Sing a song of holiness

Rabbi Dale Schreiber is a chaplain providing Jewish care coordination for Pathways Hospice and Palliative Care and has a private practice, Renewal-in-Action, specializing in resiliency, spiritual development and compassion fatigue recovery.


Netzavim-Vayelech is a double portion, although the tradition treats them like conjoined twins, inextricably linked. Netzavim  (stand) and Veyelech (go out) are bookends.  

They are read just short of the High Holiday when we gather to do the work that will inspire us to be better in large and small ways: better partners, better parents, better friends, better listeners, better drivers.

In the Hasidic worldview, there are three types of people: tzadikkim, rasha and beoni.

Tzadikkim are the perfectly righteous. At most, only a handful ever qualify as tzadikkim. They are elected to their status by all the people they serve and are too filled with humility to accept the honor.

Diametrically opposite are the rasha, or perfectly wicked. In reality, a perfectly wicked person can’t exist. Judaism maintains that there is a spark of goodness in the worst kind of person and that no one is beyond redemption.

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The third kind of person, beoni, applies to most or all of us: the in-betweeners, with lots of room for improvements.  

We are nearing the end of the Book of Deuteronomy. Moses is winding down about his concerns for the Israelites as we are about to venture into uncharted territory. His concern is that when confronted with serious temptation, we will become less than we are capable of being. 

At the beginning of the portion, Moses is telling the Israelites, who are about to cross into the land of Canaan, “You who are standing here today, each with a unique potential, you men, women and children will cross not just the Jordan, but also the threshold of a covenant, sealed throughout time.” 

In Vayelech, Moses goes out to speak to each of the tribes at the very end of his life, affirming his hope for all of them under Joshua’s leadership.  

Each year, I revisit these endings to our Torah filled with a profound awe for the sacred authorship who layered the text with words like Netzavim and statements about choosing life at the crossroads. I love the affirmations about our connections to higher selves and sacred sources. I am immensely grateful that Judaism holds us accountable with a personal obligation to write this song (Torah) for ourselves.   

The rabbis reduced the language of the text to two words, stand and go. For many years, I understood the relationship between them as a mobilization call for a more action-oriented approach to that great Jewish value, Tikkun Olam, repairing our world. 

Positioned as this portion is on the threshold of the High Holy Days, I’m more inclined, this year, to think of Netzavim as an invitation to hear the call to stand and be still. This may be the most important kind of work we do this year because there is so very much to be done.  The number of calamities afflicting the souls of our world is triggering massive efforts of compassion, of giving and of heroism. The risk is that we become less sensitive to suffering, less inclined to be compassionate, less capable of doing what we really can do.

Rabbi Or Rose writes in a commentary on this portion, “Standing in the stillness brings each of us to a threshold of the inner work that restores our personal wholeness and the outer work toward the world’s redemption.” They go hand in hand.

We all have some inner work to do between now and the Ten Days of Awe, the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It is difficult, introspective work to remove our artifice and to become vulnerable to our own reflection. In the stillness of our deliberations, may we find deeper wellsprings of strength and courage to sing what Rav Yitzchak Hacohen Kook called the song of holiness, the song of all humanity.

When we stand in the coming days for our communal and self-accounting, let it be with a united intention to be and do better.  And when we sing, let’s sing for all.  

May the Holy Blessed One bring each of us into alignment for a holy will, a righteous path. Shana Tova!