Tag Archives: nitzavim

Nitzavim and Rosh Hashanah: Renewing Covenants

…the word nitzavim the core of the blessing given by G-d does not mean merely “standing.” It implies standing with power and strength, as reflected in the phrase: nitzav melech, “the deputy serving as king,” i.e., G-d’s blessing is that our stature will reflect the strength and confidence possessed by a king’s deputy.

This blessing enables us to proceed through each new year with unflinching power; no challenges will budge us from our commitment to the Torah and its mitzvos. On the contrary, we will “proceed from strength to strength” in our endeavor to spread G-dly light throughout the world.

What is the source of this strength? Immutable permanence is a Divine quality. As the prophet proclaims: (Malachi 3:6.) “I, G-d, have not changed,” and our Rabbis explain that one of the basic tenets of our faith is that the Creator is unchanging; (See Rambam, Guide to the Perplexed, Vol. I, ch. 68, et al.) nothing in our world can effect a transition on His part. Nevertheless, G-d has also granted the potential for His unchanging firmness to be reflected in the conduct of mortal beings, for the soul which is granted to every person is “an actual part of G-d.” (Tanya, ch. 2) This inner G-dly core endows every individual with insurmountable resources of strength to continue his Divine service.

-Rabbi Eli Touger
“Standing Before G-d”
from the “In the Garden of Torah” series
Commentary on Torah Portion Nitzavim and Rosh Hashanah
Chabad.org

In just a few days, every religious Jew on earth, including many three day a year Jews, will be standing before the God of their forefathers and participating in events that are thousands of years old, and in a modern response to a very ancient commandment. Christianity has nothing like it. Not even Easter comes close. And yet, it’s not something that God “does” to the Jewish people, but rather, Rosh Hashanah is a fully interactive and participatory event, must like what Rabbi Touger describes in this week’s Torah Portion, where the Children of Israel stand before God and consciously, fully, willingly, and interactively accept upon themselves the Covenant of Sinai and the resultant conditions of the Torah.

What a strange God we have who wants to interact and participate with His people in such Holy rites.

There is a great secret in the drama of Rosh Hashanah. It is the mystery of a Creator asking His creations to participate in the birth of their own world and of themselves. He asks the created beings to ask Him to create them.

The wonder of Rosh Hashanah is between Him as He is Above and Him as He is in within us.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“The Mystery of Rosh Hashanah”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

We ask to participate; we are expected to participate in the creation of our own world, of our own lives? How crazy is that? OK, how “mystic” is that?

But then again, how crazy is it to pray to an invisible, unknowable, all-powerful Supreme Being in His Heavens, and expect that He’ll even be willing to listen, let alone answer our humble and sometimes, not-so-humble requests?

For the entire month of Elul, the Jewish religious world has been doing a slow wind up to the High Holidays. Gradually at first, Jews have been praying, studying, repairing damaged relationships, treating people with just a little more respect. Then with more frequency, giving to charity, visiting a sick friend in the hospital, going to shul and davening with a minyan, joining a Talmud class. Finally, at a frenetic pace, making sure they have (if required) tickets for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services, preparing their homes, sending greeting cards, praying three times a day including the Bedtime Shema, and on and on and…

It’s almost here. Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown this coming Sunday. Erev Shabbat, the Shabbat before the Holidays, is just a few short hours away. It’s here, it’s here, it’s here! “Am I ready?” many Jews ask themselves. “Is my soul ready?” Who is ever really ready for such and awesome encounter with God at such a critical time of year?

In all of this, Jews, and maybe a few Christians, can’t help but think of “covenant connection,” “promises,” and “blessings” …and “curses” maybe. It’s very exciting and exhilarating…and intimidating.

But in spite of God’s “bigness” and “vastness” and “infiniteness,” He wants, He demands a relationship with His people Israel and through them, with the rest of us. After all, that’s the point of a covenant. Rabbi Touger’s Torah commentary continues:

Our Torah reading continues, stating that the Jews are “standing today before G-d” for a purpose: “To be brought into a covenant with G-d.” (Deuteronomy 29:11.)

What is the intent of a covenant? (See Likkutei Torah, Devarim 44b.) When two people feel a powerful attraction to each other, but realize that with the passage of time, that attraction could wane, they establish a covenant. The covenant maintains their connection even at times when, on a conscious level, there might be reasons for distance and separation.

Each year, on Rosh HaShanah, the covenant between G-d and the Jewish people is renewed. For on Rosh HaShanah, the essential G-dly core which every person possesses rises to the forefront of his consciousness. Thus the fundamental bond between G-d and mankind surfaces, and on this basis a covenant is renewed for the entire year to come, (See the essay entitled “At One with the King” (Timeless Patterns in Time, Vol. I, p. 3ff)) including the inevitable occasions when these feelings of oneness will not be experienced as powerfully.

We Christians don’t think of having a time when our covenant with God is renewed, since we consider coming to faith in God through Jesus Christ as a singular event in our lives. Jews, by comparison, are born into the covenants, and thus, even a completely non-religious Jew has no choice about being Jewish, even if they choose to disregard every single mitzvot. Then again, I suppose there’s a reason why some Jewish people are “three day a year Jews,” much like how some Christians only go to church on Easter. If you have an awareness of your relationship with God, even peripherally, He draws you back to Him at times like these.

We Christians don’t renew our covenant relationship with God annually, or at least we don’t think of our holidays as having that impact. On the other hand, as I’ve come to realize recently, our covenant relationship with God does not stand apart from the Jewish people. God made His covenants with Israel and through the Abrahamic and “New” Covenants, we among the nations are granted blessings. The blessings come from God, to the Jewish people, and from the Jewish people to us, by way of the Jewish Messiah King, so that no one has to perish but everyone can come to life eternal.

In our prayers, we say: (The conclusion of the Shemoneh Esreh prayer, Siddur Tehillat HaShem, p. 60.) “Bless us, our Father, all as one.” This implies that standing together as one generates a climate fit for blessing. (See Sefer HaSichos 5700, p. 157.)

May our standing before G-d “as one” on Rosh HaShanah lead to a year of blessing for all mankind, in material and spiritual matters, including the ultimate blessing, the coming of Mashiach.

May all mankind, every man, woman, and child, be blessed by God.

Good Shabbos and L’shanah tovah tikatev v’taihatem; May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.

The Ungrateful Servant

In the Ohr Somayach Yeshiva in Jerusalem, there was an elderly native of the city who prayed with the Yeshiva each morning. On the morning following the presidential election in the United States, before prayers began, he went to one of the American boys and asked him who had won.

I don’t know if the young student knew the answer, but he was struck by the question. Why would an old man from Jerusalem care about the elections, so much so that he would go out of his way to ask about the results before prayers? Doesn’t G-d come first?

Asked for an explanation, the man replied that he was about to say a blessing thanking G-d for giving him the opportunity to be part of the Jewish People. Although everyone is created in the image of G-d and every righteous person has a share in the World to Come, to be called to serve G-d through all His Commandments is unique privilege. And when making that blessing, he wanted to think about the greatest and most powerful non-Jew in the world!

To give the story a bit of deeper insight, consider that this elderly gentleman lived in poverty in a small Jerusalem apartment. If I’m not mistaken, the protagonist used to sit in the back of the Bais Medrash (study hall), tying Tzitzis (fringes on the corners of garments) for a living while he reviewed the Babylonian Talmud by heart. He was quite poor, yet considered himself blessed beyond the most powerful man in the world.

Every one of us has our own individual set of challenges and opportunities placed before us. Our Sages tell us that we must say, “the entire world was created for me.” Whatever our situation, we have incredible blessings which we often take for granted. Most of us have legs to walk on, are able to breathe the air around us, and are able to marvel at a sunset. But even those who are not able to do all those things have many others for which to be thankful.

-Rabbi Yaakov Menken
“A Moment of Thanks”
ProjectGenesis.org

I didn’t really intend to write additional blog posts that related to my The Equality Puzzle series, but as with so many of my other “meditations,” this one just sort of “happened.”

We see here a perfect example of how all people are considered equal in that we are all created in the image of God, and yet we also find that an elderly and impoverished Jewish man in Jerusalem, someone who barely manages to make a living, sees himself as more privileged than the (non-Jewish) President of the United States who is arguably, the most powerful single person in the world. The old man lives without many things, but he is honored “to be called to serve G-d through all His Commandments.”

This says several things. First, in the sense of being able to “serve G-d through all His Commandments,” we are not all the same. A poor old Jewish man may have this unique privilege, but even the President of the United States, if he or she is not Jewish, does not share this special honor from God. However, though this may represent a gross inequality to some, it also illustrates that we all have something to be thankful for and a wonderful role to play out in God’s Kingdom that was crafted just for us.

You could be an old Jewish man in Jerusalem who earns a meager living by tying tzitzit, the President of the United States, or anyone else, but no matter who you are, you are special, and you are unique, and there is something in your life that God gave you that you can be thankful for.

But if all that is true, then why is it so common for each of us to “look over the fence,” so to speak, and to long for the “greener grass” in someone else’s field?

A young man asked a sage how to go about finding riches.

“Would you give a leg,” asked the sage, “for a bagful of diamonds?”

“Yes, I would,” said the young man. “The pleasures riches bring would easily compensate for my loss of a leg.”

“Come with me,” said the sage, and he led him into the marketplace where a one-legged man sat leaning against a wall.

“My good fellow,” said the sage, “would you give me a bagful of diamonds if I could restore your leg?”

“I would give two bagfuls,” he replied, “even if I had to spend years stealing them. I would do anything to be relieved of my legless misery.”

The sage turned to the young man. “Would you still make that deal?”

The young man shivered and shook his head.

“Go home,” said the sage. “You don’t have to seek riches. You have it already.”

-Rabbi Naftali Reich
“Open Your Eyes”
Commentary on Torah Portion Ki Tavo
Torah.org

A young man in good health would give one of his legs in exchange for a bag of diamonds so he can be wealthy. A man with a missing leg would beg, borrow, or steal two bags full of diamonds and dedicate years of his life to the task if he could get his leg back. We want what we weren’t given by God for our lives but if we somehow acquire it, we find that we’d surrender our treasure in order to restore what we were naturally given by God.

Go figure. People are really peculiar. We will even squander what God gives us for our own benefit and to improve the quality of our lives.

There is a Midrash (a commentary on the Five Books of Moses in the form of a parable) about a successful businessman who meets a former colleague down on his luck. The colleague begs the successful business man for a substantial loan to turn around his circumstances. Eventually, the businessman agrees to a 6 month loan and gives his former colleague the money. At the end of the 6 months, the businessman goes to collect his loan. The former colleague gives him every last penny. However, the businessman notices that the money is the exact same coins he loaned the man. He was furious! “How dare you borrow such a huge amount and not even use it? I gave this to you to better your life!” The man was speechless.

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
“Thoughts to Ponder before Rosh Hashana”
Shabbat Shalom Weekly for Torah Portion Nitzavim
Aish.com

How like the Parable of the Talents in which Jesus tells us something very much the same:

But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ –Matthew 25:26-30 (ESV)

God has given each of us so very much, and yet most of us are never satisfied with His providence. We always want more. We always want what God never intended to give us. Jews and Christians each possess many important and precious gifts from the Lover of our souls. Don’t be so quick to throw your’s away just because someone else’s looks more attractive. The consequences, as we have seen in abundance, can be disastrous.

Rosh Hashanah begins in less than a week. If you are a Christian whose heart is turned toward the Jewish traditions and the God of Israel, now more than ever, this is the time to appreciate who you are and what God has given you as a Christian. You are blessed. Give thanks.

Nitzavim-Vayeilech: Standing Before God

Standing before GodNo moment in human history was as sad as the moment in which the Lord said to Moses, “and I will surely hide My face in that day on account of all the evil which they have done, because they have turned to other Gods (Deuteronomy 31:18)

-Abraham Joshua Heschel
God in Search of Man
Page 155

You have seen all that the Lord did before your very eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his courtiers and to his whole country: the wondrous feats that you saw with your own eyes, those prodigious signs and marvels. Yet to this day the Lord has not given you a mind to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear.Deuteronomy 29;1-3 (JPS Tanakh)

Faith is an act of the whole person, of mind, will, and heart. Faith is sensitivity, understanding, engagement, and attachment; not something achieved once and for all, but an attitude one may gain and lose. -Heschel, page 154

That’s a terrifying thought. As the month of Elul wanes and the High Holidays approach, we seek to remove the burden of our sins from us and re-establish our connection with God and with our fellow human beings. To do this, we must connect to our faith, not as mere belief in the existence of God, but in the total knowledge and dedication that God exists and that He is alive and involved in the matters of mankind and in the lives of each of us individually. However our faith and understanding must transcend our own biases and personalities, for it is so easy to confuse our will with His will.

The thoughtless believes every word, but the prudent looks where he is going –Proverbs 14:15

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. –Acts 17:11

And why dost Thou permit faith to blend so easily with bigotry, arrogance, cruelty, folly, and superstition? -Heschel, page 155

The prophet Isaiah even lays this last question at the feet of God.

O Lord, why dost Thou make us err from thy ways and harden our heart, so that we fear Thee not? –Isaiah 63:17

Even when we seek God earnestly and with great energy, we often make the hideous mistake of substituting our personality flaws for His justice, mercy, and will. This is the reason that secular people turn away from God and claim that “religion” is the root cause of all evil acts in the world. It is exactly because, in our worst moments, we people of “faith” really are guilty of all that we are accused, including intolerance, bigotry, hatred, and violence. And we claim that all of this error and sin is in the Name of our God and not sprouting from our own faulty human reasoning and emotions.

God saw the truth and spoke it to Moses in the hours before the great Prophet’s death, as recorded in Torah Portion Vayeilech:

The Lord said to Moses: You are soon to lie with your fathers. This people will thereupon go astray after the alien gods in their midst, in the land that they are about to enter; they will forsake Me and break My covenant that I made with them. Then My anger will flare up against them, and I will abandon them and hide My countenance from them. They shall be ready prey; and many evils and troubles shall befall them. And they shall say on that day, “Surely it is because our God is not in our midst that these evils have befallen us.” Yet I will keep My countenance hidden on that day, because of all the evil they have done in turning to other gods. –Deuteronomy 31:16-18 (JPS Tanakh)

What a bitter epitaph to the life of the Prophet Moses, who had dedicated everything he was to the preservation of the Children of Israel, in obedience and devotion to the God of his fathers. How can we go on in the face of such disappointment and failure?

This is the certainty which overwhelms us in such moments: man lives not only in time and space but also in the dimension of God’s attentiveness. God is concern, not only power. God is He to whom we are accountable. -Heschel, page 158

And yet:

Blessed by GodMore particularly, the word nitzavim the core of the blessing given by G-d does not mean merely “standing.” It implies standing with power and strength, as reflected in the phrase: nitzav melech (I Kings 22:48. See Or HaTorah, Nitzavim, p. 1202.), “the deputy serving as king,” i.e., G-d’s blessing is that our stature will reflect the strength and confidence possessed by a king’s deputy.

This blessing enables us to proceed through each new year with unflinching power; no challenges will budge us from our commitment to the Torah and its mitzvos. On the contrary, we will “proceed from strength to strength” in our endeavor to spread G-dly light throughout the world.

What is the source of this strength? Immutable permanence is a Divine quality. As the prophet proclaims: “I, G-d, have not changed,” (Malachi 3:6) and our Rabbis explain that one of the basic tenets of our faith is that the Creator is unchanging; (See Rambam, Guide to the Perplexed, Vol. I, ch. 68, et al.) nothing in our world can effect a transition on His part. Nevertheless, G-d has also granted the potential for His unchanging firmness to be reflected in the conduct of mortal beings, for the soul which is granted to every person is “an actual part of G-d.” (Tanya, ch. 2) This inner G-dly core endows every individual with insurmountable resources of strength to continue his Divine service.

-Rabbi Eli Touger
Commentary on Torah Portion Nitzvaim: Standing Before G-d
Adapted from Likkutei Sichos, Vol. II, p. 398ff; Vol. XIX, p. 173ff
Chabad.org

It is God’s blessing upon us that gives us the strength to respond to Him with unswerving faith and that “our stature will reflect the strength and confidence possessed by a king’s deputy.” We can only speculate who the “king’s deputy” is, although I have my own opinion on the matter. However, in our personal struggle to approach God and stand before the King, we must never forget that the battle does not belong to us only as individuals.

Only that which is good for all men is good for every man. No one is truly inspired for his own sake. He who is blessed, is a blessing for others.

There are many ways but only one goal. If there is one source of all, there must be one goal for all. The yearnings are our own, but the answer is His. -Heschel, page 162

And yet:

In moments of insight God addresses Himself to a single soul. -Heschel, page 163

We can only see the world from our own point of view, but God sees everything from everyone’s perspective. He knows our wants and needs as individuals and He also hears the cry of His united Creation. For a Jew, Heschel says that even “the individual who feels forsaken remembers Him as the God of his fathers.” But the rest of us who don’t share that history and lifeline, must also remember that “God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27). He created mankind, men and women, all of us in His own image. We are all His and in that, we can all be said to be “one”.

May our standing before G-d “as one” on Rosh HaShanah lead to a year of blessing for all mankind, in material and spiritual matters, including the ultimate blessing, the coming of Mashiach. -Rabbi Touger

As we watch the approach of this year’s end and another year beginning to dawn, may we know before whom we stand and have faith and trust that the strength we need to appear before the King, He has already granted us through His blessing, to the Jew and the Gentile alike.

May the Messiah come soon and in our days.

Good Shabbos.