Standing By The Covenant
There is a cynical but unfortunately accurate statement rife in the ranks
of diplomats that treaties are made to be broken. We here in Israel have
plenty of experience with that viewpoint and assessment of international
life. However, in this week’s parsha we are told that the Jewish people
under the leadership of Moshe and just before his death entered into a
treaty – a covenant with God that was never meant to be broken or
unenforced. This covenantal treaty was not limited to its generation or
its place and time. It binds those “who are here with us present today and
those who are not present with us here today.” It combines the past,
present and future of Jewry and its destiny into one unified whole and it
makes clear that there really is no escape for any Jew individually and
certainly not for the Jewish people as an entity from the terms of that
covenant. The past century bears harsh witness to the unsuccessful and
tragically inept attempt by many Jews and Jewish organizations and
movements to sever their ties with Jewish tradition, the Jewish people or
the Jewish future. Hitler, Stalin, Arafat and their ilk took the terms of
the covenant with God more seriously than did many of the Jews themselves.
Too our sad learning experience, we have been taught that the old covenant
of Moshe is still operative over three millennia later. The comfort that
we may derive from this realization is that all of the other terms of that
covenant – the great and good future that it guarantees to us and all
humankind - are also still binding and actual.
The word “nitzavim” that gives this week’s parsha its name means to be
present and accounted for, to stand erect, to appear. There can be no
better description of the duty of a Jew than this word “nitzavim.” Every
Jew is responsible to be present and accounted for. Every Jew must be a
proud Jew, standing erect and strong in one’s loyalty to tradition and
Jewish values. The Torah specifically warns against any attempts to shirk
one’s duty, to be absent without leave, so to speak. It is tantamount to
desertion on the field of battle, the most severe crime in warfare. Only
if we view ourselves in the light of having to report “nitzavim” for holy
duty can we truly appreciate the import of the covenant and its binding
quality upon us. “Nitzavim” is not history alone – it is a never-ending
always-renewing challenge to the Jewish people as a whole and to each and
every Jew individually. It is a call and challenge that cannot be ignored.
The parsha of Nitzavim always immediately precedes Rosh Hashana. It sets
the tone for the days of mercy and forgiveness, for the heavenly judgments
that mark the Days of Awe. On Rosh Hashana we pass before God, according
to one opinion in the Talmud as “soldiers in King David’s army.” On Rosh
Hashana, whether we wish so or not, we are all “nitzavim” before the
heavenly court. If the rest of the year we are also to be counted
as “nitzavim” than we can stand with pride and confidence before that
court and pray for receiving its benign and merciful verdict.
B'virkat ketiva v’chatima tova – a good and happy year to all.
Rabbi Berel Wein
Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Berel Wein and Torah.org
Visit www.rabbiwein.com for a complete selection of Rabbi Wein's books and tapes.