Nitzavim and Va-yelekh: The Anniversary Celebration
This weekend, my husband and I went away for a night to celebrate our ten year anniversary. I was initially apprehensive about going. It would be our first overnight outing away from the kids since our first child was born six years ago. My son had been on sleepovers before, but my three-year-old daughter had not. We reserved a hotel room near my in-laws, so that if the kids refused to sleep, we could pick them up and bring them to the hotel.
When the day arrived, the kids seemed excited about their first joint sleepover. They packed their favorite sleeping bag, sheets, pillows and my daughter’s baby doll. We brought the kids to my in-laws, kissed them goodbye and hoped for the best.
This week’s Torah portion also describes an anniversary of sorts. As the Israelites approached the Promised Land, Moses summoned all the people “to enter into the covenant of the Lord your God.” However, the people had already entered into the covenant at Mount Sinai. Why was this ratification necessary?
Rabbi Shneur Zalman (of eighteenth century Russia) explained that:
Just as husband and wife need to reaffirm their commitment to each other when the early days of romantic attraction have given way to the day-to-day struggle to overcome accumulated disappointments, so too God and the people Israel need to reaffirm the covenant at this later date.
Tell me about it! When I read those words in the Etz Hayim Torah commentary this weekend, they immediately resonated with me.
Luckily our anniversary plans worked. We had a delicious dinner and walked around the hotel grounds (which included a beautiful waterfall). When we called to check-in, my in-laws reported that the kids were fast asleep! My husband and I had a chance to reconnect — and get some R&R by the pool the next day. When we returned, my in-laws remarked that even though we were gone less than 24 hours, we seemed like new people — with a relaxed glow on our faces. Although it was challenging to leave the kids, it was good for us to have some time as a couple.
The Torah portion reminds us that our relationship with God likewise needs periodic renewal. The portion is generally read on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year). The timing is more than mere coincidence. Perhaps, the message is that Rosh Hashanah should be understood as akin to our wedding anniversary celebration with God — where we spend a few intensive days together talking and reconnecting, reflecting on the year that has passed and sharing hopes for the year ahead.
The High Holidays are often conceived of days of judgment, with the predominant metaphor of God as a judge who is evaluating our every deed. This imagery imbues the days with a stressful aura. By contrast, the anniversary metaphor creates a joyful atmosphere — which is appropriate to festively usher in a new year.
Our “anniversary” get-together with God may inspire us to try to spend more time together during the year and to be more present in the relationship. In this sense, we may be prompted to tshuvah, to return our hearts to God.
So instead of wishing you a Shana Tova, let me instead wish you a happy anniversary to you and yours!
Rabbi Ilana Grinblat teaches biblical interpretation at the American Jewish University’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their two young children.