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  • Writer's pictureRabbi Michael Barclay

Natzavim - Holy Thresholds

You stand this day, all of you, before the LORD your God—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 God” (Deut. 29:8)

What better words could we read on the Shabbat before Rosh HaShana than this reminder that we are called to stand up and be counted in this New Year. Each and every one of us.

And it is also a reminder to review where we have been. The statement in this week’s reading of Natzavim comes in the Book of Deuteronomy: a recapitulation of the journey of the Hebrews from Egypt to re-entering the Promised Land. The entire concept of this fifth book of the Torah is an important guide as we finish one year and begin a new one.

Judaism places a great deal of emphasis on thresholds, doors, and gateways. How do leave one place or space, and how do we enter into a new one? Do we come into a new environment gently and with consciousness, or unaware of our surroundings? Do we leave a place better or worse than we entered it? Do we exit with grace and gratitude or do we leave an environment, place, or condition in obliviousness to how we are leaving?

Are we conscious of God’s Holy Presence at all times, especially at these gateway and threshold moments?

This is the main purpose behind placing a mezuzah at every gate and doorway (except the bathroom). We are commanded that each of the rooms in our homes should have a mezuzah. Some people think this is for spiritual protection, the way an amulet is used in some cultures. But the true purpose of putting a mezuzah at every threshold is clearly found in the words of the VeAhavta prayer (actually considered part of the Shema). “You shall write them (God’s words) upon the doorposts of your house and upon your gates…That you may remember them and do all My (God’s) commandments and be holy unto your God.” The actual intent of the mezuzah, on every doorway, is so that whenever we enter or leave a space we are to be conscious of God and God’s Presence.

The great Jungian psychologist, author, and lecturer James Hillman z”l, along with his colleagues Robert Bly and Michael Meade taught extensively on this topic of thresholds and the importance of being aware and conscious when leaving or entering any space, time, or place. What did we really experience in the place we are leaving, and how are we entering into something new? What did we do in the old place that we are proud of, and what were our mistakes? As we enter through a new gateway, are we hopeful or pessimistic? Committed or just wandering aimlessly into this new arena?

Judaism has the daily practice of being aware of God’s words when entering or leaving through placing the mezuzah (which contain verses from Deut. 6:4-9 and 11:13-21) at the threshold. The annual reading of this week’s Torah portion does the same for us as we leave the year of 5781 and are about to enter 5782 next week at Rosh HaShana.

How have we been this past year? Have we acted in a way that treasures the special covenant we have with God? Or have we turned our backs on God’s teachings and practices, acting with less than full integrity this past year. Have we acted with ethics or missed the mark in how we deal with people? Most emphatically from this week’s verses, have we stood up? Stood up with our fellow Jews, Israel, and the world? And what are our intentions for this coming year? Do we intend on standing up in this new year with our Jewish community, Israel, and the ethics, values, and practices of Judaism; or are we going to meander aimlessly through the world in this coming year and find ourselves empty next year at this time? Are we willing to say “Hineni! I am present!” to God and in all of Life, or will we squander away our time?

My prayer for all of us on this last Shabbat before the new year of 5782 is that we honestly evaluate how we leave the year behind, and passionately stand up with positive and powerful intentions for ourselves, Judaism, and a world of peace in the New Year.

I hope to see everyone next week at our Rosh HaShana services. If it will help you review your last year, here is a link to the Torah Talks for 5781:

Shana Tovah u’Metukah! May it be a sweet, healthy, prosperous, and good new year for us and for all of Israel and the world.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Michael Barclay

September 3, 2021

26th of Elul, 5781

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