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Nitzavim is always the Torah portion before Rosh Hashana. If someone has an impending court case in which they stand to lose their entire fortune or be imprisoned for the rest of their life, what do they do the night before? They stay awake all night worrying!

On the night before our judgment, where we stand to lose far more than our fortunes, what do we do? We have something closely resembling a Pesach seder…. We dress up in our finest, newly purchased clothes. We have a banquet with the finest food and drink. We set out a tray of special foods – pomegranate seeds, carrots, dates, beetroot, gourd, etc. and on each one we recite a special verse. Are we tense? Are we apprehensive? Quite the opposite, we are celebrating.


In our parsha, if Moshe Rabbeinu wanted to say that we are “standing,” why did he not use the more common word, “omdim?” What is so special about the word “nitzavim?” We encounter a form of this word when Am Yisrael reached the Red Sea, with the Egyptians in hot pursuit. Moshe told Am Yisrael: “Hityatzvu, stand and witness the salvation of Hashem” (Shemot 14:13).

Nitzavim does not simply mean to stand but to stand and witness a miracle. If Moshe tells Am Yisrael that they are standing on Rosh Hashana before Hashem, it is to witness a miracle.

Our Sages say that the fact that Hashem forgives us on Rosh Hashana is a miracle. By all rights, He should not be forgiving us. When we sin, we do not have the faintest clue what harm we are causing.

Sefer Baruch Yomeiru brings a parable to illustrate this:

A thief tries to break into a wealthy person’s house. Unfortunately, the house is well secured – the doors and windows are reinforced, and alarms and motion sensors are everywhere. He tries to get in from the roof and through the chimney, but to his dismay, the chimney is also secured. He decides to call it a night and try an easier house down the street.

As he is about to leave, he notices, out of the corner of his eye, a two-inch steel bolt on the floor, and remembers that his wife asked him to fix their washing machine, which had been acting up lately, and what was needed was exactly a two-inch bolt like this one. He unscrews it, pockets the bolt, and makes his exit.

The next morning, he is awoken by the sound of sirens and a SWAT team surrounding his house. He is arrested – the security cameras caught him on video. He is brought before a judge and charged with causing damage in the sum of $10 million!

“Your honor,” he says to the judge, “$10 million??? Have a look at the camera footage – all I did was take a two-inch bolt from the roof. At a hardware store, you can buy one just like it, for 10 cents!”

“Just one two-inch bolt?” replies the judge indignantly, “The owner of the house purchased a $2 million antique Venetian crystal chandelier weighing one ton. He had construction workers reinforce the ceiling with two feet of concrete through which they drilled a hole and secured a reinforced screw through the concrete to hold up this heavy chandelier. When you removed that two-inch bolt on the roof, the entire chandelier came crashing down. It was so heavy it broke through the parquet floor to the level below, where it landed in the kitchen, breaking the owner’s hip bone as he was preparing a midnight snack. Here’s the bill – one chandelier, one parquet floor, one hip replacement surgery – damages and aggravation equaling $10 million!”

When we sin, what do we say? “Sin? What did I do that was so terrible? OK, so I forgot to say the blessing Borei Nefashot that day after a double chocolate ice cream. How much was the ice cream? Two dollars? What’s the big deal?”

By not saying Borei Nefashot on that ice cream and because “Kol Yisrael areivim zeh la’zeh – all of Israel are responsible for one another – we failed to fully bring down the Heavenly abundance that week and instead of raining two inches, it only rained one inch, so only 15 cubic feet of rainwater went through the drainage pipe and not 30 cubic feet. In one of the offshoots to the pipe was a scorpion nest. If there had been 30 cubic feet of rainwater, it would have flushed the nest into the sewer, but because there was less water, the nest remained intact. A scorpion crawled through a crack in the window of the bedroom of one of the neighbors, who had a rough day so he took some sleeping pills to help him sleep. He didn’t feel the sting and only hours later, his wife found him in a coma. He eventually regained consciousness six months later, but not before the trauma caused damage to his reproductive system and the family remained childless. If not for that missed bracha, that man would have had a son who would eventually become a fireman and save hundreds of lives.

When Hashem tallies our merits vs. our sins, by all rights He should not simply write down 10 cents for a two-inch bolt, or two dollars for the ice cream, but the larger sum for all the repercussions as well. With accounting like that, there is no way we could come out in the black.

However, that is not how Hashem calculates. When we sin, Hashem only bills us 10 cents for the bolt and two dollars for the ice cream. We are not held accountable for the repercussions, although through our actions we caused them.

And that’s not all. We get “brownie points” for our intention to do a mitzvah, even though we have not done it yet. On erev Rosh Hashana we resolve – “This year I will undertake to learn 10 minutes of Mishnayot every evening.” Hashem does a calculation – how many years does this person have left to live? Sixty-seven years: 67 years X 365 days X 10 minutes = 4076 hours of learning Mishnayot! Add that to the “plus” column! We haven’t even got past Rosh Hashana yet to start fulfilling that resolution, but Hashem already chalks it up to our credit as if we had already done it. With accounting like that, it is almost impossible to come out in the red.

Hashem performs a miracle of accounting because if He did not, none of us would survive the coming year.

This is why Rosh Hashana is a celebration. Not like Pesach, for a miracle that occurred in the past, but for a miracle that is about to take place. We are banking on this miracle coming to fruition. So, we dress up in new clothes, we conduct something that closely resembles a Pesach seder, we say Shehechiyanu and give thanks to Hashem for all the miracles He has given us in the past and the enormous miracle of life He is about to give us.


Parshat HaShavua Trivia Question: Hashem says, “I have given you the choice between life and death … and you shall choose life!” (Devarim 30:19). How does one choose life?

Answer to Last Week’s Trivia Question: When Am Yisrael enters Eretz Yisrael, they are commanded to take large stones covered with plaster and write the Torah on these stones in seventy languages. What is the purpose of these stones? The Gemara (Sota 32a) says that the Torah was written on these stones to remind Am Yisrael that they are inheriting this land only by virtue of the Torah (Rabbeinu Bachye).


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Eliezer Meir Saidel ([email protected]) is Managing Director of research institute Machon Lechem Hapanim and owner of the Jewish Baking Center which researches and bakes traditional Jewish historical and contemporary bread. His sefer “Meir Panim” is the first book dedicated entirely to the subject of the Lechem Hapanim.