A Student Publication of the Torah Academy of Bergen County
Parshat Netzavem/Vayelech 23 Elul 5763 September 20, 2003 Vol.13 No.3
In This Issue:
Rabbi Chaim Jachter
This week’s issue of Kol Torah has
been sponsored by
Standing up for Yourself
by Rabbi Darren Blackstein
As we approach the Yamim Noraim, each one of
us is once again confronted with monumental challenges and questions. Am I a
better person than I was last year? On what do I need to improve? Can I really
change? Have I given up? The process of self-evaluation that one goes through
can be very difficult. This process takes not only time, but also patience and
honesty. At times it can be quite revealing and unearthing. We take our faults
seriously and can be quite dejected when facing them. Our Parsha addresses this
dilemma in Devarim 30:11. The Torah, having just spoken about our eventual
return to Hashem, says that “this Mitzvah” is not hidden and not distant. It is
not in the heavens or across the sea. It is actually quite close to us so that
its performance can be facilitated. The difficulty in the Pasuk is to determine
just what “this Mitzvah” refers to. The Ramban explains that it refers to the
Mitzvah of Teshuvah. Teshuvah, here, is talked about in the future tense because
the Torah is forecasting the eventual repentance of the Jewish Nation. Very
often, Teshuvah seems to be a never-ending process, an unattainable goal. There
are so many setbacks in life that just when you think you have taken a step
forward, something happens to make you feel as if you took two steps backward.
The person we want to become seems so far from the person we are today. The
Torah provides the cure for this ailment. Teshuvah, despite its appearance, is
not as far away as you think. Change is difficult. It can happen so slowly that
the increments go unnoticed. However, says Hashem, the process is available to
us. How could it be a mitzvah, a commandment, if it were not within our grasp?
It is a process that lasts a lifetime but do not confuse its timeframe with its
How close to us is this Teshuvah process? As close as the decision itself! The Torah tells us in Devarim 30:19 that life and death is before us and we will choose life. We have the power to make this decision. We live in a world often marked by dark times. There are extremists that seem to have an agenda which chooses death over life. It's the easy way out! The challenges of life are complicated so sacrifice yourself quickly for your beliefs! The Torah recommends the opposite approach. Choose life, deal with life, and live your life. That takes courage! The Parsha starts out by saying that our nation is standing today before Hashem. Rashi tells us that Moshe began to console us by saying that we are standing today before Hashem despite the fact that we have angered Hashem! We are nevertheless here. The fact that Hashem has preserved us demonstrates that we are worthy of participating in the life-long struggle for repentance. May we all have the courage to choose a meaningful Torah life, demonstrating what we “stand” for, and thereby be the recipients of Hashem's blessings for health and happiness.
Gather the Children
by Chanan Strassman
In Parshat Vayelech, the Torah commands us to
fulfill the Mitzvah of Hakhel. The Torah says that we, the Jewish nation, must
gather together at the Beit Hamikdash on Succot of the Shmitah year and listen
to the Jewish king read certain sections of Sefer Devarim that relate to
Hashem's covenant with us. (This is only required when the Beit Hamikdash is in
existence.) Upon close examination, one would find that even children are
included in this Mitzvah. Devarim 31:12 states, “Gather together the people -
the men, the women, and the small children, and your stranger who is in your
cities - so that they will hear and so that they will learn…”. Upon closer
examination, the Ramban notes that Chazal believe that even an infant is
obligated in this Mitzvah. The very next verse says, “…And the children who do
not know - they shall hear and they shall learn to fear Hashem…”.
One could ask, “Why are children and babies obligated in this Mitzvah?” Rashi explains that it is in order “to give reward to those who bring them.” When parents bring a child to Hakhel, they hope their child will learn from it. This shows that the values of Torah knowledge are important to the parents of this child and thus they should be rewarded.
Now we must understand how an infant could possibly gain from an experience such as Hakhel. The Torah specifically identifies infants as “the children who do not know,” meaning that they do not comprehend most of what goes on around them. Babies do not learn as children do. As long as a baby is being held, is not tired, and is fed, it makes no difference to him whether he is at Hakhel or at home!
The Sfat Emet says that even though a baby may not consciously be aware of what Hakhel is, it will still make an impact on his Neshama. The Sfat Emet goes on to explain that when this infant grows up, he will have a greater appreciation for Torah knowledge when he remembers that his parents carried him all the way to the Beit Hamikdash to hear Hakhel.
We can see a combination of all three answers to our question in a story from the Talmud. The Talmud tells us that a mother would bring her baby to the Beit Midrash so that he could absorb the sounds of the Rabbis' Torah study. This baby would later become one of the Rabbis in the Mishnah. Rashi says that the mother has demonstrated that the value of Torah knowledge is important to her, and she is therefore deserving of reward. Also, the Sfat Emet explains that the baby may not comprehend what he is hearing but it will have made an impact on his Neshama while instilling an appreciation of Torah knowledge in him due to his mother's many trips to the Beit Midrash.
Thou Shall Not Fear
by Etan Bluman
On the last day of Moshe’s life, he tells
Bnai Yisrael that he knows that they are frightened after he had just finished
telling them about the ninety-eight different curses that could potentially
befall them. Moshe then comforts them by saying that Bnai Yisrael will survive
and that all of the curses will come back to help them. In 32:23, the Torah says
“I shall spend My arrows on Am Yisrael.” This threat is also a comfort, for it
implies that all My arrows shall be spent but Bnai Yisrael will still be here.
There is a fable regarding this quote: An archer aimed his bow at the ceiling.
He continued to shoot until he had run out of arrows. After he had shot all of
these arrows, miraculously the ceiling had survived. Similarly the Jewish people
suffer and many members of Am Yisrael die. However after all of these assaults
and losses Am Yisrael ultimately survives.
Moshe then says, “This day resembles the day of the giving of the Torah. G-d is entering with you into a new covenant, to which He binds you with an oath.” Moshe is saying here that everyone, including the converts, who are entering into this covenant must learn and fulfill the Mitzvot of the Torah. Why would Moshe be talking about the future when the people he is talking to will not be experiencing the actual entering of Eretz Yisrael? It is similar that at Matan Torah the souls of the future generations were at the assembly listening to Moshe so that when their time came to fulfill the Mitzvot they would know the importance of them. After all of the curses were told to the Bnai Yisrael of present and the Bnai Yisrael of the future why did Hashem have Moshe make Bnai Yisrael take another oath if everyone had already taken one at Matan Torah? It is because Bnai Yisrael had been isolated in the desert for so many years. They survived because they got all the help they needed from Hashem. So much so, that Bnai Yisrael started to rely on Hashems powers and not worry about surviving for themselves. Hashem thought that only reason Bnai Yisrael kept the Torah was because of the miracles not because they had a love for it and Hashem. So, Hashem had Bnai Yisrael take another oath before going into Eretz Yisrael since there was a great danger that once Bnai Yisrael entered Eretz Yisrael since they would become more lazy when it came to keeping the Mitzvot.
by Moshe Zharnest
Towards the end of Parshat Nitzavim, the
Torah makes the following remark: “For this commandment that I command you
today is not hidden from you, nor is it far away. It is not in heaven, that you
can say, ‘who shall go up to the heaven and bring it to us, and let us hear it
that we can do it?’”(Devarim 30:11).
In other words, Moshe was saying that Bnai Yisrael have no excuse for not knowing Torah. It is available, accessible, and therefore we are to learn it. But then, when is the Torah considered inaccessible? When is it far away? When is it close by? It doesn’t matter, says Moshe Rabbeinu. In fact, Rashi says quoting the Talmud (Eiruvin 55a), that if Torah had remained in heaven and had not been brought down by Moshe and recorded for all subsequent generations of Jews, we would have been responsible for devising a way of going "up" there and gaining access to Torah and learning it!
We know from the Talmud (Chagigah 14b), that Torah can be learned on various levels: the simple pshat, hints or “remez”, the more complicated drash, and kabalistic explanations, “sod.” If you take the first letters of all those words, you come up with the word PaRDeS, (peh, reish, dalet, samech) meaning "garden," or "paradise," as a hint to the Garden of Eden.
What the Torah is hinting to with this word to is the power of a human being rise to greater spiritual realities, upon which the Torah becomes more and more pure, instead of staying on the basic physical human level. Had Moshe not brought the Torah down for us, we would not have been able to learn even the simplest level of Torah without first embarking on an deep intellectual and spiritual journey into the mysteries of creation.
However, Moshe did bring the Torah down for us, which means that on order to achieve the simplest understanding of Torah, we require very little in the way of a spiritual initiation before approaching it. But, on the other hand, the availability of Torah should not stop one from tracing the simplest understanding of Torah to its deepest root, to better and more fully understand its message. This is why the Torah concludes by saying: “Choose life! That you and your descendants may live!” In other words, go deeper and deeper for the more you go the more of paradise you will experience and the more spiritually fulfilling your life will be.
-Adapted from a Shiur on Torah.org
Halacha of the Week
Sephardic Jews follow the practice recorded by Rav Yosef Karo (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 596) to sound a Teruah Gedolah at the conclusion of Mussaf on Rosh Hashanah. Accordingly, Sephardic Jews sound 101 Shofar blasts on Rosh Hashnah.
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