Atem Nitzavim – Blessing for the Weeders: A Benediction for a Small Congregation

Yom Kippur 5775

Rabbi Joe Blair

(adapted with kind permission from a concept by colleague Rabbi Ellen Lewis)

Delivered to Temple House of Israel in Staunton and Congregation Beth El in Harrisonburg, Virginia

Shalom, and Gut Yontiff.

As you are aware, we have shared a year of difficulties and sad events, of tragic occurrences, and sad news. It was a year filled with trials, tribulations, and troubles, both here in our own community, and throughout the world. In light of all that has been, it would be easy to fall into the all-too common pattern of looking back with gloom and negativity, of focusing on the ills, and resigning our self to despair and expectation of nothing but bad news.

But let me assure you: on this day of Yom Kippur, that is NOT what we are urged to do, not what this holiday is about. As solemn as this holiday may be, it is also a time of happiness, joy, and looking forward, an opportunity to strive and be better, an entryway to hope and moving forward.

Those who came before us were wise in many ways, just one of which is shown today. On this day, the Day of Atonement, we are not encouraged to wallow in our past mistakes, or to give up and see the future as hopeless and bleak! Instead, we are taught that if we truly wish it and are willing to make the effort, we can overcome our faults and flaws, raise ourselves up and be better than we were in the year now past. We are taught, Im tirtzu, eyn zo agadah! If you will it, it is no dream.

We must acknowledge those errors and faults, in order to know what it is we must correct and work to improve, but we are not mired or anchored in what was. We are assured that whatever the past, if we arrive at this day having made a sincere effort, and ask for forgiveness and a chance to do better, G-d, the merciful, compassionate, grace-full, and loving sovereign and parent, will take that into account; we will have a chance to refocus, get back on track, and correct course. We can proceed with a sense of hope that we are moving in the correct direction, and that each of us working for the best for all will find the best for our self as well – and what more could we hope for or want?

So we see that part of the process of renewing our hope and sense of anticipation for the future is to take stock, not only of what went wrong, but also what went right. We need to acknowledge what we did and should continue to do as we move forward.

For our time together, I want to draw your attention to, and focus for a little time on us, as a community, and I want to highlight what we did that was good. I am sure you will find it no surprise that I want to look at this through the lens of Torah, with a look at who we are.

Allow me to remind you that the reading from Torah for the morning of Yom Kippur paints a powerful picture. It is spoken during Moses’ retelling of what happened, his final address to the people that makes up the book of Devarim. In this particular section, Moses describes that moment when all of the Hebrews who were Redeemed from Egypt, from the narrow place, who ventured into the wilderness and walked for days, until they had gathered in one place to encounter G-d. ALL of them were part of that unique moment, the Revelation of G-d at Sinai, and all of them entered into the covenant between G-d and the Hebrews.

Let me remind you again that it is understood that not only those who were present, those who had come out of Egypt, who stood there in the conventional sense, are included. No, instead we understand that ALL who were there at that time, along with ALL the souls who would ever be part of the covenant, every one of them – EACH AND EVERY ONE OF US – were understood to be present at that moment. So YOU, TOO, were there at the moment of Revelation. And YOU, TOO, are part of that Torah and the sanctity that came about as the outpouring of Revelation.

With that understanding as the background for what we read, the words that we read from the Torah on this holiday have a particular resonance for us. Listen closely.

 “You stand this day, all of you, before the Lord your G-d – 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 waterdrawer – to enter into the covenant of the Lord your G-d…”Deuteronomy 1:9-11

 Atem nitzavim hayom kulchem lifnai Adonai Eloheychem….

Again: You stand this day, all of you, before the Lord your G-d. From woodchopper to waterdrawer….

With this in your ear, permit me to expand on what is here, and show you how it speaks to us today, in our community, as a benediction, a promise, and a blessing. Listen, and hear yourself in it.

Shema, Yisra’el….. Listen and Hear, Israel.

Atem nitzavim hayom kulchem lifnai Adonai Eloheychem

You stand this day, all of you, before the Lord your G-d;

From woodchopper to waterdrawer  ….

From weeder to planter

From painter to bulb changer

From flower arranger to ark curtain hanger

From Torah holder to Torah reader

From hedge trimmer to newsletter editor

From artwork selector to tallit ironer

From plaque hanger to fruit picker.

Atem nitzavim hayom kulchem lifnai Adonai Eloheychem

You stand this day, all of you, before the Lord your G-d;

From service usher to back row worshipper

From craft-creator to memorial board hanger and lighter

From potluck chef to greeter of strangers

From gatherer of rummage to seller of treasures

From maker of sandwiches to deliverer of orders

From break-fast planner to air conditioning filter installer

From light bulb changer to tablecloth washer.

 

Atem nitzavim hayom kulchem lifnai Adonai Eloheychem

You stand this day, all of you, before the Lord your G-d

From lawn cutter to Torah repairer

From ritual planner to snack provider

From Haftarah chanter to challah baker

From student of Torah to teacher of Torah

From student of the Alefbet to teacher of adult education

From teacher of Hebrew to student of Hebrew

From religious school teacher to religious school parent

From writer of notes to reader of announcements.

 

Atem nitzavim hayom kulchem lifnai Adonai Eloheychem

You stand this day, all of you, before the Lord your G-d;

From mopper of floors to unstopper of sinks

From pourer of wine to raiser of Sukkah

From unlocker of doors to twister of yahrzeit bulbs

From maker of coffee to purchaser of cups

From sender of shalach manot to mailer of bulletins

From singer of songs to performer of mitzvot

From organizer of oneg to assigner of honors

From plotter of gravesites to maintainer of cemetery.

 

Atem nitzavim hayom kulchem lifnai Adonai Eloheychem

You stand this day, all of you, before the Lord your G-d;

From discussants of books to deliverers of mishloach manot

From blower of shofar to decorator of Sukkah

From installer of carpet to bearer of Torah

From hoster of oneg to performer of talent

From member of Sisterhood to member of the men’s club

From committee member to principal of the religious school

From member of the board to trustee

From elected officer to volunteer.

 

Atem nitzavim hayom kulchem lifnai Adonai Eloheychem

You stand this day, all of you, before the Lord Your G-d

The one who says yes when asked

The one who say yes before being asked

The one who brings challah for eating

The one who watches for the sun’s setting

The one who arrives first and the one who cleans up last

The one who provides snacks and the one who picks up trash

The one who sits and the one who stands.


Atem nitzavim hayom kulchem lifnai Adonai Eloheychem

You stand this day, all of you, before the Lord your G-d;

The one who judges talent and the ones who share their talents

The one who convenes and the one who attends

The one who welcomes the stranger and the one who blesses the sick

The one who mourns and the one who rejoices

The ones who shed tears and the ones who wipe them away

The one who pursues justice and the one who performs mitzvoth.


Atem nitzavim hayom kulchem lifnai Adonai Eloheychem

You stand this day, all of you, before the Lord your G-d

Those who are standing here with us this day

Those who are not with us here this day.

Those who were here in years past

Those who will come to join us in future

And those who are yet to be born.

You stand this day, all of you, before the Lord your G-d, and together you encounter the divine, together you create the kehilah kedosha (the holy community), together you elevate the lives of others, and together you sanctify your own lives in the way you live them. All of you, together and individually, form our community and create the world around us. Our task is to strive, to do our best.

We are told that we are not obliged to finish the work, but we are not permitted to desist from it. It is our honest, heartfelt, and sincere efforts and striving that are our offering today, and everyday. And I pray that all of can continue the work that we have done in past, and accomplish even more in the year ahead. What we have done is good, what we will do is even better. Stay strong, stay connected, stay focused and together we will reach new heights.

To all of you – I wish a g’mar chatima tovah umetukah; may you be sealed for a good year and sweet year, and may you have a tzom kal, a meaningful and light fast. Chag sameach.