אַתֶּם נִצָּבִים הַיּוֹם כֻּלְּכֶם לִפְנֵי ה' אֱלֹהֵיכֶם
"You are [nitzavim] today, all of you, before Adonay your God"
[D'varim / Deuteronomy 29:9]
This phrase is the beginning of the first verse of this week's parashah/Torah portion. Moses is addressing the people one last time: they are about to enter the Land with Joshua as their leader, Moses knows he will die before that happens. These words introduce a renewal of the covenant originally made at Sinai (about 39 years before this moment) and Moses is setting the stage, emphasizing the significance of the presence of the people before God.
The verb is a telling one . . . for it has consequences for us today: נִצָּבִים / nitzavim. A simple translation would be "standing." You are standing today, all of you, before Adonay your God." That would work. But a lot would be lost in this translation. Moses could have easily said: you are עוֹמדִים / omdim, you are standing.
Nitzavim implies steadfastness, not-going-anywhere-ness, stability . . . Moses telling the Israelites that they are "nitzavim" is a statement that implies eternity, "nitzavim" means that we, two thousand years later, are just as "nitzavim", just as steadfast in relation to God as were our ancestors so long ago.
Our participation in Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services during these Days of Awe constitutes our confirmation that yes, we are indeed, nitzavim. We are as eternally a part of the covenant as is God. Two thousand years later, we are no less a source of frustration and joy and disappointment and delight than were the generations of our ancestors in the wilderness who stood at Sinai, who rebelled, who gathered declared "we will do, we will obey," and who complained, who drank from Miriam's well and who built the Golden Calf.
The same Hebrew root that forms the basis of the word נִצָּבִים / nitzavim also forms the basis of the word מָצֵבָה / matzeivah. A matzeivah is a monument, the term used in modern Hebrew for a cemetery monument. The connection is clear, of course: the cemetery monument is as permanent an object as we can create. Through stone and engraving we attempt to make a steadfast, unmoving statement of love and loss and respect.
Our very presence, as we are נִצָּבִים / nitzavim is our statement as a living monument: unlike the cold stone, we are constantly renewing, bringing life and joy to our meetings with God . . . challenges as well. A stone monument can't pose too many challenges, either.
We are nitzavim before Adonay our God and our participation in services during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur make it clear that we are committed in our "not-going-anywhere-ness." Indeed, we ourselves can declare God:
אנחנו נצבים היום כולנו לפניך . . . . anachnu nitzavim hayom kulanu l'faneicha . . . we are all steadfast, not going anywhere, today, all of us, before You . . .
Rabbi Amy Levin
has been Torat Yisrael's rabbi since the summer of 2004 and serves as President of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island.