This week’s Torah portion begins with the most inclusive statement in the Torah. It’s a little long, but worth reading in its entirety:
You stand this day, all of you, before the Lord your God – your tribal heads, your elders and your officials, all the men of Israel, your children, your wives, even the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to water drawer – to enter into the covenant of the Lord your God, which the Lord your God is concluding with you this day, with its sanctions, to the end that God may establish you this day as His people and be your God, as He promised you and as He swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I make this covenant, with its sanctions, not with you alone, but with those who are standing here with us this day before the Lord of God and with those who are not with us here this day.
The Torah is very clear. It means everybody. As a southerner would say, “all y’all.” And not just everybody who was standing there at that moment. It means everybody. You and me and our children and our children’s children. The word ha’yom, “this day,” is repeated five times and frames the statement, ensuring that all of God’s children are included, for all time.
Why the emphasis on today? It hints at a message that is relevant to Rosh Hashanah, which begins next week. To fully experience today, we have to let go of yesterday and tomorrow. In short, we need to be present, in the present. Like Abraham, Moses, and Isaiah, we need to say, Hineni, Here I Am.
Right now, letting go of yesterday isn’t especially easy, because it’s been quite a week, first anticipating Hurricane Irma, then experiencing it. We had days of stress and shortages, searching for gas, water, batteries, plywood. We were busy thinking about the hurricane that was lurking in our future. Then, all of a sudden, the storm came roaring in. And then it was gone again.
Some of us still are without power, there are uprooted trees and piles of debris everywhere, and gasoline shortages persist. But once again, a major storm bypassed my home city of Sarasota. We know that many communities were hit much harder, and we can’t help but think about the “what ifs” – what if the storm hadn’t turned, what if it hadn’t weakened, what if that tree had landed on my house or my car.
Letting go of what didn’t happen is nearly as hard as letting go of what did happen. And we can find ourselves living in a world of yesterdays – the real ones and the imagined ones – and a world of tomorrows – when will I get my power back, how much work piled up while I was gone, when will the next storm hit.
In so doing, we can forget to concentrate on something important. Ha’yom. This day. And the Torah explains that our job on this day isn’t hard. We simply need to keep up our end of the covenant, the contract we’ve made with God: “Surely, this Instruction that I command you this day, it is not too hard for you, nor is it far off. It is not in heaven… nor by the sea… No, it is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart.” (Deut. 30:11-14).
As we look forward to this Shabbat and Rosh Hashanah, may we be reminded that keeping the covenant with God isn’t difficult or complicated. Love God. Love ourselves. Love our neighbors. Be kind. Be compassionate. Don’t steal or kill or lie or cheat. Be a mensch, a good person.
We have the ability with our words and our actions, our mouths and hearts, to be the people who God wants us to be, to say Hineni – Here I Am.