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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Netzavim - Vayelech

Then Hashem, your G-d, will bring back your captivity and have mercy upon you, and He will gather you in. (30:3)

Once Klal Yisrael repents, they are assured of the ingathering of the exiles, regardless of where they are located among the nations of the world. The Rambam infers from this pasuk that one must believe in the coming of Moshiach. Indeed, the Rambam writes, "And he who does not believe in him (Moshiach), or he who does not await his coming, does not only repudiate the (prophecies of) Nevi'im, but also denies the Torah and Moshe Rabbeinu." The Brisker Rav, zl, inferred from the Rambam that he who denies the Geulah, Redemption, is a kofer, non-believer. Even he who does not anticipate and wait for Moshiach is also included in this title. The Rav cited the Rambam's text, "Ani Ma'amin," in which it is stated, "I believe with complete faith in the coming of Moshiach. Though he may tarry, nonetheless, I await him every day that he will come." Why is this principle written in a question and answer format? It should have said simply, "I believe in the coming of Moshiach," without adding, "though he may tarry, etc." The Rav explained that in truth, there is no question and answer. Rather, this is the essence of our belief. It is not sufficient to believe in the concept of Moshiach, but we are obligated to look forward to his coming every day. This is consistent with the prayer we say every day, "For we hope for Your salvation every day."

We wait for Moshiach every day, as we have waited for thousands of years. As Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, writes, however, we have become impatient. We do not want to wait. We want him right now! We forget that we cannot bring Moshiach down to our level. We must raise ourselves up to his. Moshiach will come when Klal Yisrael performs teshuvah and is worthy of his coming.

We are faced with an inconsistency in the words of Chazal. We are taught that when a person passes on from this world, one of the first questions he is asked by the Heavenly Tribunal is: "Tzipisah l'Yeshuah," "Did you hope for the Yeshuah/Redemption?" This implies that every day, every moment, we are expected to hope for the coming of Moshiach. Chazal note another statement which appears to present a contradiction. We are taught that, "Ben David," which is a reference to Moshiach, will not come until the Jewish People have given up hope for the Geulah, Redemption. If we are to hope for the Yeshuah, to the point that we will have to account for whatever time we relinquished that hope, how is it that Moshiach will not come unless everybody gives up hope? How are we to reconcile these two statements of Chazal?

Horav Schwab cites an answer that he heard from Horav Yosef Leib Bloch, zl, who says that "giving up hope" for Geulah means that one gives up hope of bringing the Geulah by himself. From the time of Bar Kochba, through Shabsai Tzvi, there have been attempts to bring about the Geulah, to bring Moshiach through various manipulations. When we give up hope of effecting the advent of Moshiach through our own machinations, then we will merit his coming. Hoping for Moshiach is a foundation of Jewish belief; turning this hope into an obsession that takes precedence over the rest of the Torah does not represent Torah perspective.

What does it mean to wait for Moshiach, to hope every day that he will come? When we wait for Moshiach, something exciting transpires. We become elevated spiritually. We prepare ourselves for his sudden arrival. Is that true? If we really anticipate his coming, would we build luxury homes and live extravagant lifestyles? After all, why bother? Moshiach is coming! Every moment of our lives should be infused with this feeling. Moshiach is coming!

Horav Nachum Zev Ziv, zl, makes an analogy which gives us some idea of the attitude we should cultivate in waiting for Moshiach. Imagine a house in which a member of the family is critically ill. He must receive medical care soon, or he will succumb to his illness. Everybody sits and waits for that moment when the doctor will arrive and treat the patient. Suddenly, there is a knock at the door. Everybody races to open the door for the doctor. They open it, and, alas, it is only the next-door-neighbor. They sit down once again, anticipating the doctor's imminent arrival. When another knock is heard at the door, they all get up again and run to greet the doctor. Alas, it is only the mailman with a letter. While they return to their places, disappointed, they cannot give up hope, for their father lies ill. His only hope of getting off the sickbed is the medical treatment he will receive from the doctor. Regardless of the number of false alarms that they endure, their hope does not dissipate.

This is the type of hope with which we must await the advent of Moshiach Tzidkeinu. Klal Yisrael is likened to a critically ill person awaiting medical relief. The doctor--Moshiach--will be sent by the Ribbono Shel Olam at the proper time. Indeed, one who does not anticipate Moshiach's arrival, probably does not realize or care about the dangerous illness confronting Klal Yisrael. How can one hope for Redemption if he has no idea that he is in exile?

Waiting for Moshiach is an exercise in avodas Hashem. It is the height of emunah to continue believing in his coming, despite the many disappointments and setbacks. We never give up--we live it, we become it, and we act it. We should never, however, become obsessed with it. Behold, I have placed before you today that which is life and that which is good. (30:15)

One would think that life is the result of good. A person who conducts himself in a proper and good manner becomes worthy of reward--life. Consequently, the blessing of chaim is determined, for the most part, by one's tov. If this is the case, then the Torah should have said that Hashem grants us good and then life. Why is the text reversed, implying that these are two distinct gifts?

Kli Yakar explains that the Torah takes a different view of the relationship between tov and chaim. There are individuals whose goal and purpose in life is just that--to live. They enjoy what life has to offer, and they seek every opportunity to maintain their share of life. Hence, they are tov, good, only so that they will have chaim. The Jew, however, takes a dim view of life as an end until itself with good as a means to an end. Our standards are higher. Life has one purpose--avodas Hashem. Everything we do is to enhance our relationship with the Al-mighty. Consequently, life is not emphasized as having an intrinsic purpose, but rather, only as a means towards an end. We live, so that we may be worthy of achieving true good. Hashem adjured us Hashem to choose life, so that we can perform good! We must make use of the life we receive in order to strive for good.

1. When did Bnei Yisrael become responsible for the sins of their fellow Jews?
2. A. What did the pagans do with their gods of wood and stone? B. What did they do with their gods of gold and silver?
3. Does Hashem "share" in our exile?

1. The rule, "Kol Yisrael areivim zeh lazeh," "All Jews are responsible one for another," came into effect when Bnei Yisrael accepted the curses at Har Gerizim and Har Eival.
2. A. They left them over as they ran away.
B. They hid them in the hope that they would return to retrieve them.
3. Hashem reposes with Klal Yisrael while they are in exile. This is inferred from the pasuk in our parsha, (30:13) "And Hashem your G-d will bring back your captivity


My anger will flare against it...And many evils and distress will encounter it...It will say on that day, "Is it not because my G-d is not in my midst that these evils have come upon me?" (31:17)

Klal Yisrael's sins incurred Hashem's wrath, as well as His consequent concealment of Himself from them. The pasuk goes on to state that even after Klal Yisrael acknowledged that they were suffering as a result of Hashem's removal of His Presence from their midst, Hashem continued to conceal Himself from them. While this may be a particularly severe punishment, we are told later that regardless of our sins, the Torah will never be forgotten from our People. If we have the Torah, we still can maintain hope for ultimate reconciliation after we have fully repented. In addressing the meaning of "many evils and distresses," in the Talmud Chagigah 5A Chazal suggest that this is a reference to evils which become antagonists to each other. An example is the bites of a wasp and a scorpion. While hot water must be used to ease the pain of a wasp's bite, cold water is prescribed for a scorpion's bite. Hence, the victim just cannot seem to relieve his discomfort. This stern form of disciplinary reaction constitutes the compensation for our sins against the Al-mighty.

The Talmud recounts that when Rabbi Yochanan encountered this pasuk, he wept, saying, "A slave whose master brings many evils and distresses upon him, is there any remedy for him?" Rabbi Yochanan seems to have been concerned by the idea that our punishment will pursue us. He compared this to a master who seeks out his servant with the intent of disciplining him. What is unique about this form of punishment that do distressed Rabbi Yochanan?

Horav Eliyahu Meier Bloch, zl, explains that the Torah's concept of reward and punishment is different from that found in the secular world. A person who is judged by a court of law receives a punishment that is unrelated to his actual transgression. In other words, when he sins, the court imposes a punishment for his violation after ascertaining his guilt. The Torah, on the other hand, is different. When one sins, the actual sin creates a blemish within. It is as if he ate spoiled food and became sick. The deed causes the illness. Just as one's entire being is imbued with a virtue that effects reward when he perform a mitzvah, so, too, is one filled with a strain of evil which in itself results in punishment when he performs an aveirah, sin.

Rabbi Yochanan wept over the imminence of punishment. This can be likened to a king who sent his servant to perform a task that was fraught with danger, demanding extreme vigilance and dedication. He warned his servant, "Be careful, for any mistake would result in grave punishment--even death!" While the warning is compelling, the servant still knows that if he errs, he can still beg the king's forgiveness and hope that his years of dedicated service will save him. If the king, however, has sent along an officer with the understanding that if the servant failed, he should be punished immediately -- or if he was working with a highly volatile combustible chemical which could explode at the slightest inaccuracy -- undoubtedly, the servant's attitude would change.

When one sins, it is not the master who punishes. Rather, it is the sin that produces the evils and distresses. The punishment will find him, because it is the direct result of his transgression.

Horav Bloch supplements this explanation. The greatest tragedy of punishment is that a person does not realize why he is being subjected to distress. We tend to look for excuses to justify the things that happen to us. We fault everything and everyone, but never do we acquiesce to the truth: We have sinned, and Hashem is punishing us. Rabbi Yochanan wept over perceptions and responses of human nature. If a person would only realize that Hashem was communicating with him, the punishment would not need to be as intense. Instead the punishment would be completely effective.

At the end of seven years, at the time of the sabbatical year, on the festival of Succos...gather together the people--the men, the women, and the small that they will hear and so that they will learn, and they shall fear Hashem. (31: 10,12)

Everyone came together to hear the word of Hashem, as the king publicly read from the Torah. The mitzvah of Hakhel was performed in such a manner as to include every segment of the Jewish People. Indeed, the Midrash questions the need for bringing along the young children. Chazal tell us, "The men came to learn; the women to hear; and the infants came to provide reward for those who brought them." We may question the reward provided for those who brought their infants. After all, if there was no intrinsic purpose in bringing the children, why did their parents receive a reward?

Horav Avraham Kilav, Shlita, suggests that the goal of the mitzvah of Hakhel is to signify that Am Yisrael, with all of its branches, is one unified nation. Each individual Jew completes a segment which is otherwise missing. Together, we stand as one unit. Hakhel was performed after the Shemittah year, when all Jews were equal by design. The fields were open to everyone. No longer was it discernible who was the owner and who was the guest. The festival of Succos also carries great significance. During this season, man realizes his impermanence on this world. During other years, Succos is a time when the silos are filled with grain and everyone feels good about his success. This feeling does not persist after the Shemittah year, when nothing had been planted. This year, the silos and granaries are empty.

Everyone assembles together, regardless of background or station in life, to symbolize unity. This moment of unity is unique in that everyone realizes that they all meld together to create one unit. No one has greater significance than the other. In fact, one's greatest significance, his greatest sense of shlaimus, perfection/ completeness, is achieved when he realizes that he becomes complete only through the inclusion of other Jews.

1. When is the mitzvah of Hakhel performed?
2. Which mitzvah do we find in the parsha that was to be performed only by the Melech Yisrael?
3. What is the last mitzvah of the Torah?

1. On Succos in the year immediately following Shemittah.
2. The mitzvah of reading from the Torah on Chol Hamoed Succos at the end of the Shemittah year was performed by the Jewish king.
3. The mitzvah of writing a Sefer Torah.


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