All of you are standing today in the presence of the LORD your God—your leaders and chief men, your elders and officials, and all the other men of Israel, together with your children and your wives, and the foreigners living in your camps who chop your wood and carry your water. — Deuteronomy 29:10-11
At sundown today, Jewish people around the world mark the beginning of Rosh Hashanah and the beginning of the High Holy Days – the holiest time of the year on the Jewish calendar. Since no work can be done during Rosh Hashanah, these devotions were prepared in advance for you. To learn more about this observance, download our free study on the shofar, ram’s horn, that ushers in this holy season.
Our Scriptures today come from the Torah portion that is always read on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. It begins: “All of you are standing today in the presence of the LORD your God . . .” The Jewish sages explain that this is foreshadowing the week ahead when, in the Jewish tradition, all people will stand before God in judgment. It is also a fitting piece of advice as we make our final preparations for the coming Day of Judgment on Yom Kippur.
In the weeks preceding the Jewish New Year, during the month of Elul, we take stock of our lives. We look back at the year that was and ask ourselves where we went wrong and what we must change. It is the season of repentance, a time for resolutions. However, this verse tells us that it’s not enough to remove the bad habits and resolve not to repeat our mistakes. It is also imperative that we take a look at what we stand for, not just the things that we don’t support. We must ask ourselves what our values are and how we will guard them with our lives. We can’t simply turn away from the bad – we must also commit to doing what is right. As it says in Psalm 37:27, “Turn from evil and do good.”
I am reminded of Muhammad Zoabi, a 16-year-old Arab boy from Nazareth. During the campaign “Bring Back our Boys” when we were praying as a nation for the safe return of three young Jewish Israelis who were kidnapped and then murdered by terrorists, Zoabi spoke out. He took a stand and put out several YouTube videos voicing his unequivocal support for the Jewish State. He took a lot of flak from it, notably from his famous cousin who bears the same last name and is a member of the Israeli parliament although she is openly anti-Israel.
The brave young Muhammad said, “I really believe that I’m a lucky Arab and a lucky human being and a lucky Middle Easterner that I was born in this little tiny piece of land,” noting that Muslim Arabs in neighboring countries lacked the basic freedoms granted in Israel. Muhammad firmly declared that he promises to “stand with the Jewish people until the last day of my life.”
What this boy did was simply remarkable. We have yet to grasp the repercussions of his bold and brave words. How might they inspire and encourage others? More importantly, how can we do the same?
As we usher out the old year and welcome in a new one, ask yourself what you stand for. Remember, we will not make the world a better place by sitting down. Reassess your values and take a stand!