Today’s sidra derives its name, as sidrot always do, from the first important Hebrew word. In this case it is Nitzavim, “standing”. It tells us, “You are all standing today before the Lord your God” (Deut. 29:9).
“Standing” has many meanings. It can indicate standing as opposed to sitting. It can denote standing in the sense of being in attendance. It can mean taking a stand. Probably all are true in the context of this passage.
When the people stood they were not sitting, though sitting is a regular part of being Jewish – like sitting at Seder, or sitting to study the Torah – but at this moment they were like soldiers obeying the call to attention. Soldiers in this position are ready for inspection by their commander; we on the threshold of Rosh HaShanah are ready for Divine scrutiny.
Some people might cherish the hope that God will not notice them, but when the Creator wants to check His creatures, no-one can hide.
The people were also standing in the sense of being in attendance. The sages say that the number of Israelites reflected the number of letters in the Torah. Every Israelite had a personal letter, as each has a place in the Jewish destiny. Sometimes a Jew tries to opt out, but it never works; in the end the only choice is to affirm our Jewish identity.
The Israelites were standing in the further sense of taking a stand. When the time comes to say “Amen” we can never simply say “maybe”. Taking a stand requires tremendous moral courage.
That in the last analysis is what Rosh HaShanah is all about – courage, not cowardice; reliability, not irresponsibility; boldly saying “Amen” and striding into the future.