In this week's Parsha, Moshe says his final goodbye to the Jewish People, hands over the mantle of leadership to Yehoshua, and leaves his nation with some final harsh words. Included in his last words are stern warnings that if during the years to come, the Jews stray from the path of the Torah, they will be exiled and punished severely by God.
Concerned that the Jews will one day deny that they deserve to be punished for their sins, Moshe goes so far as to call three witnesses - Eidim - to testify that the Jews were duly warned. The witnesses are Shirat Ha'azinu (see 31:19, 21), Moshe's original Sefer Torah (see 31:26), and the heavens and earth (see 31:28 as well as 30:19).
What is the significance of these three 'items' being designated as witnesses against the Jewish people?
The Sforno explains that the Sefer Torah will serve as a witness against later generations because it was placed next to the Aron HaKodesh in the Kodesh HaKodashim, totally inaccessible to anyone who might wish to twist the Torah's stern words of warning. This is similar to the Midrash Rabbah on our Parsha, which claims that Moshe wrote thirteen Sifrei Torah: one for each tribe, and one to be hidden in the Holy of Holies as the 'final word' on any debate as to the authentic words of the Torah.
The heavens and earth are called witnesses simply because they are always accessible to everyone, in every place and every time. The heavens and earth witness all that has ever happened and are always there to testify.
Perhaps we could suggest that these two witnesses were chosen as two contrasting images for the Jewish People to remember. The warnings of Moshe's Torah are undeniable and unmistakable. They are written black-on-white and are not open for debate. But they are not available to anyone who wishes to view them.
On the other hand, the heavens and earth are available and open for all to view. But their message to future generations is 'cloudy' and open for interpretation. Those who see God's influence in nature are constantly reminded of His warnings, and those who see the heavens, earth and nature as a products of a theologically neutral chain of events see no messages or warnings at all.
These opposite imageries capture a great challenge we have been facing lately as faithful Jews in a modern world. We sense God's unmistakable voice in the political and natural events that surround us, yet we struggle to figure out exactly what that voice is saying.
Perhaps this challenge is captured in third witness, the Shirah, the song. Unlike prose, whose message is clear and unambiguous, poetic lyrics convey one message yet leave space for the reader to interpret and debate. They are accessible to all, yet all do not perceive the same message in their words. The Shirah, then, bridges the gap between Moshe's Torah and the heavens and earth, thereby capturing our great challenge.
May we all be Zocheh to appreciate the inspiring yet humbling message of the Shirah during these Yamim Noraim.
Death of a Tzaddik
by Josh Markovic
Parshat Vayeilech records that Hashem said to Moshe Rabbeinu, "Hein Karvu Yamacha Lamut," "Behold, your days approach that you will die" (31:14). Several parts of this Pasuk seem extra: why did Hashem say "your days approach," and why did He add the word "behold?"
The first extra phrase may be emphasizing the special nature of Moshe's death. When Hashem said, "Your days approach that you will die," and not just "you will die," He was stressing to Moshe Rabbeinu that he would not die fully; rather, only his body would die, but his Neshama would live on to see Olam Haba.
The Midrash explains the word "Hein," "behold," by giving the full story of its use. Moshe Rabbeinu was shocked when Hashem used this word because he himself had used it when praising Hashem. The Midrash compares this to a slave who finds a sword and gives it to his master, at which point his master orders the slave to be killed with the sword. Hashem responds to Moshe Rabbeinu, "Did you not say 'Behold ("Hein") they will not believe me!' (Shemot 4:1) when I told you to take Am Yisrael out of Mitzrayim?" In this sense, the word Hein is a reminder to Moshe of a past error.
The Tiferet Tzion, however, gives a more positive explanation that is also related to the first extra phrase in the Pasuk. He says the word Hein is only used when there is an open relationship with Hashem. Hashem specifically used this word to show that this might be one of the last times this word would be used, as Moshe Rabbeinu was about to die, and Bnei Yisrael were not ready for such an open relationship with Hashem. Rabbeinu Bachya states that Moshe Rabbeinu's death was only a gateway to Olam Haba. Moshe's relationship with Hashem at this point, then, was an open one, and the use of the word "Hein" was therefore not negative at all.
Thus, the death of Moshe Rabbeinu was truly "the death of the righteous" (Bamidbar 23:10), and this Pasuk describes it quite positively, indeed.
Teshuvah With a Bang
by Tzvi Atkin
In Selichot, we say, "KeDalim UChrashim Dafaknu Delatecha," "As paupers and beggars we bang on your doors." An obvious question arises from this Tefillah: paupers and beggars go around collecting money in shame and embarrassment. They wouldn't dare have the audacity to knock loudly and presumptuously on people's doors, but would rather do so weakly, overcome with humiliation. Why, then, do we say that we are knocking on Hashem's doors? Who are we to have the nerve to come before Hashem without shame and disgrace?
Rav Shalom Schwadron ZT"L, the famed Maggid of Yerushalayim, offers a powerful explanation of this statement. He says that there comes a time when even poor people bang on doors - in a time of great need and desperation. Down to his very last bit of strength, the poor person will do anything to get the help that he needs, and will find himself pounding down the doors of anyone who can be a source of help to him.
This, explains Rav Schwadron, is the state in which we find ourselves before HaKadosh Baruch Hu in the Asseret Yemei Teshuvah. We are reaching our last drop of strength and, in our desperation, we are left with no choice but to "bang on Hashem's doors," begging him to have mercy on and forgive us.
Now, with less than a week left until our decrees for the year are sealed, is the time when we need to cry out in Teshuvah before the Ribbino Shel Olam. We have to pour out our hearts to Him and beg Him to accept our Tefillot and Bakashot. We are left with no choice but to bang on His doors; time is running out.
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