In This Issue:
Dr. Joel Berman
Rabbi Chaim Jachter
“Ki Karov Elecha HaDavar Meod” “[The Torah] is very close to you (30:14).”
Rav Efraim Waschman tells a story of a Russian peasant, Yankel, a woodcutter, who had a dream that he found a king's treasure in a hollow tree he had cut down. Early the next day, , Yankel excitedly loaded up his wagon and traveled into the forest expecting to find the treasure inside of a felled tree. After a few weeks, he lost hope of finding the treasure even though he continued to dream the same dream night after night. Finally, one day, he felled a tree, and out popped the treasure from the tree’s hollow insides. Having lost hope, Yankel failed to believe that he found the treasure, but being a practical person he loaded the "dream" on his wagon and rode home. When he entered the shtetel, people crowded around his wagon marveling at the treasure and giving him advice on what to do with it. Shimon the butcher shouted, "Yankel, you're rich!" Yankel replied, "Ach, Shimon pay no attention, it is just a dream." The Rav ran over to Yankel saying, "Yankel, this is wonderful! We need a new Beit Midrash. We need a new Ezrat Nashim." Yankel replied, "Ach, Rebbe, pay no mind. It's just a dream. Do not waste your time." When he approached his home, his wife ran out squealing, "Yankel, we will never be hungry or cold again." Yankel said, "Rivka, I am sorry, it is just a dream. Do not waste your time." Finally, Igor, the water carrier threw his arms around Yankel shouting, "Yaakov, you are rich!" Yankel stopped. "Azoi zugt da Goy (This is what the non-Jew says)?! It must be true!"
For many years, science has taught that the gender of a fetus is determined at conception. Chazal teach us that the gender is determined at 40 days. A few years ago, one of the most advanced university research teams determined that the gender of a fetus is determined at 39 days. When this was brought to the attention of the Mashgiach of Lakewood, he said, "Imagine that; the scientists are off by just one day!"
"Torah is very close"; it is accessible. Not only that, it does not require the validation of the other nations or of modern science. Every time Torah is put to the test, be that test in physics, biology, or any of the social sciences, it emerges shining. It works! To my knowledge, it is the only system that has survived intact for nearly 3,500 years. Contrast that with all other political, religious, and philosophical systems that have either disappeared or have exhibited severe shortcomings.
It is accessible to us no less than Yankel's treasure was to him, no less than the words of Chazal are to the research labs. We live in communities blessed with Rabbeim, Shuls, Yeshivot, and lists of daily and nightly Shiurim. Within anyone's time and budget there exist a multitude of resources of the highest quality. We forget that these things did not exist even one generation ago. We have it much easier now. Take advantage! Azoi zugt Igor!
In Selichot, we say, "KeDalim UCherashim 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, ten days of repentance. 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 Ribbono 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.
The beginning of Parashat VaYeilech contains Moshe’s final words to Bnei Yisrael immediately before they cross the Yarden (Jordan river) and conquer Israel. Moshe poetically pleads with Bnei Yisrael not to be scared when entering Eretz Yisrael because G-d will protect them. Immediately thereafter, he discusses the pilgrimage to Jerusalem when Bnei Yisrael are required travel on Sukkot following the Shemittah year. Why is Moshe’s reassurance that G-d “will not abandon nor forsake us” written poetically? Also, why is it fitting for Moshe’s words to be juxtaposed to the pilgrimage?
In general, when the Torah says to not be afraid, it refers to a material fear, such as falling in battle. In this week’s Parashah, though, Moshe’s reassurance strengthens Bnei Yisrael against the spiritual fear that G-d might abandon them. Moshe’s guarantee demonstrates that even when our lives seen to have gone awry and it appears that G-d has forsaken us, He is in fact still taking care of us. This idea is strengthened by the close proximity Parashat VaYeilech always has to the Asseret Yemei Teshuvah, the ten days of repentance. The Parashah illustrates that even when one feels his life is troubled, he should not be angry, but should realize his good fortune at knowing that G-d is present. When life appears difficult or grim, one must remember that it is all part of G-d’s master plan. Similarly, one of the themes of Asseret Yimei Teshuvah is recognizing that G-d is the Supreme King. Our challenge, therefore, during the Asseret Yemei Teshuvah is to arrive at that recognition.
It can now be understood why Hakheil follows Moshe’s reassurances. Bnei Yisrael are about to begin their conquest of Eretz Yisrael. They are terrified of the looming battles with the seven nations inhabiting Eretz Yisrael. So, Moshe warns Bnei Yisrael of the mindset they need to have when entering the land: G-d is the supreme king, he has planned and pre-arranged all of the difficult times, and as long as Bnei Yisrael maintain their belief and faith in Him, they will be successful in conquering Eretz Yisrael.
HaKeil occurs after the Shemittah year cluded. During Shemittah, the entire nation allows their lands to lie fallow, trusting that Hashem will provide sustenance for them. After the Shemittah year concluded, the nation gathers in the Beit HaMikdash to reaffirm their commitment and devotion to G-d, having just experienced the miracles He performed by sustaining them for a year. As such, the two ideas, the reassurance that G-d will not abandon Bnei Yisrael and the Hakheil ceremony both mandate an individual’s unwavering and ultimate belief that G-d is the Master of the Universe and arranges all earthly events according to His overarching plan. It is important for us, during these Asseret Yemei Teshuvah, to keep this idea in mind and to strive to better our relationship with G-d.
Parashat VaYeilech may be the shortest Parashah in the Torah, but that doesn’t mean it does not have its share of interesting Mitzvot. It contains one of the most unique Mitzvot in the Torah, the Mitzvah of Hakheil, the assembling of the nation to hear the Jewish king read from select portions of the Torah. The Torah lists the individuals obligated in assembling for Hakheil “HaKeil Et HaAm HaAnashim VeHaNashim VeHaTaf VeGeircha Asher BeSharecha” “Gather the nation, the men, women, and the children, and the Ger that is in your gates.” (31:12) Since, according to Ibn Ezra, the Ger referred to here is a Ger Toshav, a gentile who observes the Shevah Mitzvot Bnei Noach, the seven Noahide laws, why is he included in the assemblage of the Jewish nation if he is not even Jewish?
Before answering this question, we must first analyze the practice of Hakheil. Hakheil occurs on the Motzei Yom Tov Rishon of Sukkot in a year that follows a Shemittah year (such as this year) and only if there is a Beit HaMikdash. The Hakheil service was akin to our modern day Keriat HaTorah, Torah reading, but on a much larger scale. Before the Hakheil service would begin, Bnei Yisrael, who were spread out throughout Yerushalayim, were called to the Beit HaMikdash by the sound of the Chatzotzrot trumpets. Whereas in our shuls we have a moderately sized Bima, for the HaKeil service, a grand wooden Bima was carved and placed in the Ezrat HaNashim so that that when the king read from the Torah, the whole nation was be able to hear him. While in our shuls we take the Torah out of the Aron Kodesh and the Chazzan carries it to the Bima, during Hakheil the Torah would pass from the Chazzan to the head of the Kenesset to the Sagan(replacement for the Kohen Gadol) and to the Kohen Gadol before it finally came to rest in front of the king who was at the Bimah. Finally, after the Torah portion was finished, seven Berachot specifically established for this occasion were recited. While this is a very impressive ceremony, why was this held the year after a Shemittah year, and why was every Jew, man, woman, and child, supposed to be there, as well as, the far more troubling dilemma presence of a Ger Toshav?
Hakheil occurred immediately after Shemittah, when everyone was experiencing a spiritual high, having devoted the past year solely to furthering his relationship with God. Therefore, to maintain that high and solidify Bnei Yisrael’s faith in Hashem, we follow this spiritual high with the majestic Hakheil ceremony. As such, it was imperative that every Jew attend this spiritually uplifting experience, including any God fearing gentile, to be inspired to do Hashem’s Mitzvot. Although this year we may not have this ceremony, whenever we hear the Kriat HaTorah we should be reminded of this great event and the value of the Torah that Hashem has given to us.
Parashat VaYeilech is connects the Torah (Sefer Devarim) and Navi (Sefer Yehoshua) because it foreshadows the upcoming events of the war with the nations of Eretz Canaan, therefore bringing confidence to Bnei Yisrael by letting them know that they will win.
The Torah (Devarim 31:4) states, “VeAsah Hashem Lahem Kaasher Asah LeSichon ULeOg,” “Hashem will do to them (the nations of Canaan) like he did to Sichon and Og.” Just as those battles were miraculous; so too, the upcoming battles will be miraculous. The Torah also states two Pesukim later, “Al Tireu…Ki Hashem Elokecha Hu HaHoleich Imach,” “Don’t be afraid because Hashem goes with you.” This Pasuk insures that Hashem will go with us and, no matter what, Hashem will be with us.
The Torah (31:23) goes on to say, referring to Hashem talking to Yehoshua, “Ki Atah Tavi Et Bnei Yisrael El HaAretz Asher Nishbati Lahem VeAnochi Ehyeh Imach,” “You will bring Bnei Yisrael into the land I have sworn to them and I will be with you.” Telling Yehoshua that he will be able to conquer the land reassures him.
The third point of reassurance is the simplest but yet the most important. There is a Mitzvah given in Parashat VaYeilech that when Bnei Yisrael have a king, he will read from the Torah in public once every seven years (the Mitzvah of Hakheil). If Bnei Yisrael will not get into Eretz Yisrael then why did Hashem give this commandment? This is an assurance that they will enter the land.
To tie all these points together, we have to say that by ensuring the people and the leader we connect VaYeilech to Navi, giving Bnei Yisrael confidence that the events later to be recorded in the Navi will come true. So too, we must have confidence today that the events recorded by Neviim which have not yet occurred will also come true.
Staff at time of publication:
Editors-in-Chief: Yitzchak Richmond, Doniel Sherman
Executive Editor: Shlomo Klapper
Publication Editors: Yakir Forman, Shua Katz, Jeremy Koolyk, Leead Staller
Business Manager: Charlie Wollman
Webmasters: Sruli Farkas, Shaul Yaakov Morrison, Michael Rosenthal
Publishing Manager: David Bodner, Yonah Rossman
Staff: Eli Auman, Shimon Berman, Josh Blachorsky, Ilan Griboff, Jonathan Hertzfeld, Elazar Lloyd, Aryeh Stiefel, Daniel Weintraub