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    Standing together – Nitzavim

    Attem nitzavim hayom kul’chem – “You stand together today before the Lord your God” (Deut. 29:9).

    This is how the sidra begins. It goes on to explain what is encompassed by “you” and “together”: “your heads, your tribes, your elders and your officers, all the men of Israel; your little ones, your wives, and your stranger who is in the midst of your camp, from your hewer of wood to your drawer of water” (verses 9-19).

    The list is so precise and detailed that it is obvious that no-one was too important or too lowly to be included.

    Seeing that this Shabbat is just a few days before Rosh HaShanah, there must be a parallel between the list in the Torah and the membership roll of every contemporary Jewish congregation.

    The congregation which assembles on Rosh HaShanah is also an attem nitzavim hayom congregation. Differences in age, status, wealth or gender become quite irrelevant when the congregation assembles. The tycoon sits next to the pensioner, the VIP sits next to the social backbencher. The deeply religious person sits beside the person who is not quite certain whether he or she is a believer at all. If anyone is missing or feels unwanted, it is not a congregation.

    God has a place for each one in His world and there is a place for each one in the synagogue.

    According to some views, it is precisely this that is behind our emphasis on community prayer; we pray for each other and we each make up for the spiritual deficiencies in our neighbour.

    A verse in a recent Torah reading may be interpreted to yield the same meaning. Parashat Ki Tetzei, two weeks ago, tells us not to yoke an ox and an ass together (Deut. 22:10).

    The ox and the ass are quite different animals. Each one works at a different pace. The slow animal feels frustrated when the fast one keeps pulling him along; the fast animal feels frustrated when the slow one keeps pulling him back. Compromising and learning to value each other is too difficult for the animals.

    But human beings belong to a different category. Endowed with the capacity to reason, to make allowances and to recognise the value of others is part of being human. Living in society teaches us the dignity of difference. For Jews, the place we learn the lesson is the synagogue, where all stand together in the presence of God.

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