“Atem nitzavim hayom kulchem lifnei Adonai”—“All of you today stand tall before the Creator.”
Thus begins our parashah. It speaks to all of us—but not while we are going about our daily business or with our minds on something else: we stand tall in the presence of this God who did EVERYTHING for us. And it is not as if this is told to us as a story that happened to our ancestors. This is happening TODAY.
Moshe had taken care of gathering the people, from the heads of the tribes and the elders to the foreigner who is in the camp and the woodcutter. Each one of us figures in that group. We are called not AS if we had been there, but they included us in that wonderful moment and we REALLY were there.
Why, though? Why did the Kadosh Baruch Hu need or choose for each and every one of us to be present? What was the purpose of having all the people physically and spiritually together? Since the first covenant was violated because of the golden calf, the need arose for a renewal of the covenant. “In order to confirm you today as His people and so that He may be your God.” It is THE moment to reconcile. Only this time, the pact will be perpetual. The covenant will be for the times of times and includes all generations. In the previous pact, it was not made clear that the later generations were there. In this one, yes. In this one, it is clear that a collective responsibility is generated for generations, so that there is continuity. And NOBODY has the right to break the pact, since later generations were included in it—no one has the right to make decisions for later generations and determine that they will no longer be in it.
It is different from the covenant made with Abraham. That pact included all the descendants. It was a pact that Abraham signed and confirmed with the Brit Milah, circumcision, and was reaffirmed in each new Israelite who was born—and, after 8 days, circumcised.
This new covenant does not annul the previous one. It makes us fully present at the very moment of signing and summons us to all generations. This is an everlasting covenant. Each one must feel that this pact applies to them; we must feel that we were there at the time the pact was made, sense that it is renewed every day. Each one has to feel as if he himself had been in Har Sinai, on Mount Sinai, as if each one had seen those lights and sounds that caught our attention and remained in our minds and hearts for thousands of years.
We, the People of Israel, have to fulfill the commandments of the Creator, make the mitzvot part of our lives. We have to walk through life showing pride in being part of this convenant in an active way. With all our being, with all our hearts and with all our strength, as we repeat daily in the Shema. And this renewal always occurs RIGHT before judgment day. Wow, what a pressure! Who would dare to say no? That he won’t commit...? That he would like to think about it for a couple more months...?
In a few more days The Day of Judgment opens.
So... Is that how it works? Are we members of this pact by pressure? Because if we don't fulfill it, misfortunes will fall upon us?
I see it the other way around. I see a people—each one of us—who is in an instance of reflection and personal review, something that should be happening throughout the month of Elul. In this exhaustive task, we also have the job of reexamining the “contract”, and reestablish it with the awareness that we are just not taking on a millenary heritage, but rather signing our commitment to the same God of Abraham and Moshe in our own handwriting.
Not because He threatens us if we don't, but because, in the analysis, it is clear that we are once again taking up arms for tikkun atzmi, self-improvement, which will lead us to tikkun olam, the betterment of the world.
And if when you read this same parashah last year or the year before you did not give it the weight it really has, then this is the year of YOUR recommitment. To join in the decision to do something different or better for you, for your Community, for your people, for your society, for your world.
Today you are standing tall before your God. You have been present today for more than two thousand years, ready for the duty. And if you have any doubt as to which or where the road is, the parashah itself tells us: “Behold, I am setting before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, so that you may live.”
Again, not a threat. We have before us both possibilities: to follow His path or to abandon it; but nevertheless He says which is the one that we should choose. The blessing is the fulfillment of the mitzvot, the way of the Torah. The curse is the opposite.
Put like this it seems easy. Who wouldn't choose life?
The hard part is in the grays. We are going to find it difficult when we understand that to improve our society, our Community, sometimes we have to give differently than we thought it was good to give. That the work of choosing life includes that of continuity and, for that continuity, we must work nitzavim, standing side by side, putting aside pride and false places of privilege and understanding and re-understanding the message of our Torah.
Not disguise with erroneous interpretations our own desire to perpetuate attitudes alien to our tradition, nor justify unfair decisions by looking to the side, so as not to see. God gives us the option to follow any of these paths, but compels us to choose life. When we choose one of the two, may it be the blessing. The one that does not bless only a few; the one that is an umbrella that blesses everyone—like that day of the recommitment of Nitzavim, in which each and every one who was a member of the people was so because of their commitment, and not because of the place they had achieved in society.
May we humbly enter the new year. May we do the exercise of seriously submitting ourselves to an honest and deep review. Weighing all the good that we have, measuring everything that we can improve, and taking out what leads us to disengage from the covenant with our God and our environment, but ABOVE all, with our Community.