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Home » Nitzavim

Nitzavim: We Cannot Lose

Submitted by on August 29, 2010 – 2:55 amNo Comment | 2,773 views

The Day

The Torah portion chanted on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah opens with, “Atem Nitzavim Hayom Kulchem Lifnei Hashem Elokeichem,” you stand [firmly] all together today, before G-d your lord. (1)

It is an axiom of our faith that the Torah’s words are timeless; they speak to us today as clearly as they did thousands of years ago. When the Torah tells us that we stand firmly before G-d on this day it is not only a repetition of Moses’ words to our ancestors; it is G-d proclaiming anew that we, the Jewish people, stand firmly, all together, before Him on this day.

Which is the day that G-d refers to when He speaks to us on this Shabbat? (2) Jewish mystics taught that this refers to the day of Rosh Hashanah. (3) These words, with which we open our Torah portion on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah, impart a message of crucial importance to our preparation for this day. Let us explore this verse and see if we can tease out its hidden message.

Standing Firmly

The word you is exclusionary; you stand firmly on the day that precious few can.

Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of creation. Every year on this day G-d reconsiders His creation. Should I continue my endeavor or should I let it slide? Is my project working out or is it no longer worth the effort. On this day the entire world stands before G-d in judgment; everything and everyone, angel to insect, is subject to review. As we say in the Rosh Hashanah liturgy, “Today the word trembles, today He will bring to [the court of] judgment all the formations of the worlds.”

The Jew trembles alongside all others. Our behavior during the past year is also reviewed on this day. According to the supernal judicial protocol our lives and even existence will not be renewed unless warranted by our past behavior. Has the G-d of Jacob been given his due this year? Was he honored, revered or even obeyed? If not, the supernal tribunal will not hesitate to seal our fate.

Yet we stand firmly before G-d. The world is trembling; its future uncertain. But the Jew is on a firm footing because our connection with G-d transcends the authority of the heavenly tribunal. we cannot lose - innerstreamThey might convict us on this awesome day, but G-d will Intervene and exonerate. Why?

Before G-d

The conventional understanding of standing before G-d is that we stand in front of G-d. This, however, is somewhat fallacious because in truth everything stands before G-d. It is not possible to stand anywhere else. He is everywhere; we cannot hide from Him.

The mystics understood the words before G-d in a chronological / conceptual sense. G-d’s four letter name is the formula through which He radiates Divine energy into creation. On a higher level, G-d’s name is the medium through which He interacts with us; He descended on Mt Sinai to deliver the Ten Commandments through this name, He spoke to Moses through this name and gave us the Torah though this name. (4)

But the name is merely a formula through which he reveals Himself. Beyond His name is His essence. On Rosh Hashanah G-d rethinks creation; He reconsiders the energy He radiates outward through the medium of His name. If He continues to radiate creative energy, the world is reinstated. If not . . .

But the Jew is different. The Jewish soul is not a creature of the world; it is a part of G-d. Even if the world crumbles, the Jew will preserver. So long as G-d exists, the Jewish soul exists. The Jew is on firm footing because he stands before Hashem i.e. he precedes [is higher than] the name of G-d. The Jew is of G-d’s essence. (5)

All Together

The Divine radiance that vivifies and vitalizes the world withdraws on the eve of Rosh Hashanah and returns to its origin. On Rosh Hashanah, the liturgy proclaims, “You remember the works of the world and recall all primordial formations.” The world returns to its primordial state; as it was at the time of creation.

In its primordial state, creation was aware of its creator. On Rosh Hashanah we return to our primordial state; on this day we are all aware of our creator. At the moment of creation the world instinctively sensed that it is a created being. On Rosh Hashanah we stand before G-d and recall that we are created beings; our existence depends on G-d and today He decides whether we will persevere or cease to exist.

Standing before G-d, artificial differences drain away and we become aware of our equality. The leaders of the community and the simple workers, the scholars and the ignorant, the pious and the lay, stand together as one. Compared to G-d we are infinitesimal specs. From his standpoint our differences are not even trivial; they are irrelevant. It is ludicrous, even hilarious, to speak of differences.

On a deeper level, these differences are more than irrelevant; they are false. When we stand before G-d, when we revert to our primordial point, we become aware that we are all slivers of the same G-d. The distinct nuances between us do not detract from our central essence as sparks of a common flame. This results in a feeling of togetherness. When we are stripped of our accoutrements and revert to the bare truth; we become one.

We Will Prevail

When we revert to our primordial point and coalesce with each other and with G-d, our footing becomes firm. We are subject to the same trial as all of creation; perhaps even harsher. Our misdeeds are placed under the piercing glare of Divine scrutiny and we cannot deny our guilt. Under His glare we are stripped of false pretenses; we tremble, we wilt; we fill with shame and remorse.

We recant, resolve and repent. We entreat, we plead and beg. But we are also confident in our humble assurance that we will prevail in judgment. (6) G-d would no more turn against us than Himself. We take our judgment seriously and return to G-d with a broken heart, but we don’t panic.

On the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah, before the trial even begins, G-d informs us that, in the end, we will prevail. (7)


  1. Deuteronomy 29: 9.
  2. When
    Moses said today, he meant today; the day in which he spoke these words.
    This was Adar seven, the day of his passing, which was when Moses gave
    his last sermon.
  3. Likiutei Torah, Devarim 44a.
    The Torah speaks of “the day” without specifying which, implying that
    there is a generic day that all recognize when it is referenced. This
    day is Rosh Hashanah as we say in the Rosh Hashanah liturgy (based on
    Babylonian Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 27a.) “This is the day; the beginning
    of your handiwork.”
  4. Exodus 19: 20. Leviticus 1:1. Deuteronomy 4: 12.
  5. Job 31:2. See Tanya Ch. 2.
  6. As
    an attestation to our confidence we dress in white, the color of
    holiness and purity during these days. See Tur Orach Chayim ch. 581.
  7. This essay is based on Sefer Hamamarim 5712 p. 277.

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