Last month, a dream came true. Thanks to the help of some dear relatives, my son and I were able to go to Eretz Yisrael for a whole week before my son’s Bar Mitzvah. We went to learn in the Mir Yeshiva and Ponevezh. We davened at the Kotel. We met with Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, Rabbi Povarsky, Rabbi Binyamin Finkel and many great talmidei chachamim. And we had fun, too! Indeed, my father advised me to make sure to plan a fun activity to do there. My son chose jeeping in the Judean desert. On a Friday, we found ourselves bouncing around in the back of a jeep. It was spectacular! We were surrounded by the magnificent Judean desert mountains. We stopped on top of a mountain and our tour guide, Bentzy, told us, “Look at that mountain on the other side of the Jordan River. That is where the Bnei Yisrael stood before they crossed into Eretz Yisrael. That is where Moshe Rabbeinu, on the last day of his life, said, “Atem Nitzavim Hayom” – “You are standing here today.” We could not believe it! He was quoting and pointing to portions of my son’s Bar Mitzvah parsha — Nitzavim!
Parshas Nitzavim is always read the Shabbos prior to Rosh Hashanah. The parsha opens with the words,” Atem Nitzavim hayom…” The Zohar says the word “hayom” (today) is referring to Rosh Hashanah, as that is the day all Klal Yisrael stand before Hashem in judgment. The Nesivos Shalom explains that the parsha is giving us a strategy to approach this special day of Rosh Hashanah. It’s contained in the words “Atem Nitzavim” You are all standing! What was the purpose of this great assembly before Hashem?
The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh says it was to unite all Bnei Yisrael, to create a pact that each Jew is connected to and responsible for one another. This is the principle of Kol Yisrael Areivim Zeh Lazeh. The Gemara tells us that “Arvus” gives a Jew the ability to make a blessing for another Jew, because he is responsible for him. But how is it possible to make a bracha for someone else, when you already fulfilled your own obligation? Reb Chaim Brisker says the root of the word Arvus is Areiv. An Areiv is a guarantor. When it comes to loans, there are two types of guarantors: a regular Areiv and an Areiv Kablan. A regular guarantor can only be approached after the borrower refuses to pay. However, an Areiv Kablan can be approached directly-it’s as if he personally borrowed the money. Reb Chaim says each Jew is on the level of an Areiv Kablan! If another Jew does not fulfill a mitzvah, we personally are missing that mitzvah. That is what gives a Jew the ability to make a bracha for another Jew, because it is our bracha. The Ritva says this new pact of Arvus united the Jewish nation together as one body.
Reb Yisroel Salanter goes even further. He tells us this concept of focusing on others is the only winning strategy in our impending court case on Rosh Hashanah. As directed by the Shulchan Aruch, we wear nice clothing, get a haircut, and eat a yom tov meal on Rosh Hashanah. Yet, it’s perplexing–shouldn’t we be too nervous to eat? So much is at stake!! No. The Jewish nation as a whole is guaranteed it will be meritorious in judgment. But…this guarantee is for the nation, not for each person.
For an individual to win his or her own case, Reb Yisroel tells we must leave self-absorption behind and sincerely look out for the needs of others. Helping others could be a family member or a neighbor or someone sitting next to you at work or in shul. We are all given different talents and personalities, and we’re to use these attributes to be kind to others around us. Hashem will judge us based on how well we use the abilities He gave us.
Will we succeed? Some people feel ill-prepared to help others. Reb Yisroel Salanter would emphasize an addition we say in our prayers during this time period: “Zochreinu l’chaim….” — may you remember us for life for your sake, Hashem. That is our ticket for success. If we dedicate our service for the sake of Hashem, Who is crowned on Rosh Hashanah, we will find that our efforts will succeed and we will be rewarded as well.
May we all stand truly united this Rosh Hashanah and translate into action, our focus on the needs of others, as we proclaim from the depth of our hearts, “Hashem is the King.” Wishing everyone a k’siva v’chasima tova – a happy, healthy and sweet new year.