Responsible or "Response-able" – Parshat Nitzavim-Vayelech

I love word games. "Dad jokes" are funny – okay, maybe not, but at least witty. "How do you call a bee that can’t easily make up its mind? A maybe."1 (is that a groan I hear?) I'm lucky, as well, to be interested in a school of human ontology/psychology/existentialism/motivation whose founder liked word play as well.

We can even use it in this week's parsha. There may be an individual, the Torah tells us, who assumes that he can do as he wishes without any repercussion: "I will behave as I wish."2 As the popular saying goes, "do as you wish as long as you harm no one." This philosophy, however, does not fit within the broader scope of the Torah. All of our actions count. As the Torah says in the next verse, God will not forgive this attitude. We all know that we are expected to make choices taking into account our responsibility to ourselves, friends, family, etc., and that individual is behaving without a sense responsibility.

"Responding to life, means being responsible for our lives"


In addition, each conscious person has the innate ability to respond - hence the word "response-ability", says Doctor Viktor Frankl.4 His response is to be responsible and to take ownership of his actions and their repercussions. In that sense Man is both responsible and response-able. And that ability is omnipresent in Man.

And so, these two concepts, responsibility and response-ability, represent two parts of the parsha. The aforementioned verse is near the beginning of the parsha. In this verse we see a person using his freedom of choice without responsibility though he is response-able. Then, near the end of Nitzavim, we find God not only offering a choice but even highly recommending which choice to make – "behold I place before you today, the life and the good and the death and the bad…choose life in order for you to live!"5 Here we are being asked to use our response-ability and understand that our actions have results and we are to use that ability to choose wisely and responsibly.

What a potent message for the last shabbat of the lunar, Hebrew year. And what a year it was. Covid, rioting, financial stress, racial tension, etc. Wow!

Within all this upheaval, Man is being expected to utilize his response-ability to live with a sense of responsibility.

Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova.


  1. I found this pun on a site called bored panda – but there are many other sites for the pun-dit
  2. Frankl, Viktor E.. The Unheard Cry for Meaning (p. 110) Simon and Schuster
  3. Devarim 29:17-9
  4. I am still looking for the source for this but I do remember seeing or hearing it.
  5. Devarim 30:15,19

Have A Great Shabbat!laughing

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