Parshat Hashavua NITZAVIM
By Rabbi Nissim Mordechai Makor
As we enter the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, we should be thinking about the awesomeness of this Day of Judgment, and how the outcome of this day will determine what kind of year we will have. And yet, we see inShulhan Aruch and in the later commentaries that we are supposed to approach this day with a feeling of joy and confidence. We are instructed to dress in fine clothes and to have festive meals. Even some of our tunes in the selihot that we’ve been saying for the past month might seem a little too cheerful for the mood that we would expect for such a crucial day like this.
To answer this seeming contradiction, our Sages explain that when we contemplate the judgment that is facing us, we need to do teshubah, and then we can enter the day with a feeling of security that Hashem, in His infinite mercy, will judge us favorably.
There is a commentary on the Shulhan Aruch called Hochmat Shelomo (583:1), who gives a beautiful insight into the procedure of the night of Rosh Hashanah. As we know, we eat the simanim (apples in honey, leek, swiss chard, etc.) and recite a Yehi Rason before we eat each one. Most of us generally view the Yehi Rason as a prayer in which we request that Hashem should makes things work out in our favor. However the Hochmat Shelomo says that this is not a prayer at all. Rather we are making a declaration that we have emunah and bitahon that things will in fact turn out well. He explains that by expressing our trust in Hashem, even if chas v’shalom there would be a decree on a person, just by having this total trust in Hashem the person can change the decree to good! According to this, when we say Yehi Rason, we are in effect saying “It will be so”!
The Gemara teaches that the prophet Habakuk said that the most fundamental principle of our faith is “Saddik be’emunato yihyeh” – the righteous one will live through his emunah. When we commit to improve our ways, we can be confident and secure that our merciful Father in Heaven will bless us with a sweet new year. May we all be blessed in the coming year with berachah and success in all of our endeavors.
You are standing today, all of you…from the hewer of your wood to the drawer of your water. (29:9,10)
The prefix mem, followed by the word ad, to, denotes a contrast between two subjects, as in, "from the smallest to the largest" or "from the bottom of his feet to the top of his head." Likewise, "from the hewer of your wood to the drawer of your water" denotes two ends of a spectrum. Horav Shlomo Yosef Zevin, zl, explains this contrast as applying to two disparate approaches to teshuvah, repentance/return: from below to above and vice versa. This may be explained in the following manner: A person is acutely aware of the insignificance of his puny life, the various thoughts and actions in which he is involved. When he realizes the foolishness for which he wastes his life, he will become appalled, remorseful and filled with regret. He will be broken-hearted over the things - both evil and foolish - that he has committed. This attitude will motivate him to return to a life of commitment, a life of enthusiasm for Torah and mitzvos, a life of serving the Almighty.
For some people, the negative approach does not seem to work. On the contrary, when one feels "down," he finds it difficult to ascend, to rise up and elevate himself to the proper spiritual plateau. Giving up on oneself is so much easier than trudging uphill, overcoming the many obstacles that stand in the way. This individual needs to take an aggressive, more positive, approach. If he has been lax in davening attendance, he should be determined to come ten minutes early for davening. If he would normally study one daf, page, of Talmud daily, he should now study two pages. He should ignore his own inconsequence and instead focus on the positive in order to do more.
Rav Zevin cites the Zohar HaKadosh concerning the pasuk in Sefer Tehilllim 51:19: Lev nishbar v'nidkeh, Elokim lo sivzeh, "A heart broken and humbled, O G-d, You will not despise." The Zohar asks, "What is done to a piece of wood which will not catch fire? One cracks it open, and it can then be kindled." A block of wood that is so hard that the flames cannot penetrate and set it afire must be split, so that the fire will be able to kindle it from the inside. Likewise, one who is so tough and hardened that the fire of his neshamah, soul, cannot set him aflame with a passion to return and serve the Almighty should resort to "cracking" himself open." He should introspect and engage in self-rebuke until he penetrates his heart, thus allowing the glow of the neshamah to burn passionately.
There is an individual, however, for whom the broken-hearted approach does not work. He either cannot handle the introspection, or he is simply disinterested in self-rebuke and anything that means putting him down. It is just not his personality. He should take the approach to which the Navi Yeshayah 55:1 alludes, Hoi kol tzamei lechu la'mayim, "Ho, everyone that is thirsty, go to the water." Water has the incredible ability to quench thirst and also to dissolve even the most hardened materials. In Sefer Iyov 14:19, we find, Avanim shachaku mayim, "Stones are worn away by water." The Navi Yechezkel 36:26, says, V'hasirosi es lev ha'even mibsarchem, "I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh." The heart of stone is neutralized through the Torah, which is compared to water. In this approach, we ignore the individual's self-generated low self-esteem. The individual who cannot handle eradicating the darkness by breaking down the door that blocks his light takes the road by which he suffuses himself with so much light that it eventually overpowers the darkness. In other words, one either finds a way to bring out the light from within or he floods the area with an abundance of light.
This is what it meant by the hewer of the wood: the individual who breaks through the hard wood, allowing for the fire to penetrate and burn; while the drawer of water, suffuses the darkness with enough light to overpower it. There are two disparate and perhaps extreme measures which work for different types of people, in varied situations. They both have one goal: returning to Hashem.
And all the nations will say… and He cast them to another land, as this very day! (29:23,27)
Harav Chaim Shaul Kaufman, zl, Rosh Yeshivas Tiferet Yaakov (London) gleans from this statement the stark difference between the attitude of the gentile during a period of Heavenly concealment and the Jewish perspective on adversity. The gentile "believes" in G-d (according to his limited understanding of this term). When a moment of hester panim, Divine concealment, occurs in his life, he feels that G-d has forsaken him, cast him off (perhaps even deservedly) to the point that, whatever adversity and challenge he confronts, it will not provide a lesson for him from which he can learn and change. Whatever happens in his life is the result of G-d's rejection of him.
Not so, the Jewish outlook on travail. We sinned; we are being punished. Hashem is pushing us away, but, at all times, He is in charge; He is pushing; He is calling the shots, because He wants us to improve, so that He can soon welcome us back home. We are neither thrown away, nor does Hashem separate Himself from us. This contrast is apparent from the vernacular of the pasuk which describes the comments/observations made by the gentile nation concerning our banishment from our homeland.
They say, "He cast them to another land." When someone is cast away, a separation occurs between the one who casts and his subject. They are no longer together. When someone is pushed, however, he is merely moved by the individual who is pushing him, but they are moving together! The goyim think that Hashem has flung us away. We are no longer in contact with Him. He wants nothing to do with us. How foolish! Does a father ever throw away his son? The dysfunctional dogma of Christianity is responsible for their inability to comprehend the very basics of our relationship with Hashem. He is our Father, and we are His children. That will never change. This is why, in 30:1, the Torah writes: "When Hashem, your G-d, has dispersed you." Hidichacha, dispersed/pushed away, means: We acknowledge that we are not in Hashem's good graces, and, as a result, we have been exiled from our Land, but He came with us! At no time are we separated from Hashem. Thus, when we are confronted with misfortune, we understand that Hashem is speaking to us, hoping that we will listen and come back home.
For this mitzvah… it is not hidden from you and it is not distant. (30:11)
The Ramban writes that "this mitzvah" refers to the mitzvah of teshuvah, repentance. The sinner conjures up a wealth of lame excuses for not repenting. For the most part, the primary hurdle is believing that one can successfully navigate the teshuvah process and return to pre-sin status - both in the eyes of the community and in the eyes of the sinner. The offender has convinced himself that he has gone too far, offended too many, hurt so many close family and friends, so why bother?
We are at the gates of Rosh Hashanah, and each and every one of us has his own pekel, bundle, of aveirot, sins, which we have pushed to the back burner. Perhaps now would be an appropriate time to rethink our excuses. Teshuvah means return, through which we return to Hashem. Every sin distances us from Hashem. The process of teshuvah is our about-face; we turn around and face Hashem. We are not any closer than we were before, but at least we have altered our direction.
The Pearls of Life quote HaRav Noach Isaac Oelbaum who teaches us that Parashas Nitzabim is always read before Rosh HaShanah because it is the parashah of teshuvah. Generally, the week of Parashas Nitzavim is when we rise early for Selichot. The sefarim [holy books] point out that this is a time [You are standing], getting up early to do teshuvah. It is time to wake up and repent. The Pupa Rav zt’l explained as follows: The purpose of saying Selichot is to create a tremendous hisorerus [spiritual awakening] before the Yom Hadin in the proper frame of mind. It helps us to re-evaluate, rethink, and to change. When a Jew does a mitzvah, when he does something positive, he has not merely performed a mitzvah for himself; he has elevated the entire Klal Yisrael. On Rosh Hashanah everyone has the responsibility not just to themselves and their family but for the entire Nation of Israel. One must feel that what is going to happen to the nation is literally dependent on me. The actions of just one person CAN AFFECT THE ENTIRE NATION. Yeshiva Pirchei Shoshanim
Shabbat Shalom & Tizku l’shanim