The Importance of Today
There was once a Rabbi who would introduce every week’s reading of the Bible by saying “this is the most important portion of all.” Understandably, eventually a member of his congregation decided to question him on this. After all, how can every single portion be the most important? He replied “I was right last time I said it, every other time I said it, and I am right again now.” This is true, because what made it the most important every time he said it was not the content of the portion itself but the fact that it was the one being studied that day. Our portion this week is Nitzavim Vayelech: you are standing today. Today! What an energetic word. The spiritual potential in each new day is our focus.
Of course, we read this portion once a year, but our aim should be to approach it with a beginner’s mind and so to experience it as if it were brand new each and every time. This may not sound easy, but this is the work! Spirituality is about growth, and if we do not refresh and rejuvenate our spiritual work we become stuck. At that point, we are no longer practising spirituality; we are simply going through the motions of a routine. You are standing today, and it is the today part that has the potential to change everything. Ask yourself, what day is more important than today? It’s the only one we have right now! So our attitude has to be “how can we use today to grow in a different way?”
In the story about Egypt, you will notice that Moses says “when we were sitting in the land of Egypt.” His use of “sitting” is revealing. It implies comfort, settling down, relaxing at the end of your work. However, in the Mishna — in the Ethics of the Fathers — it says it’s not up to us to finish the job, but that doesn’t mean we do nothing at all. This tells us that our spiritual work is never done. We have to be engaged in a constant process, and this can be harder to accept as we age. We naturally feel that we have had our day, done our part, and learned all there is to learn. This portion is a reminder that the job has not actually been finished. It is a challenge to stand, not sit, in our spiritual growth today and every day.
To be clear, this doesn’t mean that every day must be a dramatic adventure. Standing in today isn’t about pursuing novelty in your surroundings. Take the story of Rabbi Shimon and his son, Rabbi Elazar, for example. They stayed in a cave for 13 years to write the book Tikkunei Zohar. We can only imagine what it was like to spend that much time in the same cave, eating from the same tree. Yet even under these circumstances, they were able to find newness in each day and today in every second. The revelations they uncovered during this time were not provoked by exciting external stimuli, then, but instead by applying a fresh attitude. They saw everything as though it were the first time, even after 13 years of the same.
This shows that standing in today is not about how we live our lives physically. It’s something internal — a process of refreshing ourselves. This should actually be a fun and dynamic process! It stops our lives from becoming stale when we approach each day with our eyes wide open to its potential and all of its beauty. When we wake up in the morning, it’s as if we are born again, and we have everything to learn. Everything to experience. It brings a magic and a meaning to days that we might otherwise disregard as normal or even boring. But what is boring about the gift of a new day? Through this mindset we are awake to every opportunity for growth.
Although living a spiritual life absolutely requires a conscious effort, it shouldn’t be complicated. If you feel it’s very difficult, you may not be doing it correctly. Remember, all the tools you need to do so already exist within you, and that’s why in verse 11 chapter 30 God tells us that spirituality isn’t far away. It isn’t over the ocean in some far off land. It’s in your heart. If you’re loving the Creator and the creations of the Creator, you are definitely leading a spiritual life. Keep yourself busy doing that! Right before Rosh Hashanah — the new year — God is sharing invaluable advice with us. Have a good year! Share love and give! Don’t relive yesterday — live a new day everyday!