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Parshas Netzavim - Vayelech
You are standing today, all of you, the heads of your tribes, your elders, your small children, your women. (29:9)
Is there a specific reason that the Torah emphasizes the fact that the heads of the tribes, the Jewish leadership, were also gathered there? Horav Tzvi Hirsch Ferber, zl, explains that ultimately Hashem judges everybody, regardless of the importance of his position, whether he has fulfilled his teudah, mission, in life. He cites Horav Chaim Volozhiner, zl, who explains that the tefillah which we recite in the Mussaf Shemonah Esrei of Rosh Hashanah, “maasei ish u’fekudoso” “everyone’s deed and mission”, delineates the function that each individual must carry out. We all have responsibilities that we are to carry out during our tenure in this world. The Almighty judges us based upon whether we carried out our responsibilities. A rebbe, Torah teacher, is judged accordingly: Did he perform his task appropriately? A father is judged accordingly: Was he a “good” father and husband? A woman is judged as a wife and mother. In other words, while Hashem judges us as human beings and individuals, He also judges us in accordance with our specific role. One might be a great person, but a weak teacher or father or community leader. While one’s role does not necessarily reflect upon his character, he still must answer for his non-fulfillment of his individual responsibility.
And he will bless himself in his heart saying, “peace will be with me, though I walk as my heart sees fit.” (29:18)
One must be extremely sure of himself, ever smug, to feel that he has no cause to worry. Horav Tzvi Pesach Frank, zl, suggests that this pasuk refers to the individual who asserts that his heart will save him. He does not care about mitzvos. He rejects the Torah, but he has a “good heart,” he is a nice, kind human being. He gives of himself,.opening his heart to those in need. Hashem does not forgive such a person. The heart is but one organ of the body, albeit an important one, that keeps the entire body functioning. One who just breathes is not very much alive.
The Chofetz Chaim, zl, takes an alternative approach to explaining this pasuk. A few members of Klal Yisrael have always been alienated from Judaism. They have concealed their indifference to the religion, always seeking ways to justify their assimilation and estrangement from the faith for which their ancestors had died. Today, (the Chofetz Chaim passed away over sixty years ago) there are those who, under the guise of “a new philosophy” of religion, or an “innovative approach” to religion, have made a mockery of the Torah and its precepts. Rather than conceding their weakness, admitting that they desire a material lifestyle, or that morality is something with which they cannot contend, they resort to transforming their weakness into an “ism,” a new theology. To the person who says, “I walk as my heart sees fit,” I do not sin – I translate the Torah differently: Hashem will not forgive him. There is no greater form of “perikas ol,” “throwing off the yoke” of mitzvos, than using evil to perform a mitzvah.
The later generations will say, your children who will arise after you and the foreigner who will come from a distant land. (29:21)
The Jew and the nachri - foreigner from a distant land - will both be shocked when they see Hashem’s destruction. What seems to be an innocuous verse is tragically a curse that critiques the behavior of Klal Yisrael in the days preceding the advent of Moshiach. Horav Chaim Soloveitchik, zl, bemoans the bitter prophecy, the tragic portent for the “acharis ha’yamim”, the prediction that in the end of the days, the yedias ha’Torah, Torah knowledge, of many Jews will be equivalent to that of a “foreigner from a distant land.” How tragic it is when the non-Jew knows more about our religion then some of us! How heart-breaking it is when the gentile on the street knows more about Jewish laws and customs than many of our Jewish brothers.
Rav Chaim was, unfortunately, far from wrong. The am ha’aretz, illiterate Jew, that existed seventy-five years ago was versed in Jewish basics, had a love of Torah, was devoted to his religion and took great pride in everything Jewish that he did. He simply was not a great lamden, deep-thinking, erudite scholar. Most shtetlach, villages in Europe, did not have their own yeshivos; boys went to work at a young age to help support large, poverty-stricken families. They simply did not have the opportunity to study Torah. They were not, however, estranged from their religion. Today we see the effects of nearly a century of assimilation in which grandparents - who immigrated to these shores - feared the “influence” that orthodox day schools might have on their children’s future, opting for the “less demanding”, public schools. Many parents sought to erase the memories of Europe in their hope to achieve acceptance in American society. Others were simply too busy trying to earn a living to “worry” about their children. Thus, we are encountering a new form of illiteracy – total illiteracy. We frequently find fine, well-meaning Jewish adults who are totally ignorant of their heritage. They are easy prey for anyone who seeks to turn them away from their religion – because they have no familiarity with it.
Many people who know little at least ask questions; they are aware that there is some type of Providence. The fire of the Yiddishe neshamah, Jewish soul, cannot be extinguished. It is our job to reawaken this fire, returning it to its original glory.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS:
1)Which nation came to Yehoshua to convert?
1) The Givonim.
Gather together the people – the men, the women, and the small children. (31:12)
Rashi explains that the men came to study; the women came to hear words of Torah; the children came to give reward to those who brought them. Nachlas Tzvi cites Horav Shraga Moshe Kalmenovitz, zl, who derives a significant lesson from the fact that the parents received reward for bringing their infants to the Hakhel gathering. After all, if the parents were obligated to come, who would be taking care of their children? If the Torah demands that the parents attend, it should take into consideration that there is a family at home. For this reason, the Torah provided a special reward for those who brought their young children. The parents obviously had no other alternative but to bring them. Yet, the Torah rewarded them for what they were compelled to do. That is the beauty of the Torah.
Horav Moshe Wolfson, Shlita, offers a number of alternative approaches towards answering the question. His first reason is a practical one. Over a year had passed during which Klal Yisrael had not worked in their fields. It was the eighth year in the Shemitah cycle, the first year following the Shemitah. The people were about to plow and plant for the next harvest. They needed Hashem’s blessing that it would be a successful harvest. They all gathered in Yerushalayim on Succos to pray for water for the coming year. Chazal teach us that the greatest merit for effecting Hashem’s blessing of rain is tzedakah and acts of loving kindness. Indeed, when Chazal turned to Abba Chilkiya to pray for rain, both he and his wife prayed. The rain clouds appeared in his wife’s side of the room, where she stood in supplication. This occurred because she was at home and, thus, had greater opportunity to help the poor.
When all of Klal Yisrael congregated in Yerushalayim for the festival of Succos and the Hakhel experience, they obviously needed places to stay. The open-hearted attitude of the city’s citizens and their warm welcome to the guests made this experience very amenable. The added guests placed the primary burden upon the women who provided the care for the visitors. There are two ways to host guests: One can wait until the visitor knocks on the door and then welcome him. This is referred to as hachnosas orchim, welcoming guests to one’s home. There is an even higher level of greeting visitors: Seeking guests and then bringing them home. This is called havoas orchim. Hashem Yisborach knew what is required to welcome guests to Yerushalayim. He also distinguished between those that welcomed guests and those that sought them out to bring them home. He wanted to give an extra reward to those who brought the guests to their home, the “mevieiham”. He did this by instructing the Jews to bring along their infants, thereby increasing the effort for those special women who brought guests to their homes, thus increasing their reward.
In his last two reasons, Horav Wolfson gives essentially the same response, but as the result of two separate reasons. First, we must keep in mind that the people had to expend limited physical effort during the Shemitah year. They were not permitted to work their fields. In an agricultural community, this is the primary occupation. During Shemitah, they had an entire year to devote themselves entirely to spiritual pursuits, to study Torah, to pray longer and with more devotion, to give more of themselves to spiritual devotion and reflection. The infants that these people brought for the Hakhel experience were the “products” of the Shemitah year, a year during which the parents’ spiritual level soared. These special children indeed engendered a great zechus, merit, for Klal Yisrael, their “mevieiham,” who brought them into the world. Their presence was as unique as they were.
Last, Horav Wolfson explains that while bitachon, trust in the Almighty, is a necessary component in every material endeavor, it is especially necessary in order to maintain one’s spiritual plateau while he is confronting the challenges of the material/physical dimension. One needs bitachon in order to pray with devotion, so that he does not rush through the davening because he might be late for a business deal. It is especially difficult to take time off from one’s financial pursuits to study Torah during the workday. Maintaining a high level of integrity also demands bitachon, for one to believe that he will earn what he is destined to earn regardless of the time and effort he expends in pursuing his goal.
The Shemitah year is the ultimate test of one’s trust in Hashem. It truly distinguishes between those that have bitachon and those that are lacking in this pivotal attribute. What would the average citizen of the world do when confronted with such a challenge to his faith? He would be frugal and meticulous in everything he spends. He would do everything not to burden his finances in any way. Indeed, having and raising children would be the first area of abstinence! Not so the observant Jew whose trust in the Almighty is unequivocal. He proceeds with life as usual, trusting Hashem to provide for him and his family while he carries out Hashem’s mitzvos. The children that he brings into this world during the Shemitah year are living testimony of his unwavering bitachon in the Almighty. Hashem, therefore, instructs him to take these children to Yerushalayim so that he and all those others who brought these children into the world during the year of Shemitah will receive their extra reward that they truly deserve.
Hashem said to Moshe, “Behold, you will lie with your forefathers, but this people will rise up after the gods of the foreigners. (31:16)
It is incredible, even enigmatic, that the Torah speaks about Klal Yisrael in such a manner. Earlier the Torah said, “And you who cling to Hashem, your G-d, you are all alive today.” Now they are being admonished regarding the rebellion they will make after Moshe’s passing. It is like predicting that someone who is currently on a high spiritual plane will commit one of the greatest, heinous sins. Does this make sense? Are we to anticipate that the yeshivah student who is studying Torah, uninterrupted, unaffected by the outside world, will become an uncontrolled, unashamed sinner once he leaves the shelter of the yeshivah?
Horav Gershon Liebman, zl, cites the Ramban who says that Hashem assesses a person’s potential based upon his actions of the past. In other words, had Klal Yisrael not sinned earlier in their sojourn, they would not have set a precedent by which would be judged in the future. Sforno agrees in this critique, writing that based solely upon their past history, Klal Yisrael’s interest in entering Eretz Yisrael was self-gratification. This brings Horav Liebman to posit that sin is more than an act of happenstance. Rather, it is the defining moment in a person’s character, as it establishes his tendency toward sinful behavior.
Sin is no longer a potential, but an apparent possibility. Chazal reveal to us that a sin is an indication of a person’s essence. Klal Yisrael achieved a remarkable level of kedushah, holiness; yet, the portent for the future was still there. Hashem, therefore, admonished them not to be secure in their present spiritual plateau. They had also sinned. It was a definite strain upon their character and, thus, an area of concern.
This should be a lesson to all of us: We cannot “mach a’vek,” disregard, a sinful act as a one-time occurrence. These acts do not “just happen.” They are the result of an overactive yetzer hora, evil inclination - one that can just as easily lift its ugly head with even more serious consequences. There is no greater ammunition than being forewarned. Regrettably, some of us think we know it all, a “knowledge” that is the precursor of sin.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS:
1) How does the Torah refer to the year during which we come together for Hakhel? 2) What did Klal Yisrael do with the Sefer Torah Moshe gave to the Leviim? 3) What was Moshe permitted to use that was not accessible to Yehoshua? 4) For how long after his death was Moshe to consider himself still alive?
1) Shnas ha’Shemitah. 2) There is a dispute among Chazal whether they actually placed it inside the Aron or on a board that jutted out of the Aron. 3) Chatzotzros. 4) Until after his student, Yehoshua, died.
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