23 Elul 5780

September 11, 2020

Yes, America is still engaged in conflicts, fighting terrorism throughout the war as well as racial injustice here at home. Our economy is struggling in the midst of the Covid 19 Pandemic and we as a nation are polarized and divided.  Many of us have not been the same since that horrific moment 19 years today. But, we are still the same. After those first few weeks, after September 11, 2001, how many of us are closer with the people around us? Other than our soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other challenging places around the world, how many of us have made any real sacrifices? How many of us are engaged in any form of meaningful prayer that give us emotional strength?

This week, we read the double portion Nitzavim-Vayeilech (Deuteronomy 29:9-31:30), which always falls right before Rosh HaShanah. It is the same portion that was read the week of 9/11 back in 2001. Ironically, Nitzavim means “standing.” The text opens by saying:

You are standing today, all of you, before Adonai your God: your leaders, your tribes, your elders, your officers, all the people of Israel. Your infants, your women, your strangers that are drawn close in your camp; from the hewers of wood, to the drawers of water.

Even we were there, too, as rabbinic commentator, Rashi explains, when the Torah goes on to include those “that are not here with you today,” it is referring to future generations. And why were we there?

For the sake of establishing hakim you today to be to God a nation.
Hakim is from the root kam, which also means “to stand.” The Torah is telling us, buildings may not stand, but the Jewish people will always stand. How? As long as all of us, from the greatest leaders to the most humble stand together, then God promises that God will help us to stand. It’s been nineteen years. I wish I could say that I see the Jewish people standing together more than we did nineteen years ago, but I can’t. Not much has changed. 9/11 is still a potent political symbol. People talk about it as a defining moment, as a moment of change. But rarely do I hear people doing real self-reflection, asking how have I changed? How should I change? What can I do, both in the physical world, and my relationship with God, to help make this a world where these kinds of things cannot happen?

Nineteen years is a very short time in Jewish history. Next Shabbat is Rosh HaShannah. Now is the time. Let those who are not with us today, the future generations, look back and say this was the Rosh HaShannah that changed everything. This is the year the Jewish people pulled together. And may we merit that God should see us standing together. If we can stand together, if we can stand up for shared values and ideals and if we stand united as a people – then I know that 5781 will truly be a year of blessings for everyone.