The opening statement of this week’s Torah portion, Nitzavim, goes as follows: “Atem Nitzavim hayom kulchem” — “You are standing today together”.
This Torah portion is always read the Shabbos preceding Rosh Hashanah. The word hayom, refers to Rosh Hashanah, the day of judgment, as it is written (Job 2:1) “And it came to pass (hayom) on that day,” to which the commentator known as the Targum renders as: “the day of awesome judgment”.
The Targum continues: “[And on that day] You are standing – triumphant in judgment”, referencing the concept, that when the Jewish people are standing together – united as one single entity – our victory in judgment is assured.
Since Moses’ terminology is precise, we should endeavour to understand it. Why did he use the Hebrew term nitzavim and not the commonly used word for standing, omdim? While both terms of omdim and nitzavim connote standing, there is a striking difference between them. One can be omed – standing – but about to fall, or wavering to all sides.
Nitzavim is related to the word matzeivah – a monument. It stands firm forever and does not falter or waver from its position. Moses’ message was clear: when we start in a stance of strength in our relationship with God, we can look forward to lofty heights and success – standing firm and tenaciously attached to our beliefs and convictions while sojourning through life.
Meanwhile, there are those who stand by as mere spectators, gazing at the events that take place before them, and their poise is sometimes fragile.
Nitzavim are the participants who play a main role in the event. In the case of a husband and wife, they cannot just be observers next to each other; rather, to be successful throughout their lives, and to accomplish what is expected of them, they must be ‘nitzavim kulchem’ – standing together firmly as one unit. This applies equally to all of us, in many aspects of our day to day lives.
Interestingly, the next Parsha of Vayeilech is very often read together with Nitzavim. Superficially, they seem contradictory concepts. Nitzavim is standing firm, while vayeilech literally translates as moving.
Together they convey an important lesson: Nitzavim-Vayeilech combined, teach us that the way you position yourself is a forerunner to your journey.
Always remember that through standing firmly in your conviction to truth and to God, and not merely being an observer, but rather one who imparts and gives your love and dedication to all those who you encounter, your journey through life will be all the more blessed and effective.
• Yisroel (Teddy) Newman is a rabbi in New York. Contact him via firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @askrabbiteddy