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Nitzavim 5761

By: Rav David Milston

"You are standing today, all of you, before Hashem, your G-d: the heads of your tribes, your elders, and your officers - all the men of Israel; your small children, your women, and your proselyte who is in the midst of your camp, from the hewer of your wood to the drawer of your water." (Devarim Chapter 29, verses 9 and 10)

This Parasha is always read on the Shabbat preceding Rosh Hashana. The reference to Teshuvah, makes it extremely relevant to the themes of this particular period of the year. Yet today, the day following one of the most brutal terrorist attacks that we have ever known, these words have an even greater meaning.

The Keli Yakar, points out, that of all our Chagim, Rosh Hashana, and Shavuot are unique, in that the Torah refrains from describing the essence of these "festivals". Regarding Shavuot, the Torah omits the fact that we celebrate the receiving of the Torah, whilst regarding Rosh Hashana, the Torah omits the fact that this day is "The Day of Judgment".

Two of the most important days of the year - Matan Torah, and Yom Hadin, are not described in any kind of detail in the Torah. The Keli Yakar explains that the reason for this omission is to emphasize to us, that even though we have specific days to symbolize the receipt of the Torah, and The Day of Judgment, every day is in fact Matan Torah, every day is in fact Yom Hadin.

These are the first things that came to my mind, on "the day after". Every day is a Yom Hadin, wherever we are, whatever we may be doing, every day we stand before Hashem, every day is a Yom Hadin.

After a year of reassuring parents as to the well being of their children, I find myself, paradoxically, phoning parents inquiring of their own well being. In a period of eight hours more casualties as a direct result of terrorism were suffered in North America, than the sum of all terrorists acts that ever took place in Israel. Every day is Yom Hadin, wherever we are, whatever we may be doing. No place is really safer than anywhere else, we take precautions wherever we are, but as we read on Mincha of Yom Kippur regarding the Prophet Yona, one cannot hide from Hashem.

The essence of "the Day of Judgment", is not simply that Hashem Judges mankind, and decides our futures on the basis of our actions. It is a time for us to Judge ourselves, to look into ourselves with an aim at analyzing our lives, and how we are living them. I find myself asking the question, what can I learn from the events of the last twenty four hours, what can I take away from this most terrible tragedy, that is even remotely positive?

My first thoughts refer to the opening verse of Parshat Nitzavim: "You are standing today, all of you, before Hashem".

The question is often asked as to why Rosh Hashana precedes Yom Kippur. Even though we know that Yom Kippur was chosen because it is historically a day of mercy, a day when Hashem forgave Am Yisrael for the sin of the Golden Calf, nevertheless, surely it would make more sense to celebrate the New Year after having been atoned for the previous year and not beforehand?

In answering this question we have to understand what Rosh Hashana is really about. The central theme in all of our Tefillot is that Hashem is King of the world. Hashem is the true super power. There is no other controller of the universe except for Hashem. Great nations have come, they have conquered, but they have inevitably disappeared. Be it the Roman Empire, be it the British Empire, Human rule is limited. We often think we are in control, we often think that we are on top of the world, but this is indeed an optical illusion.

Before we can possibly reach atonement, before the "Ten days of repentance" can even begin, we need to accept G-d as the true King of the universe. We must internalize this concept, because if we do not, then much of what will follow will be superficial to say the least. We will never really adhere to the ways of Hashem until we accept Him truly as the "King of Kings". On Rosh Hashana, we declare to the world, and more importantly, we declare to ourselves, that Hashem is the only real superpower.

The United States of America, has for the last decade been the only real "Super Power", yet yesterday afternoon, the most powerful country in the world came to a stand still, and as a result of which, the entire Western world ceased to function. The Financial world closed down, airports were shut off, central buildings evacuated. We stood in awe as we watched, helplessly as the most incredible tragedy developed before our very eyes. Yet this was not a World War. America was not attacked by an opposing super power, but by a relatively small group of organized terrorists. The greatest country in the world, ceased to function, at least for a number of hours, panic reigned, not just in America, but throughout Europe, and even in the Southern Hemisphere. Before our very eyes we saw for ourselves the limitations of human beings, even the most powerful human beings. The optical illusion of "Human Strength" was exposed in the clearest way possible.

In the aftermath of this horrific event, we must realize that however great a country America may be - "You are standing today, all of you, before Hashem". The only real superpower is the Master of the universe. The King of Kings is the true ruler of the World, only He is untouched by natural disasters, by acts of terrorism, only He is in control, and it is therefore to Him that we must turn.

On Erev Rosh Hashana, a time when we come to Crown Hashem as King of the Universe, we have been cruelly reminded of our limitations. That a city as impressively powerful as Manhattan can become a nightmare, must shock us to our very bones. Yet we must also realize that just because we discover that who we thought was in control is not really in control, it does not mean that no one is in control. As Avrahan Avinu discovered, there is a real controller, and it is to Him, and only to Him that we must turn.

My second thoughts relate to the value of time. How many people passed away yesterday? How many people, healthy and young, went to work with dreams that would never come true, with plans that they would never get to realize?

We have no way of knowing what awaits us around the corner. We have no way of telling how long we will live in this world. This reality is well known to us, but the events of yesterday, have highlighted them for us in the most shocking fashion possible. We must internalize these facts, not in a morbid sense, Heaven forbid, but in a constructive manner. We must realize that our time on this earth is limited, that not only is it limited, but that we also have no idea whatsoever as to what that limit is. We must therefore apply ourselves to our lives with urgency, with an enthusiasm, with a purpose. We must make sure that every moment counts, that we are truly doing the best that we can do, that we are applying ourselves to what we need to be applying ourselves to. We do not have time to waste. We have come to this world for a reason, and we do not know how much time we have here.

"You are standing today, all of you, before Hashem" - let us therefore turn to Hashem, the King of Kings, let us beseech of Him that the New Year be a truly New Year, that a year that began with terrorism in Israel and finished with terrorism in North America, will finally end, and that a New Year of hope and promise will arrive. Let us pray for all the families who will never be the same again. Let us pray for all those missing and injured.

We must show Hashem that we are worthy of our prayers, that we realize who we are, what we are meant to be doing, and that we intend to realize those objectives. We must resolve to make next year a New Year, and then it will surely happen.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ketiva Vechatima Tova


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