Parshat Nitzavim: Chassidut on the Parsha

1 09 2010

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Hershel Reichman

Parshat Nitzavim begins with, “Atem nitzavim hayom, You, the Jewish people are standing before Hashem.” Rashi writes that the Jewish nation renewed their commitment to the Torah by making a special covenant with Hashem. Why was this covenant needed now? To answer this, Rashi asks another question. What is the connection between the parshiyot of Ki Tavo and Nitzavim? He explains that after the Jews heard the 98 curses they recoiled in fear. Therefore, Moshe immediately comforted them by reminding them, “You have sinned in the past and yet, “Atem nitzavim,” you are still standing.

The Shem MiShmuel explains this idea further. In Parshat Vayeilech, we read how the Jewish people will sin and suffering will come upon them. They will say, “Ein Elokai b’kirbi. Hashem has left us.” Hashem will then say, “V’anochi haster astir panei, I will hide my face.” The Shem Mishmuel emphasizes that the most fundamental reason that leads a person to sin is “Ein Elokai,” he forgets that Hashem is constantly before him. In a sense, he experiences temporary spiritual amnesia. If the Jewish people have recognized this and have begun the process of teshuva, why does Hashem then say he will hide His face?

Rav Bunim MiPeshischa answers that stating that one’s misdeeds drove Hashem away is a terrible sin. Hashem never leaves the Jewish people. Our sins may create a certain distance but He is still there with us. Hashem says, “Anochi haster, I will hide.” But even in the worst concealment, my great hidden light, “panai,” remains with you.

After the Jewish people heard the 98 curses, they were worried that their faith would not remain intact after these awful punishments would be meted out. Therefore, Moshe deemed it necessary to make a new covenant, assuring the Jewish people that Hashem would never leave them come what may and that they too would remain bound to Hashem. This is the power of “Nitzavim,” the steadfast faith that every Jew carries in his heart, through myriad tragedy and suffering.

Nitzavim comes from the root word, matzeiva, meaning solid rock. Our foundation is as strong as rock and this is the legacy we bequeath to our children. The Midrash in Shemot Rabbah writes, “The Jewish people are compared to angels, of angels it is written, they stand on high and of the Jews it is written, behold you are standing.” We read in the book of Zecharya, “V’natati lecha makom ben ha’omdim haelah, you will walk through these standing angels.” Angels do not have free choice. Therefore they are referred to as “standing” – they will neither fall nor rise. In contrast, the prophet Zecharya is told, “You will move between these angels.” Man has the power to ascend to a level higher than the angels. On the one hand, we are meant to be similar to angels, nitzavim – firm in our faith, never descending to the depths of sin. Yet on the other hand, we are meant to be greater than them, always striving to reach further levels in avodat Hashem.

The Midrash says that Yaakov gave us the evening Maariv prayer because his life was filled with darkness and baffling challenges. Through it all he never wavered and remained strong and steadfast in his faith. Sometimes, life may hand us the “raw deal.” It is specifically at those times that we must bolster our trust in Hashem and tap into the hidden reservoirs of strength contained in Nitzavim.




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