Woodcutters and Water Drawers

Nitzavim Vayeilekh By :  Shira D. Epstein Former Dean of the William Davidson School, JTS Posted On Sep 15, 2017 / 5777 | דבר אחר | A Different Perspective

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The opening verses of this week’s parashah pronounce that the entirety of Israel stands before God to enter into the covenant: the leaders, the elders, the officers; every man, child, woman, and convert, as well as the “woodcutters and water drawers” (Deut. 29:9–10). Unlike some other Torah excerpts that clearly demarcate mitzvot reserved for a particular classification of people, all people are told to show up in this moment. They are beckoned to view themselves as integral parts of an expansive and inclusive community.

To deliberately and mindfully stand before or with anyone, we need to first make the choice to show up, and to be aware that our presence will be noticed and make a difference. In the moment of Israel standing before God, everyone counts— those with prestige and honorifics, and those who may be debased by others on any other ordinary day for not being “enough.” They all show up.

Troubled times can feel especially isolating; as our social media newsfeeds are saturated with images of terror and destruction, even those of us who live in safety and security can spin a narrative that we each stand alone. Yet, I am struck by the plentiful photographs of the people who show up—not because they are required to do so, but because they feel called to do so. Because they view themselves as part of something bigger—as connected to fellow humans in need. The image above—of plainclothes rescuers in Hurricane Harvey—encapsulates this goodness. Who are these people behind the images? We don’t know. They may be leaders, officers, woodcutters, or water drawers. Possibly simply neighbors who heard cries of terror and leapt to action. They felt that they were a part of something larger. We honor them for showing up.

Read about more volunteer efforts in the recovery from Hurricane Irma (New York Times).