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Parshas Nitzavim/Vayeilech

Hanistaros L’Hashem Elokeinu v’haniglos lanu ul’vaneinu ad olam la’asos es kol divrei HaTorah hazos (29:28)

            In discussing the difference between sins performed privately and sins which are public knowledge, the Torah writes the words lanu ul’vaneinu – for us and for our children – with dots on top of each letter, something which is done quite rarely. Although there are complex rules for interpreting the meaning of these dots whenever they occur (see Rashi here), the Chofetz Chaim, in his inimitable manner of expressing beautiful thoughts which are simple yet elegant, notes that when writing a book or a letter, an author who wants to stress or draw attention to a certain phrase or point being made will draw attention to it by underlining the salient words.

Similarly, when discussing the importance of educating our children and raising them with proper values and outlooks, the Torah saw no more fitting way to do so than to place dots on the words referring to us and our children, essentially “underlining” these words, in order to emphasize the unparalleled significance in Judaism of teaching our children to be proper G-d-fearing Jews.

            One year on the night of Kol Nidrei, the holiest and most awe-inspiring night in the Jewish calendar, the Jews of a large community were all assembled in the town’s great synagogue, ready to begin the solemn services. Only one critical element was conspicuously absent: the Rav, renown for his punctuality, was nowhere to be seen. After waiting several tense minutes, a delegation was dispatched to the Rav’s house to find out what the delay was.

Upon arriving at the house of their beloved Rav, Rav Binyomin Diskin, fearing for the worst, they were shocked when they peered through the window and observed him calmly seated by the table, learning together with his young son, seemingly oblivious to the date and to the entire congregation which would be anxiously awaiting him in the synagogue.

Seizing up his courage, one of the elders of the community knocked and gently explained that the congregation was concerned about his uncharacteristic delay. Understanding that they were seeking an explanation for his behavior, the elderly Rav explained that with the arrival of the day on which one’s fate for the upcoming year is sealed, he found himself nervous about his lack of merits. Desperately seeking to accrue mitzvos which could tip the scale in his favor, he could think of no greater merit than teaching Torah to his young son, who not surprisingly grew up to become the saintly Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin!


Ki karov ailecha hadavar m’od b’ficha uvil’vav’cha la’asoso (30:14)

            Rav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman, the Ponovezher Rav, once traveled to South Africa in order to strengthen and encourage the Lithuanian Jews who had relocated there. Prior to his journey, he asked his Rebbe, the illustrious Chofetz Chaim, what message he should relate to the Jews there in the name of the leader of the generation. The Chofetz Chaim replied that he should tell them that it is actually easy to do the mitzvah of teshuva – repentance. The minimum requirements to fulfill this obligation are within the reach of every Jew and are relatively few: ceasing to sin, expressing regret over one’s past actions, and accepting upon oneself not to do so again. Unfortunately, the evil inclination attempts to convince a person that proper repentance is so difficult and involves so many complex components that he will never succeed in correctly doing so, thereby causing him to give up the effort without even trying.

Rav Nosson Wachtfogel notes that Moshe describes (30:11) one of the commandments as not being hidden or distant from a person. It isn’t in the heavens or across the sea as one might have thought, but rather it is very close to a person – in his mouth and in his heart. What is this commandment which a person may mistakenly conclude is so far beyond him that its observance requires him to travel thousands or millions of miles, yet in reality the keys to its performance lie inside of him? Not surprisingly, the Ramban writes that “the mitzvah” to which Moshe Rabbeinu is referring is the mitzvah of teshuva.

            The Gemora in Kiddushin (49b) discusses a case in which a wicked and evil person betroths a woman on the condition that he is completely righteous. Surprisingly, the Gemora rules that there is a doubt whether she is indeed legally engaged, explaining that perhaps at the moment prior to his proposal he had thoughts of repentance. We see from here that a person can literally transform himself from one extreme to the other in a mere moment of sincere reflection and regret.


Vayomer aleihem ben meah v’esrim shana anochi hayom (31:2)
Hayom mal’u yamai ush’nosai b’yom zeh noladti ub’yom zeh amus (Rashi)

In addressing the people on the last day of his life, Moshe Rabbeinu emphasized that on that day he was 120 years old. Rashi explains that the day of his death was also the day of his birth – 7 Adar – as Hashem allows the righteous to complete their days and their years. This is traditionally understood to mean that the righteous die on the day on which they were born.

However, at the funeral of Rav Chaim Volozhiner, one of the eulogizers, Rav Dovid the Rav of Novhardok, suggested that a more accurate interpretation would be that the righteous die on the day of their bris mila (circumcision), at which time they entered into the Jewish covenant with Hashem. Similarly, the Ta’am V’Daas quotes the Chasam Sofer as advising that Jews shouldn’t celebrate the day of their birth but rather the day they were circumcised. Although the source for this teaching is Moshe Rabbeinu, who died on the day of his birth, this is explained by the fact that he was born already circumcised!  Rav Dovid noted that with this new understanding, it’s not surprising to note that Rav Chaim Volozhiner died exactly one week after his birthday, on the day of his bris mila!


Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1)     Moshe begins his speech to the people (29:9-10) by emphasizing that all of them are present, including the men, women, children, and converts. As one of the essential components of conversion is circumcision, how were they able to accept converts in the desert, where the Jews themselves were unable to circumcise their newborns as the climate made it too dangerous and risky to perform circumcision (Rashi 33:9)? (Derech Sicha, M’rafsin Igri)

2)     Hashem warns (29:18-20) of the terrible punishment awaiting anybody who, upon hearing the threatening curses for those who disobey His will, thinks in his heart that he will do as he sees fit and all will be well for him. How can this be resolved with the Talmudic statement (Kiddushin 40a) that Hashem doesn’t punish a Jew for sinful thoughts? (Rabbeinu Bechaye)

3)     The Torah prophesies (30:1-2) that when the blessings and curses come upon the Jewish people, they will be inspired repent their ways and to return to Hashem with all of their hearts. It is understandable that the curses meted out as punishment will motivate them to reflect on their actions, but in what way will receiving blessings cause them to return to Hashem? (Shelah HaKadosh, Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh, K’sav Sofer, Dubno Maggid, Yalkut HaGershuni)

4)     The Ramban writes (30:11) that “the mitzvah” which Moshe Rabbeinu describes as not hidden or distant, not in the heavens or across the sea, but in one’s mouth and in one’s heart is referring to the mitzvah of teshuva – repentance. Is it possible for a non-Jew to do teshuva for his misdeeds? (Hakdamas Radak, Derashos Ibn Shuib Derasha for Yom Kippur, Tanchuma Haazinu 4, Rema MiPano in Asara Ma’amoros 2:11, Chida in D’vash L’fi Ma’areches Ches quoting Bina L’Itim, Beis Elokim by Mabit 14, Rav Tzadok HaKohen in Takanas HaShavin 1, Kovetz Haaros 232, Gri”z Parshas Ki Sisa, B’nei Yissochor, Shu”t Divrei Yisroel 1:51, Bishvilei HaParsha)

5)     Moshe tells the people (30:12) that the Torah is not in Heaven, which is understood to mean (Bava Metzia 59b) that after the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, it is up to the sages on earth to decide matters of Jewish law and is no longer within the jurisdiction of Hashem. When the Gemora is left with a difficult question to which it has no answer, it concludes úé÷å, which is traditionally interpreted as an abbreviation indicating that Eliyahu HaNavi will come and resolve the difficulty. Of what value will it be to hear the opinion of a prophet if legal questions may not be decided by Divine intervention? (Mishneh L’Melech Hilchos Ishus 9:6, Gilyon Rav Akiva Eiger on Mishneh L’Melech, Shu”t Chasam Sofer 6:98 d.h. aval, Birkei Yosef Orach Chaim 14, Shem HaGedolim, Beis El by the Mabit Sha’ar HaYesodos 60, Mas’as HaMelech)

6)     The Gemora in Sotah (13b) derives from 31:2 that the righteous die on the day on which they were born, as Hashem completes the years of the righteous from day to day and from month to month. If Moshe finished out his years, shouldn’t he have died on 6 Adar – the last day of his 120th year – and not on 7 Adar, which was the first day of a new year which he didn’t live to complete? (Maharsha Kiddushin 38a, Chochmas Shlomo Choshen Mishpat 35:1, K’motzei Shalal Rav, M’rafsin Igri)

7)     Rashi writes (31:2) that Moshe completed his Divinely-allotted years, implying that he didn’t die prematurely. How can this be reconciled with the Gemora in Shabbos (55b) which seems to indicate that had he not sinned in bringing forth water from the rock at Mei Merivah, he would have lived even longer? (Gur Aryeh, Shu”t Radvaz 2:782)

8)     Tosefos in Menachos (30a d.h. mi’kan) writes that tzidduk hadin (accepting and justifying Hashem’s judgment) is said at Mincha on Shabbos as that this is time when Moshe Rabbeinu died. How can this be reconciled with the Medrash quoted in Daas Z’keinim (31:26) which states that Moshe wrote 13 Sifrei Torah on the day of his death, something which is clearly forbidden on Shabbos? (Rosh Pesochim 10:13, Shelah HaKadosh, Torah L’Daas Vol. 10)

9)     The Gemora in Chagiga (3a) states that for the king’s reading of the book of Devorim, the men came to learn and the women came to listen. Tosefos (d.h. nashim) notes that the Yerushalmi explains that this explanation is in disagreement with the opinion of Ben Azzai, who maintains that one is obligated to teach his daughter Torah, as according to his opinion, we may explain that the women also came in order to learn. It is traditionally assumed that the opinion that women are forbidden to study Torah applies only to the Oral Torah but not to the Written Torah (see Rambam Hilchos Talmud Torah 1:13). As our Gemora is discussing the study of the book of Devorim, which is part of the Written Torah, why shouldn’t this be permitted to women according to all opinions? (Maharatz Chayos Chagiga 3a, Taz Yoreh Deah 246:4)

10)  Did Moshe become ill prior to his death, and if so for how long? (Paneiach Raza 31:14)

11)  The Gemora in Sotah (35a) relates that Dovid HaMelech was punished for referring to words of Torah as z’miros (songs) in Tehillim (119:54). Why was he punished for doing something which the Torah itself seems to do, referring to itself (31:19) as a shira – song? (Genuzos HaGra)

12)  Why is no blessing recited over the performance of the mitzvah (31:19) of writing a Sefer Torah? (Shu”t Chasam Sofer Orach Chaim 52 and 54)

13)  If one is capable of writing a kosher Sefer Torah, is it preferable to perform this mitzvah (31:19) himself or by hiring a professional scribe whose Sefer Torah will be more beautiful? (Chai Odom 68:7, Derech Sicha, Bishvilei HaParsha)

14)  May one fulfill the mitzvah (31:19) to write a Sefer Torah by doing so together with a partner, or must it belong exclusively to him? (Toras Chaim Sanhedrin 21, Rav Akiva Eiger and Pis’chei Teshuva Yoreh Deah 270)

15)  Each year the reading of the entire Torah is finished on Simchas Torah. How is it possible for an entire Hebrew year to go by without the reading of one of the 54 portions of the Torah?

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