Parshat Nitzavim is always read on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah, before the month of Tishrei. Every Shabbat that precedes a new month is called Shabbat Mevarchim (“Shabbat [When] We Bless”), since we bless the new month at that time. The only month that we don't bless is the month of Tishrei. Why do we not bless this month, and who then blesses this holy month?

We have a teaching of the Baal Shem Tov, handed down by his student, the Maggid of Mezritch, to Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (the Alter Rebbe):1 "The seventh month [Tishrei], which is the first month of the months of the year,2 G‑d Himself blesses the Jews on Shabbat Mevarchim, which is the last Shabbat of the month of Elul. This gives Israel the power to bless the months the remaining 11 times throughout the year. It is written: 'All of you are standing hayom [today],' hayom refers to Rosh Hashanah,3 which is the Day of judgment, as it is written: ' And it was hayom [the day]...'4 and the Targum [a translation attrubuted to Jonathan] renders it as 'and it was the great day of judgment,' And you are standing—existing and standing,5 means that we are meritorious in the judgment, and on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah, which is the last Shabbat of the month of Elul, we read parshat Atem Netzavim6 [You are standing], and this is the blessing of G‑d... [He blesses us] with a lot of good, to all of Israel, for the entire year."

The commentaries explain the verses: "You are standing ... to enter a covenant..."7 to mean that Moses entered them into a pact of responsibility for one another (arvut). As our sages say, "All of Israel are responsible for one another."8

When there are two explanations on the same words of a verse, they must be connected. What is the connection between the Baal Shem Tov's explanation and that of the commentaries'?

Understanding Responsibility

We have yet another question. We find in the Talmud9 that although Moses entered them into the covenant of mutual responsibility in the desert, it didn't actually take effect until the Jewish people entered the land of Israel. Why did it have to wait until they entered the land?

To understand this, we first need to take a look at the idea of arvut, which I translated as “responsibility,” for lack of a better word. It takes many forms. The simple meaning, in our context, is that we should help each other keep Torah and mitzvot, and that we can include another Jew when we say a berachah. But for clarity’s sake, we will take the classic case of an areiv, a guarantor:

When someone asks another for a loan, often the lender will ask for someone to guarantee the loan, acting as a guarantor that the money will be repaid. In this case, it makes sense that a more affluent person would take the guarantor position, becoming the areiv. In every case of arvut, the one who has more is the areiv; the other way around just doesn't make sense.

When it comes to being Jewish and keeping the Torah and mitzvot, one would think that the one who is more involved in Torah and mitzvot would be the areiv, the guarantor, for the one who is less involved. But that is not the case. Rather, "All of Israel is responsible for one another." What that means is that every Jew is more affluent compared to another in some aspect of Judaism. It is not enough that we keep Judaism the best way we can, but we should try to see to it that other Jews do so as well. This is because they each have a part of Judaism that we don't, and their part is vital to the completeness of G‑d's Torah. We are not complete without the inclusion of every one of our Jewish brothers and sisters.

And that is why we could be included in a blessing said by the most simple and unlettered person because, in some aspect, he is greater.

United as One

How does this unity manifest itself?

The Alter Rebbe,10 when explaining the verse, "All of you standing here today," says that all the Jewish people together are, "one complete person." Just as in a person, there is an advantage of the foot over the head (there are some things that the head can't do without the foot) and the head is not complete without the foot. The same is true for the Jewish people. Even the simplest Jew has an advantage over the greatest, the "heads" of the Jewish people, who must rely on them to do their part.

Every Jew has a point where he is the "head."

To explain how the unity of the Jewish people manifest itself, the Alter Rebbe brings the verse: "When the heads [the count] of the nation are gathered and the tribes are united."11 He explains that "everyone is gathered together to be united as one." He explains that "united" means that "everyone needs each other" and "as one" means "one complete person."

So there are two things working together. We are united and as one.

“United” means that there are separate things or people that come together in unity, to serve a certain purpose. They could have nothing in common, but for the sake of the common goal, they come together and unify. They are individuals with individuality. Each is unique, but they unify to attain their goal.

“As one” means that they are in essence one, and that is the true underlying reason for their unity. True, they could assist one another by being united, but that isn't the reason for their unity, but just the result.

It seems that being "as one," is a loftier idea than just being "united." Why does the Alter Rebbe need to employ both, "united" and "as one"?

We must conclude that being individual is important as well. In fact, both are extremely necessary. We must value our individuality, with each of us bringing our unique gifts to the table, and at the same time, we are at our core "one complete person."

In actuality, the Alter Rebbe spends much more time discussing the importance of the individual, because, to accomplish our mission in this physical world, the unique contribution of every individual is necessary.

Now we could understand why the covenant of arvut only took effect when the Jews entered the land. Because that is when the actual mission began. In the desert, they were living a completely spiritual life, in the clouds, in quite literally. It was only when they entered the land, into the physical world, when the mission began, to transform this lowly physical world into a home for G‑d.

And we will also understand the connection between the Baal Shem Tov's explanation, that we are "meritorious in the judgment," on "hayom," the day of Rosh Hashanah, and the commentaries' understanding, that they entered into a covenant of arvut.

Because it is through our togetherness, both "united," and "as one," that we don't take into account the level of the other, and we see every Jew as important and necessary. G‑d will then grant us all a happy and sweet year.12