In Robert Frost’s famous poem, The Road Not Taken, he concludes with these words:
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
Atem Nitzavim HaYom. You stand here today. This is how Parashat Nitzavim begins.All of you stand here: men, women, and children, and elders, and tribal leaders, woodchopper and water drawer. The Hebrew is odd. It says Nitzavim rather than Omdim. Rather than, “you stand here,” the text is better translated as “you are stationed here.” We are still. We are not moving.
We stand on this day, as we prepare to conclude 5779, as we await for the gates of Heaven to open and usher in 5780. We stand on this day, all of us, together. No one is better than another. When we prepare to stand in front of the All Merciful Judge, we do so on equal ground, on a level playing field.
And why do we stand here? The Torah tells us L’avrecha Bivrit Adonai Elohecha – To enter the covenant of Adonai your God. But we are not moving at this moment. Even Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, of Blessed Memory, acknowledges that more than a people of thought, we are a people of action. But now, we are still.
We constantly look at life as a rat race. We keep moving and moving. We are like the hamster on the wheel, going and going and never stopping. Even our assumption at this moment is l’avrecha, that you shall pass through the covenant, you shall enter the covenant. It is about action.
But now, we are still because we are at a fork in the road and two roads diverge in front of us. There is the common path, the busy walkway that most go on. It is the way that we’ve taken so many times before. It is the way that we travel with our eyes closed. We don’t need to type in the address into our GPS. We don’t need to look for street signs or landmarks. This is the road that is comfortable.
And yet, we are standing still. We are frozen at the intersection, not sure which way to turn. We are comfortable on the path that we always travel, but are desperately trying to turn, and travel on the road less traveled this year, hoping that will make all the difference in 5780.
The Aderet Eliyahu, the Vilna Gaon’s commentary on the Torah, explains that when Moses declares that Atem Nitzavim, that we are all standing here, we must do so with our full selves. We are here not just with our physical bodies, but also with our souls, and with our spirit.
Because that makes all the difference — and that is the hardest part. Our bodies are standing still, but after we’ve spent this Hebrew month of Elul doing cheshbon hanefesh, doing an account of our souls, we cannot remain still. That is what must lead us on this new path, on the road less traveled.
We stand here now, wondering what direction we should take in the year to come. May that new direction be one full of purpose, meaning, and value. And may that make all the difference.
-Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky