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Hashana - Vol. 7, Issue 47
Compiled by Oizer Alport
Hanistaros l'Hashem Elokeinu v'haniglos lanu ul'vaneinu ad olam la'asos es kol divrei haTorah ha'zos (29:28)
In this 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 Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. 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.
V'shavta ad Hashem Elokecha v'shamata b'kolo k'chol asher anochi m'tzav'cha ha'yom atah u'vanecha b'chol levav'cha uv'chol nafshecha (30:2)
Since the Torah is the blueprint for the entire Creation, it inherently contains within it allusions to everything which will ever exist or occur in the universe. The Vilna Gaon explains that the Torah’s recounting of the episode of Creation contains the events which transpired in the first 1000 years of history, with the second 1000 years hidden in the remainder of Sefer Bereishis, the third 1000 years in Sefer Shemos, the fourth 1000 years in Sefer Vayikra, the fifth 1000 years in Sefer Bamidbar, and the final 1000 years in Sefer Devorim.
Since Sefer Devorim contains 10 parshios (counting Nitzavim and Vayeilech as one, as they are often read together as a double portion), each portion hints to the events of one century of the sixth millennium. Based on this explanation of the Vilna Gaon, it has been noted that the early years of the Holocaust, the greatest national tragedy in modern history, fall out in the century which is hinted to in Parshas Ki Savo, which contains words of rebuke and hair-raising threats of terrible suffering which will befall the Jewish people.
However, consolation may be found by recognizing that we are currently living in the century which corresponds to Parshas Nitzavim-Vayeilech, which is commonly referred to as the portion of repentance. Not surprisingly, the years since World War II have seen an extraordinary wave of uneducated Jews returning to their roots on an unprecedented scale, precisely as predicated by the Torah.
Yom teruah yih'yeh lachem (Bamidbar 29:1)
The Gemora in Rosh Hashana (34a) quotes various opinions regarding the sound the Torah intended when it instructed us to blow the shofar on Rosh Hashana. In order to avoid doubt and to perform the mitzvah according to all opinions, we are accustomed to blow three different sounds: shevarim, teruah and shevarim-teruah.
The Shelah HaKadosh writes that although we sound the shofar according to each possible interpretation, there is nevertheless a specific order in which we arrange the sounds. When blowing them all together, we first blow the simple tekiah, then the three shevarim sounds, then the broken teruahs, and finally another unbroken tekiah. This order was specifically chosen to symbolize the concept of teshuvah. Shlomo HaMelech writes in Koheles (7:29) that Hashem made man straight, but people sought out numerous complex calculations.
We begin by sounding an unbroken tekiah to symbolize the simple, straightforward manner in which Hashem initially created us. Unfortunately, as the verse prophesies, we inevitably complicate situations unnecessarily, as represented by the broken sounds of the shevarim. As if that weren’t sufficient, we fail to recognize the error of our ways until we have reached rock bottom, as suggested by the short crying sounds of the teruah. Sometimes, it is only after a person has reached the nadir that he is able to recognize how far he has fallen from his original heights. It is this realization that jolts and inspires him to full and proper repentance, allowing him to return to the straight tekiah, just as he was created.
Vatahar Chana va'teiled ben vatikra es sh'mo Shmuel ki me'Hashem she'iltiv (Haftorah - Shmuel 1 1:20)
The Meiri writes in his commentary on Rosh Hashana that the story of Chana’s conception after years of enduring the pain and frustration of her inability to give birth is read as the Haftorah on the first day of Rosh Hashana as a lesson in the power of heartfelt prayer on this special day. However, the Medrash (Yalkut Shimoni Bereishis 78) teaches that Chana was barren for 19 years and 6 months prior to the birth of Shmuel. It is reasonable to assume that a number of Rosh Hashanas had passed on which Chana prayed with great intensity and was nevertheless unanswered. What was unique about her petitions at this time that caused them to be answered?
When Chana’s husband Elkanah ascended to the Mishkan in Shiloh to bring sacrifices, he gave the best portion to his beloved Chana (Shmuel 1 1:3-7). Nevertheless, she was unable to enjoy this, as Elkanah’s other wife, Penina, provoked and angered her, leaving her crying and unable to eat. When Elkanah noticed this, he asked her why she refused to eat, noting that even if she was in pain over her inability to bear him even one child while Penina had already borne him ten, “Am I not better to you than ten children?”
The Malbim explains that until this point, Chana had always assumed that her barrenness pained Elkanah as much as it hurt her, and that he therefore prayed for her with the same intensity that she did. Although she had obviously prayed with great fervor, there was nevertheless a degree of desperation missing due to her reliance on the assistance of Elkanah’s prayers. Upon realizing that he had made peace with the situation by concluding that their relationship was more valuable than the birth of a child, she recognized that her entire fate was solely dependent upon the power of her prayers. Armed with this newfound conviction, she prayed as never before, and it was in that fateful year that her heartfelt prayers were finally answered.
V'Hashem pakad es Sorah ka'asher amar vaya'as Hashem l'Sorah ka'asher dibeir (Bereishis 21:1)
Rashi writes that the section recounting Sorah’s conception of Yitzchok is juxtaposed to Avrohom’s prayers that Avimelech’s wife and maids be able to conceive (20:17-18) to teach that if a person prays on behalf of somebody else when he himself needs that same thing, he will be answered first. A man once approached Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein with a fascinating question about this concept.
It is traditionally understood that this procedure works as a reward for the selflessness demonstrated by somebody who desperately needs something himself, yet is able to magnanimously overlook his own personal needs to pray for another person in need of that very same thing. The man questioned whether this technique will still be effective when a person needs something and knows of somebody else who needs the same thing and prays for that person only out of a hope that doing so will cause him to be answered, or must the prayers for the other be genuine in order for this method to work?
Rav Zilberstein answered based on the Maharal’s explanation of this idea. The Maharal writes that Hashem is the source of all blessings which come to the world. However, in order for His blessings to descend upon a person, there must be a conduit which connects that person to the Heavenly source of goodness and facilitates the transfer. One such channel is prayer. When we pray to Hashem, we connect ourselves to Him and allow Him to bestow His bounty upon us. When one prays on behalf of another and his prayers are answered, he becomes the channel which links his friend to the Divine source of blessing.
When a person uses a hose to water his lawn, the hose – which serves as the conduit for the transfer of water – becomes wet even before the grass does. Similarly, a person who merits serving as the medium by which Hashem bestows His kindness upon another becomes “wet” with the goodness even before it reaches its ultimate target. Therefore, although it may be contrary to conventional wisdom, the power of prayer is so great that one who prays for his friend – even for ulterior motives – will still merit to be answered first.
Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now
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 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)
3) In explaining the 13 Attributes of Hashem’s Mercy, Rashi explains (Shemos 34:6) that the repetition of Hashem’s name refers to the fact that Hashem is merciful before a person sins and after he sins and repents. What need is there for Divine Mercy before one sins, and even if he thought about sinning, the Gemora in Kiddushin (40a) teaches that Hashem doesn’t punish a person for sinful thoughts until he acts on them? (Daas Z’keinim, Rabbeinu Asher Rosh Hashana 1:5, Riva, Kotzker Rebbe quoted in Amud HaEmes)
4) After Avrohom offered a ram on the altar originally built for Yitzchok, the Torah relates (22:19) that he returned to Eliezer and Yishmael, who had been waiting at a distance, but no mention is made of Yitzchok. Where did Yitzchok go after this episode? (Targum Yonason ben Uziel, Daas Z’keinim, Rabbeinu Bechaye 23:2, Ibn Ezra, Paneiach Raza, Tal’lei Oros, Darkei HaShleimus)
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