The haftarah for Parashat Nitzavim, which was read on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah, is a particularly beautiful expression of the Jewish vision of redemption, which has always been indissolubly linked to the Land of Israel. The words of the prophet Isaiah are like a trumpet call to us across the millenniums: “For the sake of Zion, I will not be silent. And for the sake of Jerusalem, I will not be still until her victory emerge resplendent and her triumph like a flaming torch.”
As we approached the new year and contemplated our transgressions committed in the past year, the shofar blasts of Elul reminded us that victory over our shortcomings is possible and that it is incumbent upon us to struggle to be better in the year to come. It seems to me that the project of repentance, which is intensely personal, is nonetheless done in the company of other Jews, because our obligation to be better is not just to ourselves or to our God. It is also an obligation to our fellow Jews, and to the land and people of Israel, which, together, have transmitted the message of Isaiah from generation to generation so that we may contemplate his inspiring words on this day.
The haftarah foretells the celebration of the return of the Jewish people to their land: “He has clothed me with garments of triumph, wrapped in the robe of victory, like a bridegroom adorned with a turban, like a bride bedecked with her finery.”
Although we were driven into exile, God, the redeemer, is forever confident that the people will be worthy of His love. For that reason, the people of Israel will be redeemed and God will return to Zion in triumph. This expression of God’s faith in us is a powerful incentive to each of us to strive to live a better life, to be better parents, better children, better workers, better leaders, and to try to fulfil more closely the mitzvot, the commandments that give our lives a uniquely Jewish character.
The prophet writes: “Upon your walls, O Jerusalem, I have set watchmen who shall never be silent, by day or by night.”
It is a stunning reality that, in our own day, we see a glimpse of the fulfilment of this prophecy. Jerusalem is ours once again, and young men and women patrol its streets and stand on its walls, at every hour of the day and night. Alas, they have good reason to be watchful, as there are still many who wish the Jewish people gone from the city and who spend their lives trying to drive the Jewish people once again into exile.
As the brave soldiers of the IDF stand on guard for the State of Israel – the dawn of our redemption – let us make the coming year one in which we do what we can here in Canada to show those who offer their lives to the defence of Zion that the people of Israel are worthy of redemption. Let us live worthwhile lives, treat others with kindness and deal honestly in all our affairs. And let us dedicate some of our time and resources to supporting our friends and family and our fellow Jews who are striving to build worthy lives in the land of our ancestors.
Let us not be shy about discussing their achievements, whether in business, science or the arts, and let us not be afraid to stand up to those who defame them. Let us keep them in our minds and in our hearts each day of the coming year. With the prophet, let us say, “For the sake of Zion, I will not be silent. And for the sake of Jerusalem, I will not be still.”
I wish all the readers of The Canadian Jewish News a shanah tovah. May you be written in the book of life, prosperity and fulfilment for the coming year.