Stop and Think

by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – September 7, 2015

In the beginning of the Torah portion of Nitzavim, Moses, before he passes on, addresses a gathering of the People of Israel and begins to tell them (Devarim 29:9), “You are standing here today.”  On this verse, Rashi comments that Moses gathered together the people to stand together as he is about to transfer the leadership to his trusted student Joshua, upon G-d’s recommendation, and to urge them to maintain their devotion to G-d.  Rashi adds that a similar gathering of the People of Israel to stand together was performed when Joshua passed on the leadership to the prophet Shmuel and, then, when Shmuel passed the leadership over to the first king of the nation of Israel, King Saul.

The late venerated rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Telz, R. Eliyahu Meir Bloch (1894-1954) is reported (Yissocher Frand, Rabbi Frand on the Parashah 2, pp. 339-341) to have wondered about the necessity for the people to stand around together.  Why could they not sit?  What was accomplished by standing?

In answer to his question, R. Bloch noted that the reference to standing did not connote standing on one’s feet, but, instead, to the idea of remaining in one place.  As a result of the many goings and comings that we all engage in, we often forget to take the time to stop and think about what we are doing.  We just keep doing things by rote, running around, without thinking about where we came from, where we are trying to go, and how we are trying to go there.  However, to succeed in life, we must establish direction.  We must understand what we wish to achieve and plan on how to fulfill this goal.  It is difficult to contemplate on a daily basis what we have achieved and what we still have to accomplish.  At some transition point, therefore, we must take time to stop and think about our actions.

This, R. Bloch asserts, is what Moses, Joshua and Shmuel intended when gathering the nation to stand together when each prepared to transfer the mantel of leadership.  They utilized the momentous occasion of handing over the reins of leadership to declare the need of the nation at large at such a major crossroads in life to contemplate where we are holding and what we have yet to do.

We all experience significant transitions in life, such as beginning a new school, getting married, having a child or marrying off a child etc.  On all these occasions, R. Bloch tells us, like the People of Israel did, we should stop and think of what was to be achieved up to this point, what more should be done and how it should be done.  If, however, we just fall into a routine running or drifting through life without standing still to stop and think about our actions, we stand little chance to fulfill our potential of what we can truly achieve in life.  Consequently, R. Bloch notes, Moses brought the nation to a standstill to take note of where they were and where they were headed.

Nor do we need to wait for a major turning point in our lives to evaluate our actions.  There are many opportunities to consider our actions.  Every Sabbath, we have an opportunity to stop and think.  Every holiday, we can stop and think.  Especially, we can and should do so on Rosh HaShana.  Appropriately, we read the Torah portion of Nitzavim on the last Sabbath before Rosh HaShana, perhaps specifically designed by our Sages so that Moses’ gathering the people to stand together should remind us, like the nation prior to Moses’ passing, to stop and think and engage in a serious introspection of our behavior as we begin a new year.

We must not run through life or sleepwalk through life.  We must take the opportunity from time to time whenever possible to stop and think.  We must contemplate what we have accomplished and what more we can do and how to do it.  Only then can we truly fulfill our potential and make of ourselves the best that we can be.