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“You are standing here today…” (Devarim 29:9)
Midrash Tanchuma explains the juxtaposition between the portion of Nitzavim and the end of Parshas Ki Savo which describes the curses the Jewish people will receive if they do not follow the word of G-d. After hearing the curses that would possibly befall them, the people of Israel were severely frightened, and questioned their own ability to survive. Moses immediately reassured them.
While other nations are afflicted and eventually destroyed, the Jewish nation might fall but will rise once again. The nations of the world might disappear but the Jewish nation will always remain. What is the key to our survival? When G-d brings misfortune upon people, they show contempt and disparagement. But the Jewish nation is different -“Distress and grief I would find, and in the name of G-d I would call.” When the Jew is punished, he turns to G-d, he humbles himself and he prays. This is what G-d tells the people of Israel: – “Even though these curses come upon you, they themselves cause you to stand.” Therefore it says, – You are standing here today…” – it is through the punishment that we continue to stand – it is the very source of our survival.
G-d is the source of all good and kindness. No matter the extent of man’s rebellion, G-d’s mercy and compassion still exist. In the midst of punishment itself, G-d’s kindness continues. In the darkest of moments there is light, through oppression – salvation, amongst the curses – there is room for blessings. The Jew recognizes this and through this he continues to stand – his punishment itself is a blessing in disguise.
In the times of Noach, although G-d decreed destruction upon the world, his compassion did not cease to exist. Before bringing the Flood, G-d commanded Noach to take with him into the ark a pair from each living species and food with which to feed them. Noach understood that despite the harsh punishment, G-d wished to perform kindness with His creations and Noach himself followed in the ways of G-d. Noach did not just supply them with food, he gave each species the specific food they desired, serving them separately at their regulated times. “Twelve months in the ark, Noach did not sleep by day or by night – he was involved in feeding the species that were with him.” (Tanchuma)
We find a similar concept by the destruction of Sedom and Amora. Before the destruction, G-d told Abraham, “Because the outcry of Sedom and Amora has become great, and because their sin has been very grave, I will descend and see: if they act in accordance with its outcry which has come to Me – then destruction.” (Bereishis 18:20) Abraham understood G-d’s character – if G-d was revealing to him the future punishment, then there was still room for His sympathy. Abraham recognized his responsibility to evoke G-d’s mercy – he prayed to G-d to save the people of Sedom in the merit of the righteous ones. The people had sinned greatly, but Abraham begged G-d repeatedly, being so bold as to state, “Shall the Judge of all the earth not do justice?” G-d was teaching Abraham the great trait of kindness – he was to pray for these people to the best of his ability.
After the sin of the Golden Calf, G-d told Moses – “And now, leave from Me. Let My anger flare up against them and I shall destroy them.” Moses understood that G-d did not want to destroy the Jewish people and that he must beseech G-d for their forgiveness.Moses answered G-d, “And now if You would but forgive their sin! – but if not, erase me now from Your book that You have written.” Moses totally gave of himself to help save his people, as Moses himself said, – “Let Moses die…but do not harm even one of them.” The Jewish people had angered G-d – but G-d still desired that Moses emulate His goodness and attempt to arouse His compassion. Moses prayed and G-d forgave – in the midst of G-d’s wrath, His ultimate compassion still exists.
Noach, Abraham and Moses all recognized G-d’s kindness even in times of severe retribution and they followed the same path. Yet, Moses is the only one about whom our Rabbis say – “He fulfilled his task completely.” (Zohar)
Noach served the creatures in the ark with the utmost kindness. Furthermore, he built the ark for one hundred and twenty years, rebuking the people for their actions and warning them of the impending flood in the face of their ridicule and embarrassment. Nevertheless, there was a complaint against him, as it says, “He kept quiet and did not request G-d’s mercy.” Noach did not try to overturn G-d’s decree – for that he was held responsible as if he himself brought the Flood – the Flood was called, “the waters of Noach” because he did not pray for his generation.(Zohar) Abraham followed G-d’s kindness and sacrificed of himself to pray for the people of Sedom. Yet, he too did not reach the depths of G-d’s goodness. He prayed for the people asking how G-d could destroy the righteous with the wicked – but he did not pray for the wicked as its own entity. It was only Moses who truly prayed for the all the people in their own right, despite their grave sin and G-d’s decree to destroy them. He sacrificed of himself and would not budge until he roused G-d’s mercy and G-d said – “I forgive.”
We are shortly approaching the Day of Judgment, when each individual must pass before G-d, his deeds scrutinized – but at the core of G-d’s justice there is much room to evoke his compassion. We must not only pray for our own forgiveness and well being but our responsibility is to utilize our strength and pray for others. We pray that G-d bestow his kindness and compassion upon every individual. With our prayers we have the power to awaken G-d’s mercy, nullify evil decrees and cause good to be brought upon the world. May we merit recognizing G-d’s kindness and through our prayers turn the curses into blessings – and whatever G-d decrees we should accept with love and joy – as it is the key to our survival.