Parshat Nitzavim is always read in shul on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah. The words “Atem nitzavim hayom” — “You are standing today all of you before Hashem your G‑d” — refers to the day of the great judgment — Rosh Hashanah (see Likkutei Torah and Zohar vol. 3, p. 231a).

The six day creation of the world commenced on the 25th day of Elul, which is in the week of Parshat Nitzavim. Hence, it is apropos to discuss now the creation of the heavens and earth which took place on the first day.

The Gemara (Chagigah 12a) relates that approximately 1900 years ago the two great citadels of Torah learning, Beit Hillel — The House (school) of Hillel — and Beit Shammai — The House (school) of Shammai — debated the philosophical question of whether shamayim — the heavens — or aretz — the earth — was created first.

Beit Shammai derive their view from on the first pasuk of the Torah, “In the beginning of [everything] Hashem created the heavens and the earth.” The heavens are mentioned before the earth. Beit Hillel draw their proof from a pasuk in our parshah which states “On the day that Hashem made earth and heavens” (2:4), mentioning the earth first.

(According to Beit Shammai the word Bereishit — “In the beginning” — refers to the chronological order of creation [see Ramban]. Rashi, however, in his commentary to Torah does not view it as a chronological description at all. Rather, it is an introductory clause: “In the beginning of Hashem’s creating the heavens and the earth — when the earth was, etc.”)

Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer, ch. 18, reports that Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel debated this issue until the Divine Presence rested upon them and they reached a consensus: “Heavens and earth were created simultaneously — at the same time and at the same precise second.” They concluded, “What did Hashem do? He stretched out His right hand and placed the heavens and He stretched out His left hand and established the earth.”

Everyone knows that Hashem is not a physical being and has no semblance of a body. Thus, the terms “right hand” and “left hand,” are only an allegory. The right hand represents prominence and priority while the left hand indicates subordination, being secondary. The right hand emphasizes strength and the left weakness.

Shamayim — heavens — and eretz — earth — are an analogy, respectively, for the spiritual and the mundane. Heaven represents ideals that are lofty and exalted. On the other hand, earth represents that which is worldly and lowly. In simpler language, shamayim is associated with Torah, mitzvot, and spiritual matters, while eretz is related to material goals and physical pleasures.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, you are embarking on your Bereishit — beginning — in life as a full-fledged, grown-up member of Klal Yisrael. Shamayim and eretz are both very important. Spirituality and materiality both have their place. Your main strength, however, should be devoted to developing lofty ideals and fostering a life of Torah, mitzvot, Chassidut and yirat Shamayim.

Of course, your physical body must be cared for properly, and the pursuit of the material may be necessary and inevitable. Always bear in mind, however, that “with Hashem’s right hand He made the heavens,” to teach us that spirituality comes first. Even when you engage in worldly pursuits, do as King Shlomo, the wisest of all men said “Bechol derachecha da’eihu” — “In all your ways know Him” (Proverbs 3:6).


On the last day of Moshe Rabbeinu’s life upon the earth, he gathered together every member of Klal Yisrael. He initiated them for the last time into the brit — covenant — and added the concept of arvut — responsibility — for one another, under which every Jew is obligated to help others observe the Torah and to restrain them from violating it. In addition he also conveyed about the alah — curse — that will, G‑d forbid, fall on those who defy the covenant.

Then Moshe goes on to say, “Perhaps there is among you a man or woman whose heart turns away today from being with Hashem, and when he hears the words of this imprecation, vehitbareich bilevavo leimor — he will bless himself in his heart saying: shalom yiheyeh li — peace will be with me — ki bishrirut libi aileich — I will walk as my heart sees fit — Hashem will not be willing to forgive him.”

When I read this dialogue, a popular expression found in various places in the Gemara comes to mind. When the Gemara holds something is non-sensible, and will only be done by fools, the Gemara says that this could not be what Torah meant because “Atu beshufteni askinan” — “Are we dealing with fools?” Torah speaks to intelligent people and not fools.

Hence, why are we now addressing this? Only a fool would say “I don’t care for what Hashem says, I am not worried of any repercussion, and I will do what my heart dictates.”

Permit me to share a insight on this from the Ksav Sofer (Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Binyamin Sofer 1815-1871 — son and successor to his father, the famous Chatam Sofer of Pressburg). The mitzvot of the Torah are divided into two categories, bein adam laMakom — between man and Hashem — and bein adam lachaveiro — interhuman relationships. For example Shabbat observance, kashrut and tefillin are included in the first category, and things such as giving charity to the needy, visiting the sick, etc., are of the latter category.

There are people who excel in their interhuman relationships. They contribute generously to worthy causes and are involved also bodily in helping people experiencing dire situations. While these people possess a great and good heart and are sensitive to their fellow man , they are lacking in their relationship with Hashem. Unfortunately, they presently do not keep Shabbat, tefillin, kashrut or the like.

Torah is addressing these fine people specifically, and saying, in the event that “vehitbareich bilevavo — he will bless himself with his heart, i.e., thanks to all the kindhearted things he is doing — shalom yiheyeh li — peace will be — ki bisherirut libi eilach — I will continue doing the [good] desires of my heart.”

Torah says to this kindhearted and good natured individual, “Hashem is not happy with that approach. True, you will be rewarded for the good things you do, but it does not exempt you from doing the other obligations which Hashem requests from every Jewish man or woman and you will be kept accountable for the ones you omitted or violated.”

My dear Bar Mitzvah, the name of your parshah is Nitzavim. Unlike the Hebrew word “omdin,” which means “standing,” “nitzavim” — means “standing firmly.” However, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, the third Rebbe in the Lubavitch dynasty, known as the Tzemach Tzedek (1789-1866) says that the word “nitzavim” is also related to the word “netziv” (see I Kings 22:48), which means a high ranking officer [commissioner].

Thus, our berachah to you is that you manage to excel in both, bein adam laMakom and bein adam lachaveiro. Hence, you will merit to not just stand firmly before Hashem but also be a netziv — a leader and a prominent commissioner in His army, and He will bestow upon you His heavenly blessings in abundant measure.