Photo Credit: Jodie Maoz

The word amidah (“standing”) and its variants appear over 500 times in the Bible, but the word nitzav also means “standing” and makes quite a few appearances in the Exodus narrative and in the Book of Exodus in general.

For example, when baby Moses is placed in a basket on the Nile River, his sister Miriam “titatzav (stood) from afar” to observe her little brother’s fate (Exodus 2:4). Similarly, after Moses and Aaron’s first audience with the Pharaoh, the Bible relates that certain men – identified by the Talmud (Nedarim 64b) as Dathan and Abiram – were nitzavim (standing) to greet the future saviors and criticize their efforts (5:20). Later on, in the lead-up to the Plague of Blood, Hashem tells Moses “Go to Pharaoh in the morning, behold he goes out to the waters, and nitzavta (you shall stand) to greet him at the edge of the river” (7:15).


What is the difference between the type of standing meant by the term amidah, and how does it differ from the type of standing denoted by nitzav?

Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech Shapiro of Dinov (1783-1841) explains that nitzav implies a new act of standing (i.e., if one was first sitting and then stood up), while amidah can apply to somebody or something that had already been standing. As prooftexts to this distinction, Rabbi Shapiro cites two verses. When Moses tells the Jewish People at the edge of the Reed Sea to brace themselves in anticipation of a great miracle, he says: “Do not fear: hityatzvu (stand up), and you will see the salvation of Hashem…’” (14:13). In this passage, a cognate of nitzav is employed, because Moses essentially told the People to recalibrate their stance as though standing anew, in order for them to behold the miraculous spectacle that was about to happen. He basically asked them to “switch positions” from something akin to sitting to something akin to standing.

In another verse, the Bible describes Abraham as “already omed (standing) before Hashem” (Genesis 18:22) when he began to plead for Hashem to save Sodom. In this case, a variation of amidah is used because Abraham was already standing from before, not standing anew.

Although Rabbi Shapiro actually concedes that there are multiple counter-proofs to the distinction he drew between these terms, that did not stop him from using his distinction to explain another verse: He uses his distinction between nitzav and amidah to explicate a passage wherein both words appear in tandem while telling of Hashem’s role as the Ultimate Judge. “Hashem is nitzav for litigation, and He is omed for the judgment of nations” (Isaiah 3:13). As Rashi explains it, the first part of this verse discusses Him judging the Jewish People, which is done in a hasty and less-thorough way because He has mercy on His nation; and the second part of the verse discusses Hashem judging the other nations in a more meticulous and thorough manner.

When it comes to describing the judgment against the Jewish People, says Rabbi Shapiro, Isaiah uses a cognate of nitzav because Hashem standing for judgment against them is a “new development” that goes against His default approach of mercy. When it comes to describing His judgment against the other nations, on the other hand, a cognate of amidah appears because Hashem is “already standing” in judgment against those nations by default, ready to hear any grievances against them.

One of the sources which may serve as a counter-proof to Rabbi Shapiro’s explanation is the Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah §48:7, Shir HaShirim Rabbah §2:21, Midrash Shocher Tov to Psalms 22:19, and Pesikta Rabbati §15 HaChodesh) that explicitly states that the difference between nitzav and amidah is that nitzav means etimos/hétoimos, which is a Greek word that means “prepared/ready.” This Greek word is also used in Targum Sheini (to Esther 3:14) to render the Hebrew term atidim (“prepared”). Indeed, cognates of the term nitzav are often rendered by Targum as variants of the root ayin-tav-dalet (see Genesis 28:13, Exodus 2:4, 8:16, 34:2 and I Samuel 1:16), which gives us words like atid (“prepared,” “future”).

These facts lead us into another possible way of differentiating between nitzav and amidah. Rabbi Shlomo Pappenheim (1740-1814) explains that the term amidah refers to the simple act of remaining stationary in a specific place while in an upright position. In Exodus 26:15, shittim trees are said to “omed” because they are erect and stay in one spot. Similarly, when Joshua caused the moon to stop its movement while he fought at Gibeon (Joshua 10:13), the verse uses “omed” to convey the idea that it stalled in place.

While the term amidah is teleologically neutral and simply relays the notion of standing in place, the term nitzav implies standing for a specific purpose. For example, the ladder in Jacob’s dream was described as mutzav (Genesis 28:12) because the ladder was purposefully set up in a standing position so that it may later be used for going up and down. This explanation dovetails nicely with the Midrash and Targumim we cited above that explain nitzav as implying “standing” for a specific reason, that is, as a means of preparing oneself and/or anticipating a future development.

Rabbi Shlomo Aharon Wertheimer (1866-1935) explains that nitzav implies a prolonged or continuous standing, as in the term matzeivah (“single-stone altar” or “monument”): it denotes something erected in a way that it was intended to stand in place for a long time. The implication of this is that amidah, by contrast, could even refer to momentary “standing” that does not span a long time.

Rabbi Pappenheim traces the word nitzav to the two-letter root tzadi-bet. Other words derived from this biliteral root in Rabbi Pappenheim’s estimation include yatziv (“true” or “well-grounded,” because it has a well-established basis so it stands on solid footing), tzvi (“desire” or “want,” because desirable things always remain in one’s thoughts, as though constantly “standing” in front of him), tzava (“army,” because soldiers are stationed at certain positions to complete a military formation), tzavah (“bloated,” because something totally inflated becomes stuck in its place where it remains stationed), tzav (“turtle,” a creature whose shell makes it appear to be swollen and distended), and tzav (“covered wagon,” a vehicle that resembles the shape of a turtle). Parts of Rabbi Pappenheim’s explanation are cited by Rabbi Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg (1785-1865) in Ha’ktav Ve’ha’kabbalah and by the Malbim in Yair Ohr.

Echoing Rabbi Pappenheim’s explanation, the Malbim writes that amidah is a general term that simply denotes an upright physical stance, which the term nitzav implies one actively and purposefully standing and presenting oneself. The term nitzav typically implies exerting special effort to continue standing in a certain situation (whether that means “standing up” against one’s enemies, “standing up” in presenting oneself to somebody important, or “standing over” something by actively supervising it).

A similar explanation is implied by Radak (to I Samuel 19:20). In a pep talk given before a major battle, Jehoshaphat the King of Judah somewhat echoes Moses’ words at the Reed Sea, saying: “Stand (hityatzvu), stand (imdu), and you will see the salvation of Hashem with you…” (II Chronicles 20:17). The Metzudat David (there) explains that Jehoshaphat used both words for standing in order to especially arouse and inspire his soldiers, but that in this context they are being used synonymously. Malbim, on the other hand, continues to differentiate between nitzav and amidah by explaining that first Jehoshaphat used the word nitzav to exhort his men to put in special effort to be able to “stand up” and see how Hashem will miraculously bring about the salvation, and subsequently Jehoshaphat used the word amidah to connote them not having to actively do anything to see the great miracle – they could sit back and relax while the miracle was plainly visible in front of them.


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Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein writes The Jewish Press's "Fascinating Explorations in Lashon Hakodesh" column.