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Parshas Nitzavim / Rosh Hashana - Vol. 11, Issue 51
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.
Since the Torah is the blueprint for the entire Creation, it inherently contains within it allusions to everything that 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.
The Haftorah that is read on the first day of Rosh Hashana tells the story of the birth of a child to the heretofore barren Chana. When Chana's husband Elkanah ascended to the Mishkan in Shiloh to offer sacrifices, he gave the best portion to his beloved wife Chana. Nevertheless, she was unable to enjoy it, as Elkanah's other wife, Penina, provoked and angered her, leaving her crying and unable to eat. Instead, Chana went to the Mishkan to beseech Hashem to see her pain and suffering and grant her a child.
When the Kohen Gadol, Eli, observed Chana praying silently at great length, he was suspicious of her conduct and accused her of being drunk and not displaying the appropriate respect for the Mishkan. Chana corrected him and explained that she was completely sober, but was in intense anguish over her plight, and she was pouring out her heart to Hashem in prayer. When Eli heard Chana's reply and realized that he had been mistaken in his judgment of her, he gave her a beracha (blessing) that her request should be fulfilled, at which point she left the Mishkan with her depressed appearance gone and her appetite restored.
The Brisker Rav points out that we see here the tremendous emunchas chachamim - trust in the Sages - of Chana, as Eli had not guaranteed her anything, but had simply given her a blessing that Hashem should answer her prayers. Yet even though Chana entered the Mishkan feeling broken and despondent, she had so much confidence and trust in the beracha of a tzaddik like Eli that she viewed his blessing as if it was already fulfilled, and she left full of joy and optimism.
This is even more remarkable in light of the fact that Chana had just experienced Eli making a tremendous mistake in assuming that she was drunk, leaving her humiliated and forced to correct him. If this happened today, somebody in her shoes would be tempted to conclude that this individual isn't as righteous as he's reputed to be, and wouldn't put much faith in a beracha from such a person. However, Chana was able to understand that everybody is human, and the blessing of the Kohen Gadol who had just made a major error was still as valuable to her as if it was already actualized.
Rav Chaim Kanievsky notes that if Chana had such tremendous faith in Eli's blessings, she could have gone to him at any point to ask for one. Why didn't she ever approach him directly ask him for a beracha prior to this incident? He explains that the Gemora (Berachos 31b) derives from this episode that somebody who falsely suspects another person is required not only to appease him, but to give him a blessing. It wasn't just the raw power of a beracha from the Kohen Gadol that made Chana so optimistic, but the fact that it was a beracha that he was obligated to give her, which would give it more strength and a better chance of being fulfilled. Since this would not be the case if she simply request a blessing from him, she never did so.
The Haftorah which is read on the first day of Rosh Hashana records the circumstances of the birth of the prophet Shmuel. His barren mother Chana beseeched Hashem to give her a child and promised to give him over to the service of Hashem for his entire life (1:11). After nursing him for two years, Chana weaned him and brought him to serve Hashem in the Mishkan, where he remained ad olam - forever. In what sense did Shmuel remain there for all time? Rashi explains that Shmuel was a Levite (Divrei HaYamim 1 6:7-12), and when used with respect to Levites, the term olam does not mean forever, but 50 years, as the Torah stipulates (Bamidbar 8:25) that when a Levite turns 50, he returns home and no longer works in the Bais HaMikdash. Because Chana brought Shmuel to the Mishkan at the age of 2 and said that he would remain there ad olam, he served Hashem for 50 years and died when he was 52.
However, the Tiferes Shlomo suggests that the verse can be understood literally, as several Kabbalistic sources write that Shmuel remains at the entrance to the Bais HaMikdash and prays on behalf of the Jewish people continuously, just as his mother declared that he would remain there eternally. This insight can help us appreciate an astonishing incident related by Rav Chaim Vital, who writes that in one of his dreams, he noticed an empty spot in Gan Eden. When he inquired about it, he was told that this is the place of Shmuel, who at the time of the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash accepted upon himself that he would not sit in his portion in Gan Eden until the Temple is rebuilt. Instead, he traveled to Jerusalem to the location of the Bais HaMikdash, where he mourns its destruction and prays for its rebuilding.
The Mishbetzos Zahav notes that this conduct is particularly appropriate for Shmuel, as his entire existence was due to Chana's prayer, which is described as vatispalel al Hashem (1:10). Seemingly, it would have been more grammatically correct to say vatispalel el Hashem - she prayed to Hashem. Why does the verse say vatispalel al Hashem, which literally means that she prayed for Hashem? The Nefesh HaChaim (2:12) explains that she recognized that imo anochi b'tzara (Tehillim 91:15) - whenever we are in pain, Hashem so-to-speak suffers along with us. Chana was on such a high spiritual level that her foremost concern was not her personal anguish that resulted from not having a child and being repeatedly taunted and tormented by Penina, but rather the fact that her plight was causing Hashem pain.
Therefore, Chana prayed al Hashem, requesting that she be given a child so that Hashem shouldn't have to suffer any more. She added that if her prayers were answered and she had a child, she wasn't planning to keep him for herself to get nachas from him, but intended to give him over to serve Hashem for his entire life. The entire focus of her prayer was Kavod Shomayim (the honor of Heaven), and not surprisingly, such a heartfelt request was answered with a son like Shmuel. As a result, the very essence of the child who was born through such entreaties became inextricably bound up with the plight of the Shechina, to the point that now that the Divine Presence is so-to-speak in exile, Shmuel is unable to sit and enjoy his portion in Gan Eden.
During the Aseres Y'mei Teshuvah (Ten Days of Repentance), we alter the conclusion of the eleventh blessing in Shemoneh Esrei to HaMelech Hamishpat - the King of judgment. The practice for Sefardim, who follow the ruling of the Bais Yosef (Orach Chaim 582:1), is that a person who forgets to make this change must repeat the entire Shemoneh Esrei, while Ashkenazim, who follow the Rema (Orach Chaim 118:1), also make this change, but are not required to pray again if they forget to do so. What is the concept of switching and referring to Hashem as HaMelech Hamishpat during this critical period? In Derashos HaRan (11), the Ran explains that there are two different forms of justice. The first type is the judgment of the Sanhedrin and Jewish court system, which mete out justice according to the strict letter of the law. Although the circumstances behind two different people's actions may vary greatly, the Bais Din does factor them into its verdicts and judges everybody equally, according to the Torah's clear and precise rules.
The second form of justice is that which is practiced by the king, who is uniquely empowered to take extenuating circumstances into account and to issue extrajudicial rulings beyond the strict letter of the law. In some cases the king will choose to be even stricter than required, while in others he opts for additional leniency. For example, when the prophet Nosson approached Dovid with a parable about a poor man whose only sheep was stolen by a wealthy man, Dovid ruled that the rich man should be put to death (Shmuel 2 12:1-6), even though the Torah does not generally treat theft as a capital crime. On the other hand, Shlomo informed the Kohen Gadol Evyasar that his actions could have justifiably been punished by death, but because of his merits and his important role in helping the Jewish people, Shlomo elected to spare his life (Melochim 1 2:26).
Rav Yitzchok Isaac Sher, the son-in-law of the Alter of Slabodka, uses this distinction to explain our approach to the judgment of Rosh Hashana. If Hashem simply places our good deeds on one side of the scale and our sins on the other side and weighs them against each other to determine our verdict for the upcoming year, it is very difficult to understand much of the liturgy of the Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe). For example, we beseech Hashem to remember His covenant with Avrohom and Akeidas Yitzchok, which don't seem relevant to our individual judgments. Moreover, we ask Hashem Al tova b'mishpat imanu ki lo yitzdak l'fanecha kol chai - Do not enter into judgment with us, because no living being can justify itself before You. How can we understand such a request when we are in fact judged at this time of year?
Rav Sher explains that the intention of our entreaties is that Hashem should not treat us with the strict judgment of the Sanhedrin, because nobody can survive such harsh scrutiny. Rather, we ask Hashem to judge us as HaMelech Hamishpat, with the unique judgment of the king that takes into account our status as descendants of the Avos, as well as the mitigating circumstances behind each of our decisions and actions.
How can we inspire Hashem to indeed elect to judge us using this latter approach? Rav Yisroel Reisman explains that we must first show Hashem a sense of love and connection. For this reason, the month that precedes Rosh Hashana is Elul, which is a contraction for ani l'dodi v'dodi li (Shir HaShirim 6:3) - I am to my beloved, and my beloved is to me. This is the time when we get ready to be judged, and the most important means of preparation is to build a relationship that will cause Hashem to judge us as a King, not as a Court. In the merit of our striving to develop a closeness to Hashem, may He have compassion on our human shortcomings and frailties, and judge us as HaMelech Hamishpat.
The Mishnah in Shabbos (2:5) discusses if and when it is Biblically prohibited to extinguish a burning candle on Shabbos. If a person does so because he is afraid of non-Jews or robbers, for medicinal purposes, or so that a sick person may sleep, it is Biblically permitted. If, however, he extinguishes the flame because he wishes to preserve the candle, the oil, or the wick, it is forbidden.
However, the Mishnah uses a peculiar expression when discussing the latter case. It discusses a person who puts out the fire because it is as if (k'chas) he wants to save the candle, oil, or wick. Why does it refer to him as somebody who wishes to save money and not as one who is actually doing so? The Gemora in Beitzah (16a) teaches that a person's entire income for the year is determined on Rosh Hashana. However, the Gemora adds that the money one spends for the honor of Shabbos or Yom Tov or for the education of his sons is an exception to this rule. They are in a separate category, and whatever additional money a person spends for these purposes will be added to his preordained annual salary.
Therefore, the Vilna Gaon explains that somebody who extinguishes a candle on Shabbos in an attempt to save money by sparing the candle, the oil, or the wick, is in reality saving nothing. Had he allowed it to burn fully for the sake of Shabbos, the additional cost thereby incurred would have been repaid to him. The Mishnah therefore stresses that one who puts out the flame on Shabbos is only attempting to save money, as in reality the expenses of Shabbos are part of a separate calculation, and he ultimately will have no additional funds to show for his sin.
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Moshe told the Jewish 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 under Hashem's jurisdiction. When the Gemora is left with a difficult question that 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? (Birkei Yosef O. C. 32:4, Tosefos Yom HaKippurim Yoma 75a, Mishneh L'Melech Hilchos Ishus 9:6 and Gilyon Rav Akiva Eiger, Shu"t Chasam Sofer 6:98)
2) The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 112:1) rules that it is forbidden to make personal requests in the first three blessings of Shemoneh Esrei. On what legal basis are we permitted to add during Aseres Y'mei Teshuvah the request to remember and inscribe us for life in the first blessing of Shemoneh Esrei? (Tosefos and Meiri Berachos 34a, Beis Yosef and Biur HaGra Orach Chaim 112, Tur Orach Chaim 582, Prisha Orach Chaim 582:8, Aruch HaShulchan Orach Chaim 582:2, Mishnah Berurah 582:7, Pri Megadim Aishel Avrohom Orach Chaim 582:3)
3) In Parshas Emor (Vayikra 23:24), the Torah refers to Rosh Hashana as zichron teruah - a remembrance of shofar blasts. In Parshas Pinchas (Bamidbar 29:1), it is called yom teruah - a day of shofar blowing. The Gemora in Rosh Hashana (29b) explains that Parshas Emor refers to Rosh Hashana which falls on Shabbos, in which case the shofar is only remembered but not actually blown, and Parshas Pinchas refers to Rosh Hashana which falls during the week, when the shofar is sounded. Why did the Torah write these two cases in this order, first mentioning the less common case of Rosh Hashana falling on Shabbos and the shofar not being blown? (Rav Akiva Eiger Al HaTorah Parshas Pinchas)
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