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Nitzavim 5765

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

by Kalman Packouz

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GOOD MORNING!   Have you ever attended a class reunion from your high school?

What really impacted me from my reunion was the easel board as one entered the room. On it was a memorial list of all of our classmates who had passed on. It makes one stop and take notice. We think that there is a club of die-ers ... and that we don't belong. It shook me when a friend who shares the same day of birth with me and who was in my class from nursery school through high school went home from work ... and just died. We all know, 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 Hashana should also be an excellent reminder to take an accounting and perhaps redirect our lives.

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!

Rosh Hashana begins Monday evening, October 3! My friend and colleague,
Rabbi Nachum Braverman writes:

"On Rosh Hashana we make an accounting of our year and we pray repeatedly for life. How do we justify another year of life? What did we do with the last year? Has it been a time of growth, of insight and of caring for others? Did we make use of our time, or did we squander it? Has it truly been a year of life, or merely one of mindless activity? This is the time for evaluation and rededication. The Jewish process is called "teshuva," coming home - recognizing our mistakes between ourselves and God as well as between ourselves and our fellow man and then correcting them."

On Rosh Hashana we pray that we are inscribed in the Book of Life for life, for health, for sustenance. It is the Day of Judgment. Yet, we celebrate with festive meals with family and friends. How can we celebrate when our very lives hang in balance? Ultimately, we trust in the kindness and mercy of the Almighty ... that He knows our heart and our intentions and with love and knowledge of what is best for us, will accordingly grant us a good decree for the new year.

At the festive meal both nights of Rosh Hashana it is customary to dip the challah, specially braided bread, as well as an apple, into honey symbolizing our hopes for a sweet year. There is a custom to eat various Symbolic Foods - primarily fruits and vegetables - each one preceded by a request. (The list is usually found in the Machzor, the Rosh Hashana prayerbook.) For instance, before eating a pomegranate, "May it be Your will ... that our merits increase like (the seeds of) a pomegranate." Many of the requests are based on "plays on words" between the name of the food and the request.

Another custom is Tashlich, a symbolic casting off of transgressions. It is done after the Mincha, the afternoon prayers, on the first day of Rosh Hashana. Remember - these symbolic acts help you relate to what you need to do in life, to awaken your emotions and passions; they are not an end in themselves. It is worthwhile to get a copy of the Rosh Hashana / Yom Kippur Survival Kit to get a better understanding of the holiday, the prayers, the prayer services and the opportunity that is afforded to you to grow in spirituality, to come closer to the Almighty, to perfect yourself and to perfect the world! It is available at your local Jewish bookstore, at or by calling toll-free to 877-758-3242.

I would like to share with you a story about an elderly sage named Reb Zusia who lay on his deathbed surrounded by his students and disciples. He was crying and no one could comfort him.

One student asked his Rebbe, "Why do you cry? You were almost as wise as Moses and as kind as Abraham." Reb Zusia answered, "When I pass from this world and appear before the Heavenly Tribunal, they won't ask me, 'Zusia, why weren't you as wise as Moses or as kind as Abraham.' Rather, they will ask me, 'Zusia, why weren't you Zusia?' Why didn't I fulfill my potential, why didn't I follow the path that could have been mine."

On Rosh Hashana we confront our potential as human beings, but even more so, as Jews. Let each of us use the opportunity to reevaluate our lives, our potentials, and our commitment to our God, our Torah, our People and ourselves! A sweet year to you and yours.

For more on "Rosh Hashana" go to!


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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. He warns us against idolatry (thinking anything other than God has power) and assures us that eventually the Jewish people will do teshuva (repent) and will be redeemed and brought back to the land of Israel - and those who hate the Jewish people and pursue us will get their just recompense.

Nitzavim 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!)


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." (Deuteronomy 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.

CANDLE LIGHTING - September 30:
(or go to

Jerusalem  5:50
Chicago 6:14  Guatemala 5:33  Hong Kong 5:54
Honolulu 6:00  J'Burg 5:49  London 6:21
Los Angeles 6:19  Melbourne 6:01  Mexico City 6:10

Miami 6:49  Moscow 5:50  New York 6:21
Singapore 6:41  Toronto 5:41


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

In Appreciation of
Leonard & Barbara Wein
for their friendship & support

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