Thoughts on the Weekly Parshah by HaRav Eliezer Chrysler
Formerly Rav of Mercaz Ahavat Torah, Johannesburg
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Vol. 5 No. 49
"For this mitzvah that I command you today is not beyond you." (30:10) The Ba'al ha'Turim understands 'this mitzvah' to refer to the mitzvos of the Torah. He points out however, that the Torah writes this immediately after the mitzvah of Teshuvah, to teach us that Teshuvah is equal to all the other mitzvos. Certainly, at this time of year, with the Shofar beckoning, imploring us to bend to the will of our Creator and to wake up from our slumber, with the days of Awe and Judgement but a stone's throw away, Teshuvah is indeed the order of the day, particularly during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah. Indeed, the Gemoro in Rosh Ha'shonoh (16b) writes of the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah: 'Beinonim (the ordinary people) hang in the balance; should they merit, then on Yom Kippur, they are written and sealed for a good year.' And Rabeinu Chananel explains that merit to be synonymous with doing Teshuvah. Their fate on Yom Kippur depends entirely upon Teshuvah, as that is what is now needed, and no amount of mitzvos can replace it.
An analogy may be drawn to a construction manager at a building site, who sent a man post-haste to procure glass windows for the entire building, to replace the batch of windows, all of which had been smashed when the lorry transporting them had overturned. The man soon returned with a truckload of bricks and cement which he had obtained at a give-away price from a local builder who was closing down. The site-manager would require an abundance of patience not to 'explode'. The company was short of windows, so what they needed was windows - even if they had to pay a exorbitant price for them. Of what use were bricks and cement, even if they were free? So too, with the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah - what is needed is Teshuvah, as that is the major theme at this time, and that cannot be replaced by any other mitzvah, however important it might be.
The Torah however, is not speaking specifically of the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah, and neither are Chazal, when they say that Teshuvah, like Torah, preceded the world. By doing so, they are placing Teshuvah on a par with the whole Torah and suggesting that Teshuvah, together with Torah, forms the foundation of the world. What is it that gives Teshuvah such a high priority-rating among all the other mitzvos? When a person sins, he creates a barrier between himself and G-d. Each time he sins, he simply adds another layer to that barrier, making it increasingly difficult to break it down, as he furthers himself from his Creator, until eventually, it becomes all but impossible to return. That is because, for lack of interest, caused in turn by an attraction to his contrasting life-style, he has loosened the bonds that bind him with Hashem, he has virtually severed his connections with Him. Generally speaking, G-d only offers Divine assistance to those who want it, and this person no longer wants it. Consequently, the Yeitzer Ho'ra, of whom Chazal write 'Without Divine assistance one cannot overcome him', has a field day. That is what Chazal mean when they say that one sin leads to another (Pirkei Ovos 4:2). It becomes more and more difficult even to see why one should do Teshuvah, let alone to actually set about doing it, so that the Yeitzer Ho'ra finds his task becoming progressively easier with each sin performed.
Against such odds, Teshuvah is indeed a formidable task. There is nothing really to inspire a person to want to change. There is no self-motivation and there is no Divine inspiration to spark off an interest in retracting. On the contrary, there is, if anything, the force of the Yeitzer Ho'ra, pushing unopposed and with ease, in the opposite direction. To make an about-turn in such adverse conditions requires an awful lot of soul-searching and honesty (for coming to the right decision), and guts and determination (for putting that decision into practice). In fact, the effort needed to become a genuine Ba'al Teshuvah, is nothing short of superhuman - and it is that superhuman effort which elevates Teshuvah to its position of prominence among all the mitzvos. AsChazal have said: 'The reward is commensurate with the effort' (Pirkei Ovos, end of Chapter 5), and there is no mitzvah which requires more painful effort that the genuine Teshuvah of someone who has gone astray.
THE ESSENCE OF THE SHOFAR
Without the slightest shadow of doubt, the most important thing that we do on Rosh Hashonoh is to fulfill the mitzvah of Shofar. It is the only mitzvah that the Torah commands each individual to fulfill on Rosh Hashonoh, and without it, one cannot possibly meet the Torah's requirements successfully. Yet it is clear from numerous statements by Chazal that the mitzvah of Shofar alone is not sufficient to win the day. It is clear, for example, from the three books that are open before G-d on Rosh Hashonoh, and from the very name 'Shofar' (whose letters can be rearranged to read 'shapru' - meaning 'make good!), that the key to a successful Rosh Hashonoh lies in whether one has done Teshuvah and the extent of that Teshuvah. That is why Rosh Hashonoh is the first day of the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah and, as the Ran in Rosh Hashonoh writes, it also explains why Rosh Hashonoh precedes Yom Kippur, and not, as might have appeared more logical, the reverse. It is because the Shofar and the accompanying awe will serve as an incentive to trigger off the Teshuvah process, which in turn, will reach its climax on Yom-Kippur.
To put the mitzvah of Shofar in its right perspective, the Dubno Maggid tells the following parable: Shmerel was so excited, he could not restrain himself from dancing with joy. There had been a spate of serious fires recently, and the village had suffered a few deaths, as well as casualties and loss of property. The community was beside itself with worry and was at a loss to find a way to stop the run of tragedies. But Shmerel had found it!. He had just returned from a visit to the big town, where he had discovered an amazing new anti-fire device, called a fire-alarm. So Shmerel bought one for each home in the village. They had now been fitted and he could hardly wait for the next fire, to enable him to demonstrate the fire-alarm's remarkable powers. Nor did it take long for the fire to break out - in his very own home. Shmerel pressed the button and, sure enough the clanging of the bell could be heard loud and clear throughout the entire village and beyond. The whole village came running and, together they waited expectantly for the fire-brigade to arrive and put out the fire. But nothing happened - the fire just continued to rage. What Shmerel failed to realise of course, was that it was not the fire-alarm that extinguished the fires, but the fire-brigade. The fire-alarm, as its name suggested, was a highly effective alert system, but unless it was connected to the fire-station, it could do nothing to put out the fire.
Chazal have praised the effectiveness of the Shofar in very strong terms. The tone of the Shofar, they have said, goes before G-d's Holy Throne. And besides, it is, as we mentioned above, the only mitzvah which the Torah commands us to perform on the day of Judgement, Rosh Hashonoh. There is therefore, a grave danger that we will follow in Shmerel's footsteps. Perhaps we too, will think that blowing the Shofar will put out the fire. Perhaps we will think that all we need to do is blow the Shofar loud and clear, and we will be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life for the forthcoming year. The fact of the matter is however, that the Shofar is a super alarm signal, to wake us up from the lethargy of our daily lives, as the Rambam, describing the role of the Shofar and what it achieves, writes: 'Wake up sleepy-heads from your slumber,' it announces. The Shofar is a super alarm-clock that is guaranteed to work - provided one switches it on, provided one is inspired by its call to do Teshuvah. Otherwise, it is no different from someone who hears the alarm, switches it off, turns round and goes back to sleep - however loud and clear the alarm-bell rings. It is only to the extent that the Shofar brings to our attention that a fire - a spiritual fire - is raging within ourselves, and goads us into action to entinguish it with the water of Torah, that it has performed the task for which it was set.
(Adapted from the Chofetz Chayim)
The Light of Torah
"And now, write for yourself this song" (31:19). This is the last mitzvah in the Torah, for every Jew to write a Sefer-Torah, as the Rambam rules in Hilchos Sefer-Torah (7:1). It is interesting, comments the Chofetz Chaim, that it follows immediately the posuk "And I will hide My face on that day on account of the evil that they perpetrated". To teach us, he says that the Torah has the power to shield and to protect us from all troubles - even in times such as these, when Hashem's face is hidden from us. During the dark nights of golus it is the Torah that illuminates, guiding us through the most difficult times, as the Gemoro in Sotah (21a) commenting on the posuk in Mishlei (6:23) "Because the mitzvos are a lamp and Torah, light," explains: 'Just as the light (of the sun) always protects, so too, does Torah.'
The More Darkness - The More Light
Nowadays, the Chofetz Chayim concludes his previous explanation, when the darkness is so intense, and Hashem's Presence so obscure, the obligation on each and every Jew, to generate more light by more Torah-study, is stronger than ever, and it is in light of that undeniable fact that the Ma'asei la'Melech makes the following comments: The Chofetz Chayim would sharply rebuke those who would waste time, pursuing other pastimes (and studies not required for parnosoh) instead of studying Torah. He would quote the Gemoro in Menochos (99b) where Rebbi Yishmoel's nephew, Domoh, asked Rebbi Yishmoel whether he, who had already studied the entire Torah, was permitted to study Greek philosophy. In reply, Rebbi Yishmoel quoted the posuk in Yehoshua (1:8) "The book of this Torah shall not depart from your mouth and you shall study it diligently day and night". Go and find a time that is neither day nor night, he told him, and that is when you will be permitted to study Greek philosophy (or anything else that is not within the realm of Torah). This Gemoro is clear and needs no interpretation. The Chofetz Chayim however, added a dimension to it. Imagine, he said, if Reuven taught Shimon a trade, as a cabinet-maker for example. At the end of the apprenticeship, Shimon, using Re'uven's tools, made a beautiful cabinet in Reuven's time, in Reuven's workshop, and then he presented Reuven with the bill, charging him the price that a regular artisan would charge - using his own tools, in his own workshop and in his own time. Day and night belong to Hashem, and so do our mouths, our eyes and our minds. And Hashem has told us in no uncertain terms, that He does not give us permission to use them for other studies or time-wasting passtimes. 'Go and find a time that is neither day nor night, and that is when you may study Greek philosophy!'
Golus, Torah and Teshuvah
Sometimes we are told that it is Torah which will bring an end to this long and bitter golus, and sometimes it is Teshuvah. We are zocheh to live in an era which has witnessed, and continues to witness, a veritable explosion - and a constant growth in both of these areas. Never, since the time of the second Beis ha'Mikdosh, has Torah been studied to the extent that it is studied today, and neither has there been such a powerful ba'al teshuva movement. Surely then, this is a sign that we are living in the era of Moshiach. Referring to the juxtaposition of the two pesukim referred to by the Chofetz Chayim in 'The Light of Torah', one could interpret the sequence of the pesukim in Ve'zos ha'B'rochoh as a hint to this idea: Bearing in mind that the word 've'Atto' (with an 'ayin') generally refers to Teshuvah, the Torah is teaching us that when Hashem hides His face from us because of our sins, then what we must do in order to bring Him back is study Torah and do Tesuvah for our sins. Perhaps this is further enhanced by the first words in the next possuk: "When I will bring you to the land that I swore to your fathers". Through Torah and Teshuvah, the Shechinah will return to us and Hashem will return us to our land - may we merit to see this happen soon.
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