Every Day Is A Choice (Parsha Nitzavim and Vayeilech)

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Silence and solitude mark my mornings. Slipping from beneath the sheets into a dark room, I turn the lights low and put the coffee maker to percolating. I measure out oatmeal and stir it slowly on the stove. I sit in community with my thoughts and ground myself in the quiet, solid force of my soul. It is a ritual I anticipate nightly and cherish each morning. It is what I need to ready myself for a new day of work and study, for navigating waves of harmony and discord, for continuing the search for peace and fulfillment. Mornings are the steady moments before I jump into the adventure of tikkun olam, my own miniscule part of repairing our world and my mission for the day ahead.

Across the earth, many of my fellow Jews awake with a prayer of gratitude spilling from their lips. It is a moment alone with divinity, before the full force of the day intrudes. Their eyes still bleary and throats perhaps a bit dry, they offer:

Modeh/Modah ani l’fanecha, melech chai v’kayam
shehechezarta bi nishmati b’chemlah; rabah emunatecha.

I give thanks to You, O God, eternal and living ruler,
Who in mercy has returned my soul to me; great is your faithfulness.

I was reminded of this simple prayer when I read a line from this week’s dual parshah, Nitzavim and Vaye’lekh. “See, I set before you this day life and prosperity, death and adversity,” Moses tells his followers. “For I command you this day, to love your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His laws, and His rules, that you may thrive and increase, and that the Lord your God may bless you in the land that you are about to enter and possess” (Deuteronomy 30:15-16).

Our days are the raw material from which we create meaning. Each one equally offering potential bounty or devastation. Life and prosperity, death and adversity exist for us in moments. One 24 hour cycle may encompass them all. Each day that we arise with breath in our lungs and thoughts in our minds is a day that is truly set before us to invent from it what we will. That our tradition encourages us to give gratitude for HaShem’s faithfulness is a reminder of our immeasurable value. We have faith in God and God has faith in us.

Approaching the high holidays, we take stock of the people we’ve been over the past year. We reflect on our own behavior and intentions and consider those we have hurt or wronged in any way. It is a time to bridge the gap between our daily behavior and the ideal of who we want to be. It is a space for forgiveness and reconciliation – with others and with ourselves. It is the time to count our days.

This week’s parshah reminds us that every day matters. Every day is a new opportunity to walk a little closer in the ways of God, to foster peace instead of discord, to help repair a broken and chaotic world. Every day is a choice. We may step into divinity through cultivating attitudes of loving-kindness, performing acts of service, offering an empathetic ear or giving up the last chocolate chip cookie to someone we love. We may not succeed. Some days, we may fail terribly. But every day we have the power to change our world for the better. And each day we begin anew, buoyed with the knowledge that whether or not we have faith in divinity, HaShem has enormous faith in each of us.

Akiva Yael is an enthusiastic participant in all that is holy, including Torah study, powerlifting, and the beauty of our world.

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