Parashat Nitzavim

Standing at Attention

We all need to pick our issues and take a stand.

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What Do We Stand For?

This week's parashah begins with the words: "Atem nitzavim hayom kulchem lifnei Adonai Eloheichem"--You stand today before Adonai Your God. This verse, particularly at this time of year, places us at the same point. We are standing nitzavim-style. What is it that we stand for unshakably and with commitment, in the nitzavim-standing way?What values do we hold that push us to be ready for action, to "take a stand"?

Many years ago when I was in college, a legislative assistant at a congressional office told me that when a constituent called the office, the Representative assumed that 1,000 people held the same view. However, if someone wrote a personal letter, the Representative assumed 10,000 people held the same view. The power of writing a letter was confirmed by the late U.S. Representative and environmentalist Morris Udall, who wrote:

"On several occasions, a single, thoughtful, factually persuasive letter did change my mind or cause me to initiate a review of a previous judgment. Nearly every day my faith is renewed by one or more informative and helpful letters giving me a better understanding of the thinking of my constituents."

During the month of Elul, when we take the time to perform the task of heshbon hanefesh--internal checks and balances--we must also reflect on the ways we have been shaken from our unshakeable commitments. It is time to dedicate ourselves again to acting on our values. I would like to suggest that you choose one issue--local, national, or international--and commit ten minutes to write a personal letter. Tell your Senators and Representative that you are nitzav--taking a stand for something you believe in.

As Aaron Tippin's song says:

"He never was a hero, or this county's shinin' light
But you could always find him standing up
For what he thought was right."

Like the Israelites, we, too, stand at the edge of a Promised Land with tremendous possibilities…if only we do our part to make it so. Like both the Israelites and the father in this great song, it is time for us to pick an issue and "take a stand," nitzavim-style, for what we know to be right.

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Rabbi Cookie L. Olshein

Cookie Lea Olshein is the rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel in Austin, TX.