You Are All Standing Together Today, The Leaders, The Elders, The Men, Women, Children, Converts … – Parshat Nitzavim by Rabbi Zalman Lent

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On Rosh Hashanah, there is a ceremony called Tashlich (for Tashlich iPhone app click here), when we go to a stream or river to pray and symbolically throw our sins into the water. Some have the custom of also throwing bread crumbs into the water. Occasionally, people ask what kind of bread crumbs should be thrown. Here are some suggestions I found for sin-appropriate crumbs from different breads:

For ordinary sins, White Bread | For complex sins, Multigrain
For twisted sins, Pretzels | For sins committed in haste, Matzah
For committing auto theft, Caraway | For bad-temperedness, Sourdough
For not giving full value, Shortbread | For particularly dark sins, Pumpernickel
For causing injury to others, Tortes | For being holier than thou, Bagels
For pride and egotism, Puff Pastry | For telling bad jokes/puns, Corn Bread

Jokes aside, Rosh Hashana is an incredible time … forty-eight hours during which we are each given the opportunity to influence the course of our lives over the twelve months. Will we be granted a year of good health, of happiness and of nachas? Will this year be a stressful or calm one? Will this year be financially successful or otherwise? Most importantly, will we make it through to next year at all?

The verdict will be written on Rosh Hashanah and sealed on Yom Kippur, and then it becomes much more difficult to change. So we join together, as did our parents and grandparents and generations before them, along with the entire Jewish world, to focus for a short time every year on the things that really matter. For once we have life, and good health, all our other material needs fade away into the background. They are also important, and we must pray for them, but the focus is on more important issues.

Just standing together as a unified community is already a step in the right direction, one pace closer to receiving Divine blessing. In this week’s Torah reading (Nitzavim) Moses addresses the Jewish nation on his last day of life. He tells them, “Atem Nitzavim Hayom Kulchem – You are all standing (together) today, the leaders, the elders, the men, women, children, converts … to join the covenant with G-d.” Just the very fact that they were standing together as one unified people put them on the road to receiving G-d’s blessing.

We live in a very individual generation, where it is often each man for himself, survival of the fittest. We seem to live more and more in an “I” generation, where we care less about the group and more about ourselves as individuals. This week there was a big fuss about a new iPhone launch. Someone said to me, “Look around you; iPod – iPhone – iPad – iTunes – everyone is thinking about “I” – what an egocentric world.” I replied to him, “Well, don’t worry, our kids have a (Nintendo) “Wii!” — to which he replied, “Yes, but look how it is spelled – with two “i”s!”

Research has shown that most arguments happen over territory – when one person encroaches on another’s personal space. Entering someone’s space without an invitation is deemed to be offensive. This could be their house, their room, their office cubicle – or even into an abstract space they claim for themselves – a role they lay claim to. One of the oldest Jewish jokes in the book is about the rabbi who enters the shul before Yom Kippur and throws himself on the ground before the Aron Kodesh (Holy Ark) crying to G-d, “Oy, ich bin a gornisht! – Oy, I am a nothing!” Before long the shul president is inspired to join him on the floor and begins repeating his cries “Oy, ich bin a gornisht!”

The shammas (beadle) sees this and gets in on the act. He too throws himself to the ground crying out that he is a nothing. The Rabbi and the president look at each other, “Huh, look who thinks he is agornisht!”

Humility (or shows of humility) was deemed by the Rabbi and President in this joke to be “their” territory, and not for the lowly shammas!

So this Rosh Hashanah, as we join together once again in harmony, shoulder to shoulder with our fellow congregants, (in the knowledge that across the globe Jewish communities are replicating the same scenes and giving enormous nachas to Our Father in Heaven,) let’s make the resolution that when Yomtov has gone and the New Year is no longer new, we will keep those feelings of community and harmony going as long as we possibly can. For when we do that we can be sure, that “Borchenu Avinu Kulanu Ke’Echad – that when we are “together as one,” G-d will shower us with unlimited blessings for a Happy and Healthy Sweet New Year.

Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova

Rabbi Zalman Lent


Rabbi Zalman Lent is a Community Rabbi in Dublin and director of  Chabad of Ireland.


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