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Nitzavim: Keep It Real – Don’t Overthink It! by Rabbi Benjamin Shalva

“The shmita year is nearly ended, but not quite. There is still time. Time to pause. Time to pray.” 

“And in the night
My father came to me
And held me to his chest
He said there’s not much more that you can do
Go on and get some rest.” – “Think Too Much (b)”, Paul Simon

Moses is soon to die. He gathers his tribe to him and says: All that I’ve taught you, it’s not too hard, it’s not beyond your reach. (Deut. 30:11) But, of course, we know that’s not true. The Torah is too hard for us. It has always been too hard for us. We never get it right, this life. The very existence of the High Holy Days, of an entire season devoted to repentance, testifies to our forever missing the mark.

It must be that Moses means something else. That, or he’s playing the part of the underdog coach, offering a pep talk to his hapless team. But that doesn’t seem right; Moses is a tough love prophet. Moses does not do so much “pep.”

Then what does he mean: All that I’ve taught you, it’s not too hard, it’s not beyond your reach?

Ibn Ezra, the Spanish commentator and sage, reminds us that the word nifleit in Hebrew – too hard – comes from the Hebrew root fele – wonder. Wonder, Ibn Ezra adds, in the sense of something esoteric, out there, complicated, beyond understanding. Moses, then, could be saying: All that I’ve taught you, don’t complicate it, don’t overthink it – keep it real, within your reach.

Of course, we can only know we’ve been overthinking things, overcomplicating our lives, when we have simplicity with which to compare. Shmita is that simplicity – that pause – that provides us a kind of baseline of sanity. The quiet of the shmita year, the stillness and peace of a year without planting, harvesting, striving, seeking, returns us to the real, to what has always been – without our overthinking things – within reach.

The shmita year is nearly ended, but not quite. There is still time. Time to pause. Time to pray. Time to sit quietly someplace wonderful and enjoy some simple peace. But, in truth, there is time, plenty of time, beyond this shmita year. Every seven years has its shmita, every week has its Shabbat, and every day has, at the very least, a moment or two – time enough each day, in peace, to reach the real.


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Rabbi Benjamin Shalva lives in Pikesville, Maryland with his wife, Sara, and their two children. He serves as a freelance rabbi throughout Greater Baltimore and D.C., specializing in hospice chaplaincy, meditation and mindfulness instruction, and Jewish music. He is the author of two books of nonfiction: Spiritual Cross-Training and Ambition Addiction, both published by Grand Harbor Press, and has written poetry, stories, and articles for publications including The Washington Post, Image, Peauxdunque Review, Ponder Review, and Spirituality & Health Magazine. Most recently, his short story, “The Thistle,” won first prize in Hazon’s Creative Arts Awards, judged by Anita Diamant.

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