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Parshas Nitzavim-Vayelech

Parshas Nitzavim

Be Kind and Pleasant

For this commandment which I command you this day is not hidden from you, nor is it far off. (DEVARIM 30:11)

The Chazon Ish, Rabbi Avraham Yeshayahu Karelitz, was very careful not to accept presents, even though he helped people day and night with advice. When a certain person who had bothered the Chazon Ish tried in vain to give him money for his services, he finally asked, "But if you do not take money, how do you live?" The Chazon Ish answered, "From being kind to people."

On another occasion though, he did accept money from someone. He was walking with a Torah student, and they were approached by a woman who was very disturbed, and whose greatest wish was that the Chazon Ish take some money from her so that he would pray for her. (It is a common Chassidic custom to always bring a monetary gift when asking one's rebbe for a blessing, and this woman felt that without that gift the blessing would not take effect.) She gave him ten shillings, which he readily accepted, and then blessed her with warm words, until she left very content.

The Torah student, who knew that the Chazon Ish usually refused to accept gifts, was greatly astonished by this action. The Chazon Ish, who sensed his student's astonishment, hastened to explain. "I have the mitzvah of being kind to other people, and in this case that was the kindness that I could do for her, to take her money..." (PE'ER HADOR vol. 4, ch.25)

The Chazon Ish set a rule for himself to be kind and pleasant to everyone. This must be our goal in how we treat our spouses.

Eliyahu Hanavi said, "A person should always be modest in Torah, in good deeds, andin fear of Heaven, (modest) with his father and mother, with his wife and children, with his household, with his neighbors, with people close to him, and with people not close to him, and even with the gentile on the street, so that he will be beloved Above and considered favorably below, and be accepted by people, and fill his days and years with a good name; and with that his wife and his household and his neighbors will fear him, and even gentiles will fear him." (TANNA D'VEI ELIYAHU ZUTA ch. 15, YALKUT NITZAVIM, par. Tanya)

In this drashah by Eliyahu Hanavi, we must understand what is meant by "modest in Torah." Also, the idea of fear of Heaven usually pertains to a man's relationship to G-d, but here it seems to pertain to his fellow human beings. What, then, is the main theme of these words in the midrash, and why must a person be so careful about being modest? And if he is careful about these things, why will people fear him?

The idea of being "modest in Torah" means that even if a person has learned a great deal of Torah, he should still be a modest person. He should not feel that he deserves to be honored, but he should rather feel that he is simply doing what he is supposed to do. A person with such an attitude will be loved by his fellow human beings, since arrogance is disliked by everyone, whereas modesty is a beloved trait.

Eliyahu Hanavi is teaching us a very important lesson. Besides keeping all the mitzvos of the Torah, you must always remember to be kind and pleasant to to other people. Even thought his is not written explicitly in the Torah, it is still an integral part of the Torah. This is what G-d wants from us, to be people full of chesed. Chesed means not only doing outstanding deeds but being kind and pleasant in all our contacts with other people.

That is what Eliyahu Hanavi meant when he said, "A person should always be modest in Torah, in good deeds, and in fear of Heaven." In other words, even if you know a great deal of Torah and have performed many good deeds and you truly fear Heaven, if you are not kind and pleasant to your fellow human beings, something is lacking in you. G-d wants you to be beloved by others and to have a good name. This is a difficult part of the Torah to follow, since it demands of us constant sensitivity to the feelings of others.

A Challenge To Be Kind To Your Spouse

Being kind and pleasant with others will cause "his wife and his household and his neighbors to fear him, and even gentiles will fear him." The fear that is mentioned here refers to the awe one feels upon seeing someone so great in Torah, who still has the modesty to be pleasant to other people.

Looking carefully at the words of Eliyahu Hanavi, we can see that he mentions a person's relationship with his wife twice. Since a person has contact with his wife constantly, a person is tested in this relationship all the time. He tends to be on his toes with strangers, but at home he wants to relax and be himself. But this cannot be so. One's wife deserves to be treated even more pleasantly than all the other people one may meet. Just because he sees others is not a reason to be lax in his responsibility to be kind and pleasant at all times.

Because people tend to forget this responsibility, the midrash reminds us of it. Always think of something kind and pleasant to say to your wife. "What a perfect matched outfit you are wearing today." "The food is especially tasty today." "The house is so tidy and clean." "I missed you a lot today." Though these small kindnesses may seem trivial, they mean a great deal to our wives and show true chesed.

"So that he will be beloved Above and considered favorably below and be accepted by people," implies that if we lack these positive traits, we will not be beloved by G-d. Who doesn't want to be beloved by G-d? G-d's love is bestowed upon us when we make these acts of kindness a constant effort. Only be being kind and pleasant to others, especially to our wives, can we be beloved by G-d.

Parshas Vayelech

When I will bring him into the land of which I have sworn to his fathers, [a land] flowing with milk and honey; and they shall have eaten and filled themselves, and grown fat; then will they turn to other gods, and serve them, and provoke me, and break my covenant. DEVARIM 31:204

A former student of the Ponevezh Yeshivah told of a story that happened to him involving Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler, the mashgiach of the yeshivah.

The student became a driver for a large institution. Once, as he was driving on a rainy day, he saw Rabbi Dessler and his wife descending from the number 54 bus in Bnei-Brak. They started walking towards their home, carrying heavy suitcases in the pouring rain. Seizing the opportunity to offer his assistance, the student stopped his car and invited them in, so he could take them home.

But the Rabbi did not hurry. Instead he interrogated the former student to find out under what conditions he had received the car. The student replied that he had received permission to take the car for private journeys.

The Rabbi asked if he had specified that he could take friends in the car. He also asked if the permission was from the highest ranking administrator or just from someone higher than he. Since the Rabbi felt that the student's answers were not sufficient, he declined the ride and continued walking with the heavy suitcases in the rain. (HIZAHARU BIMEMON CHAVREICHEM p. 341)

Rabbi Dessler was extremely careful when it came to money; he wanted to be sure that all his financial affairs would be completely free of sin. This is a valuable lesson in marriage, since improper attitudes towards money can cause tremendous problems, and can easily become a source of sin and dissension in the home.

"And you will eat and be satisfied..." 1, "Watch yourselves, that your heart shall not be seduced..." 2

The Jewish people were warned to be "careful not to rebel against G-d, since a person does not rebel against G-d except when there is excess, as it is written, "Perhaps you will eat and be satiated..., and your ox and your sheep shall multiply."3 What is written afterwards? "And your heart shall become haughty, and you will forget the L-rd Your G-d..." 4

Similarly, it is written, "When I will bring him to the land that I have sworn to his forefathers, [a land] flowing with milk and honey, and he will eat and become satiated and become spoiled, and he will turn to other gods."5

It is also written, "And the people sat down to eat and to drink." 6 What is written afterwards? "They made a cast of a [golden] calf."7

And so we also find in the generation of the Flood that they rebelled out of satiety, as it is written, "Their homes are at peace and they have no fear..." 8 They said, "Even a drop of rain we do not need," since, "A cloud came up from the earth." 9 G-d said to them, "With the goodness that I have bestowed upon you, you are becoming haughty in front of Me Therefore with it I will punish you." That is what is written, "And the rain was on the earth."10 YALKUT 865, 941)

Why does a person rebel against G-d when he is satiated? Why does the midrash bring three different verses to prove its point, when it seems that one verse would have sufficed? Why did the generation of the Flood become so haughty over the cloud that came up from the ground? How does the midrash understand that the punishment of the generation of the Flood was commensurate with their sin?

A person rebels against G-d when he is satiated, because one who has everything often becomes unwilling to accept any restraints upon himself. He feels that he does not need any help and is self-sufficient, since he has all he wants in his hands. Such a person denies that G-d gave him everything and so feels no debt of gratitude to perform G-d's will. A person who is hungry or poor, on the other hand, feels needy and dependent, and therefore is ready to obey G-d's will hoping that G-d will help him out of his plight.

Rabbi Shlomo Kluger requested that after his death he be buried among the poor in their section of the cemetery. Even though as Rabbi of the city of Broide, he had the privilege of an honorable burial plot, he refused it. He claimed that the poor are closer to G-d, and he wished to be buried near such righteous people. We say in Tehillim, "A heart that is broken and crushed, G-d, You will not despise." When a person's heart is broken due to his problems, he is bound to feel close to G-d, since he can depend only on G-d to save him. Therefore, when he prays, his prayers come from the bottom of his heart.

The midrash brings three different sources to prove its point. One source speaks of having many oxen and sheep. If only this source had been written, one might have thought that only animals can cause haughtiness, since their benefit is immediate, as a person can slaughter them and have a feast. But land needs plowing and it takes a long time before a person sees any benefit from it. Therefore we might think, a person would not become haughty over land because of the difficulty involved in obtaining benefit from it. Thus this second source is also needed. The third source speaks of life in the desert where they had neither animals nor land, and yet they became haughty on account of their gold, with which they made the Golden Calf. This is to teach us that money can also cause us to forget G-d due to the haughtiness it produces. Even the potential to purchase items which we desire, is equivalent to having them, in terms of bringing out our arrogance.

The generation of the Flood became haughty over the water, that came up from the ground. The difference between water coming from the ground and rain is that a spring is continuous, while rain is only occasional. Therefore since they had abundant water, they felt that they were buffered from harm and did not need G-d's help. But the Torah teaches us that this abundance was also their downfall. Instead of turning to G-d for rain, as is appropriate even today, they relied on the spring, and spurned G-d, since they felt that they did not need Him.

The generation of the Flood was given a punishment fitting their sin. So much water collected that they all drowned. What they thought was their salvation and was the source of their pride, was the very thing which brought about their destruction.This punishment had an element of irony in it. It came to teach them that people always need G-d, no matter how many natural resources they might have at their disposal. True protection and assistance can only come from G-d, since He is really the One who controls everything.

Wealth Can be A Spiritual Test

It is a common phenomenon that the more wealth a couple has, the more they are prone to divorce. The reason for this might well be that for a marriage to succeed, both husband and wife must be humble, willing to accept criticism, and trying to improve. But someone who has wealth tends to be haughty, believing that the power of his wealth gives him free reign to do whatever he wants, as the verse says, "A wealthy person answers with brazenness."12 Even though our Sages teach us that having wealth can bring us to haughtiness, that does not mean that we should discard the wealth that we have. But it does mean that we must be very careful to cultivate humbleness no matter how wealthy we are. Being aware of the perils of haughtiness and understanding that it can ruin our marriage should keep us striving towards the trait of humility. By its nature, being married gives a person many excellent opportunities for spiritual growth. You can ask your spouse to notice if you pray or bentsch correctly, if you do enough chesed, or if you learn enough. Having someone who loves you at your side all the time can give you the reinforcement you need to succeed.

A wife can almost always tell when her husband is not doing the right thing. We should utilize what our wives tell us for growth and never get angry when they prod us to learn more or pray with greater concentration.

The mussar seforim tell us that when someone flatters you, you gain nothing, and it might even cause you to become haughty, but when someone criticizes you, he can bring you to the World to Come. Foolish people want to hear how wonderful they are, but wise people would rather hear constructive criticism so that they can improve. Your wife is the perfect person to help you in this area, as her criticism is meant for your own benefit, since she truly wants you to succeed in your spiritual growth.

It is known that the Ga'on of Vilna used to ask the Maggid of Duhna to tell him mussar so that he could improve himself. The Gaon of Vilna was one of our great Sages, a Rabbi of supreme character, and yet he was constantly seeking to be better. We can learn from him that we need someone to give us mussar if we want to improve.

Some people feel terribly hurt when they hear a critical remark from their spouses. But instead of seeing these words as degrade ng, you can use them as a tool to improve and reach a higher level. Any well-intentioned criticism you receive should be internalized and taken to heart. Do not get angry if your spouse wants you to improve. It is entirely for your own benefit.

One way to work on humility is to constantly repeat to oneself verses on this subject, such as, "And I am a worm, and not a man"13 or "A heart that is broken and crushed, G-d, You will not despise,"14 etc. Repeating such verses can help one internalize the value of humility until it becomes a part of your personality.

When both spouses are humble and forgiving, then their marriage will become harmonious and enduring.

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