Significant Standing

Naaleh_logo Shiur provided courtesy of

Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

On this final day of Moshe Rabbenu’s life, Moshe gathers all of Bnei Yisroel together to recommit to the covenant they made with Hashem at Sinai. “You who are nitzavim/standing here this day/today, all of you, before Hashem… the heads of your tribes, your elders, and your officers – all the men of Israel, your small children, your women, and your proselyte… from the hewer if your wood to the drawer of your water… Not with you alone… but with whoever is here, omed/standing with us today before Hashem, our God, and with whoever is not here with us today.” Everyone is included in this covenant, no one is excepted.

Besides the listing of so many categories of people when it could have been sufficient to just say “all of you,” we must ask how this covenant differed from the original covenant of Bnei Yisroel at Har Sinai. Further, Moshe while both nitzavim and omed are translated as “standing,” are the two words the same or do they really connote two different mindsets? Finally, to which day is Moshe referring?

The Parsha itself is called Nitzavim, a specific, purposeful stand that mirrors the language at Sinai, vayisyatzvu betachtit hahar/Bnei Yisroel stood at the foot of the mountain, preparing themselves to hear God’s word. It is not just kulchem/all the individuals within the nation who are standing here, but also each individual with all of his essence is standing before Hakodosh Boruch Hu, again ready to commit fully and completely to this covenant. For all generations, we must know that we are committed to understanding that we are always before Hashem, writes Rabbi Mordechai Ezrachi. We must invest ourselves with the same awareness and preparatory standing, waiting for this experience, adds Rabbi Scheinerman.

How does one prepare? Rabbi Wachtfogel introduces another time that the Torah uses this verb for standing at readiness. When Bnei Yisroel seemed to be caught between the pursuing Egyptians behind them and the Red Sea in front of them, Moshe reassured them, “Hityatzvu ur'u/Stand and see,” be prepared to see, to take proper notice, how Hashem will deliver you today from the Egyptians… and then take action, move forward. Preparation requires one to stop, and to focus. Before Rosh Hashanah one must also stop, come off the merry-go-round of life so that one can focus on accepting Hashem’s Sovereignty.

It is precisely this lack of mindfulness that the Mesilat Yesharim sees as Yirmiyahu’s reprimand to his generation. The people run mindlessly, like a race horse, toward whatever direction they feel drawn, never asking themselves if this is what Hashem wants of them.

We go about our lives seldom pausing to introspect. We need to stop for regular spiritual wellness examinations, for, just as a small growth or fungus, if unchecked, can grow and invade the rest of the body, so can the slightest misstep in the wrong direction lead one totally away from his destination, writes Rabbi Roth in Sichot Eliyahu. The yetzer horo wants to keep us too busy to think, to prevent our introspection. We tend to be occupied with so many minor decision – what to wear, what to eat, etc. – that we clutter the mind, leaving no room or time to think about our spiritual health. Just as we would make time for a health emergency, we need to make time for and recognize spiritual emergencies.

Our introspection must be comprised of two components, sur meira/reject the negative, sin, evil followed by asei tov/do the good and proper. One must stand ready to fight, writes Letitcha Elyon, drawing on the teachings of Rav Gifter and Rav Wachtfogel. Before Yaakov Avinu’s death, after he has blessed Ephraim and Menashe, Yaakov seems to add an irrelevant detail when speaking to Yosef. Yaakov says, “I have given you Shechem, translated not only as the city, but also as one portion more than your brothers, which I took from the Emorite with my sword and my bow.” What cryptic message was Yaakov giving to Yosef and to us by relating this bit of already known family history?

Life is always a battle. Everything we gain comes through struggle. Mankind is always in search of the thrill of the struggle. That struggle should be a war against the yetzer horo. We should be strategizing and using every weapon at our disposal to win this war. Those who do not get personally involved in this war, seek their thrills either through participating in sports or being spectators to sports, thrilling in the contest vicariously. We are called upon to try to score against the yetzer horo in the contest/battle within ourselves, even if we cannot win each game.

Rabbi Berkowitz in A New Approach to Rosh Hashanah brings us another perspective on this struggle. Our enemy is the yetzer horo. It feigns being our friend, playing on our emotions and on our desire for temporary pleasures. It’s the voice that tells you to ignore the alarm clock for five more minutes of sleep, but those five minutes of pleasure are transitory. The yetzer horo is a liar. Those five minutes of sleep are actually an obstacle to starting the day properly. We are meant to overcome the obstacles the yetzer horo puts in our path. By being enslaved to these transitory pleasures, we are beginning to worship a false god, posits Rabbi Berkowitz. We need to train ourselves to ignore that voice and listen instead to the voice of reason, a voice that will lead us to permanent joy rather than to regrets. Overcome the yetzer horo, score the goal, rejoice, and laugh the yetzer horo off the playing field.

Now that we have rejected the bad, let us turn our attention to accomplishing the good. Moshe, knowing his death was imminent, was afraid that after his death Bnei Yisroel would leave Torah and perhaps even regret ever having accepted it. Therefore, writes Rabbi Bick in Chayei Moshe, he here demanded a commitment from Bnei Yisroel. He demanded that they stand firm and immovable to the Torah, like the ladder in Jacob’s dream that was mutzav artzah/firmly planted on earth while the top reached into the heavens, and Hashem Himself nitzav alav/was standing over him, recommitting Himself to the promise He gave to Yaakov’s father and grandfather. It is during the challenges that commitment and permanence take hold. This is our job, to retain the connection to Hakodosh Boruch Hu as we struggle to climb the mountain. This commitment, although important for every day of the year, is most important on this day/hayom, the day of Rosh Hashanah when we are most aware of standing before God.

How do we become proactive in the process toward doing good? Our first step is to understand that worth and value are determined not by cost, but by sustainability and durability, writes Rabbi Eisenberger in Mesillos Bilvovom. Actions taken in the heat of passion and not internalized with a cooler intellect are never sustained over the long term. As soon as the passion cools and dissipates, the commitment vanishes. The commitment must be sustained through all the challenges. This is what Pharaoh saw in Yosef, that he was discerning and wise, unlike the Egyptians who acted impulsively.

The commitment should at best be accompanied by a physical reminder, as Palti ben Layish, husband of King Saul’s daughter Michal did. Knowing that his marriage to Michal was problematic, he put a sword between them on the bed to prevent his rolling over to Michal. While the sword could have been removed, it remained a constant reminder of the commitment in Palti’s mind.

We are all subject to moments of inspiration. Instead of taking a camera to memorialize the moment, put the camera away and internalize it, concretize it through an action, continues Rabbi Eisenberger. In the month of Elul, take on a resolution, intellectualize it so that it remains with you when you cool down. That cooling down from the passionate heat of the moment is what gives the resolution staying power.

Start with a small, attainable goal, advises Rabbi Berkowitz. Set yourself up for success rather than for failure, for success breeds success, and you will then be able to build upward to achieve greater goals.

But let us make a covenant not just for ourselves, but also for each other. At that covenant in the Plains of Moav, Moshe names all the different circles of people, teaching them that they were all responsible for others in their circle of influence. They are also included in the covenant. Your dedication has a ripple effect on others within your circle, within your family, and within your community, teaches us the Mishnat Yosef.

It is up to each individual to stand firm in his own commitment to Hashem and Torah, but it is equally important to support our fellow Jew to maintain his Torah lifestyle. May we all be successful in this endeavor.