What Do We Stand For this New year?
Rabbi Daniela Szuster
“You stand this day, all of you, before the LORD your God—your tribal heads, your elders and your officials, all the men of Israel, your children, your wives, even the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to water drawer— to enter into the covenant of the LORD your God, which the LORD your God is concluding with you this day, with its sanctions; to the end that He may establish you this day as His people and be your God, as He promised you and as He swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I make this covenant, with its sanctions, not with you alone, but both with those who are standing here with us this day before the LORD our God and with those who are not with us here this day.” (Devarim 29: 9-14)
This week’s parashah starts describing the covenant ceremony where all the people of Israel were encouraged to be part of it. The Israelites were standing on the border of Israel, preparing to enter the land of Israel and create their own nation.
Some sages note that here the Hebrew word “nitzavim” is used for standing instead of the more common used word “omdim” from the verb “omed.” Both words indicate standing of some kind, but the use of “nitzavim” is unusual and thus noteworthy. The word “nitzavim” here seems to show us the attitude the people of Israel had during this special covenant ceremony. In contrast of the previous generation’s attitude of distrust, rebellion, and disobedience, we can see here a committed and loyal attitude.
When Miriam, Moses’ sister, stood by the river to see what would become of her baby brother, the Torah says: “Vatetazav achoto,” “And his sister stood” (Sh’mot 2:4). J.H.Herts, in his Chumash, comments that this means that Miriam not just “stood by” but “took her stand.” Miriam stood determinedly, with the purpose of watching her brother and save him from any danger.
“Vatetazav” and “Nitzavim” share the root “T-Z-V,” meaning firmly planted, unshakable and committed. According to this comment, “nitzavim” means that the people of Israel took their stand during that ceremony. They were firmly planted, eager, and proud to complete the covenant with God.
Usually, we read Parashat Nitzavim the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah. Maybe it is not a coincidence that we read it during this time of the year. A time when we are judged and standing before God. A time when we pray to be inscribed in the book of life and blessings. A time when we reflect on ourselves, our community, and our society. A time when we are encouraged to renew our covenant.
Parashat Nitzavim encourages us to reflect on what we stand for. On what values we hold that push us to be ready for action, to “take a stand,” like Miriam did. On what it is that we stand for unshakably and with commitment like the people did before entering the land of Israel.
Rosh Hashanah is a time to be standing and reaffirm with conviction our most cherished values, promises, and commitments. I hope we will be able to stand firmly during these High Holy Days and achieve our covenant and commitments during the rest of the year.
Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova Umetuka!