Thoughts on the Weekly Parshah by HaRav Eliezer Chrysler
Formerly Rav of Mercaz Ahavat Torah, Johannesburg

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Vol. 12   No. 53

This issue is sponsored
l'iluy Nishmas
Chayah bas Uziel Alexander Ziskind z.l.
Whose Yohrtzeit is 29th Elul

Parshas Nitzavim
Incorporating Rosh Hashanah

Walking in His Ways
(Adapted from the Chochmas Chayim)

"See", says the Torah "I have placed before you life and good ... That I have commanded you today to love Hashem ... to go in his ways, to keep His Mitzvos ... and you will live and flourish ... " (30:15/16).

Shlomoh Hamelech put it in a nutshell when he said "Know Him in all your ways and He will straighten your paths" (Mishlei 3:6).


Whoever knew R. Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld could attest to the fact that throughout his life, he never took one step, either personal or for a Mitzvah before dedicating it to His Creator, and this was true of even the most basic bodily movements. Nothing he ever did was performed without careful consideration.

Here are some illustrations of this.

There were times when R. Yosef Chayim for some initially unknown reason, chose to take a longer route from the Yeshivah Sha'ar ha'Shamayim to his house. He once explained that the reason for this was because part of the shorter route was darkened by its low ceiling (which caused one to have to bend down as one traversed). As a result, there was a slight chance of contravening the Din of Yichud, should a woman pass there at the same time.


He would make a point, when walking along the narrow roads of Batei Machseh, of walking in the middle of the street, despite the fact that the cobblestones there were slippery, making walking that much more precarious. When the person accompanying him once queried as to why he did that, his reply was forthcoming. 'All my life,' he said 'I have been careful not to walk within four Amos of other people's windows (so as not to intrude on their privacy). And it so happens that the pavement here is too narrow for me to do that. So I have no option but to walk in the middle of the road'.


And when, on another occasion, already an old man, he returned from a B'ris that took place in the old Beis Yisrael district, those who were accompanying him tried to persuade him to walk by way of Sha'ar ha'Pinah, in order to avoid the strenuous climb that the more direct route via Me'ah She'arim would necessitate. But the Tzadik refused. Why? Not because he enjoyed climbing, but because 'all my life I deliberately took that steep route, and I do not intend initiating a change at this stage in my life. You see, it is closer to the Har ha'Bayis!'

This may not in itself, be an issue of major importance, but it was fundamental for a man who measured the value of a stretch of land by its proximity to the Har ha'Bayis.


R. Yosef Chayim would often cite the Pasuk in Tehilim (132:3 [in connection with the oath that David made]) "that I will not climb into bed, that I will not allow sleep to my eyes or slumber to my eye-lids until I find a place for Hashem, a dwelling for the mighty One of Ya'akov". And he would add ... Every night, before going to bed, I do a soul-search before I allow myself any sleep. I scan what I did during the course of the day, in order to 'find a place for Hashem' - to ascertain what portion of my deeds were for His sake, to see whether I magnified G-d's Honour, and whether they helped broaden 'the dwelling for the mighty One of Ya'akov'. And it is only when I have concluded this cheshbon ha'Nefesh that I deposit my soul into the Hand of Hashem, so that He might return it to me fresh in the morning, to enable me to fulfill His will again for another day'.

One might say that just as a person's eyesight can be gauged by the size print he is able to read, so too, can the greatness of a person's Meshamah be gauged by the extent that he cares about the finer details of Yiddishkeit. That being the case, the above episodes will help us understand the extent of R. Yosef Chayim's Tzidkus, who considered no detail of Avodas Hashem insignificant.

* * *

Parshah Pearls

My Sins Will Protect Me

"And it will be, when he hears the words of this oath, and he reassures himself in his heart saying 'Everything will be fine, even though I will go as my heart sees fit... .' G-d will not be willing to forgive him" (29:18:19).

David Hamelech writes in Tehilim (49:5) "I will bend my ear with a parable ... Why should I be afraid in the days of evil, the sins on which I trod will surround me?" And in Pasuk 7 he writes "Those who trust in their property, and boast about their abundant wealth". To which parable is the earlier Pasuk in Tehilim referring, asks R. Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld? And he explains that David Hamelech is pointing here to the stupidity of those people who place their trust in their property and abundant wealth. To what can this be prepared? To someone who announces that he is not afraid that he will be affected when evil strikes, because he will be protected by a wall made up of the many sins that he perpetrated. What can be more stupid than that?

And the person who claims that he is not afraid of the evil decree because his wealth will protect him is not one iota wiser. For just as not only can sins not protect the perpetrator, but they are the cause of Divine retribution, so too are property and wealth not only not a cause of protection, but as often as not, it is the source of the owner's punishment, as the Pasuk writes in Koheles (5:12) "Wealth that is retained by the owner to his misfortune".

It is of course, not the rich man's wealth that will save him from the evil when it strikes, but the Tzedakah that he performs with it and his good deeds. Likewise, it is Teshuvah and good deeds that will save the sinner.


The Army of Hashem

" ... because it (the Torah) is your life and the length of your days to live in the land which Hashem swore to your fathers" (30:20).

When President Weitzman once asked R, Yosef Chayim in what way the B'nei Yeshivah benefited society, R. Yosef Chayim compared a ben Yeshivah to a soldier in the army. A soldier, he pointed out, does not fight on a regular basis. It is possible that he is called upon to fight only once in his life, and perhaps not even that. Yet he justifies his position by his very existence, for if there were no soldiers, the country would be unprotected, and would be in grave danger of being overrun by its enemies.

No less a ben Yeshivah, whose very existence serves to protect and shield the country against both the spiritual and physical foes who wish to destroy it.

Have we not seen, he pointed out to him, that those towns that served as centers of Yeshivos and that boasted B'nei Torah, retained their Jewish character, and the inhabitants lived their lives according to the highest ethical standards? That being the case, the Medinah should feel no less an obligation to support the spiritual soldiers than it does the physical ones.


Rejoicing in One's Tzaros

"And it shall be (ve'hoyoh) when these things happen to you, both the B'rachah and the K'lalah ... " (30:1).

Chazal have said that the word "ve'hoyoh) is an expression of joy. What the Pasuk is therefore hinting is that one should be happy with whatever lot one receives from G-d, like the Mishnah in B'rachos (54) "Just as one recites a B'rachah ('ha'Tov ve'ha'Meitiv') over the good, so too, should one recite a B'rachah ('Boruch Dayan Emes') over the bad.


Chasidim tell the story of the Talmidim of the Mezritcher Maggid, who once asked their Rebbe how it is possible to fulfill the above Mishnah in B'rachos, which concludes with the obligation of reciting the B'rachah over bad things with joy.

The Maggid instructed them to put the same question to the Yid sitting behind the stove, who had had more than his share of Tzaros in this world. This they did, and he replied 'Such a question you really ought to pose to somebody who has suffered, not to me to whom G-d has been so good, and who does not know the meaning of the word suffering'.


The B'rachos! Which B'rachos?

"And it will be when the B'rachos and the K'lalos materialize ... then you will take it to heart (and repent)" 30:1.

Why, asks the Ohel Ya'akov, does the Pasuk mention the B'rachos here? Surely it is the fulfillment of the K'lalos that will spark off the movement towards Teshuvah?

Not so, he replies. The punishments alone will not be able to achieve this end. There is nothing inherent in the punishments to make Yisrael realize that they are the work of the Divine Hand. It is only the fact that, even as they endure intense suffering, others enjoy great prosperity and live happy lives, that will convince them that the current situation is not the result of mere chance, but of G-d's intervention.

The K'sav Sofer's explanation however, fits better with the 'Hey' of 'ha'B'rachah'. Specifically when Yisrael are in the throes of the K'lalah, when they are in Galus surrounded by enemies on all sides, they are better able to appreciate the Divine B'rachah that helps them survive. If, in spite of the seventy wolves that await the opportunity to devour the lamb (Yisrael), Yisrael does not succumb, and to even survive with grace, then there can be no bigger testimony than this that Yisrael are under Divine protection, and not left to the pitiless laws of nature.

When they see how G-d "watches over them from the windows, and peeps through the cracks", that is what prompts them to do Teshuvah.


G-d Alone Knows

"And you will take it to heart and you will repent until Hashem your G-d" (Ibid.).

The Rambam defines genuine Teshuvah as one where G-d Himself is able to testify that the Ba'al Teshuvah will not return to his former sin/s.

This is what the Pasuk means here, say the commentaries, "and you will repent until Hashem your G-d" ... until Hashem your G-d acknowledges that you really have done Teshuvah, and that what you undertook is not just lip-service. What's more they add, one can read the word "ad" as 'Eid', meaning that G-d is a witness that you really mean what you said, as we explained.


A First Time Sinner

Does the Rambam really mean that if the Ba'al Teshuvah ultimately repeats his sin, that his Teshuvah is negated retroactively?

Not at all, answers the Emes le'Ya'akov. For Chazal have said that one sin leads to another. And a Teshuvah which does nothing to prevent that from happening will certainly not satisfy G-d, as to the sincerity of the Ba'al Teshuvah, since the second sin that he performs is a further link in his former chain of sins, rendering his Teshuvah meaningless.

Not so the person whose genuine Teshuvah is so sincere, that in his current situation he will certainly not transgress, should the opportunity to sin avail itself. If later, when the powerful effects of his Teshuvah have dimmed, his Yeitzer ha'Ra gets the better of him once again, then that is not considered the result of his previous sins, but a new sin which will in no way affect his Teshuvah.


When Father's There!
(From the Haftarah)

"In all their troubles He (G-d) was troubled".

"In all their troubles, there was no trouble" (Yeshayah 63:9).

The first translation is that of the 'K'ri' (the way the Pasuk is read - with a 'Vav'), the second, the 'K'siv' (the way it is written - with an 'Alef').

The Ma'ayanah shel Torah explains how the two interpretations of the Pasuk are interdependent.

What the first interpretation really means is that G-d joins us in Galus, so as to share in our suffering. And the father joining his son in exile, alleviates the son's suffering immensely (the gist of the second interpretation) .

And that explains why, even before informing Ya'akov that He would accompany him down to Egypt (Vayigash 45:4), G-d told him not to be afraid. To be sure, if G-d would be there in Egypt too, then He would ensure that the Galus would be controlled, and that it would end in its time (or even sooner, if need be).

* * *


(Adapted from the Ma'ayanah shel Torah)

Some Rosh Hashanah thoughts,
based on the opening Pasuk of Parshas Nitzavim,
particularly as the word "ha'Yom" has connotations of Rosh Hashanah,
as we find at the beginning of Seifer Iyov.

All Are Equal before G-d

"You are standing today before Hashem your G-d, the heads of your tribes, your policemen, all the men of Yisrael" (29:9). The question arises as to why Moshe changed from his usual custom to speak first to the princes and only then to the rest of the people (see the first Rashi in Matos)?

The Alshich explains that the answer lies in the opening words of the Pasuk. Yisrael were now standing in front of G-d; in His presence, there is no difference between the princes and anybody else. For who can know who is important in the eyes of G-d, whether someone whom we see as a prince, He does not consider insignificant; whilst on the other hand, a person whom we consider to be ordinary, is not special in His eyes. We know that the gauge that G-d employs to distinguish one person from another does not tally with the gauge that we use. As Chazal have said 'Those who are elevated here are relegated there, and vice-versa'. Heads of tribes, elders and policemen are terms that we use to describe people's status, but they are meaningless when one stands before G-d. There, it is a matter of " ... all the men of Yisrael", as the Torah concludes, for everyone is equal. Perhaps that is why the Torah omits the 'Vav' at the beginning of "kol ish Yisrael".

By the same token, R. Bunim from P'shischa remarked as to how careful one must be not to be impressed by the titles that others confer upon oneself. A person may well be described by others as a Talmid-Chacham or a Tzadik, but he cannot assume that this is how one is viewed in Heaven. As we just explained, G-d has His own way of assessing people, and the likelihood exists that the simplest Jew is more Chashuv in the eyes of G-d than he is.

And he learns this from the Halachah that forbids Reuven to kill Shimon, even if as a result, gentiles will kill him, due to the principle 'Who says that your blood is redder than his'. And this ruling applies even assuming that Reuven is the greatest Talmid-Chacham and Shimon, an ignoramus.


The Darkness Came First

"You are standing today", says the Pasuk ... like the day, which from the time of the creation, always begins with the night, as the Torah writes there "And it was evening and it was morning ... ". So it is with K'lal Yisrael, says the No'am Megadim (on whose behalf the world was created). First come the suffering and the Galus, and only then the redemption and the salvation. Indeed, Chazal have said 'Tzadikim must first endure suffering. The good times come later'.

Based on this premise, someone who has it good from the start must suspect that perhaps he is not a Tzadik, and then reflect as to if he is not, why he is having it so good in this world.


Outreach, Every Man's Obligation!

The Butzina de'Nura observes that when it comes to fighting on behalf of Yiddishkeit, to raise the banner of Torah among the masses, most people turn round and say 'What, me? Who am I anyway? Bringing others close is a job for the Rabbanim, the Admurim and the experienced community leaders, but surely not me the simple Jew!' However, they are making a big mistake. Indeed, that is why the Torah writes that when we stand before G-d (i.e. work on His behalf), then we are all equal ... starting with the leaders of the tribes, ending with the simple wood-choppers and the water-drawers, all must be mobilized in the service of their Creator, and do whatever lies within their power to spread Torah and Yir'as Shamayim to whoever one can.


United We Stand

The Medrash Tanchuma commenting on the above Pasuk, explains that we stand (upright) when we stand before G-d as one united group. The Chareidi sector of the Jewish people comprises many different denominations ... there are Chasidim and Misnagdim, Ashkenazim and Sefardim, whilst the Chasidim themselves are divided into numerous sects, each with its own unique characteristics, each with its own Rebbe. And today we have in addition, the knitted Yarmelka wearers, many of whom are no less G-d-fearing than their black Yarmelka wearing counterparts. Let each group Daven to Hashem and serve Him in his own special way, says the Divrei Sha'arei Chayim. But let them always remember that even as they are standing before Hashem, so are the other groups, and that as long as they do, they are all equally beloved by Him.

It is said that Misnagdim begin Pesukei de'Zimrah with 'Baruch she'Omar', Chasidim, with 'Hodu', yet when it comes to the glorification of Hashem's Name ('Yehi Ch'vod Hashem le'olam'), they join forces.

* * *

Rosh Hashanah Supplement

This section is sponsored
In honour of the Chasanim
Yehoshua Simchah Tzi n.y.
Aharon Meshulam Leib n.y.
May they be written and inscribed
they and their family,
in the Book of Good Life.

(Adapted from the Seifer ha'Chinuch)

Please bear in mind that the rulings in this article reflect the opinion of the Seifer ha'Chinuch and are not necessarily Halachah.

Mitzvah 405:
The Mitzvah of Shofar

We are commanded to hear the tone of the Shofar on the first of Tishri, Rosh Hashanah, like we learned in Maseches Rosh Hashanah (2a) 'On the first of Tishri is the New Year for years, as the Pasuk writes in Pinchas (29:1) "It shall be for you a day of blowing". The Torah gives no indication as to whether this blowing is done with a Shofar or a trumpet, or whether the sound is made with cymbals or with some other instrument; nevertheless, the Gemara in Rosh Hashanah (33b) learns from the Yovel that one blows a Shofar on Rosh Hashanah too.

A reason for the Mitzvah is based on the fact that human beings are physical, and as such they are not easily aroused, unless something specific (such as soldiers in battle, who are stirred to fight valiantly by the sound of trumpets). And so it is with Rosh Hashanah, the day that G-d chose since days of old, to judge all inhabitants of the world, as Chazal have said in Rosh Hashanah (Perek 1, Mishnah 2) 'On Rosh Hashanah, all the people in the world pass before Hashem like sheep', meaning that Hashem examines the deeds of each and every individual independently. If his good deeds exceed his sins, then he will be proclaimed innocent, whereas if his sins exceed his good deeds, he is sentenced to death or to another punishment, all according to the extent of his guilt.

Consequently, each and every person needs to arouse himself to plead for mercy from the Master of Mercy for having sinned, for He is a merciful and gracious G-d, who forgives our iniquities (sins for pleasure) the transgressions (sins performed to anger Hashem) and sins be'Shogeg (not realizing that they are forbidden), and who cleanses those who return to Him with all their heart. The sound of the Shofar plays a major role in stirring the hearts of whoever hears it, in particular the tone of Teru'ah ([i.e. the broken note] incorporating Shevarim). And quite apart from the arousing aspect of the Shofar, the broken notes serve as a reminder to break the Yeitzer-ha'Ra within ourselves with regard to the pleasures of this world and its attractions. For the things that a person sees with his eyes and hears with his ears create a deep impression on him, and help shape the way he thinks. This explains Rebbi Yehudah's statement in the Mishnah in Rosh Hashanah (26b) 'On Rosh Hashanah we blow the horn of a ram, which is bent, so that seeing it will cause us to bend our hearts towards the Heaven'. R. Levi there rules like him, and this is the accepted Minhag.

Some of the Dinim of the Mitzvah ... The Gemara gives the size of a Shofar as large enough to hold in one's hand with a little protruding from either end of one's fist ... All Shofros are eligible, except for that of a cow, because the Torah calls it a horn (and not a Shofar]). This is because a Shofar, by definition, means something that is hollow (such as that of a ram, which encases the projection that grows from the animal's head).

Consequently, the horn of any beheimah (a tame species of animal [which is hollow]) may be used for blowing on Rosh Hashanah, but not those of a Re'eim (a sort of wild ox) or any other chayah (wild animal), since they are all solid. Technically speaking, the horn of a cow, which is hollow, is really a Shofar too, only the Torah disqualifies it when it writes in ve'Zos ha'B'rachah (33:17, after referring to his first born ox) "and his horns are the horns of a Re'eim". In doing so, the Pasuk has deliberately disqualified it from being used as a Shofar.

It transpires that the only beheimos' horns that may be used on Rosh Hashanah, are those of lambs, ewes, rams and goats, since, besides the horn of a cow, they are the only beheimos that have horns, whereas the horns of all chayos are not eligible, as we explained.

But, you may well ask, does the Pasuk not refer to goats' horns as 'Keren', when it writes in Daniel (8:5) " ... and the goat had a conspicuous horn between its eyes"? So why is a goat's horn any more eligible than a cow's? The answer, says the Chinuch, lies in the fact that the Pasuk is referring to the horn that Daniel saw in his dream, and is describing how it appeared there to be solid and not hollow (like the regular horn of a goat). In fact, the Pasuk clearly implies that the horn of a regular goat is not solid, and that only that one was.

The Chinuch then explains to his son (for whose benefit he wrote his Seifer) how he has dwelt at length on this subject only because the above interpretation of the Mishnah in Rosh Hashanah had only recently come to light, and that previously, they had understood it differently.

The Gemara in Rosh Hashanah (27b) rules that all tones of the Shofar are valid and that if one scrapes away the outer layer of a Shofar, leaving only the inner shell, it is Kasher ... They also said there that when Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbos, one does not blow the Shofar, for fear that someone may come to carry it in the street to take it to an expert, to learn how to blow properly (a sin which carries with it the punishment of death by stoning). This decree does not apply in a city where there is a Beis-Din of great Talmidei-Chachamim, provided they blow the Shofar there in the Beis-Din. According to the Rambam, the Dayanim must also have received Semichah in Eretz Yisrael, and it must be a Beis-Din whose members are more senior than those that sanctified the new moon in its time. But, he adds, he heard that the Rif used to blow in his Yeshivah on Rosh Hashanah that fell on Shabbos, and he instructs his son to pick whichever ruling he thinks is the right one ... On Rosh Hashanah, says the Mishnah, one blows 'three Teki'os, each of three three', by which it means three times Teki'ah, Teru'ah Teki'ah, a total of six Teki'os and three Teru'os. Targum Unklus translates Teru'ah as 'Yevovo', meaning a broken note that resembles a wailing tone ('Yeloloh' in Lashon ha'Kodesh), and that is what the Torah commands us to blow. Only, because in some places, wailing takes the form of longish sobs, whereas in others, the sobs are shorter, whilst in yet other places, people do both, each place would initially blow Teru'ah according to the sobbing habits of the local residents. And since this conformed with the Yeloloh specified by the Torah, they were all Yotzei (fulfilled their duty). What's more, in whichever of the three possible ways one blew anywhere, they were Yotzei too, even if that did not conform with the way people wailed in that particular town. The Amora Rebbi Avahu however, unhappy with the diverse Minhagim that were being practiced (since they created the impression that there were 'two Toros' in Yisrael), instituted that all three sets should be blown universally. As a result, we blow three by three notes, three times - and this is known as 'Tashrat (Teki'ah, Shevarim, Teru'ah, Teki'ah), Tashat (Teki'ah, Shevarim, Teki'ah) and Tarat' (Teki'ah, Teru'ah, Teki'ah) ... The Gemara there also discusses a Shofar that split either lengthways of breadthways, a Shofar with a hole that one stopped up with its own kind or with another kind ... a Shofar within a Shofar ... Someone who blows into a pit or an enclosure ... A Shofar of Avodah-Zarah or of an Ir ha'Nidachas ... Whether one may hear the Teki'os from someone whom one took an oath not to benefit from ... and if the listener had in mind to be Yotzei but not the blower ... as well as the remaining Halachos, all appear in Maseches Rosh Hashanah (and in Orach Chayim Si'man 585).

This Mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times to men, but not to women, since it is a Mitzvas Asei that is time-bound. Someone who contravenes it by not hearing the Shofar blast on Rosh Hashanah, according to the prescribed order (at least three times three notes), has negated the Mitzvah. One has fulfilled it however even if one hears the nine notes at intervals throughout the day, as Chazal said 'Someone who hears the nine notes during the space of nine hours, even if they are blown by nine different people, has fulfilled his duty'. The Chinuch adds however, in the name of his Rebbes, that that is provided he does not hear a Pasul note in between.

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