Thursday, September 06, 2007

Parshas Nitzavim-Vayeilech

הנסתרת לד' אלקינו והנגלת לנו ולבנינו עד עולם לעשות את כל דברי התורה הזאת (29:28)

In discussing the difference between sins performed privately and publicly, the Torah writes the words לנו ולבנינו – for us and for our children – with dots on top of each letter, something done quite rarely. Although there are rules for interpreting the meaning of such dots (see Rashi), the Chofetz Chaim explains that when writing a book, an author who wants to stress a certain point will draw attention to it by underlining the salient words.

Similarly, when discussing the importance of educating our children and raising them with appropriate values, the Torah saw no more fitting way to do so than to place dots on the words referring to us and our children. In essence, the Torah is “underlining” these words to emphasize the unparalleled significance in Judaism of teaching our children to be proper G-d-fearing Jews.

The importance which our Rabbis assigned to educating their children is brought out in a beautiful story recounted by Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein. One year on the night of Kol Nidrei, the Jews of a large community were assembled in the synagogue, ready to begin the solemn services. Only one critical element was conspicuously absent: the Rav, renowned for his punctuality, was nowhere to be seen. After waiting several tense minutes, a delegation was dispatched to his house to find out the cause of the delay.

They arrived at the house of their beloved Rav, Rav Binyomin Diskin, fearing the worst. They were shocked when they peered through the window and observed him calmly seated by the table, studying together with his young son. Rav Diskin seemed completely oblivious to the congregation which was anxiously awaiting his presence in the synagogue.

Seizing his courage, one of the elders of the community knocked on the door and gently explained that the congregation was concerned about his uncharacteristic delay. The elderly Rav explained that with the arrival of the day on which a person’s fate for the upcoming year is sealed, he found himself nervous about his lack of merits. Desperately seeking to accrue mitzvos which could tip the scale in his favor, he could think of no greater merit than teaching Torah to his young son, who not surprisingly grew up to become the saintly Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin!

The lesson for us is clear. Parshas Nitzavim-Vayeilech is read annually close to Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. At the time when the entire world passes before Hashem in judgment, the Torah goes out of its way to uncharacteristically “underline” a phrase to emphasize to us the importance of looking after our children and raising them properly. Indeed, our Rabbis teach that a person is judged and held responsible not only for his own actions, but also for those of his descendants (to the extent that he could have influenced them to behave otherwise). At this critical time, let us remember the Chofetz Chaim’s message and the actions of Rav Diskin and accept upon ourselves to redouble our commitment to educating and influencing our families in a direction which would make Hashem proud.


ושבת עד ד' אלקיך ושמעת בקלו ככל אשר אנכי מצוך היום אתה ובניך בכל לבבך ובכל נפשך (30:2)

As the Torah is the blueprint for the entire Creation, it inherently contains within it allusions to everything which will ever exist or occur in the universe. The Vilna Gaon explains that the Torah’s recounting of the episode of Creation contains the events which transpired in the first 1000 years of history, with the second 1000 years hidden in the remainder of Sefer Bereishis, the third 1000 years in Sefer Shemos, the fourth 1000 years in Sefer Vayikra, the fifth 1000 years in Sefer Bamidbar, and the final 1000 years in Sefer Devorim.

As Sefer Devorim contains ten parshios (counting Nitzavim and Vayeilech as one, as they are often read together as a double portion), each portion hints to the events of one century of the 6th millennium, beginning from Devorim and ending with V’Zos HaBeracha. Based on this explanation of the Vilna Gaon, it has been noted that the early years of the Holocaust, the greatest national tragedy in modern history, fall out in the century which corresponds to Parshas Ki Savo, which contains hair-raising threats of terrible suffering which will befall the Jewish nation.

However, consolation may be found by recognizing that we are currently living in the century that corresponds to Parshas Nitzavim-Vayeilech, which is commonly referred to as the portion of repentance. Not surprisingly, the years since World War II have seen a wave of uneducated and nonobservant Jews returning to their roots on an unprecedented scale, precisely as predicated by the Torah. This should be an inspiration for all Jews to examine and correct their ways as Rosh Hashana draws nearer with every passing day.


החיים והמות נתתי לפניך הברכה והקללה ובחרת בחיים למען תחיה אתה וזרעך (30:19)

Moshe exhorted the Jewish people: “I have placed before you life and death, blessing and curse. You shall choose life, so that you will live, you and your offspring.” As Moshe already mentioned that the alternative to life is death, wouldn’t it have been sufficient to merely command us to choose life? Why was it necessary to add the phrase, “so that you will live, you and your offspring,” which seems superfluous after we are told to choose life?

Rav Moshe Feinstein explains that Moshe wasn’t explaining why one should choose life or to spell out the self-evident consequences of doing so. Rather, he was adding critical information: the type of life we should choose, namely one that will result in our children selecting to follow in our footsteps. Rav Moshe writes that the financial situation for many European immigrants was grim. Their refusal to work on Shabbos made it very difficult to find and keep a reliable paycheck. When they came home, they complained constantly about how hard it is to be an observant Jew.

Although they remained committed to their religious ideals, their children grew up being unintentionally educated to the belief that Judaism is painful and requires great sacrifice. Not surprisingly, many of them chose to abandon their family traditions. On the other hand, if parents stress the warmth and happiness which our faith offers, their children will naturally want to follow in their footsteps, and it is precisely this kind of life which Moshe commands us to choose.


ויאמר אלהם בן מאה ועשרים שנה אנכי היום (31:2)

היום מלאו ימי ושנותי ביום זה נולדתי ביום זה אמות (רש"י)

In addressing the Jewish people on the last day of his life, Moshe emphasized that on that day he was 120 years old. The Gemora (Sotah 13b) derives from here that the righteous die on the day on which they were born, as Hashem completes the years of the righteous from day to day and from month to month. Because Moshe was born on 7 Adar, he lived out his last year and also died on 7 Adar. The Maharsha (Kiddushin 38a) points out a major difficulty with this calculation. If Moshe finished out his years, shouldn’t he have died on 6 Adar – the last day of his 120th year – and not on 7 Adar, which was the first day of a new year which he didn’t live to complete?

In his commentary Chochmas Shlomo on Choshen Mishpat (35:1), Rav Shlomo Kluger uses this very question as novel support for an original position. Most commentators assume that a child becomes a legal adult as a Bar or Bas Mitzvah at sundown on the day of his or her 13th or 12th birthdays, respectively. Rav Kluger, however, maintains that this occurs not at sundown but only at the time of day when the child was actually born. He suggests that although Moshe was born on 7 Adar, he couldn’t die on 6 Adar, as this wouldn’t be considered a finished year. Rather, he died on 7 Adar just at the time he was born, thereby completing his 120th full year! It should be noted that for practical purposes the law is decided in accordance with the majority of commentators who disagree with this opinion.


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

1) On the last day of his life, Moshe gathered the entire nation together to enter them into a new covenant (Rashi 29:9), one in which they would be held responsible for the actions of one another (Rashi 29:28). Does this concept of communal responsibility (ערבות) apply to converts and/or to women? (Rashi Niddah 13b d.h. k’sapachas, Tosefos Niddah 13b d.h. kashim, Rosh and Tzelach Berachos 20, Chida, Shiras Dovid, Zahav Sh’va, MiTzion Mich’lal Yofee)

2) Moshe began his speech to the people (29:9-10) by emphasizing that all of them are present, from the chopper of wood to the drawer of water. To emphasize that the entire nation was present, wouldn’t it have been more accurate to use opposite ends of the spectrum as reference points and to state “from the wood-chopper to the king?” (Panim Yafos, Nesivos Rabboseinu)

3) Moshe told the people (30:12) that the Torah is not in Heaven. The Gemora in Bava Metzia (59b) understands this to mean that after the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, it is up to the Sages to decide matters of Jewish law, which are no longer within the jurisdiction of Hashem. How were Rabbis throughout the ages permitted to mystically inquire regarding Hashem’s opinion in various legal disputes among the great Sages of the generation? (Introduction to Shu”t Min HaShomayim, Sefer Mitzvos HaGadol Lo Sa’aseh 64, Sefer Chasidim 205 and 630, Yad Ephraim 695:3, Rabbeinu Bechaye 29:28, K’Motzei Shalal Rav)

4) Rashi writes (31:2) that on the day of Moshe’s death, the springs of wisdom were closed off to him. How was he able to teach Parshios Vayeilech, Haazinu, and V’Zos HaBeracha without access to the Divine sources of wisdom? (HaEmek Davar 31:22 and 33:1, Yishm’ru Daas)

5) Rashi writes (31:11) that the mitzvah of reading the book of Devorim in front of the people every seven years was performed by the king. Was this mitzvah performed before the appointment of Shaul as the first king, and if so by whom? (Abarbanel, HaEmek Davar, Minchas Chinuch 612, Derech Sicha, Mas’as HaMelech, Shiras Dovid)

6) The Rambam writes (Hilchos Chagiga 3:1) that the purpose of gathering the people together to hear the reading of the book of Devorim (31:11) is to strengthen their religious commitment and fear of Hashem. With such important objectives, why is this mitzvah performed only once every seven years and not annually? (Even Yisroel)

7) The Gemora in Chagiga (3a) states that for the king’s reading of the book of Devorim (31:11), the men came to learn and the women came to listen. The Gemora questions why the Torah commands (31:12) that the small children be brought, and answers that it is to earn merits for their parents in bringing them. On a practical level, does this rationale apply to bringing small children to the synagogue, and if so, from what age? (Mishnah Berurah 98:3 and 124:28)

8) Why does the Torah refer to itself (31:19) as a song? (Ponovezher Rav quoted in Lekach Tov and Peninim MiShulchan Gevoha, Me’Rosh Amanah, K’Motzei Shalal Rav)

9) The Rambam derives (Hilchos Tefillin 7:1) the mitzvah to write a Sefer Torah from the fact that the Torah commands (31:19) us to write “this song.” Because the Torah may not be written in individual sections, it must be a general commandment to write an entire Sefer Torah which will contain the song therein. Why can’t the song be written separately just as the portions contained within a mezuzah and tefillin are written separately? (HaEmek Davar, Torah Temimah, Darash Moshe, Zahav MiSh’va)

10) May the mitzvah of writing a Sefer Torah (31:19) be fulfilled through the purchase of books on Torah subjects? (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 270:2 with commentaries of Shach, Taz, Biur HaGra, Pis’chei Teshuva, and Be’er Heitzev; Tur Yoreh Deah 270 with commentaries of Beis Yosef and Prisha; Shaages Aryeh 36, Chinuch and Minchas Chinuch 613, Shu”t Chasam Sofer Orach Chaim 52 and 54, Chochmas Chaim, Moadim U’Zmanim 184)


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