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    Standing for something – Nitzavim

    The weekly portion has a solemn beginning, Attem nitzavim hayom – “You stand this day before the Lord your God”.

    On one reading, the verse could be taken to imply, “Here you are this day in God’s presence”. But the reference to standing surely means much more. For standing is a mark of awe and respect.

    An example is the Talmudic phrase often inscribed above the synagogue Ark, Da lif’nei mi attah omed – “Know before whom you stand” (its source is B’rachot 28b). Hence the importance attached to the liturgical use of standing.

    The central prayer of every service is the Amidah, “The Prayer Said Standing”. We stand for the K’dushah: because it speaks of hallowing God as the angels do, our standing imitates the posture of the angels.

    We stand for Kaddish, symbolising that life and all it brings should be faced standing up. Many stand for the Torah reading, like the Israelites who stood at Mount Sinai to receive the Divine Word.

    According to some, all mitzvot containing the word lachem – “for yourself”, are performed standing; examples are lulav and tzitzit. Standing is also the customary posture when saying various Biblical or liturgical passages in the prayers, e.g. Psalm 100, originally said in the Temple on bringing the thanksoffering.

    At a holy place it is appropriate to stand (even in one’s dreams, say the sages). Hence the magnificent phrase, “Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem” (Psalm 122:2). This is literally shir hama’alot, a song of ascents; the Psalmist is a pilgrim who has just entered the city gates and is awe-struck at the moving sight.

    No wonder the sidra speaks of standing before God. One need not define God in detail; indeed one cannot. But the whole creation throbs with His presence, and we are spellbound: in Abraham Joshua Heschel’s words, overwhelmed with awe and amazement. But not only because God exists.

    Heschel says that the “divine event” is not so much that we have sought God, but that God has sought us: “Man would not have known Him if He had not approached man. God’s relation to man precedes man’s relation to Him.” The miracle is that God turns toward man (AJ Heschel, “God in Search of Man”, 1955, ch. 20).

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