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

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Vol. 17   No. 47

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Parshas Nitzavim-Vayeilech

Ein Mazel le'Yisrael

The fact that G-d informed Moshe that his time was approaching, says R. Bachye, insinuates that man's lifespan is predetermined, that everyone enters this world with a fixed number of years to live. G-d then sees to it that everybody lives out his life to the full, as the Torah writes in Mishpatim ("I will complete the allotted number of your days"). Sometimes however, He adds to those years and sometimes He detracts from them, depending on man's merits and defaults. The initial allocation however, is not carried out by G-d Himself, but by the Mazalos, who predetermine man's lot in a way that has nothing to do with merit or default, but in a manner that Chazal refer to as 'Mazel', a concept, the author points out, with which Chazal were deeply familiar and with which they fully agreed. Hence the Gemara in Mo'ed Katan (23a) states that 'Children, life and sustenance depend on Mazel!' And the Gemara goes on to prove it from Rabah and Rav Chisda, both of whom were Tzadikim, yet whereas the former died at forty, the latter lived till sixty; the house of the former contained sixty measures of suffering, whilst in the house of the latter there were sixty praises (for all of Hashem's kindnesses); in the house of the former, even barley-bread was unavailable, whereas in the house of the latter, they were not even short of fine wheat-bread for their dogs.

To be sure G-d granted the Mazalos the power to determine the initial fate of each and every individual. Yet not for one moment did He withdraw His own jurisdiction from the world. After having given the Mazalos the power to allot to each individual as they see fit, He retains control over those very same individuals, 'to lower those that they have raised and to raise those that they have lowered'.

And this is what the Torah means when it relates in Parshas Lech-L'cha how G-d raised Avraham above the stars and told him that he would have children, from which Chazal derive the principle 'Ein Mazel le'Yisrael'. This does not mean that Yisrael are not governed by the Mazel at all, but that G-d retains the right to override the Mazel (as He did by Avraham), based on man's behaviour.


R. Bachye gives examples both of G-d extending the life of someone who was destined to die and of His curtailing the life of someone whose time was not yet due.

The example of the former is that of Chizkiyahu ha'Melech, whom G-d granted an extra fifteen years of life when he 'turned to the wall and Davened', after it had been decreed that he would die for declining to get married (when he foresaw that his son would be a Rasha). This example is strange however, inasmuch as the initial decree to die was not decreed by the Mazalos (which is basically what the author is discussing) but rather by G-d Himself, as we explained.

Whereas an example of the latter we find in connection with King Achazyahu, son of Achav, when G-d decreed that he would not recover from his illness, because he consulted Ba'al-Z'vuv and not the G-d of Yisrael. It is evident that were it not for that sin, he would have survived.


In any event it transpires that whereas initially, it is the Mazel that determines every Jew's destiny, ultimately he remains under G-d's jurisdiction, all depending on his deeds and on Tefilah. Incidentally, this is confined to Yisrael; the Mazel of a gentile cannot be changed under any circumstances.


In most matters that concern man, his merits alone will suffice to change his destiny for the better, without Tefilah and without crying out to G-d, R. Bachye explains. All that is required is that he worries about his lot and feels it in his heart, for G-d to respond favourably, as the Pasuk writes in 'Ashrei' "He does the will of those who fear Him", implying that G-d fulfils the wishes of those who merit it, without their having to utter a word.

The above-mentioned Gemara in Mo'ed Katan singles out the three issues 'children, life and sustenance', as we discussed earlier, because they are indeed unique, in that they can only be changed by means of Tefilah. And it is in connection with them that the same Pasuk continues "and He hears their cries and saves them".

Once again the author gives examples for each of the three issues. For so we find that Rachel Imeinu, despite her inability to bear children, was miraculously cured after she Davened for children, as the Pasuk testifies in Vayeitzei (30:22). Then there is Chizkiyahu ha'Melech, whom we mentioned earlier, who was granted a new lease of life following his intense Tefilah (see Yeshayah 38:5). And finally, there is Eliyahu ha'Navi and his Talmid Elisha, both of whom Davened fervently in a time of famine, and G-d answered their prayers (refer to Melachim 1, 17:13-15 & Melachim 2, 4:42-44).

* * *

Parshah Pearls
(Adapted from Rabeinu Bachye)

No Third Inheritance

"And Hashem your G-d will bring you to the land which your fathers inherited and you will inherit it" (30:4).

R. Bachye cites a Medrash which, based on the double expression of inheritance mentioned in the Pasuk, rules that Eretz Yisrael was subject to a first and second inheritance, but not to a third one.

Citing his Rebbe the Rashba, he interprets this to mean that just as Yisrael needed to capture the land (and to sanctify it) in the days of Yehoshua, so too, did they need to do so when they returned to the land from Bavel in the days of Ezra - since the Kedushah had become nullified when they went into exile to Bavel.

This will not be necessary in the days of Mashi'ach however, when we return to Eretz Yisrael, seeing as the Kedushah did not become nullified when they were exiled to Rome. And this is how Rashi in Yevamos (82b) explains the Medrash.

Alternatively, R. Bachye explains, what the Pasuk means is that it was only with Yehoshua and with Ezra that they inherited only Eretz Yisrael and no other lands; when Mashi'ach comes however, we will inherit the entire world. And that is what the Pasuk means when it concludes " and He will do good with you and increase you more than your fathers".


Circumcising the Heart

"And Hashem your G-d will circumcise your hearts" (30:6).

The Orlah (foreskin) of the heart refers to the various forms of lust and desire, R. Bachye explains. Consequently, someone who is possessed by these Midos is called an Oreil, whereas someone who does not is called one who is circumcised.

The Torah is informing us here that the time will come when the hearts of all of Yisrael will do naturally what their Seichel dictates, as the Navi writes in Yirmiyah (9:25) "Behold days will come, says Hashem, when I will make with Beis Yisrael and with Beis Yehudah a new covenant I will place My Torah inside them, and I will write it on their hearts". 'Writing the Torah on their hearts', says the author, is synonymous with nullifying the Yeitzer-ha'Ra and removing all forms of desire from them, which is in turn, synonymous with circumcising their hearts.


The Three-Part Torah

" with your mouth and with your heart, to do it" (30:14).

R. Bachye comments that the Torah here mentions - the mouth, the heart and deeds, incorporating the three things that comprise all the Mitzvos. There are some Mitzvos that involve the mouth, others, the heart, and others again that require action. And this is in essence, what the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos means when it says that the world stands on three things - on Torah (speech), on Avodah (Tefilah - the Avodah of the heart) and on the performing of kind acts.

To place these three categories in their right perspective, R. Bachye points out, the Avodah of the heart is greater than that of the mouth (because it is more spiritual [see footnote]), which explains why Chazal obligate a person to stop learning, in order to recite the Sh'ma.

(The footnote also cites the Rambam, who divides the Mitzvos into four categories 'Dei'os [Hashkofos], actions, Midos and speech).

On the other hand, because (by the same token) the Avodah of the mouth is greater than that of deeds, Chazal, based on the Pasuk in Tzav (7:37) "This is the Torah for the Olah, for the Minchah, for the Chatas ", declare Torah to be greater than all the Korbanos.

And the Torah places 'the heart' in the middle precisely because of its superiority over the two that flank it.

The author also cites the Ramban, who interprets this Pasuk with regard to the three components of Teshuvah (See 'Highlights from the Ba'al ha'Turim'); Even in Galus, the Ramban explains, Teshuvah is available to all. All that is needed is Viduy (to confess - with the mouth); to repent in one's heart and to undertake to act differently in future.


Parshas Vayeilech

Moshe's Birthday and Yohrtzeit

"I am a hundred and twenty today " (31:2).

R. Bachye presumes that the hundred and twenty years correspond to the hundred and twenty days that he spent on Har Sinai, forty days to receive the first Luchos, forty days to Daven on behalf of K'lal Yisrael and forty days to receive the second Luchos. Indeed, he explains, that is why Moshe used the word "Onochi" (the first word on the Luchos) rather than the more common 'Ani'.

As is well-known, Chazal Darshen from the word "today" - 'today my days and years are completed. Today I was born, today I will die!' Because Tzadikim tend to complete their years, to die on the same date as they are born. Moreover, he explains, Moshe began his current address (at the beginning of Nitzavim) with the words "You are standing today ; because that too, took place on the same day, the seventh of Adar. In fact, all the Parshiyos from Nitztavim until the end of ve'Zos-ha'B'rachah (together with all their contents) were said on that day.

Citing the Gemara in Kidushin (38a) R. Bachye proves that Moshe died on the seventh of Adar based on the Pasuk at the end of the Torah (34:8) "And the B'nei Yisrael wept for Moshe in the Plains of Mo'av, and the days of weeping of the mourning of Moshe terminated". It was at this point that the Pasuk in Yehoshua (1:10) informs us that Yehoshua instructed the people to "Prepare provisions, because in three days time you will cross the River Yarden". This we know happened on the tenth of Nisan (See Yehoshua 4:19). If we now reckon thirty-three days backwards from the tenth of Nisan, we will arrive at the seventh of Adar.

The author then proceeds to prove that Moshe was also born on the seventh of Adar. And he does this by attributing Yocheved's inability to hide Moshe after three month, to the exceptionally bright light that shone from him on that day - the sixth of Sivan, the day on which he was destined to receive the Torah eighty years later. That is why she placed him in a reinforced box in the River, to contain the light to prevent him from being discovered. Here too, working backwards three months from the sixth of Sivan, one arrives at the seventh of Adar.


The Long Galus

" and as for Me, I will hide My Face from them on that day" (31:18).

The Torah already wrote (in Pasuk 17) " and I will hide My Face (astir Ponai) from them", R. Bachye points out; but that, he explains, was in connection with Galus Bavel, which lasted only seventy years. The current Pasuk is written in connection with Galus Edom, in which we find ourselves today, and which has lasted much, much longer. Hence the double expression "hastir astir Ponai".

And what's more, the author writes, the Pasuk actually hints at the duration of the Galus, seeing as the Gematriyah of "hastir astir" is 1336, which is equivalent to the date specifically mentioned by Daniel (12:12). Initially, this seems to hint at the date that Mashi'ach will come, 1336 years after the destruction of the second Beis-ha'Mikdash, and that is precisely how the author explained it (see Bereishis 2:3, near the end of his explanation there).

Unfortunately however, that date has long passed, and Mashi'ach has still not come. We can only assume therefore, that Daniel was referring to some other unknown date, or that we do not know what he figure 1336 refers to.

Whatever that date might be however, it is fascinating that the two Gematriyos tally.

* * *


Parshas Nitzavim

"And G-d will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of (es levovcho ve'es l'vav) your off-spring" (30:6).

The Gematriyah of "es levovcho ve'es", the Ba'al ha'Turim points out, is the equivalent to that of 'Zeh li'yemos ha'Mashi'ach'. Until then, the onus to remove the evil from our hearts lies with us.


And the first letters of "Es Levovcho Ve'es L'vav" spells Elul. Hence, he says, the Minhag to begin reciting S'lichos from Rosh Chodesh Elul. (a Sefardi custom - the Ba'al ha'Turim was brought up in Spain.)

In similar vein, he adds, the first word in the Pasuk in Tehilim (27:13) "Had I not (Lulei) believed that I would see the goodness of Hashem " backwards spells 'Elul' - since that is when the excitement at the oncoming Days of Awe begins; that is when we start preparing to do Teshuvah in order to merit the goodness of Hashem during the forthcoming year.


"And you will return and listen to the Voice of Hashem and Hashem will leave you over " (30:8/9).

The moment we do a sincere Teshuvah, the Ba'al ha'Turim explains, Hashem will redeem us, and our exile will come to an end. The catalyst that brings about the redemption is Teshuvah!


"For you will listen to the Voice (ki sishma be'kol) of Hashem your G-d " (30:10) (The Gematriyah of "ki sishma be'kol", says the Ba'al ha'Turim. is equivalent to that of 'Zeh be'kol divrei Talmidei-Chachamim' - for they are G-d's mouthpiece. It is through them that we get to know exactly what He wants of us.


" when you will return to Hashem your G-d For this Mitzvah (i.e. all the Mitzvos of the Torah)" 30:10\11.

The juxtaposition of these two Pesukim teaches us that the Mitzvah of Teshuvah is equal to all the other Mitzvos.


" ,,, with your mouth and with your heart to do them" (30:14)

"With your mouth" - (as Chazal explain - the words of Torah are life for those who actually verbalize what they learn). "and with your heart" - for the main reward for learning is for comprehension.

See Rashi and Ramban (The Ba'al ha'Turim appears to combine the two explanations).


Parshas Vayeilech

" and many evil things and troubles will befall them (u'metzo'uhu)" 31:17.

The word "u'metzo'uhu" is missing a 'Vav' (after the 'Alef'), the Ba'al ha'Turim observes. This hints at the six stages of exile that Yisrael experienced, three at the hand of Sancheriv (who exiled the ten tribes), and three, at the hand of Nevuchadnetzar (who exiled Yehudah and Binyamin).


" is it not because my G-d is not in my midst that these evil things (ho'ro'os ho'eileh) befell me?"

The Gematriyah of "ho'ro'os ho'eileh" is equal to that of 'Arba Goluyos' (four exiles - Bavel, Persia/Medes, Greece and Rome).


" ve'lamdah es B'nei Yisrael simah be'fihem (and teach it to B'nei Yisrael, place it in their mouths)" 31:19.

The Gematriyah of "ve'lamdah es B'nei Yisrael", says the Ba'al ha'Turim, is equivalent to that of 'Hein Torah she'bi'Ch'sav' (this is the written Torah); and that of "simah be'fihem", to that of 'Zeh Talmud' (this is the Talmud [the oral Torah]).

* * *


(Adapted from the Yalkut Yitzchak)

The importance of S'lichos is hinted in the opening words of the Parshah, as the Gematriyah of "Atem nitzovim ha'yom" is equivalent to that of 'La'amod li'S'lichos' (to get up [stand] to say S'lichos). Interestingly, the main section of S'lichos (the Thirteen Midos) must indeed be said standing!


The Magid Meisharim citing the Medrash Tanchuma, gives a Mashal of a King who was marching at the head of his troops against his own subjects, who had failed to pay their annual tax. When he was still some ten Parso'os away, the leaders of the community came out to greet him and pleaded with him to forego his claim, as they simply did not have the funds; so he cancelled a third of the debt. When he came a little closer, a distinguished delegation came to greet him; they too, begged him to have mercy; so he cancelled another third of the debt. Then as he reached the gates of the city, the entire town came to greet him and to plead with him to cancel the debt. At that point, the king let them off the entire debt.


The King, says the Medrash, is Hakadosh-Baruch-Hu, and His subjects, K'lal Yisrael, who have sinned all the year round. Erev Rosh Hashanah the Torah leaders fast, so Hakadosh-Baruch-Hu forgives one third of K'lal Yisrael's sins; During the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah the Beinonim fast, and He pardons a second third. Then on Yom Kipur, when everybody fasts, He waives the entire debt and forgives them completely.

From Motza'ei Yom Kipur until Succos, the Medrash concludes, everybody is busy preparing their Succos and their Lulavim and Esrogim; nobody really has time to sin. The first opportunity to sin is on the first day of Succos. Hence the Medrash explains, commenting on the Pasuk "And you shall take for yourselves on the first day " - 'the first day of reckoning of one's sins!'

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