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Parashat Nitzavim (Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20)

“Then Moses recited the words of this poem to the very end,
in the hearing of the whole congregation of Israel.” (Deuteronomy 31:30)

We read two parashot (portions) this week because of how the Jewish calendar is calculated. The moon’s cycle determines the months, but the sun’s cycle determines the year. Therefore, a Jewish year (including leap years, which add an entire month) can have from 50 to 55 weeks. Since the number of parashot doesn’t change, some years require certain parashot to “double up” on a given Shabbat.

Parashat Nitzavim’s first four words (“Atem nitzavim hayom kulchem, You stand today, all of you…;” Deut. 29:9) encapsulate a three-part message. Nitzavim addresses all the types of Jews in the present (Deut. 29:9-11) as well as all Jews past and future (Deut. 29:13-14). Nitzavim also repeats the word hayom, today, five times in the first five verses, and twice more later in the parasha. Finally, Nitzavim uses nitzavim instead of omdim, the usual word for standing. Whenever nitzavim is used (when the three angels stand outside Abraham’s tent (Gen. 18:2); when the Israelites stand at Mt. Sinai (Ex. 19:17); when Moses stands before God on Mt. Sinai (Ex. 34:2); and when God stands with Moses (Ex. 34:5)) it connotes standing with anticipation and certainty. Nitzavim’s four opening words are a Biblical hyper-link connecting all Jews in all times to that place to affirm: we stand here in anticipation.

Nitzavim is always read the Shabbat before Rosh Hashana. It asks, subtly, where do you stand as you prepare to enter the new year? And when Vayeilech, the next parasha opens with: “Vayeilech moshe, and Moses went…” (Deut. 31:1) it affirms the question: Moses can lead the people forward only because they know where they stand.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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