Drash on Parashat Nitzavim
Rabbi Beni YedidYah Wajnberg
United Hebrew Congregation, Singapore
“Atem Nitzavim HaYom,” the Torah teaches. You stand today. Where did our ancestors stand? They stood before God. And who is the “you” to whom the verse refers? Our expectations would be, if we followed along the text from the beginning, and now that we are towards its end, that the text would not be quite inclusive. We have studied throughout our journey from Genesis passages less welcoming of others, gender issues, and at times unfair conceptions of who is in and who is out.
But this time around, perhaps at its end the Torah has been seeing itself as a work in progress, the inclusion is remarkable. Before God on that time, stood the leaders of the tribes, the elders and all men. AND. And the women, and the kindred souls – the ger’im, those who were part of the people even without being “Yisrael,” part of the Jewish people. And even those who were not there in presence on that day.
God then takes on that whole community in its diversity and leads them into a brit, a covenant to God. This powerful lesson is not to be minimized. No person holds the exclusivity of a covenant with God. It belongs to everyone. Judaism is extremely democratic in our spiritual approach. Each person has within themselves all that it takes to establish a deep relationship with the sacred. And no one is better, or more able, to do so than their fellow. Because humanity, the one prerequisite, is shared universally. Jews use our specific operating system, Judaism, to establish such connection with the Source of life.
What covenant is the Torah referring to? Surely Abraham has entered this covenant before – what is it different about Today? Or how about Moses? Wasn’t the experience at Sinai also of such covenantal power? One can conclude either that 1) this is yet another covenant, out of so many previous covenants or 2) this is the same covenant, but it is ever changed by changing circumstances. The metamorphosis of the covenant between God and our ancestors meant that those parties entering the covenant were fully bound to it because the covenant was relevant to them. Relevant and personal always meant authentic before God’s eyes.
Enter Sforno, our medieval commentator. Sforno’s interpretation of the text referring to those who were not there in person that day is quite interesting. He saw that as the future generation – us! So in 2021, wherever and whoever we are, we too get to be included in the covenant of God. All that God asks is for us to stand, for us to be presence. With our full selves. Not in spite of who we are, but just as we are, the good and the bad. They are all parts of us, and we are perfect just the way we are. So now, we stand before God. Each and all of us.
The New Year is in the horizon, a new day is always born. Will we stand and enter? Will we dare to accept our full selves, and join hands with each other in the eve of a new morrow? May we say yes, may we be inscribed in the book of life, and may we continue to grow.