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 Parshas Nitzavim/Vayeilech - Vol. 4, Issue 48
Compiled by Oizer Alport


Atem nitzavim hayom kulchem lifnei Hashem Elokeichem (29:9)

In this week’s parsha, Moshe begins his address to the Jewish people by emphasizing, “All of you are standing today before Hashem.” Since it was self-evident that they were all gathered together, why did Moshe stress this fact?

The Darkei Mussar suggests that Moshe was teaching the people the importance of achdus (unity) and togetherness among the Jewish people. When all of the Jews come together as one nation, they merit a spiritual uplift which allows them to stand in Hashem’s presence.

With Rosh Hashana almost upon us, this lesson is quite timely, as the Alter of Kelm uses this concept to resolve an apparent contradiction regarding the nature of the Yom Tov. On the one hand, it is legally considered a festive day, on which we dress in our finest clothes and eat enjoyable meals. On the other hand, the tone of the day is solemn. Hallel isn’t recited due to the fear and trembling which accompany the knowledge that the books of life and death are open on this day. The Alter explains that as a nation, we are confident in Hashem’s mercy and conduct ourselves with joy and optimism. At the same time, each individual is filled with dread and terror at the recognition that he has no such guarantee.

As the Day of Judgment approaches, we may find comfort in the message of the Alter. If we live in our own vacuums, we will be judged on our own merits in less than a month, a scary thought. However, as Moshe stresses in this week’s parsha, if we affiliate ourselves with a community, becoming part of our synagogues and volunteering to help with communal projects and organizations, we will share in their collective merits. As a result, we will enjoy an inscription for a year of health, happiness, and blessing!


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 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 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, confessing one’s past actions and expressing regret over them, 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 completely righteous. Surprisingly, the Gemora rules that she may be legally 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 reflection and regret, 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.


Vayomer aleihem ben meah v’esrim shana anochi hayom (31:2)

In addressing the Jewish people on the last day of his life, Moshe emphasized that on that day he was 120 years old. The Gemora (Sotah 13b) derives from here 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. Because Moshe was born on 7 Adar, he lived out his last year and also died on 7 Adar. The Maharsha (Kiddushin 38a) points out a major difficulty with this calculation. If Moshe completed his final year, 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?

In his commentary Chochmas Shlomo on Choshen Mishpat (35:1), Rav Shlomo Kluger uses this question as novel support for an original position. Most commentators assume that a boy becomes a legal adult at sundown on the day of his 13th birthday. Rav Kluger maintains that this occurs not at sundown, but only at the time of day when the boy was actually born. He suggests that although Moshe was born on 7 Adar, he couldn’t die on 6 Adar, as this wouldn’t be considered a finished year. Rather, he died on 7 Adar just at the time he was born, thereby completing his 120th full year!


Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1)     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. How can this be reconciled with the Yerushalmi (Rosh Hashana 3:8) which relates that when doing battle, the Amalekites chose soldiers whose birthdays were on the day of the battle, as on a person’s birthday his mazal is stronger and protects him from dying? (Taima D’Kra)

2)     Rashi writes (31:11) that the mitzvah of reading the book of Devorim in front of the people every 7 years was performed by the king. Was this mitzvah performed before the anointment of Shaul as king, and if so, by whom? (Chizkuni, Kiryat Sefer Hilchos Chagigah 3, HaEmek Davar, Chinuch and Minchas Chinuch 612, Ayeles HaShachar, Derech Sicha, Shiras Dovid)

3)     The Gemora in Chagigah (3a) teaches that for the king’s reading of the book of Devorim (31:11), the men came to learn and the women came to listen. The Gemora questions why the Torah commands (31:12) that the small children be brought, and answers that it is to earn merits for their parents in bringing them. On a practical level, does this rationale apply to bringing small children to the synagogue? (Magen Avrohom 689:11, Mishnah Berurah 98:3 and 124:28)

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

5)     The Rambam derives (Hilchos Tefillin 7:1) the mitzvah to write a Sefer Torah from the fact that the Torah commands (31:19) us to write “this song.” Because the Torah may not be written in individual sections, it must be a general commandment to write an entire Sefer Torah which will contain the song therein. Instead of requiring this roundabout derivation, why doesn’t the verse more directly command, “Write this Torah?” (Me’Rosh Amanah)

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