|Back to this week's parsha||Previous issues|
You are standing today, all of you. (29:9)
When the people heard the frightening klalos, curses, of Parashas Ki Savo, they despaired. They felt they had no opportunity for survival; Hashem no longer cared for them. Hashem responded with the comforting words, "Atem nitzavim hayom kulchem. -- You are standing today, all of you." Hashem had sustained them in the past despite their iniquities; He would continue to maintain them in the future. The Midrash Tanchuma advances this thought with the comment, "Fallen nations never rise to stand again. (Klal) Yisrael falls, but rises to stand once more." Jewish resilience is integral to our heritage. Indeed, tenacity is part of the Jewish psyche. Moshe Rabbeinu articulated the most frightening curses. Yet, he emphasized our permanence by using the word "nitzavim" in place of the usual "omdim", a reference to a firm position.
We may add that "omedim" infers standing erect while nitzavim implies standing firm. The following message may be suggested: How straight or tall one stands is not important; rather, one's endurance is of consequence. While some may erect impressive, stately edifices, - presumably to serve their spiritual needs, - they are of no value if they have no lasting effect. Judaism can just as well be served by the quaint shtiebel if it is characterized by sincerity and conviction. The important concept is permanence, a phenomenon which can only be manifest by our capacity to transmit our heritage from one generation to the next.
You are standing today, all of you, before Hashem, your G-d, the heads of your tribes, your elders, and your officers...from the hewer of your wood to the drawer of your water. (29:9,10)
Since the Torah says "kulchem -- all of you", it obviously includes everyone from the "wood chopper" to the "water drawer." Why is it necessary to reiterate the various classes or positions held by individual Jews? Horav Elyakim Schlesinger, Shlita, suggests that the covenant did not necessarily bind only the klal, the collective community of Klal Yisrael, but also each individual Jew, regardless of his station in life. If ever a breakdown in the spiritual fabric of Klal Yisrael would occur, if the leadership for some reason errs, the covenant would be sustained via the individual Jew.
The Brisker Rav, zl, related how his grandfather, Rav Yoshe Ber Solevetchik, zl, the Bais Halevi, was once approached by a group of rabbanim who were undecided regarding accepting a government edict that they study the national language. The Rav felt that this was only the beginning of an attempt to assimilate their culture with ours, a move which would ultimately lead to total assimilation. The Bais Halevi protested vehemently against this move, asserting, "If the Torah will not be sustained through the rabbanim, it will be maintained by the shoe makers who would not be availed the opportunity to study the national language!"
Furthermore, Horav Schlesinger comments, we infer from here that the concept of "areivus", - mutual responsibility for one another - and the obligation to admonish whenever an infraction occurs, rests primarily upon the shoulders of our spiritual leadership. Each individual Jew, however, also is responsible for the fulfillment of this ideal. This is surely not a call to undermine the authority of our leadership. Yet, the situation may arise that either due to political expediency, or personal vested interests of a leader, he seems to be resisting confronting an issue of vital importance to the community. In this case, someone should take a stand for the sake of the Torah. This must be accomplished with respect and kavod haTorah, even if the leader does not seem to warrant this special deference. The position must be honored, if not the individual.
The Ohr Ha'chaim Hakadosh comments that Moshe divided the people into categories according to their stations in life in order to suggest that one's responsibility toward others is commensurate with how many people he or she can positively affect. Indeed, the higher the profile of one's position, the greater is the mass he can influence. Due to the limitations imposed by the laws of tznius, modesty, women can inspire their immediate families and friends. Some might find this demeaning and self-defeating. It is, however, only a state of mind that breeds contempt among those who lack the self-assurance that comes with a positive self-image and sense of pride in serving Hashem according to His will. The common laborer does not have the opportunity to reach out to the masses, but he can have a positive impact upon those with whom he comes in contact on a regular basis. The rule is simple: Hashem does not expect one to accomplish more than is feasible. On the other hand, He is not content with less.
For you pass into the covenant of Hashem, your G-d, and into his imprecation that Hashem, your G-d, seals with you today...Perhaps there is among you a man or woman, whose heart turns away today from being with Hashem. (29:11,17)
The parsha opens with everyone gathered together as Moshe initiates Klal Yisrael into the covenant for the final time. This may be the most idyllic moment in Jewish history. Everyone is together, unified in harmony one with another, about to be charged by Moshe at the closing scenes of his tenure as the quintessential leader of Klal Yisrael. It is a inspirational moment, marked by excitement about a job well done. This moment truly calls for the proverbial "pat on the back." They have made it! We observe, however, a turn of events. During this exalted moment in time, Moshe began to talk about suspicions - conjecture of possible undercurrents of rebellion. He addressed the man or woman, tribe or family, whose heart had turned away from Hashem. He identified a bitter root, festering, growing, waiting for that moment when it could surge forward in open defiance and turn to idol worship. While this is certainly a concern to address, is this the appropriate time for this admonishment? Why shatter this perfect moment?
Horav David Shneur, Shlita, notes that in Moshe's admonishment he builds his suspicion with great emphasis on one point - the heart, the seat of emotion and passion. "Shalom yiheyeh li, ki bishrirus libi eilach -- Peace be with me, though I walk as my heart sees it." The origin of his rebellion, the root of his defiance deeply imbedded, concealed from everyone - even himself - is the heart.
Moshe Rabbeinu exhorted each individual to introspect, to thoroughly search himself for that "shoresh ra" -- bitter root -- that would fester into greater evil, to the point that it will bring him down from the zenith of virtue to the nadir of depravity. From the virtuous ben Torah, he "suddenly" is transformed into an idol worshipper. It is all possible if one does not eradicate that bitter root. This is especially possible when one is so preoccupied with his virtue, his bikur cholim, visiting the sick, acts of loving kindness, daily tefillah. Indeed, he might even be one of those people who take Judaism very seriously, always seeking to perform the mitzvah to the extreme. This type of Jew is so preoccupied with his frumkeit that he overlooks the real source of his problem. In fact, he has no clue as to his error.
At this specific moment everyone was gathered together, each secure in his spiritual position, at peace with himself and with one another. Moshe did not praise their accomplishments. Rather, he advised introspection and the search for any hidden "roots" that might germinate and develop into full- blown evil. Moshe understood that a real leader offers praise when it is deserving, but does not shy away from critique when it is necessary. He told the people that they were doing great, but never to forget that there might be something sinister lurking in the innermost recesses of their hearts.
This idea is expressed by the Ben Ish Chai in his interpretation of the pasuk (29:28), "The hidden (sins) are for Hashem, our G-d, but the revealed (sins) are for us and our children forever." He said that if our innermost hidden thoughts are reserved for Hashem, then we can be secure that our niglos, our revealed actions, will be pure and untainted by the effect of the evil inclination. Consequently, we will merit that our positive actions will be transmitted to our offspring.
The later generation will say - your children who will arise after you and the foreigner who will come from a distant land. (29:21)
The Torah addresses the "later" generation, who will question the devastation that befell the Jewish People and their land. They will surmise that Klal Yisrael forsook Hashem for deities that were nothing more than figments of their imagination. This resulted in Hashem's reciprocal response. The Bais Halevi approaches this pasuk homiletically, but practically. He observes that one day "your children will arise -who will know as much about Jewish tradition and its noble heritage as the nachri, stranger/non-Jew." This, regrettably, is the gradual development of years of assimilation, years of lack of pride, years of attempting to fade into a society in which religion has no place and morals are obsolete. We might ask ourselves an accusing question: Are we that "later" generation?
One note that is worthy of consideration. Do parents have the license to rob their children of their heritage? Do they have the right, for reasons of their own, to prevent their children from learning about their religion - the religion for which so many Jews throughout the millenia have died? Children are a gift from the Almighty, the same One these parents have chosen to ignore. Having children is a privilege; raising them in accordance with their heritage is a responsibility.
The hidden (sins) are for Hashem, our G-d, but the revealed (sins) are for us and our children. (29:28)
Simply, we are not responsible for the hidden sinners, for those who conceal their evil. We will, however, be called to task for the actions of those who openly rebel. We are all responsible to maintain the integrity of Klal Yisrael. We suggest another interpretation of this pasuk. Those thoughts that are concealed within us, thoughts which we are astute enough not to express, belong to the Almighty. They exercise no influence on those around us, they hurt no one but ourselves. They are between us and G-d. Our revealed actions reflect the thoughts that we could not or did not contain. The subliminated ideas that we translated into practice, conduct that regretably we allowed others to see, will unfortunately be trasmitted to our children. How many realize only too late the hyprocricy to which their children were subjected as they were growing up? Alas, it is too late, because "haniglos lanu u'levaneinu," the revealed sins are for us and our children. By the time that we have decided to repent, our children have already been stricken with the malady of spiritual dysfunction.
What does the parent do when he finally decides to perform teshuvah and repent for his previous misdeeds? He has already done irreparable damage to his children. Is there any way to undo this harm? What he should not do is offer flimsy excuses to justify his actions. Today's young people are astute, seeing right through the sham. They expect sincere remorse, regret and shame. They expect integrity in teshuvah; they seek the truth. If a parent has the courage to say that he was weak, then his child will respect his strength of character. This might bring him back in response to the manifest integrity.
1. What was significant about the day that Moshe made the covenant with Klal Yisrael?
2. Who held the highest rank among the Jewish hierarchy?
3. How many curses are there in Parashas Ki Savo?
4. a. Where did the pagans keep their wooden idols?
5. When was the concept of areivus, mutual responsibility, effected?
6. Is Klal Yisrael really alone when they are in galus?
7. Why did Hashem select Heaven and Earth to serve as witnesses for Klal Yisrael?
1. It was the day that Moshe was to die.
2. The Nesiim, heads of the tribes.
4. a. They left them outside.
5. When Klal Yisrael accepted upon themselves the oaths that were said on Har Gerizim and Har Eival.
6. No. Hashem is in galus with them.
7. A. They will exist forever and will, therefore, be able to testify that Hashem gave Klal Yisrael due warning. B. They stand as a standard for Klal Yisrael, since they continue to fulfill their purpose even though they have never received reward or punish- ment. Klal Yisrael should learn from them to be loyal to Hashem.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Rabbi & Mrs. Harry Mayer and Family Monsey, N.Y.
Peninim on the Torah is in its 7th year of publication. The first three years have been published in book form.
The third volume is available at your local book seller or directly from Rabbi Scheinbaum.
He can be contacted at 216-321-5838 ext. 165 or by fax at 216-321-0588.
Discounts are available for bulk orders or Chinuch/Kiruv organizations.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.