Nitzavim-Vayelech 5771

September 18, 2011

5 min read


Vayelech (Deuteronomy 31 )

GOOD MORNING! Did you ever have a heartfelt belief, something that you were sure in your bones was true ... and then read something and have your belief flipped on its head?  That's why I found the following piece excerpted with permission from "Letters to the Next Generation" by Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks ( a fascinating change of perspective!

"Here's the paradox: Most people think that more people would keep Judaism if only it were easier, less demanding.  Why all the commandments, 613 of them?  Wouldn't it be better if we made being Jewish simpler?

"Let's see. Think of Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot.  Which of the three is kept, on average, by the greatest numbers of Jews?  More people keep Pesach than Sukkot.  More people keep Sukkot than Shavuot.  That's true wherever you go in the Jewish world.

"Now ask, which is the most demanding?  Pesach is by far the most difficult.  It involves cleaning the house, koshering the kitchen, using special utensils, and much else besides.  Next comes Sukkot.  You have to buy a lulav and etrog.  You have to make a Sukkah.  Easiest by far is Shavuot, which has no special mitzvah, unless you count staying up late on the first night for a Tikkun [learning Torah].  So, the harder a festival is to keep, the more people keep it.

"Now think of the hardest day of all, one in which there is no eating or drinking, no joy or celebration, on which you spend the entire day in shul (synagogue), thinking of all the things you did wrong.  A prefect formula, you would have thought, for making sure that no one keeps it at all.

"But of course the opposite is true.  Yom Kippur, when all these things happen, is the day on which more Jews come to shul than any other in the entire year.

"It's counterintuitive but true: the things we value most are the things that are the most demanding.  That's true of study; it's true at work; it's true in sport; and it's true in matters of the spirit. Things that cost us little, we cherish little.  What matters most to us are the things we make sacrifices for.  If Judaism had been easier, it would have died out long ago.

"Never doubt that it's a privilege to be a Jew.  Head for head our people have done more to transform the world than any other.  There are easier ways to live, but none more challenging.  God asks great things of our people.  That's what made our people great."



        There is a Midrash (a commentary on the Five Books of Moses in the form of a parable) about a successful businessman who meets a former colleague down on his luck.  The colleague begs the successful business man for a substantial loan to turn around his circumstances.  Eventually, the businessman agrees to a 6-month loan and gives his former colleague the money.  At the end of the 6 months, the businessman goes to collect his loan.  The former colleague gives him every last penny.  However, the businessman notices that the money is the exact same coins he loaned the man.  He was furious!  "How dare you borrow such a huge amount and not even use it?  I gave this to you to better your life!"  The man was speechless.

        Likewise, the Almighty gives each of us a soul.  He doesn't want us to return it to Him at the end of our days in the same condition that we received it.  He wants us to better ourselves, to enhance our souls by doing the mitzvot (613 commandments).  It is up to us to sit down before Rosh Hashana and make a list of what we need to correct in our lives between us and our fellow beings, us and God and us and ourselves!


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Torah Portion of the Week
September 24, 2011:  Nitzavim & VaYelech

On the day of Moshe's death he assembles the whole Jewish people and creates a Covenant confirming the Jewish people as the Almighty's Chosen People (chosen for responsibility to be a light to the nations) for all future generations.  Moshe makes clear the consequences of rejecting God and His Torah as well as the possibility of repentance. He reiterates that Torah is readily available to everyone.

Nitzavim concludes with perhaps the clearest and most powerful statement in the Torah about the purpose of life and the existence of free-will: "I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil ... the blessing and the curse.  Therefore, choose life that you may live, you and your descendants."  (Now that's a real Quote of the Week!)

VaYelech begins with Moshe passing the torch of leadership to Yehoshua (Joshua).  Moshe then gives Yehoshua a command/blessing which applies to every Jewish leader: "Be strong and brave.  Do not be afraid or feel insecure before them.  God your Lord is the One who is going with you, and He will not fail you nor forsake you."

Moshe writes the entire Torah and gives it to the Cohanim and Elders.  He then commands that in the future at the end of the Shmita (Sabbatical Year) the king should gather all the people during the Succot festival and read to them the Torah so "... that they will hear and learn and fear the Lord your God and be careful to perform all the words of the Torah."

The Almighty describes in a short paragraph the course of Jewish history (that's starting from Deuteronomy 31:16 for the curious).  Lastly, before Moshe goes to "sleep with his forefathers," he assembles the people to teach them the song of Ha'azinu, the next weekly Torah portion, to remind them of the consequences of turning against the Almighty.

* * *

Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

In this week's Torah portion we learn that the goal of learning and fulfilling the Torah is neither hidden nor distant from us:

"Rather, the matter is very close to you in your mouth and heart to do it" (Deut. 30:14).

Why does the Torah use the phrase "mouth and heart" to tell us that we can learn the whole Torah and fulfill it?

Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz, the Rosh Hayeshiva of the Mir Yeshiva, commented that regardless of how far away one is, if he is sincerely resolved to become a better person, he will be able make an immediate transformation of himself.  How?  When you make a sincere verbal commitment to the Almighty and to yourself to become a changed person, your very words have impact.  If you keep up your resolve, you can change your behavior.

If the words of your mouth are one with what is in your heart, then you can change immediately.  However, sometimes we need to repeat over and over the words of what we know is correct -- and what we should do -- so that they will enter our hearts. -- Teach Yourself Judaism

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CANDLE LIGHTING - September 23
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When we are no longer able to change a situation,
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--  Viktor Frankl


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