In this week’s parashah, Parashat Nitzavim, Moses gathers the entire Jewish people before God and formulates a covenant between them, beginning with the words, “You are all standing here today….” The Zohar reveals that the word “today” (היום) alludes to Rosh Hashanah, especially in the final Torah portions of Deuteronomy. So, even though this covenant was made on the day of Moses’ passing, the 7th of Adar, in effect we renew it every year on Rosh Hashanah.
Obviously, Rosh Hashanah—literally, the “Head of the Year”—has an explicit connection with time, which is divided into past, present and future.
A well known aphorism states that, “The past is no longer, the future is yet to be, and the present, is like the blink of an eye,” and the sages state that, “God’s salvation comes in the blink of an eye.” In order for us to experience God’s salvation, to merit “Mashiach now!” we must strengthen our connection with the fleeting moment of the present.
In Hebrew, the present is also known as “intermediate time” (זמן בינוני). In the Tanya, the basic tome of Chabad philosophy, the Alter Rebbe stresses that we should strive to be an “intermediate” (בינוני), implicitly directing us to focus our consciousness on the present moment. A righteous individual lives in the future, constantly experiencing the World to Come; the wicked individual (עבריין), is held back by undesirable deeds (עברות) from his past (עבר); but the intermediate, who lives in the present, is free of his past transgressions and experiences God’s imminent salvation at every moment; he is truly liberated.
We are taught in Chassidut that any consummate reality is inter-inclusive; every one of its elements reflects the others. Accordingly, although “today” refers to the present moment, nonetheless, it also includes within it a reflection of both the past and the future. This inter-inclusion of the past, present, and future within the present is apparent in the first six verses of Parashat Nitzavim, in which the word “today” (היום), representing the present, appears five times.
The past within the present is alluded to in the first two verses, which begin: “You are all standing here today before Havayah, your God.” In contradistinction to the inclusiveness and unity suggested in these opening words, the remainder of the verse and the following verse enumerate ten different levels of Jews. The contrast between the unity of the people as a whole as we stand before the Almighty and the various levels of individuals within the whole teaches us that any status we may have acquired becomes a thing of the past as we stand together before the Almighty, renewing our covenant with Him on Rosh Hashanah.
The next two verses refer to the present within the present, “That you may enter the covenant of Havayah your God, and His oath, which Havayah your God is making with you this day; in order to establish you today as His people and that He will be your God, as He spoke to you and as He swore to your forefathers to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” The present moment is about action, as the Lubavitcher Rebbe stressed time and again. These two verses describe the act we perform on Rosh Hashanah: renewing the covenant that God made with us and reestablishing our status as God’s people.
The final two verses are a unique Biblical example of including the future within the present, as they describe how all future generations of the Jewish people participate in the present moment. “And not with you alone am I making this covenant… but with those who stand here with us today… and with those who are not here with us today.”
Thus, on Rosh Hashanah, past, present and future fuse into one awe-inspiring moment as we renew our covenant with the Almighty, “To establish you today for Him as a people and He will be your God.”