“If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything,” said Alexander Hamilton. Every year that we stand before God to give an accounting for the previous year, we also make a promise for the following year. But what do we stand for? Let us pose a simple question: Did we fulfill our obligations in respect to ourselves, and our obligation to participate in the fate of our people? Let us be honest. It’s hard to know what we could have accomplished had we been more active, had we raised our voices and shaken worlds. Many times, we choose to be silent.
“You are standing this day all of you before the Lord your God, Your leaders, tribal heads, elders, and policemen, every person in Israel … from the hewers of your wood to the drawers of your water” (Deuteronomy 29:9-10). The Alshech, a prominent Medieval rabbi and commentator, points out that this directive does not begin with the words, “Moses commanded the people…” to mean that it came directly from God and that we are accountable directly to God. This is the only way to connect to the sense of nationhood, the notion of the experience of shared fate, and the essence of peoplehood.
We all stand before God’s seat of judgment charged with “You shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor” (Leviticus 19:16), especially when it applies not only to one individual but to the community. This also applies to members of rabbinic and lay organizations, religious and secular, and Jewish political organizations of all persuasions.
Just before the close of the year, we lost our elder, Aaron Novick, who stood for something. He was a 97-year-old WWII veteran, who did not stand idly by. He fought for his belief. He always rose to the occasion, and did not acquit himself from the community and the collective consciousness of shared fate, shared suffering, and shared action. Even after many health complications, he kept fighting and kept coming back to shul every Shabbat — often arguing and questioning, always respectfully. The various times I visited him in the hospitals, he was always sure he would be discharged, and would return to his routine and to his dear wife, Thelma. And then he always came back to fulfill his obligation and stand with us in prayer. That is, until last Thursday, when he was not discharged from the hospital. Yet, in my eyes as a fellow veteran, he was very honorably discharged. I salute Aaron. I will miss him and cherish his spirit forever.