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Vayelech 5763

Nitzavim-Vayelech (Deuteronomy 29:9-31:30 )

by Kalman Packouz

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GOOD MORNING!  A month ago I attended my 35th high school class reunion. My wife asked, "Why are you going?" I replied, "I want to see how they all got old and bald and gray ... 'not like me.' " In truth, I wanted to take an accounting of my own life - what I have done with the time - and compare to my compatriots, some with whom I attended nursery school.

What really impacted me was the easel board as one entered the room. On it was a memorial list of all of our classmates who had passed on. That really makes one stop and take notice. We think that there is a club of die-ers ... and that we don't belong. We all know, however, that as soon as we are born, we are on a path that will eventually lead to our demise. Class reunions are good reminders to take an accounting and perhaps redirect our lives. Rosh Hashanah is also should be an excellent reminder to take an accounting and perhaps redirect our lives.

Recently I saw a Midrash (a commentary in the form of a parable). A successful business man meets a former colleague who is now down on his luck. The colleague begs the successful business man for a substantial loan to turn around his circumstances. Eventually, the business man agrees to a 6 month loan and gives his former colleague the money. At the end of the 6 months, the business man goes to collect his loan. The former colleague gives him every last penny. However, the business man 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 pristine 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 Hashanah 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!

It would seem to make more sense to have the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) before the Day of Judgment (Rosh HaShanah). However, until we recognize our Creator and internalize the magnitude and consequences of our actions, we cannot truly seek to change ourselves or to seek atonement. That is why the three essential themes of Rosh HaShanah are: Malchuyot (Kingship), Zichronot (Providence) and Shofrot (Revelation). The musaf (additional) prayer service is structured around these three themes.

The Book of Our Heritage elucidates:

In the Kingship section we acknowledge God's creation of all existence, His active supervision of the entire universe, and our acceptance of His eternal rule.

In the Providence section we proclaim our understanding that:

  1. The Creator has a one-on-one relationship with every human being.

  2. God cares about what we do with our lives and sees and remembers everything.
  3. There are Divine consequences for our actions.

In the Revelation section we accept the Torah as if it were given once again with thunder and lightning and mighty Shofar blasts. We also await the final redemption which is to be heralded by the "Shofar of the Mashiach (Messiah)."

There's a custom on Rosh Hashanah to eat apples dipped in honey. Apples and honey symbolize sweetness - a year of happiness and joy. Judaism teaches that happiness is a state of being - it comes from within. Imagine a prince who possesses great treasures, but isn't aware of his wealth or royal status - he may live his life as a pauper! The same is true for us. Our lives are filled with beautiful treasures which we so easily take for granted - we walk, talk, see and hear, we think and remember, we have friends and family - priceless gifts that no money can buy! On Rosh Hashanah we blow the Shofar to wake up to our true identity - our higher ideals, and the wonderful things we have which we take for granted. When we realize the beauty inherent in life, we can live not as paupers, but as the princes and princesses we truly are, bringing sweetness and joy to our new year.

Torah Portion of the Week

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 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.

Netzavim concludes with perhaps the clearest and most powerful statement in the Torah about the purpose of life and the existence of freewill:

"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 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

Regarding a warning against idolatry, the Torah states:

"And it will be when he hears the words of this curse and he will bless himself in his heart saying, 'There will be peace unto me for I will go as my heart sees fit.'" (Deuteronomy 29:18)

Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman used to quote his Rebbe, the Chofetz Chaim, that this refers to someone who doesn't just do an improper act because of an impulse. Rather, he makes an entire ideology out of cruelty and the right to harm others - he makes a whole new set of rules for himself that are diametrically opposed to Torah principles. The next verse (Deuteronomy 29:19) illustrates that this is a very serious offense! It is not that the person just happened to do something that was wrong.

There are people who cause others emotional pain in various ways and when they are rebuked, they claim, "I always do this. This is the way those people should be treated." If someone creates for himself principles that are based on selfishness and callousness, he will not merely cause suffering just a few times. He will repeat what he does over and over again. Since s/he has not lost his temper, but premeditatedly decides to act this way, s/he will not regret the harm he causes. Our behavior towards others should not be based on our faults and negative character traits formulated into a policy. We must study the Torah to know the elevated behavior that is our obligation and then incorporate the Torah standards into our life.

CANDLE LIGHTING - September 19:
(or go to

Jerusalem  6:05
Guatemala 5:43  Hong Kong 6:12  Honolulu 6:26
J'Burg 5:44  London 6:48  Los Angeles 6:36
Melbourne 5:55  Miami 7:03  Moscow 6:19

New York 6:41  Singapore  6:44


Use a microscope on yourself
and use a telescope on others.

To my wonderful wife
Dr. Helena Igra
In honor of your birthday
Love, Marc

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