Parsha Potpourri: Parshas Nitzavim-Vayeilech

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Hanistaros L’Hashem Elokeinu v’haniglos lanu ul’vaneinu ad olam la’asos es kol Divrei haTorah hazos (29:28)

            In our verse, the Torah writes the words “lanu ul’vaneinu” – for us and for our children – with dots on top of each letter, something done quite rarely. Although there are rules for interpreting the meaning of such dots (see Rashi), the Chofetz Chaim explains that when writing a book, an author who wants to stress a certain point will draw attention to it by underlining the salient words.

Similarly, when discussing the importance of educating our children and raising them with proper values, the Torah saw no more fitting way to convey this message than to place dots on the words referring to us and our children. In essence, the Torah is “underlining” these words to emphasize the unparalleled significance in Judaism of teaching our children to be G-d-fearing Jews.

            The importance which our Rabbis placed on educating their children is illustrated in the following story. One year on the night of Kol Nidrei, the Jews of a large community were assembled in the synagogue, ready to begin the solemn services. However, there was one critical problem: the Rav, renowned for his punctuality, was nowhere to be seen. After waiting several tense minutes, a delegation was dispatched to his house to find out what was causing the delay.

They arrived at the house of their beloved Rabbi, Rav Binyomin Diskin, fearing the worst. They were shocked when they peered through his window and observed him calmly seated by the table, studying together with his young son. Rav Diskin seemed completely oblivious to the congregation which was anxiously awaiting his presence in the synagogue.

Seizing his courage, one of the elders of the community knocked on the door and gently explained that the congregation was concerned about his uncharacteristic delay. The elderly Rav explained that with the arrival of the day on which a person’s fate for the upcoming year is sealed, he found himself nervous about his lack of merits. Desperately seeking to accrue mitzvos which could tip the scale in his favor, he could think of no greater merit than teaching Torah to his young son, who not surprisingly grew up to become the saintly Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin!

            Parshas Nitzavim is read annually close to Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. At the time when the entire world passes before Hashem in judgment, the Torah uncharacteristically goes out of its way to “underline” a phrase to emphasize to us the importance of looking after our children and raising them properly. Indeed, our Sages teach that a person is judged and held responsible not only for his own actions, but also for those of his descendants (to the extent that he could have influenced them to behave otherwise). At this critical time, let us remember the message of the Chofetz Chaim and the actions of Rav Diskin and accept upon ourselves to redouble our commitment to educating and positively influencing our families.

V’shavta ad Hashem Elokecha v’shamata b’kolo k’chol asher anochi m’tzav’cha hayom atah u’banecha b’chol l’vav’cha uv’chol nafsh’cha (30:2)

            Since the Torah is the blueprint for the entire Creation, it inherently contains within it allusions to everything which will ever exist or occur in the universe. The Vilna Gaon explains that the Torah’s recounting of the episode of Creation contains the events which transpired in the first 1000 years of history, with the second 1000 years hidden in the remainder of Sefer Bereishis, the third 1000 years in Sefer Shemos, the fourth 1000 years in Sefer Vayikra, the fifth 1000 years in Sefer Bamidbar, and the final 1000 years in Sefer Devorim.

Since Sefer Devorim contains 10 parshios (counting Nitzavim and Vayeilech as one, as they are often read together as a double portion), each portion hints to the events of one century of the sixth millennium. Based on this explanation of the Vilna Gaon, it has been noted that the early years of the Holocaust, the greatest national tragedy in modern history, fall out in the century which is hinted to in Parshas Ki Savo, which contains words of rebuke and hair-raising threats of terrible suffering which will befall the Jewish people.

However, consolation may be found by recognizing that we are currently living in the century which corresponds to Parshas Nitzavim-Vayeilech, which is commonly referred to as the portion of repentance. Not surprisingly, the years since World War II have seen an extraordinary wave of uneducated Jews returning to their roots on an unprecedented scale, precisely as predicated by the Torah.

Ki karov eilecha hadavar me’od b’ficha uvilvavcha la’asoso (30:14)

            The Ponovezher Rav once traveled to South Africa to strengthen and encourage the Jews there in their religious observance. Prior to his journey, he asked his teacher, the illustrious Chofetz Chaim, what message he should relate to the Jews there in the name of the leader of the generation.

The Chofetz Chaim replied that he should tell them that it is actually quite easy to do the mitzvah of teshuvah – repentance. The minimum requirements to fulfill this obligation are few and are within the reach of every Jew: ceasing to sin, confessing one’s past actions and expressing regret over them, and accepting upon oneself not to transgress again. Unfortunately, the evil inclination attempts to convince a person that proper repentance is so difficult and involves so many complex components that he will never succeed in correctly doing so, thereby causing him to give up the effort without even trying.

In this vein, Rav Nosson Wachtfogel notes that in our verse, Moshe describes one of the commandments as not being hidden or distant from a person. It isn’t in the heavens or across the sea as one might have thought, but rather it is very close – in one’s mouth and heart. What is this commandment which a person might mistakenly conclude is so far beyond him that its observance requires him to travel thousands or millions of miles, yet in reality the keys to its performance lie inside of him? Not surprisingly, the Ramban writes that the mitzvah to which Moshe is referring is the mitzvah of teshuvah.

            The Gemora in Kiddushin (49b) discusses a case in which a wicked man betroths a woman on the condition that he is completely righteous. Surprisingly, the Gemora rules that she may be legally engaged, explaining that perhaps he had thoughts of repentance in the moment prior to his proposal. We may derive from here that a person can literally transform himself from one extreme to the other in a mere moment of sincere reflection and regret, a lesson which should inspire and motivate us during the approaching Yamim Noraim.

Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1)     Moshe reminded the people (29:15-16) of the abominable idols which they saw in Egypt and other lands through which they passed. Why was it necessary to warn them against worshipping these idols if they themselves had witnessed how deplorable they were? (Nesivos Rabboseinu)

2)     Moshe told the people (30:12) that the Torah is not in Heaven. The Gemora in Bava Metzia (59b) understands this to mean that after the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, it is up to the Sages to decide matters of Jewish law, which are no longer within the jurisdiction of Hashem. In numerous places, the Gemora records episodes in which a bas kol – Heavenly voice – descends to inform the Sages with which opinion in a dispute Hashem sides. Why is it referred to as a bas kol – literally, the daughter of a sound – and not as a ben kol – the son of a sound – or simply as the sound itself? (Tosefos Sanhedrin 11a, Tosefos Yom Tov Yevamos 16:6)

3)     The Rambam writes (Hilchos Chagigah 3:1) that the purpose of gathering the people together to hear the public reading of the book of Devorim (31:11) is to strengthen their religious commitment and fear of Hashem. With such important objectives, why is this mitzvah performed only once every seven years and not annually? (Even Yisroel)

4)     How could Hashem tell Moshe (31:16) that he would lie with his forefathers when Moshe was buried on Mount Nevo and the Avos were buried in Me’aras HaMachpeilah in Chevron? (Targum Yonason ben Uziel, Rashi Bereishis 47:30, Ayeles HaShachar, Shaarei Aharon)

5)     Parshas Vayeilech contains the mitzvah to write a Sefer Torah (31:19). The Gemora rules (Gittin 45b) that a Torah which was written by a heretic is invalid and must be burned. If a heretic appoints a non-heretic as his agent to write a Torah on his behalf, may it be used? (Har Tzvi)

  © 2010 by Oizer Alport.