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Parshas Vayeilech - Vol. 10, Issue 48
Compiled by Oizer Alport
Parshas Vayeilech contains the mitzvah of hakhel, in which Moshe commanded all of the Jewish people - men, women, and children - to gather together to hear the reading of the book of Devorim by the king every seven years, during the festival of Sukkos following the Shemittah year. Rav Avrohom Gurwitz, Rosh Yeshiva of Gateshead, points out that the mitzvah of hakhel involves the confluence of three mitzvos: the end of the Shemittah year, the festival of Sukkos, and Aliyah L'regel (ascending to the Temple thrice annually for the festival pilgrimage). He suggests that all three of them have a common theme: strengthening our emunah and bitachon (faith and trust in Hashem).
The connection between the Shemittah year and bitachon is self-evident, as during the Shemittah year farmers are forbidden to work their fields and must instead place their faith in Hashem to sustain them for an entire year. At the conclusion of this year of observing how Hashem provided for them and their families and witnessing the fulfillment of the Torah's blessing (Vayikra 25:21) that the land will miraculously produce enough to sustain them for 3 years, they reach new heights in their trust in Hashem.
Similarly, the mitzvah of ascending to the Temple on Pesach, Shavuos, and Sukkos also serves to strengthen a Jew's emunah. At the same time that a person is experiencing the holiest place on earth where Hashem's Divine Presence is palpable, he is also leaving his home and possessions unsupervised and unprotected. In return for our trust in Hashem, He guards our properties and specifically promises (Shemos 34:24) to ensure that nobody will covet our land or try to steal it in our absence.
Finally, the mitzvah of dwelling in a sukkah also teaches the lesson of emunah, as it commemorates the miracle of the Clouds of Glory which surrounded and protected the Jews during their travels in the wilderness. After Hashem redeemed the Jews from slavery in Egypt, they found themselves in a barren desert with no protection from the elements, yet they trusted in Hashem to provide for them, a bitachon which was rewarded with the miraculous Clouds of Glory. The Torah specifically ordains that the mitzvah of hakhel be performed in conjunction with the observance of three mitzvos all of which serve to imbue within us the knowledge and recognition that it is Hashem Who sustains us and protects us. Although this mitzvah is not presently in effect, its message is still relevant to each of us.
Our daily lives are often so harried and pressured that we are distracted from dedicating more time to spiritual matters. As we prepare for the impending Day of Judgment on Rosh Hashana and engage in sincere introspection, many of us are honest enough to admit that we should reprioritize our lives and focus more of our energy on Torah and mitzvos, yet we also justify our difficulties in doing so by our need to make a living and support our families. To counter this misguided reasoning, the Torah commands us to gather for the mitzvah of hakhel at the most conducive time possible, when we will have strengthened our bitachon and internalized the awareness that it is Hashem Who sustains us, not our overtime hours in the office. Specifically at this time we will be open to absorbing the Torah's messages read publicly by the king, and to commit ourselves to reevaluating our values and priorities. In our prayers and requests for the upcoming year, we should beseech Hashem to provide us not only with peace, success, and health, but also with the serenity and tranquility that come naturally to a person who lives his life with true emunah and bitachon.
In the special Haftorah that we read this week for Shabbos Shuva, the Navi Hoshea advises, "Take with you words and return to Hashem." Although repentance is the main theme of this time of the year, it is also one of the most difficult projects for us to succeed in. Some have even cynically suggested that instead of getting excited and making a new list of proposed improvements, a person should simply take out last year's list and change the date at the top, as the lists will surely coincide. How can a person follow Hoshea's suggestion to take words with him and do proper teshuvah?
The Chofetz Chaim explains both the root of our difficulty in doing teshuvah as well as the solution by way of an insightful parable. A successful merchant was once purchasing new inventory from his supplier's warehouse. Just as he paid his bill and prepared to leave with his new merchandise, another salesman came in and presented the clerk with his list of needed items. The clerk was about to begin compiling the order when he remembered that the last few times this customer came to the warehouse, he didn't have the money to pay his outstanding bill and promised that he would do so the next time he returned.
When the clerk demanded payment of the accumulated debts, the embarrassed man explained that he still didn't have the money but begged for one last chance to earn it. The clerk was considering the man's request when the owner of the warehouse overheard the commotion and declared that he wasn't willing to extend the man's line of credit any longer. As the salesman began to plead with him, the first merchant, who was observing the proceedings, interrupted to announce that he understood the root of the problem and would like to propose a solution.
The warehouse served as a wholesaler, selling large quantities to merchants at cheap prices. This arrangement was ideal for someone such as himself whose business was based in a large town, as his sales volume was sufficient to allow him to turn a profit. The other salesman, however, came from a small village where has unable to sell enough of the large quantity he was forced to buy at the warehouse to recoup even a fraction of his costs. The merchant suggested that the warehouse owner make an exception and permit the salesman to buy only the small quantity that he would be able to sell, and over time he would turn a profit and slowly be able to pay off his debts. This insightful proposal was accepted by all and worked successfully, just as the merchant had projected.
When the Yomim Noraim draw near, a person naturally wants to rectify his ways. He sincerely examines all aspects of his life to determine which areas could use improvement. He then comes to Hashem and pleads for another year in which to make all of the changes he has accepted upon himself, yet year after year he finds himself asking for additional time to make many of the same improvements that he promised to make the year before. Eventually, there comes a time when the accusing angel will argue that Hashem (the warehouse owner) has repeatedly given more and more merchandise (time in this world) to this person (the salesman) in exchange for a promise of payment (complete repentance) in the year to come, but without any payment on the horizon, it is unreasonable to continue extending the petitioner's line of credit.
The wise merchant overhears the commotion and explains that a person is simply unable to accept upon himself so many improvements in so many spheres of his life all at once. Rather than unrealistically promising to completely change oneself and become a totally different person, it would be more practical and effective to choose a small number of areas on which he will focus his energy and gradually improve until he is able to "pay his debts" in those categories and move on to others one-by-one. A person who heeds the sage advice of the merchant (the Chofetz Chaim) will merit fulfilling the exhortation of Hoshea to take the words of his Yom Kippur promises with him and to truly return to Hashem, something that we should all merit in the coming year.
1) Did Moshe become ill prior to his death, and if so, for how long? (Paneiach Raza 31:14)
2) May the mitzvah of writing a Sefer Torah (31:19) be fulfilled through the purchase of books on Torah subjects? (Rosh Hilchos Sefer Torah 1; Chinuch 613; Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 270:2 with commentaries of Shach, Taz, Biur HaGra, and Pischei Teshuvah; Tur Yoreh Deah 270 with commentaries of Beis Yosef, Bach, and Perisha; Levush Yoreh Deah 270:2; Shaages Aryeh 36)
3) If a person is capable of writing a valid Sefer Torah, is it preferable to perform this mitzvah (31:19) himself or by hiring a professional scribe whose Sefer Torah will be more beautiful? (Chayei Adam 68:7, Bishvilei HaParsha)
4) Does the mitzvah to eat on the day before Yom Kippur (Orach Chaim 604:1) begin on the night prior to Yom Kippur or only in the morning? (Magen Avrohom 604:1; Aishel Avrohom Botchatch and Yad Ephraim Orach Chaim 604)
5) The Shulchan Aruch rules (606:1) that Yom Kippur will not atone for sins in which one has hurt another Jew until he has been appeased. Is a person required to pacify somebody who is upset at him without a legitimate cause? (S'fas Emes Yoma 87b)
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