“Strengthen your Weak Hands and make firm the tottering knees.”

16 Elul 5780

By Alejandro Alvarado:

Before these holidays, we read this double portion that we studied before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Our Creator reaffirms His covenant by speaking to His people in the merits of Abraham, Isaac and Yaakov, reminding them of the consequences of obedience and disobedience, and that in both, we must keep Him in mind. It also shows us the transfer of leadership from Moses to Joshua.

Nitzavim comes from the root aliyah (עליה) which means “to go up”, and it relates to our way of standing firm or strengthening our legs to face adversity. The idea here is to be strong in the face of war. We can only stand if we have strengthened (exercised) our legs and like trees, to plant ourselves our feet firmly on the ground, or to have the assuredness of taking secure steps. Today it is necessary to be firm with our values, our convictions in a world that seems to be going contrary to our way of thinking and is trying to make us doubt our beliefs, our values or our principles.

This portion teaches us that the Torah is not far from us, that it is in our heart (our kavanah, intention), and that it is accessible to all. It is timeless; it includes past generations leading up to that historical moment when the Israelites entered Eretz Israel for the first time as a nation. Moshe is also speaking to this present generation, as well as all future generations including our descendants.

This parashah compares the Torah to a song (shira שירה), a song which produces movement, and each one must sing it (reproduce it) in order to generate movement (life) within ourselves and towards others. The desire of the Bore Olam is expressed in Devarim 30:19 “choose life”, understanding life not as “mere existence or taking a breath”, but a full life with purpose, practicing the Ten Commandments to create a healthy and moral world according to the principles of the Torah. The Almighty wants us to grow and to fulfill them in order to connect with Him, to strengthen our spiritual legs, to obtain joy, fulfillment, happiness and to face the adversities of life, and to serve God with joy. We must evolve from simply fulfilling mitzvot out of the fear of being cursed or from seeking blessings.

We also learn that in our life our Creator sometimes hides Himself from us (Devarim 31:18); sometimes we are presented with situations where we wonder, where is God? It seems that He is hidden twice; first because we cannot see Him, even with our senses and second understanding that He is present in hidden things. We reaffirm this in chapter 29:28 “The secret things belong unto the LORD our God; but the things that are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this Torah.” For this same reason, sometimes we have mitzvot (Chukkim) that must be exercised, even if we do not understand them, because when they are revealed to us we will better understand their purposes, as we read on Shavuot (Shemot 24: 7) “naasé venishmá נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע”. As we practice them, we may come to understand them.

In these difficult times for our community and for our beloved Rabbi, I am very impressed by the similarity of this portion with our reality, of how before entering the Land, Israel suffered the loss of its leader and it is how the Almighty tells them: “I have helped you so far, now stand firm and walk.” What good is the Torah if we do not apply it? Today we must apply it, stand up to adversity, grow and study the Torah, develop as a community and as individuals, with the values and morality that we have learned, in the face of a degraded world. Community, just as Joshua was told: “Be strong and brave because the Bore Olam is with you and I will not abandon you!”