One Rosh HaShanah, Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev felt uplifted. He sensed that his prayers and his sounding of the shofar had been uniquely inspired. A heavenly echo interrupted his thoughts: "In a far-away Russian village, there is a congregation whose prayers far surpassed yours."
In humble supplication, Reb Levi Yitzchak asked G-d if he could see the prayers of that congregation whose entreaties had been so genuine and so sincere.
The following year, as Reb Levi Yitzchak prepared to sound the shofar, he saw a vision. A group of Jewish soldiers from the Russian army were huddled together in a cellar. Some were wearing talleisim; others were not. One held a shofar in his hand. Before he proceeded to sound it, one of his colleagues stepped forth and spoke:
"G-d, we were taken away from our families at a young age and received little, if any, Jewish knowledge. We cannot marry and have no hope of achieving fame or fortune. We have neither spiritual nor material aspirations that we can anticipate being fulfilled. For what do we pray? That Your Kingship will be revealed throughout the world."
Reb Levi Yitzchak understood: this was the congregation whose prayers had surpassed his.
Parshas Nitzavim is always read on the Sabbath preceding Rosh HaShanah, the Day of Judgment. We all have spiritual and material aspirations and we wish that they be fulfilled. But we must understand that the motivating force behind all our aspirations, both spiritual and material, should be the desire for the revelation of G-d's sovereignty, as will be actualized with the coming of Mashiach.
This week's Torah reading begins: Atem nitzavim hayom, "You are standing today." "Today" refers to Rosh HaShanah, the Day of Judgment. The Torah is telling the Jews that they "are standing," triumphant in the judgment. This is the blessing for the month of Tishrei, and in a larger sense, the blessing for the entire year.
More particularly, the word nitzavim - the core of the blessing given by G-d - does not merely mean "standing." It implies standing with power and strength, as reflected in the phrase: nitzav melech, "the deputy serving as king," i.e., G-d's blessing is that our stature will reflect the strength and confidence possessed by a king's deputy.
This blessing enables us to proceed through each new year with unflinching power; no challenges will budge us from our commitment to the Torah and its mitzvos. On the contrary, we will "proceed from strength to strength" in our endeavor to spread G-dly light throughout the world.
What is the source of this strength? Immutable permanence is a Divine quality, as the Prophet proclaims: "I, G-d, have not changed." G-d, however, has granted the potential for His unchanging firmness to be manifest in the conduct of mortal beings, for the soul which is granted to every person is "an actual part of G-d."
When a person identifies with G-d - the G-dly core within his own being and the mission of revealing G-dliness in the world at large - he discovers indomitable resources of strength. This enables him to overcome all obstacles and appreciate the bountiful good with which G-d has endowed the world.
Standing firmly does not necessarily mean standing still and inner power is not merely defensive. On the contrary, true strength is reflected in forward progress.
The ultimate goal toward which we are all progressing is the coming of Mashiach. As Rabbi Pinchas of Koritz would say: "Until the birth of the Baal Shem Tov, the Jewish people always looked backward: How many years has it been since the destruction of the Temple?
"From the birth of the Baal Shem Tov onward, the clock has been ticking toward the future. With each new year, we look forward, realizing how much closer we are to the Redemption."
But proceeding to the Redemption is not a pleasure stroll. For G-d ordained that we earn the revelations of that era through our efforts to perfect the environment in which we live. Often, these efforts require special strength, for bringing Mashiach requires us to appreciate that we are living in G-d's world. That may appear difficult, because it seems to run contrary to the current of the world at large. In what many perceive as an unfriendly, existential environment, we are enjoined to find meaning and G-dly purpose. For that we need the firm stance promised by Parshas Nitzavim, and with that energy we can proceed to a year of blessing and success, including the ultimate blessing, the coming of Mashiach.