The core mitzvah of this season—teshuvah, or turning away from our failings toward renewal and blessing—demands that we learn to free ourselves from the notion that history is destiny. Our past is an important part of who we are, but it need not be prelude to our future.
In this week’s Torah portion, Nitzavim, we read: “This mitzvah that I command you today—it is not hidden or distant from you” (Deuteronomy 30:11). For most of our commentators, the mitzvah at stake is teshuvah, and the critical word in the passage is “today.” As Rabbi Dov Ber Pinson notes, one of the Hebrew terms for sin, aveira, has the same root as the word avar—which means “past.” Sin is about staying stuck in the past, believing that change is impossible. We free ourselves through teshuvah, through turning—believing that we can start anew if we live mindfully, in the present.
Rabbi Pinson concludes: “Teshuvah is a radical act of renewal and recreation. . . Learn to focus on the present. When we are preoccupied with our past or future, we are stealing a moment from the ‘now’. The gift of life is the present. The past is memory and the future is imagination; the only true moment of life is the formless, eternal now.”
Rosh Hashanah will be here next week. Meanwhile, as our portion reminds us, we have “today”—the promise of the present moment. May we choose life and blessing.