Judging the highest and lowest in equal measure

  • ParshaRabbiPink
This week's Torah portion, Nitzavim, is always read on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah. There are so many things about this portion that connect it to Rosh Hashanah. Nitzavim speaks of our commitment to G-d, His Torah, and mitzvahs (good deeds). It teaches about teshuvah (repentance), and foretells our return to G-d in this dark exile, reassuring us that G-d will gather us from the farthest places.
by Rabbi Pini Pink, Chabad Greenstone | Sep 26, 2019

The portion opens with the words: “You are all standing – nitzavim – on this very day before the Lord your G-d”. Our rabbis teach that the term “this day” refers to the day of Rosh Hashanah, the day on which we all stand in judgement before G-d for a review of this contract.

The verse continues, “Your heads ... your officers ... from your wood choppers to your water drawers”. All Jews, no matter their station in life, level of observance or knowledge, are bound to G‑d with the same contract.

The story is told that Rav Yosef, the son of the Talmudic sage Rabbi Joshua ben Levi, fell ill and was at death’s door, hovering between heaven and earth. His father prayed fervently for his recovery, and Rav Yosef recovered. When he recovered, his father asked him, “My son, what did you see up there?” Rav Yosef replied, “I saw an upside-down world. Those who are on top down here in our world are on the bottom there; and those who are regarded as lowly here, are exalted in heaven.”

The elevation of the leader or sage over the woodchopper or water carrier is as a result of our earth-bound perspective, which views things in terms of a hierarchy of roles. But when “you all stand before G-d” there is no higher and lower – what seems “low” here is still significant in G-d’s eyes.

I was recently called to say the final prayers at the bedside of someone in intensive care. The doctors said there was nothing more they could do. Walking through the silent hospital corridors got me thinking about the various milestones and life changing events that had happened over the previous year. I realised that a congregant who had decided to go kosher and kasher their home had really inspired me. I was in awe at another who decided that he would not continue a relationship with a non-Jewish girl. What life-changing decisions had I made in recent months? How will this Rosh Hashanah inspire me to greater heights in my Judaism?

Rosh Hashanah is the time when we all stand before G-d. Whether we are “officers” of Judaism, or “water-drawers”.

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