In the beginning of the parsha, Moshe relays to klal Yisroel, how they must ‘establish themselves as His people, and that He should be their God’ (29; 12), Rashi brings an explanation to this rather interesting scene. He explanations as follows: ‘Why is parashas atem nitzavim next to the curses? Because when bnei Yisroel heard the ninety-eight curses, they turned pale, and said, “How can we possibly endure these?” Thereupon, Moshe began to appease them [as follows]: You have provoked the Omnipresent into anger many times, yet He has not made an end to you. Indeed, you still exist before Him [atem nitzavim hayom].’ (29; 12)
Moshe tells klal Yisroel to regain their composure, “You have upset Hashem numerous times, but you are still here”.
The obvious question is that we know Hashem doesn’t oversee anything. The gemara in Bava Metzia states (50a) that anyone who says that Hashem overlooks aveiros (and is a vatran), his innards should be turned inside out. Of course, there is a middah called rachamim; but as the mesilas yesharim states, that means that He is patient; it takes a much longer time to get Him mad. Our question still remains, what was Moshe rabbeinu saying and what did he mean?
Rav Elya Lopian, zt’l, offers a fascinating pshat.
The gemara in Rosh Hashana says (16b) ‘anyone who approaches Rosh Hashana and makes himself poor, (ie he acts as if he has no good deeds whatsoever) and begs for forgiveness, that year will be successful for him.’ Tosfos comments that it will be a good year for one who comes with a broken heart, as Hashem will have mercy on him. It seems from here, according to Tosfos, the mere fact that bnei Yisroel knew what was at stake, and they realized that they had nothing to show for themselves-and they were broken and empty-that in itself wasl be a zechus for them. The fact that they acknowledged the severity of Rosh Hashana, was enough to act as their zechus; their fear alone was their zechus.
Says Reb Elya, Moshe wasn’t telling bnei Yisroel not to worry, rather, only after they demonstrated their fear and acknowledged how severe the penalty would be if they stepped out of line-was Moshe able to reassure them; as they now understood what they were dealing with. What he was telling them was that the reason you are still here is due to your genuine fear. Now we can move forward and tell them that with that approach-one of exemplifying this attitude and fear-is in itself the reason why they were still here.
There’s a famous parable, (we mentioned it last year) from the Brisker Rav that is well worth repeating again.
There was a man who earned his livelihood by smuggling illegal goods across the border from one country to another. He had customers in different cities, that he would sell to once he got there. How did he actually transport the goods? He would hire an unassuming wagon driver, load up the back and settle down for the journey. The smuggler himself knew exactly what he was carrying and knew the repercussions of what he was doing; he understood he was committing a crime. A few hours before they would even reach the border he would begin to get extremely edgy and nervous, for he understood what was at stake. The wagon driver, on the other hand, had no reason to be nervous. As they approached the actual border the wagon driver would get a little nervous, naturally, for there were times when you can encounter a nasty border guard who could cause problems if he so desires. The only ones who had no fear at all as they approached the border were the horses. They were oblivious to what was going on, had no clue what they were carrying and unaware of the ramifications that could have existed should they get caught.
Are we to emulate the horse by not realizing what’s at stake at all? Or do we want to realize what’s about to happen on this day and get a little nervous. The nervousness alone is what could end up saving us. We don’t want to disregard the mood of the day and not comprehend what’s taking place.
Prior to the days of updated technology and machinery, auto mechanics used to work in a pit. When your car required repairs you would drive it into a garage and park it over a pit; the mechanic would walk into the basement and come around underneath the vehicle and diagnose the issue. Once, there was a woman whose car needed some repairs. Oblivious to how it worked, she followed instructions and drove her car all the way into the garage and stopped precisely where the mechanic needed the vehicle to be. As she exits the car the mechanic said, ‘wow, how did you know when to stop? You’re perfectly over the pit.’ Her shy and honest response was ‘what pit?’
As we approach this yom tov may we all reach a level of knowing and recognizing what is about to happen to us. Yes, we have erred many a time; but we are still alive. We are still considered His children and by acknowledging and being cognizant of how easily we slip up, it can elevate us up to a loftier level where we can outwardly express our fear of Hashem and beg for His forgiveness for our past deeds.
By humbling ourselves and crying out to Him may we all approach Rosh Hashana as paupers who are barren of good deeds-begging for forgiveness-which will ultimately lead us to having a successful and fruitful year, a year full of kol mili d’maitav-including meriting the coming of Moshiach speedily in our days.
Wishing everyone a Kesiva V’chasima Tova & a Good Gebentched Yur.