Parshat Ki Tavo, Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8
A person is led on the path that he (or she) truly wants to travel on. (Talmud Makkot 10b)
If a person comes to purify him (or her) self, he (or she) will be assisted by Hashem. (Talmud Shabbat 104a)
What both of these quotations have in common is that the process of deciding what we want to do in life begins with us. We are not Determinists. We firmly believe in free will. Hashem gives us the ability to choose and to proceed down whatever path in life we want, and we are assured that He will help us to become what we seek to become.
This is an empowering belief, especially at this season of the year. In the past, we may have stated our intentions to improve ourselves and realize that we have not followed through on them. We may have begun the year with the best of intentions to change ourselves, to reform and repent, but fell to temptation. But even though we may have fallen short, Hashem still has faith in our abilities and wants us to try again.
There is no room here for cynicism (“Rabbi, I’m too old to change,” as I sometimes hear from my congregants). No room for despair. Judaism is eternally optimistic. We have the capacity for change and G-d will help us to do so — if only we will take the first few steps.
This powerful message is echoed in this week’s Torah portion of Ki Tavo in which we read that we can be “G-d’s own treasure, a special nation” and a holy people. Despite all of the difficulties, temptations and challenges, we can choose to be worthy of blessing. There will be mistakes, but we can nevertheless be worthy.
What an appropriate, inspiring message to read and to take to heart in this season of Elul, less than two weeks before the beginning of Rosh Hashanah and the Days of Awe! Certainly we are filled with trepidation at the thought of accounting for our actions before our Maker, hakadosh baruch hu. But our Maker has hope and confidence in us that we can and will rise to the challenge and improve.
Rabbi Eli Seidman is the director of pastoral care at the Jewish Association on Aging. This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.