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Rosh Hashanah in Parshat Nitzavim
Parshat Nitzavim and Rosh Hashanah
Parshat Nitzavim is always read on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah, the Shabbat which the Ba’al Shem Tov explained that the Almighty Himself blesses the month of Tishrei instead of us. Indeed, the very first verse of our parshah, "You are all standing this day before God your God the leaders of your tribes, your elders and your officers, every man of Israel" alludes to Rosh Hashanah. The word "today" is explained by the commentaries1 as referring to the day of Rosh Hashanah, the day in which we all stand in judgment before God.
But where do the commentaries learn that the word "today" refers to Rosh Hashanah? They do so from the description of the Heavenly Day of Judgment found in the beginning of the Book of Job.
(1) In the land of Utz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil. (2) He had seven sons and three daughters, (3) and he owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys, and had a large number of servants. He was the greatest man among all the people of the East.
(4) His sons used to take turns holding feasts in their homes, and they would invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. (5) When the festivities had run their course, Job would send and have them purified. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, "Perhaps they [my children] have sinned and cursed God in their hearts." This was Job's custom day by day.
(6) And it came to pass on the day that the angels came to present themselves before the Almighty, and Satan also came with them. (7) The Almighty said to Satan, "Where have you come from?" Satan answered the Almighty, "From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it." (8) Then the Almighty said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil."
The Hebrew for the words "the day" in verse 6 is hayom (which in the Aramaic translation of Job reads "the day of judgment of Rosh Hashanah"), the same as the word "today" in the first verse of parshat Nitzavim. In the language of Rabbinic analysis this type of relationship is known as a gezerah shavah or gleaning meaning from two passages with the same wording. In this case, there is one word that is exactly the same (hayom) whose context is explicit in Job and implicit in our parshah. Thus, the meaning in Job is applied to the word in Nitzavim.
In passing, let us note that the verse in which the word hayom appears in Job is the sixth verse of the book. The first 5 verses introduce Job and his situation in life. Thus, the first five verses correspond to the first five days of creation and the sixth verse, describing the day of Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment corresponds to the sixth day of creation, which is indeed the first day of Tishrei, the sixth day of creation!2
So now that we know that Job is the source of the description of Rosh Hashanah as the Day of Judgment for all creatures, the question presents itself: Why would we learn such an important fact about the essence of Rosh Hashanah only apropos the story of Job? Should we not expect such a basic fact to be stated explicitly in the Torah?
Moses' 3 Books
The answer is that Moses wrote three books: the Torah, Job, and the description of Balam’s prophecies in the Torah.3 These three books correspond to the three possible states of a human being: righteous (a tzadik), intermediate (a beinoni), and wicked (a rasha). The sages tell us that on Rosh Hashanah 3 books are opened by the Almighty: the book of the righteous, of the intermediaries, and of the wicked.4 Those individuals who are righteous are immediately signed and sealed for a good year; those who are wicked are immediately signed and sealed for a year of punishment. But, the intermediaries remain in review until Yom Kipur, when they are signed as per the final outcome of their trial.
Based on the Tanya, almost all Jews are (potentially) intermediates (beinonim), meaning that they cannot completely vanquish their inclination for that which is negative and are constantly fighting it in order to lead a good and upright life. It follows therefore that Job is the original intermediary. Moses' depiction of Job is of a person locked in constant existential struggle with himself and with God's Providence, constantly questioning both and never arriving at a satisfying conclusion, one way or the other. Even before we are told of Job's suffering and trial we learn that:
When the festivities had run their course, Job would send and have them purified. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, "Perhaps they [my children] have sinned and cursed God in their hearts." This was Job's custom day by day.
Like the beinoni (the intermediate) that he epitomizes, Job is constantly aware of the ease with which a person can slip and act improperly and therefore remains forever vigilante against sin. But, even more so, Job, like the beinoni as described in the Tanya, is super-sensitive to the sins of the heart, the battleground on which the war against the evil inclination is fought.
In any case, we have found that Rosh Hashanah is the Day of Judgment primarily for those who are intermediates (which is practically everyone). And thus, the essential essence of Rosh Hashanah as a day of judgment is gleaned from the description of Job, Moses' book on the existential struggles of the intermediate (the beinoni).
1. Targum Yonatan, Rashi, and the Ibn Ezra. Note that in his commentary the Ibn Ezra suggests three different interpretations of what the context of Job’s trial might be:
1) the general day of judgment for all creatures, i.e., Rosh Hashanah
2) Job’s personal day of judgment—referring to his birthday, for a person is judged on his or her birthday
3) Simply a particular day on which these events came to pass
Note that these three possibilities correspond to the three dimensions of reality described by the Ba’al Shem Tov’s as Worlds (a particular day, part of history), Souls (Job’s birthday), and Divinity (Rosh Hashanah, the day on which God is crowned as King over all).
2. Indeed, the world was created on the 25th of Elul and Rosh Hashanah is the sixth day of creation, the day on which Adam and Eve were created.
3. In parshat Balak in the Book of Numbers.