Shabbat Shalom: Standing
Below is an excerpt of words delivered by Rabbi Kolby Morris-Dahary, the congregational rabbi in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. She speaks to her congregation about “standing” and the multiple and varied meanings of how stand is used: standing with one another, and especially at this time of year, standing before God. In Steamboat Springs, STAND also has another meaning: Steamboat Team to disrupt Antisemitism and Discrimination, an initiative began a year ago by Rabbi Morris-Dahary. In her first year on the pulpit in Steamboat, combatting a surprising amount of antisemitism, she says, has been a shocking surprise. At JEWISHcolorado, we stand with the Steamboat community, not only through our safety and security efforts to provide training and support, but in bringing speakers, resources, PJ Library books, and more as we work to become a better statewide partner for Jewish communities from border to border. Thank you, Rabbi Morris-Dahary for allowing us to stand with you and share your words, and for helping us to practice the directive in this week’s parsha, Haazinu, to listen, to pay attention, to concentrate on how we can best serve our statewide Jewish community.
… In Jewish prayer, as in life, standing for something symbolizes a greater level of respect. Just as people stand to greet others in an important business meeting or when meeting someone important, or when you meet someone for the first time, we stand during some prayers to indicate a greater level of respect and intention. The centerpiece of any Jewish prayer service is the Amidah, a prayer whose very name means “standing.” We also stand for some of the most important prayers in our liturgy: Barchu, Lecha Dodi, and the Mourners’ Kaddish and as a general rule, one should stand any time that the Ark is open or the Torah is being lifted or carried. On the High Holidays, there are extra prayers that are added that encourage us to stand during: Unetane Tokef, Viddui, 13 Attributes, and of course….. my personal childhood memory of the longest standing prayer of all time…. Kol Nidre.
As we know, human beings haven’t known how to stand up since the beginning of time as the creation parables in the Torah would suggest. As science has proven, driven by need or the lure of new opportunity, in their struggle for survival the earliest version of human creatures needed to evolve to move faster and more efficiently to stay alive. Instead of scampering about on all fours, as usual, they stood upright and, gradually and no doubt unsteadily at first, began to walk on their hind limbs. Small bipedal steps for apes, and as it would turn out, a giant leap for mankind. Anthropologists and evolutionary biologists are now agreed that upright posture and two-legged walking – bipedality — was the crucial and probably first major adaptation associated with the divergence of the human lineage from a common ancestor with the apes. In other words, standing up is never easy…. even for the very first time….. and it takes an immense amount of courage, stamina, and time to master. But if we never learned how to do it …. well we would have died off. I witnessed this arduous journey to standing most recently with our daughter Shir who at 18 months still preferred to crawl on all fours to get around. With a lot of encouragement, support from early intervention specialists, and patience for her own timing….. she finally was able to stand and walk just a few weeks ago. And now…. look at her go!
We don’t only stand with our bodies, we also stand figuratively, standing with our spirits, if you will. As I was brainstorming all the ways the word “stand” is used in English, it became fascinating to me how much standing there actually is in our speech and experience as human beings. We can “take a stand,” and stand together in solidarity; we “stand up to someone;” we “stand up for someone;” “we stand up against something;” we can be “standoffish;” “we ask ourselves, “What do we stand for?” We give “standing ovations;” we ask others to “stand down;” when there is no moving traffic, it is called a “stand still;” and we can “stand idly by” when we are doing nothing. When we are witness to a crime, we are called a “bystander,” and, as I learned from our local high school social studies teacher, when we are witness to a crime and we do something about it, we are called an “upstander.”
In Hebrew, the most common word for stand is the word La’amod which means to arise or to stand upright. But as is usually the case with the richness of the Hebrew language, there are multiple other words that add nuance to the term.
One such word to describe standing is also the name of [a recent] Torah portion as well as the portion we will read together on Yom Kippur: Nitzavim. The portion begins, “Atem nitzavim hayom kulchem lifnei Adonai Eloheichem.” “You stand today before Adonai Your God.” The Israelites are standing on the border of Israel, preparing to enter the Land and create their own nation. The Hebrew word used here for “standing” is nitzavim, which is significant because of its rarity in the Torah. The word nitzav implies standing with intention. This is not a passive standing …. Nitzav, the verb, indicates that there is a readiness to stand up, to stand for, to take a stand about something of importance. The standing in the nitzavim way asks of us what is it that we stand for unshakably and with commitment? What values do we hold that push us to be ready for action, to “take a stand”? And only when the Israelites understand deeply the nitzavim way of standing are they able to walk towards the promised land. It makes total sense that we read this parashah before and during the High Holidays. We, too, are standing together in community today, with the old and the young, Jews, loved ones, and guests to affirm our part in the world, to share our stories, and to stand for what is right and good.
Standing with intention, action, and higher purpose, standing with a readiness to charge forward, this unshakable committed standing is exactly the kind of standing we are called to do at this time of year. Who knows what trials and tribulations await us personally and collectively in the year ahead, and how crucial each action we take will be in determining our own fate? We stand facing ourselves, facing the Divine, and facing our fate as we investigate honestly and humbly if we are worthy of this beautiful life we have been given.
The nitzavim way of standing is not just standing as an individual, although that’s part of it. On the day when the covenant with God was established, the whole community was present, all stood together, and each person was part of the story. The verses from Parashat Nitzavim continue: “You stand today….all of you…. Before God. You elders, and you officials, all the men of Israel, you children, you women, even the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to water drawer, not with you alone, but both with those who are standing here with us this day and with those who are not with us here this day.” Isn’t that fascinating? The Torah makes a point to mention that even those that are not present at the actual revelation should still be a crucial part of our awareness as global citizens. Who is not here with us on this day? Whose voices are important to listen to when telling our story? Who needs us to stand for them?
These were exactly the questions that I asked myself when I started the community-wide initiative STAND (Steamboat Team to disrupt Antisemitism and Discrimination) shortly after our High Holidays last year. As many of you know, the genesis of STAND was in response to a swastika drawn on a Jewish student’s car at Steamboat Springs High School last Rosh Hashanah. As we, the Jewish community, were faced with an opportunity for others in the community to stand up for us, we also recognized that there were similar opportunities for us to stand up for other discriminated against groups in the area. We quickly realized that we stand stronger together and that if we stand with courage; change is possible in this community. Unfortunately, just a couple weeks ago, another swastika was found burned into a picnic table adjacent to the high school.
But the difference between the first incident and the incident a couple of weeks ago was that this time our community of upstanders sprang into action. The police department, local press, politicians, leaders, community members, and statewide and national organizations like JEWISHcolorado and ADL joined our efforts in condemning this behavior. The difference is that this time, with the creation of STAND, the greater Steamboat community began learning how to STAND in the nitzavim way.
So here we are, standing on the earth’s 5,784th journey around the sun. Anachnu Nitzavim hayom kulanu lifnei Adonai eloheinu … we STAND today…. all of us….before Divine presence, before each other, before our community of Steamboat, and before all of humanity. We stand at attention to the sound of the shofar to help us wake up to our unique purpose in this lifetime. How will we stand this new year? Begrudgingly or fearlessly? Will we stand because we have to, or will we stand up relentlessly even when it feels impossible? Will we stand passively, lifeless, and without purpose, or will we stand courageously and tirelessly, ready for any outcome? Will we stand alone, or will we stand with each other? Who will stand with us and how and when will we stand for those that need us to?
May we all stand with strength, bow with humility, and then … may we walk forward towards the promised future.
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