Parshat Nitzavim & Rosh Hashanah: On Renewal Opportunities

The word “hayom” (today) is repeated numerous times in parshat Nitzavim. On this final day of Moshe’s life, he gathers the people to renew the covenant with Bnei Yisrael: “You stand today, all of you, before God…” Hayom is also a significant word in Rosh Hashanah liturgy: “Today is the birthday of the world. Today all creatures of the world stand in judgment.” Why such emphasis on the word “today”?

Rashi explains the significance of the word “today” in Nitzavim: just as an individual day consists of a cycle of darkness and then light, so too, even if we as a nation endure dark times, God is ensuring that light and peaceful times will shine again. 

The Netivot Shalom provides another interpretation. He writes that Nitzavim and Rosh Hashanah both relate to the theme of renewal. In Nitzavim, the people are renewing a covenant with God. Rosh Hashanah – the day on which the world was created – is a day of “hitchadshut,” to renew ourselves and our relationship with God. This idea also connects to the daily Shema prayer, which frames each day as we say Shema in the morning and at bedtime. “And these words, which I command you this day, shall be upon your heart.” The midrash Sifrei comments on this verse: These words should not be like an antiquated edict but rather should be new to us each day. Today signals that each day is an opportunity for renewal and to find new meaning in Torah and mitzvot. 
The word “hayom” also appears in the haftorah on day one of Rosh Hashanah. After years of longing for a child, Hannah gets terribly upset and decides to take action, to pray. This significant change occurs “on that day (hayom).” A new day brought Hannah new hope and her prayers were answered. May this Rosh Hashanah be a time of meaningful renewal and may all our prayers be answered on this day. Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova -Karen Miller Jackson

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