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Parshas Nitzavim-Vayeilech - Vol. 8,
Compiled by Oizer Alport
One afternoon in Jerusalem, Rabbi Yakov Vann was on his way to the synagogue for the afternoon prayers when somebody called out from a doorway asking him to complete a minyan in a house of mourning. He gladly agreed to pray with the mourners, but upon entering the apartment, he was surprised to observe that although it was full of seforim (sacred Jewish books), the mourners themselves did not appear to be religiously observant.
After the prayer service had concluded, Rabbi Vann took out a Mishnah Berurah to examine it, and he was even more taken aback to see that its margins were full of astute insights and comments. He inquired about the owner of the seforim, and one of the mourners replied that they all belonged to the deceased, his father. Rabbi Vann probed further, asking whether any of the other family members used the books. Sadly, the son responded that although his father had been a very pious and learned Torah scholar, none of his children had followed in his ways. He explained that when his father came home each night, he would lock himself in his study and spend hours poring over his beloved tomes. However, because his Torah study only occurred behind closed doors and not in the presence of his family, his children never observed him learning and therefore did not absorb his passion for Torah and mitzvos.
As Rabbi Vann wistfully left the mourners, he realized that this encounter gave him a newfound appreciation of a novel Torah thought that he had recently heard. In Parshas Nitzavim, Moshe told the Jewish people Hanistaros L'Hashem Elokeinu v'haniglos lanu ul'vaneinu ad olam. Literally, this means that hidden things belong to Hashem our G-d, while those that are revealed are forever for us and our children. However, Rav Aharon Rokeach, the fourth Belzer Rebbe and uncle of the present Belzer Rebbe, suggested that the verse can be interpreted as follows: Hanistaros l'Hashem Elokeinu - if we hide our mitzvos by doing them privately, then only Hashem will know about our righteous ways. On the other hand, v'haniglos lanu ul'vaneinu - if we take a different approach and reveal our good deeds to our children, then our religious priorities and values will remain ad olam - for all eternity, as they will be carried on by our children and descendants for all generations, a lesson which Rabbi Vann understood all too well after his painful visit to the house of mourners.
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.
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.
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) 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 úé÷å, 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)
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) 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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