of smoke, warning them that the Israelites will soon try to go against their covenant with God. God teaches them a little song to pass on the Israelites that nicely reminds them of how the Promised Land is flowing with milk & honey, and that God is leading them there.  And if they don’t follow the Torah, God will kill them by plaguing them with, well… plagues. (Boils, the fever, toads, the whole bit.) Moses presents God’s song to the Israelites, and rightfully scares them, telling them that if they stray from the Torah, God will take every plague in the book (literally) and hit them with it. Hard. For this, Moses had gathered everyone. From the high priests to the people that fetch water from the well, so that he can tell them what God had said. He tells them that they’re basically signing a covenant, right there. The coolest part is, in the Torah, it says; “On this day…” meaning that as you read the portion, you’re signing this covenant with God too.

Finally, after 40 years, the Jews are about to enter the Promised Land. We always hear the phrase “40 years in the desert” and that’s about it. 40 years. But let’s put that into perspective a little bit. Say the Israelites ate about three meals a day in the desert, for 40 years, that makes about 43,800 meals over their 40 year trek in an average of about 90°F weather every day. That’s a long time to be walking on hot sand.

Fast forward a lot of years. On this day in 1803, Lewis and Clark left Pittsburgh and headed west. I can’t say it took them 40 years to get from Pittsburgh to the west coast, but it did take about two years, which is still a really long time. That’s about 1,460 meals. Just like the Israelites did with God, Lewis & Clark made a covenant with America that they would journey on to see what lies west. Sounds pretty familiar to me. Just like the Israelites, Lewis & Clark had no idea what lay ahead as they started their journey, only being empowered by the promise of something wonderful when they got to the end. And like the Israelites, Lewis & Clark started and stopped, wove through the land, and hoped that they would soon find what they were looking for. The Israelites were led by Moses, but truly through the hand of God. Contrary to popular belief, Sacagawea wasn’t truly a guide to Lewis & Clark, but did help them interpret and make peace with indigenous peoples as they went through their journey. (She also did it while caring for a newborn baby.) But, she is comparable to Moses in the way that she became an interpreter, much like Moses was a translator, as he was one of the few people that spoke with God, and was able to relay God’s messages on to the Jewish people.

So you might be wondering, why am I comparing the Israelites journey to that of Lewis & Clark? Because they all struggled to get where they needed to go. From the golden calf on Mt.Sinai, to Lewis accidentally being shot in the thigh, from the parting of the Red Sea to Sacagawea giving birth on the trail, we’ve learned that no journey is an easy one. Each year of your life is a journey, and each of us finds ourselves here, starting a new one. Some of us seniors, starting our last high school journey toward the Promised Land called college. Or even for some of us, the actual Promised Land. Freshmen, who find yourselves journeying through uncharted high school territory and even journeying through this exciting new path called NFTY. And those of you in between, who are in the middle of your high school journeys, some of you still trying to get your bearings in high school and others already ready to depart from the desert that is high school. We’ll all have our struggles through our various journeys, whether they be from mean teachers, stressful jobs, loads of homework, Mean Girls-esque cliques, choosing a college, or even deciding what to run for on your TYG board next year. In conclusion remember this: just like Lewis & Clark had Sacagawea and the Israelites have Moses, you have your own guide to interpret your high school journey as you travel along: NFTY. Whether you accidentally got shot in the thigh because your hunting companion thought you were an elk, or you’re standing in front of hundreds of people bowing to a golden calf and you can’t decide how to tell them they’re not doing it right, remember that you have NFTY by your side. As your journey continues on, whether you’re a freshman, sophomore, junior or senior, remember that when you need support, NFTY is there. Let NFTY be your Moses, leading you to explore your religion, find support, make friends, and get to the “promised land” of college. Remember that in the desert of high school, NFTY will always be your oasis.

Shabbat shalom.