Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Parshas Ha'azinu (Rosh Hashana is in archives)

ראו עתה כי אני אני הוא ואין אלהים עמדי (32:39)

In the middle of discussing Jewish national history – the cause and source of its suffering at the hands of its enemies as well as Hashem’s words of comfort – Moshe digressed to proclaim, “See now that I (Hashem) am He, and there is no other god with Me.” Why does Moshe interrupt his discourse to make this declaration specifically at this point? Further, why did Moshe emphasize that you should see now that I am Hashem and there are no other powers besides Me, as if to imply that something occurred which clarified this point?

The Vilna Gaon offers a brilliant and remarkable explanation of our verse. The mystical work Megaleh Amukos writes that there are 955 ascending levels in the Heavens. Although the majority of them contain various types of celestial angels, the upper 55 levels are empty of anything but Hashem’s Divine Glory. This is hinted to by the verse (10:14) הן לד' אלקיך – they (the Heavens and the earth) belong to Hashem your G-d. The numerical value of the word הן is 55, alluding to the fact that although the entire Creation belongs to Hashem, the upper 55 levels of the Heavens are exclusively His.

With every successive verse of the book of Devorim which Moshe taught, his soul ascended to the next level of the Heavens, concluding with the 955th verse, through which Moshe merited to reach the uppermost heights possible and from which there was nowhere further to ascend. As Moshe spoke each verse and ascended through the levels, he encountered loftier celestial beings, yet there was nary a level which was completely devoid of them.

Our verse is the 901st verse in the book of Devorim. As Moshe prepared to say it, he looked around at the celestial level which he had just reached and noticed that for the first time in his spiritual ascent, he had reached a place completely devoid of any being other than Hashem’s Divine Presence. He couldn’t help but exclaim and note that although it hadn’t been visibly apparent in the lower levels, now – from his new spiritual vantage point – it was quite clear to see that Hashem is One, and there are indeed no other powers with Him!


ויבא משה וידבר את כל דברי השירה הזאת באזני העם הוא והושע בן נון (32:44)

Prior to sending the twelve spies to bring back a report about the land of Israel and its inhabitants, Moshe blessed Hoshea and changed his name to Yehoshua (Bamidbar 13:16), and from that time onward, he is always referred to by his new name. Why in our verse does the Torah, which has consistently employed his new name, suddenly revert and once again refer to him as Hoshea?

The Chanukas HaTorah answers by noting that the Gemora in Sanhedrin (107a) teaches that the “י” which was added to Hoshea’s name to become Yehoshua was taken from Sorah original name. Sorah was initially known as Sarai (שרי), until Hashem appeared to Avrohom and commanded him (Bereishis 17:15) to change her name to Sorah (שרה). At that point, the “י” began complaining that it would no longer be used in her new name, and it was only mollified when Hashem “paid it back” by adding it to Hoshea’s name when Moshe changed it to Yehoshua.

As Sorah was 90 years old when she gave birth to Yitzchok, she was 89 at the time of her name change one year earlier. Sorah died at the age of 127 (Bereishis 23:1), which means that the “י” wasn’t used for the final 38 years of her life. Hoshea’s name was changed to Yehoshua when the spies were sent in the 2nd year after the Exodus. The events of our parsha took place just before Moshe’s death, which occurred at the end of the 40th year of their sojourn in the wilderness.

As such, it comes out that the “י”, which had been added to Hoshea’s name to pacify it over its removal from Sarai’s name, had already been used for 38 years, which is precisely the amount of time Sorah lived after her name was changed. At this point, the “י” had received its full “compensation,” and the Torah therefore reverts to referring to Hoshea by his old name!


על אשר מעלתם בי בתוך בני ישראל במי מריבת קדש מדבר צן

על אשר לא קדשתם אותי בתוך בני ישראל (32:51)

Hashem told Moshe that he would die in the wilderness and wouldn’t merit leading the Jews into the land of Israel because of his sin at Mei Merivah. In explaining his sin, the Torah seems to give two explanations: Moshe trespassed against Hashem, and he also failed to sanctify Hashem’s name among the Jewish people. What are the two different components of this sin, and in what way are they connected?

The Mishnah in Pirkei Avos (3:1) warns a person to remember that he will be required to give a דין וחשבון – judgment and accounting – before Hashem, the King of Kings. As Chazal don’t waste words, what is the difference between judgment and accounting, which seem to be synonymous?

The Vilna Gaon explains that דין is what a person visualizes when he imagines the process of Divine justice; it is the punishment a person will receive for his actions. As if that weren’t scary enough, the Mishnah teaches us that a person must also give a חשבון, meaning that he will additionally be punished for the opportunity cost of the sin, which is all of the good deeds that he could have accomplished with the time and resources he invested in the sin.

The Meshech Chochmah and Rav Pam explain that our verse is emphasizing these same two concepts. The Torah begins by stating Moshe’s actual sin, in that he trespassed against Hashem by hitting the rock instead of speaking to it. Additionally, had Moshe followed Hashem’s orders and publicly demonstrated the rock bringing forth water in response to Hashem’s verbal command, a tremendous sanctification of His name would have occurred (Rashi Bamidbar 20:12). The Torah teaches that even the great Moshe has to give a דין וחשבון, and he was punished not only for what he did, but also for what he had the potential to do had he followed Hashem’s orders.

The Meshech Chochmah (30:20) also applies this explanation to the day of Yom Kippur in a most terrifying way. The Gemora in Yoma (85b) rules that if a person does proper repentance on Yom Kippur, the combination of his teshuvah and the Holiness of the day will atone even for very serious sins. If he passes Yom Kippur without repenting his actions, the day won’t effect forgiveness for even the most minor of his sins.

As a result, the דין which a person will have to give for neglecting the positive commandment of doing teshuvah on Yom Kippur (Rambam Hilchos Teshuvah 2:7) is no more severe than for failing to perform any other positive commandment. However, the חשבון for neglecting this mitzvah is greater than for virtually anything conceivable. Every sin which a person committed over the past year could have been forgiven through his teshuvah. The opportunity cost of not doing so is that every single will remain a blemish on his soul as a result of this one action, a חשבון beyond anything we could possibly imagine!


שובה ישראל עד ד' אלקיך כי כשלת בעונך (הפטורה – הושע 14:3)

The Gemora (Rosh Hashana 16b) teaches that three books are opened on Rosh Hashana: one for the completely righteous, one for the totally wicked, and one for those in the middle. Those who are found to be totally righteous are immediately written and sealed for life. Those who are completely evil are immediately written and sealed for death. The judgment of those in the middle is suspended until Yom Kippur, at which point they are written for life if they are found meritorious and for death if they are not.

The Rambam (Hilchos Teshuvah 3:3) emends the last section of the Gemora and writes that if a person repents his actions before Yom Kippur he will be sealed for life, and if he doesn’t do so, he will be sealed for death. Why does the Rambam specifically require the person to do the mitzvah of teshuvah to tip the scales in his favor as opposed to performing any other mitzvah which could similarly accrue a sufficient merit to tip the scales?

The Navi Yeshaya (55:6) exhorts us to seek out Hashem when He may be found and to call to Him when He is near to us. The Gemora in Yevamos (49b) understands this verse as referring to the 10-day period from Rosh Hashana until Yom Kippur. In light of this, Rav Yitzchok Blazer explains that although the observance of a mitzvah indeed generates an additional merit, the failure to take advantage of this unique opportunity to draw close to Hashem is so great that it outweighs any mitzvah we could possibly do. As the Rambam writes, this leaves us no choice but to properly repent our ways, and in that merit we will be inscribed for a year of blessing, health and happiness!


Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) The Gemora in Berachos (21a) derives from 32:3 that one is Biblically obligated to recite a blessing prior to the study of Torah. Is it permissible to study words of Torah with somebody that hasn’t recited the appropriate blessing beforehand? (Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv and Rav Asher Weiss quoted in K’Motzei Shalal Rav)

2) The Gemora in Bava Kamma (50a) derives from 32:4 that whoever says Hashem will overlook his sins will have his life overlooked. How can this be resolved with the concept (Shemos 34:7) that Hashem forgives our sins and judges us with mercy? (Taam V’Daas)

3) How many words are there in Parshas Ha’azinu, and what is its significance? (Genuzos HaGra)

4) Is a sick person who is required to eat on Yom Kippur for the sake of his health still obligated in the commandment to eat on the day before Yom Kippur (Orach Chaim 604:1)? (Shu”t K’sav Sofer 112, S’dei Chemed Ma’areches Yom Kippur 1:3, Mikraei Kodesh Yamim Noraim 37)

5) Does the mitzvah to eat on the day before Yom Kippur (Orach Chaim 604:1) begin on the night prior to Yom Kippur or only in the morning? (Shelah HaKadosh quoted in Magen Avrohom, Aishel Avrohom Bochotch, Biur HaGra and Yad Ephraim Orach Chaim 604; Rashi Kesuvos 5a)

6) Does every small amount that a person eats throughout the day before Yom Kippur fulfill the mitzvah to eat on that day (Orach Chaim 604:1), or is there a shiur (minimum amount) for how much one is required to eat in order to be included in this mitzvah, and if so, what is it? (Minchas Chinuch 313:16, Shu”t K’sav Sofer 114, Elef HaMagen 604:38, S’dei Chemed Ma’areches Yom Kippur 1:3, Orchos Rabbeinu Vol. 2 pg. 199)

7) The Shulchan Aruch rules (Orach Chaim 605:1) that a pregnant woman should use two chickens when performing the kaparos ritual. For what purpose is it necessary to effect atonement for a fetus which has yet to commit any sins which need forgiveness?

8) The Shulchan Aruch rules (606:1) that Yom Kippur will not atone for sins in which one has hurt another Jew until he has been appeased. Is a person required to pacify somebody who he has hurt, but who has also insulted him? (Mekor Chaim, Shu”t Zichron Yehuda 201)

9) The Gemora in Kiddushin (40b) teaches that a person who performs mitzvos and subsequently regrets them loses the merits he accrued for those mitzvos. If Hashem allows remorse to uproot prior good deeds, it naturally follows that sins which are regretted should also be erased, as Hashem’s attribute of giving reward is 500 times greater than that which punishes. If a mere thought has the power to undo our past deeds, what is so unique about the concept of teshuvah that we consider a valuable gift from Hashem? (Kovetz Ma’amorim, Derech Sicha)

10) There is a Talmudic rule (Kiddushin 59a-b) that although a statement may annul the effects of an earlier statement, it doesn’t possess the strength to undo an action which has been performed, which may only be uprooted through a subsequent action. As every sin consists of an action, how can it be rectified through the confession of teshuvah, as a verbal declaration doesn’t have the ability to undo an action? (Chida in Midbar K’deimos Maareches Tof 21, Sifsei Asher 150)

11) In explaining the 13 Attributes of Hashem’s Mercy, Rashi (Shemos 34:6) explains that Hashem’s name is repeated to teach that He is merciful both before a person sins and also after he sins and repents. What need is there for Divine Mercy if a person has yet to sin, and even if he has thought about sinning, the Gemora teaches (Kiddushin 40a) that Hashem doesn’t punish a person for sinful thoughts unless he acts on them? (Rosh on Rosh Hashana 17b)


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גמר חתימה טובה!!

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