The Torah portion of Nitzavim begins by relating how Moshe assembled the Jewish people on the day of his demise1 , and had them “brought into the covenant of G‑d … so that He establish (hakim) you today as His nation.”2 As Rashi explains:3 “He expends so much effort so that you endure before Him as a nation.”

What novel thought is Rashi imparting here?

Rashi is in fact answering a simple question: How can we say that the Jewish people were being “established today as His nation” when we had become His nation 40 years earlier, at the time G‑d gave us the Torah?4

In response, Rashi explains that hakim is to be understood as “enduring” before G‑d as His nation — it required an action on G‑d’s part so that the Jews would continue to exist as His nation forever.

The covenant at the time G‑d gave the Torah caused the Jewish people to become a nation bound to G‑d. It was possible, however, that with the passage of time, inappropriate behavior could cause a change in this status. The novel aspect of the covenant described in Nitzavim was that it ensured that the bond between G‑d and the Jewish people became immutable.

Accordingly, we can understand why it is stressed that this covenant applies not only to those who are “here today,” but also to those “who are not here today”5 — “the future generations.”6

The question, however, remains: How was this covenant more powerful than the first; if the covenant at the time G‑d gave the Torah was subject to change, how was this covenant more powerful, so that it endures forever?

Rashi answers this question as well by stating: “He expends so much effort.” I.e., G‑d took special care and immersed Himself, as it were, to ensure that this bond would endure on His part. This had, as a matter of course, a beneficial effect on the Jewish people, so that we as well would never abrogate this covenant.

Rashi stresses the special effect that this covenant had on the Jews by using the term “before Him as a nation,” rather than the actual text of the verse “as His nation.”

The difference between “before Him as a nation” and “as His nation” is as follows. “As His nation” means that the nation belongs to G‑d; it is His. “Before Him as a nation,” however, means not only that the nation is His (though it may be distant from Him), but that it will always stand “before Him” — in close proximity. When the covenant is established in such a manner, it is not subject to change.

When the Jewish people exist merely “as His nation,” they may feel only that they are the nation which G‑d has chosen…. and may subsequently abandon. But when G‑d establishes the covenant in a manner such that that the Jewish people always stand before Him, then we are assured that the covenant is immutable on both sides.

The Alter Rebbe explains7 that the word “today” at the beginning of Nitzavim , “All of you stand today,” refers to Rosh HaShanah — the day when we all stand before G‑d in judgment. He explains that during each and every Rosh HaShanah, G‑d remembers and renews the covenant He made with the Jews.

According to Rashi ’s explanation that this covenant entails not only a relationship “as His nation” but also the more profound aspect of constantly being “before Him as a nation,” we understand that on Rosh HaShanah both aspects of the covenant come into play. This assures that the covenant accomplished on Rosh HaShanah will endure under all conditions and circumstances in which the Jewish people might find themselves.

Thus, every year, with the approach of Rosh HaShanah and the renewal of the covenant, Jews are guaranteed that they will be blessed by G‑d with a good and sweet year, not only spiritually but materially as well.

Based on Likkutei Sichos , Vol. XXIV, pp. 188-196.