For each one of us there are times when we find ourselves all stressed out about some upcoming event. We may be giving a big presentation; we may be changing jobs or moving to a different city. We may have a big crowd over for a meal or we may be running in a marathon.
No matter the situation, we all have times when we need to hear the words Moses says to the Israelites and to Joshua a total of three times in this week’s relatively short parsha of Nitzavim-Vayelech.
The blessing Moses offers the people is, Chizku v’Imtzu, “Be strong and resolute.” He makes the same statement to Joshua in the singular form of, “Chazak v’Amatz.” Moses knows he is soon to die and will not be there to guide the people. He wants to prepare them for this time by giving them this pep talk.
I often find that when I am meeting with people and they are expressing nervousness over some of the situations mentioned above, they are also in need of a pep talk. I frequently use two words of my own. I tell them, “Be confident in your competence.” Most of the time they have put in much preparation for the event and all they have to do is let go of the fear and be confident that they know what they are doing and have the ability to do it well. Sometimes they just need a reminder of the talents they possess and the support that is there for them.
When Moses continues with his pep talk he instructs the Israelites to place the Torah in the Ark for it to be a witness for them. It is to be their reminder that they know what to do. They have learned the blueprint of what God wants of them and they just need to carry it out.
With Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur soon arriving, we make many preparations. These days are referred to in Hebrew as the Yamim Norah’im, the Days of Awe. The word for “awe” shares properties with the word for “fear.” These days can be seen as the Days of Fear. We worry if we have done enough to straighten ourselves out. We worry about approaching friends and loved ones to say we are sorry. We worry that another holiday season will pass us by without us finding meaning in a tradition that is so rich.
We should not be afraid. Just like the Israelites had the Torah as their guide, we also have the vast resources of our tradition and community. Find ways to get involved and connected in your Jewish community, be supportive of others and reach out for the support you need and learn more about Judaism as a source of spiritual nourishment.
As we prepare for the Yamim Norah’im, we gain strength to do teshuva and to point ourselves in the straight path by reflecting on what got us here: the Torah and the traditions of our people.
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)