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Parshas Nitzavim - Vol.
3, Issue 50
Compiled by Oizer Alport
Hanistaros L’Hashem Elokeinu v’haniglos lanu ul’vaneinu ad olam la’asos es kol Divrei haTorah hazos (29:28)
In our verse, the Torah writes the words lanu ul’vaneinu – for us and for our children – with dots on top of each letter, something done quite rarely. Although there are rules for interpreting the meaning of such dots (see Rashi), the Chofetz Chaim explains that when writing a book, an author who wants to stress a certain point 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, the Torah saw no more fitting way to convey this message than to place dots on the words referring to us and our children. In essence, the Torah is “underlining” these words to emphasize the unparalleled significance in Judaism of teaching our children to be G-d-fearing Jews.
The importance which our Rabbis placed on educating their children is illustrated in the following story. One year on the night of Kol Nidrei, the Jews of a large community were assembled in the synagogue, ready to begin the solemn services. However, there was one critical problem: the Rav, renowned for his punctuality, was nowhere to be seen. After waiting several tense minutes, a delegation was dispatched to his house to find out what was causing the delay.
They arrived at the house of their beloved Rabbi, Rav Binyomin Diskin, fearing the worst. They were shocked when they peered through his window and observed him calmly seated by the table, studying together with his young son. Rav Diskin seemed completely oblivious to the congregation which was anxiously awaiting his presence in the synagogue.
Seizing his courage, one of the elders of the community knocked on the door and gently explained that the congregation was concerned about his uncharacteristic delay. The elderly Rav explained that with the arrival of the day on which a person’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!
Parshas Nitzavim is read annually close to the Yomim Noraim. At the time when the entire world passes before Hashem in judgment, the Torah uncharacteristically goes out of its way to “underline” a phrase to emphasize to us the importance of looking after our children and raising them properly. Indeed, our Sages teach that a person is judged and held responsible not only for his own actions, but also for those of his descendants (to the extent that he could have influenced them to behave otherwise). At this critical time, let us remember the message of the Chofetz Chaim and the actions of Rav Diskin and accept upon ourselves to redouble our commitment to educating and positively influencing our families.
Ki karov eilecha hadavar meod b’ficha uvilvavcha la’asoso (30:14)
The Ponovezher Rav once traveled to South Africa to strengthen and encourage the Lithuanian Jews who had relocated there in their religious observance. Prior to his journey, he asked his teacher, the Chofetz Chaim, what message he should relate to them in the name of the leader of the generation.
The Chofetz Chaim replied that he should tell them that it is actually quite easy to do the mitzvah of teshuvah – repentance. The minimum requirements to fulfill this obligation are few and are within the reach of every Jew: ceasing to sin, expressing regret over one’s past actions, and accepting upon oneself not to transgress 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.
In this vein, Rav Nosson Wachtfogel notes that in our verse, Moshe describes 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 – in one’s mouth and heart. What is this commandment which a person might 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 is referring is the mitzvah of teshuvah.
The Gemora in Kiddushin (49b) discusses a case in which a wicked man betroths a woman on the condition that he is righteous. Surprisingly, the Gemora rules that she may be engaged, explaining that perhaps he had thoughts of repentance in the moment prior to his proposal. We may derive from here that a person can literally transform himself from one extreme to the other in a mere moment of sincere regret and reflection, a lesson which should inspire and motivate us during the approaching Yamim Noraim.
Hachaim v’hamaves nasati l’fanecha habracha v’haklala u’bacharta bachaim l’ma’an tichyeh atah v’zarecha (30:19)
Moshe exhorts the Jewish people: “I have placed before you life and death, blessing and curse. You shall choose life, so that you will live, you and your offspring.” These instructions seem redundant. Since Moshe already mentioned that the alternative to life is death, wouldn’t it have been sufficient to merely command us to choose life? Why was it necessary to add the phrase, “so that you will live, you and your offspring,” which seems superfluous after we were already told to choose life?
Rav Moshe Feinstein suggests that Moshe’s intention wasn’t to explain why a person should choose life or to spell out the self-evident consequences of doing so. Rather, he was adding critical information: the type of life that we should choose, namely one that will result in our children electing to follow in our footsteps.
Rav Moshe writes that the financial situation for many European immigrants was grim. Their refusal to work on Shabbos made it very difficult to find and keep a reliable paycheck. When they came home, they complained constantly about how hard it is to be an observant Jew. Although they remained committed to their religious ideals, they unintentionally educated their children to believe that Judaism is painful and requires great sacrifice. Not surprisingly, many of these children chose to abandon their family traditions. On the other hand, if parents stress the warmth and happiness which our faith offers, their children will naturally want to follow in their footsteps, and it is precisely this kind of life which Moshe commands us to choose.
the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Moshe began his speech to the Jewish people (29:9-10) by emphasizing that all of them were present, even the converts. Since 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 because the climate made it too dangerous and risky to perform circumcision (Rashi 33:9)? (Panim Yafos, Derech Sicha, M’rafsin Igri)
2) The Torah prophesies (30:1-2) that when the blessings and curses come upon the Jewish people, they will be inspired to 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? (Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh, K’sav Sofer, Akeidas Yitzchok, Yalkut HaGershuni)
3) The Torah refers (30:11) to a commandment which isn’t hidden or distant from a person. It isn’t in the heavens or across the sea, but rather it is very close – in a person’s mouth and in his heart. While it is possible to err regarding the location of an item or its distance from oneself, how is it feasible to mistakenly think that an item which is as close to oneself as is physically possible is in reality thousands or millions of miles away? (Ohr Yahel Vol. 3)
4) Moshe told the people (30:12) that the Torah is not in Heaven. The Gemora in Bava Metzia (59b) understands this to mean that after the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, it is up to the Sages to decide legal matters, which are no longer within the jurisdiction of Hashem. When the Gemora is left with a difficult question which it is unable to answer, it concludes “teiku,” which is traditionally interpreted as an abbreviation indicating that Eliyahu 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? (Tosefos Yom HaKippurim Yoma 75a, Mishneh L’Melech Hilchos Ishus 9:6 and Gilyon Rav Akiva Eiger, Shu”t Chasam Sofer 6:98, Birkei Yosef Orach Chaim 32:4, Chavatzeles HaSharon Shemos 16:31)
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