By Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky
This week we read two parashot, Nitzavim and Vayelech. The first of them, Nitzavim, is always read on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah. Why is that? It is because this parashah alludes to the Teshuva, return/repentance, and we are encouraged to repent before the High Holidays. For example, we read in this parashah, “and you will return to the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul, and you will listen to His voice according to all that I am commanding you this day you and your children” (Deuteronomy 30:2).
Another reason for reading Nitzavim on this Shabbat is that, at its beginning, it suggests that we are on the eve of the Day of Judgment, as it is written, “You are all standing this day before the Lord, your God…” (Deuteronomy 29:9). As you might know, Rosh Hashanah is called the Day of Judgment.
This last verse stresses that all the Children of Israel were standing before God to renew the covenant with Him. In the original Hebrew text, the word “all” sounds redundant. Ancient and modern commentators understood that there is a subtle call for unity to the people Israel. That call kept sounding through generations, like a heavenly Shofar that calls us for repentance, reconciliation, and unity.
A midrash compares us individually to fragile, brittle sticks. Even a small child can break one of these sticks with his own hands. However, if you put many of these sticks together, a strong man cannot break them. The same thing happens with the Jewish people. We are not necessarily strong when we are alone, but when we stay united, it is too hard to break us.
We live in a divided world, where people are bitterly split over political or cultural differences. We see this phenomenon here in America, but it also happens in many other countries around the world. It is my wish and my prayer for this Shabbat that we, fellow Jews everywhere can stay together and united. This new year will bring old and new challenges for the Jewish people, including, but not limited to, antisemitism, hate for the State of Israel, assimilation, and the emergence of a new generation of Jews that seems to see the world in a different way than their parents. Different views and opinions are allowed and even encouraged, but that should not prevent us from staying strong together. History has shown time and time again that things go much better for us when we stay united and support each other, in spite of our differences. On this Shabbat, and on this new year that is coming, let’s all stand together!