Every Friday night at camp, after our prayer services, followed by a delicious Shabbat dinner, our campers run down to the gym for our Shabbat song session. Kids change out of their white shirts and into a variety of sports jerseys and costumes, a time-honored tradition that in their mind came from Moses at Mount Sinai but really is only about 20 years old. For the next hour, they are jumping with their friends singing song after song after song at the top of their lungs! I am reminded of one song, in particular, this week, a song by Danny Nichols, Kehillah Kedosha, Holy Community, because it is directly inspired by this week's parashah, Nitzavim.
If you are “atem” then we’re “n’tzavim.” We stand here today and remember the dream.
Kehilah kedoshah, kehilah kedoshah
Each one of us must play a part. Each one of us must heed the call.
Each one of us must seek the truth. Each one of us is a part of it all.
Each one of us must do the work. Each one of us must right the wrong.
Each one of us must build the home. Each one of us must hold the hope.
It’s how we help. It’s how we give. It’s how we pray. It’s how we heal. It’s how we live.
The first words of the parashah, “Atem Nitzavim” mean “You all, the ones who stand!" However, it is not meant as physically standing. Rather it means the ones who stand for something. And in doing so, we create a Kehillah Kedosha, a holy community.
Our tradition teaches there is only one thing that is intrinsically holy: Time. Or more especially, Shabbat. Not even human beings created in the image of God are in themselves holy. Rather our holiness exists in potential and can only be realized through action. As the song states, each one of us must play a part, heed the call, do the work, right the wrong, and so on. Similarly, the words that adorn the walls of the Irmas campus sanctuary state, "Kidoshim Tihiyu, You be holy for I Adonai your God am holy." “You be holy”…it is something that we have to consciously act upon. But there is a very special way to act in order to fully and completely realize our holiness, and that is together! The Torah quote states "Be holy" in the plural, Kedoshim ti’hiyu..."you" collectively not individually be holy.
We as Jews are ¼ of one percent of the world’s population. Small, but far from insignificant. ¼ of one percent of the world’s population yet we have been at the forefront of so many great achievements in history, philosophy, science, medicine, business, civil rights, the arts, law, entertainment…you name it, Jews have transformed it.
And still, in such a large world of 8 billion, we can feel so small, so insignificant that it can be paralyzing. What can I do? I am just one person. So from paralysis, we can move to apathy, from apathy we can move to indifference, and from indifference, we can move to excuses. As Rabbi Harold Kushner states, “It is easier to believe that we are accidental biological masses of self-aware hydrocarbons, that if we live and prosper or suffer and die is irrelevant. Believing this frees us from the burden of being souls, with being partners with God, being partners with each other in bettering the world.”
If we are truly to be a light unto the nations, the only way for that light to shine is to pursue justice and righteousness, kindness and compassion together… holiness is our collective imperative. We all have the opportunity to nitzavim, stand up together and play our part.
Rabbi David Eshel