While most Kol Torah articles focus on the Parsha of the week, I would like to use this opportunity, coming as it does right before we begin the annual cycle of Selichot, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, to mention an important and often overlooked aspect of the Yamim Noraim.
They are not called the "days of awe" for nothing. During the time that begins with Rosh Chodesh Elul, we desperately try to shift our perspectives and actions to be more deserving of mercy and forgiveness from the Almighty. But what of those who are not deserving? We know that on Rosh Hashanah all is decided about us for the year. One of the most heart-stopping and affecting pieces of the Chazzan's repetition of Musaf on all three days (in the Ashkenazic Machzor) is the end of U'Netaneh Tokef:
On Rosh Hashanah it is written, and on the Day of the Fast of Kippur it is sealed: how many will pass, and how many will be created; who before his time, who at his time; who will live, who will die; who by water, who by fire, who by sword, who by wild animal, who by hunger, who by thirst, who by storm, who by plague, who by strangulation, who by stoning...
I am sure we will all remember exactly where we were and what we were doing at the moment we heard the terrible news on September 11th, 2001. I was in Israel, sitting in yeshiva, and then headed to my rebbe's house in Beit Shemesh. There I stared at the words of U'Netaneh Tokef for nearly an hour, trying my best to understand what had happened. Why had so many people died? Why had so many more people not died? There are countless stories of survivors, people who made it out by the bare skin of their teeth. How many more stories must there be of people who did not make it out, who would tell us if they could how very close they were to escaping, and were prevented at the last moment by some force out of their control?
My inability to comprehend the incomprehensible that day led to my exploration of the Rosh Hashana davening. I found little to comfort me in the praises that began Musaf, even less in the detailed and eloquent descriptions of God's greatness and power that are contained in the Piyutim that follow. If God was so great and powerful, why did He allow this to happen?
I soon realized that this question was silly. People commit evil, and to blame God for the evil of humans is unfair. The Pasuk (Bereishit 1:26) makes it clear that we were created BeTzelem Elokim, with free will and both great and evil potential - how can we blame the King of Kings when others exercise the freedom provided to them?
But the question still haunted me, until I remembered the words of my father after the crash of TWA Flight 800, on Rosh Chodesh Av, 1996, an event that even today defies scientific explanation. My father simply told me, "For some reason, God decided on Rosh Hashana the year before that all of those people should be in that place at that time. Why, how, we don't know. But we have to have faith that He had a good reason."
While there is no dramatic revelation or impressive deduction contained in that simple response, we as Jews take as the bedrock of our Emunah that God has a plan. But that does not absolve us of the responsibility to make ourselves as worthy as possible to receive the mercy and the clemency afforded by the opportunity of Rosh Hashanah. As we stand through Malchuyot, Zichronot, and Shofarot this coming year, we hope the Shofar's blast will herald Mashiach and the end of pain and tragedy LeOlam Va'ed.
by Yoni Apfel
In Parshat Ki Tavo's listing of the Berachot, Hashem says that He will affirm us as His holy nation if we keep the Mitzvot. If we do this, the nations of the world will admire and revere us. The Haftarah echoes this idea, describing how the nations will see the spiritual light coming from Yerushalayim. But how are we supposed to be a "light unto nations" and show the beauty and truth of Torah?
Instead of seeing the greatness of the Torah and its values, many people, Jews included, believe terrible things about Jews and Judaism. Many of us keep the Torah, but anti-Semitism continues. We are an Am Echad BaAretz (see Rejoice O Youth, Rabbi A. Miller), "a nation unique in the world," but how can we show it?
First, we must keep the Mitzvot, ignoring outside opinions and temptations. Second, it is not enough to do the Mitzvot; we must also know why we do them, and we must love performing each Mitzvah (again, see Rejoice O Youth and other works by the same author). Even more, to be a holy nation and a model society, we must really absorb the Torah into our inner selves. We must be strict with ourselves, going beyond the minimum requirements of Mitzvot Bein Adam LaMakom and Bein Adam LaChaveiro. Finally, to be a light unto others, we must be ourselves and not try to mimic others. This is why we are not supposed to listen to most or all of non-Jewish and even some Jewish music (see Orach Chaim 560 and commentaries there) [Editor's note: also see Rabbi Jachter's article on the topic at our website, www.koltorah.org], may not read and watch certain things that will affect us badly, and are prohibited from actions falling under the category of Chukat HaGoyim. Instead, we should do Chesed, learn Torah, and show the meaning of being religious and the happiness it can really bring to our lives.
Raise Your Voice
by Alex Katzenstein
Parshat Ki Tavo opens with the Mitzvah of Bikurim, bringing the first fruits to the Kohen. When Bnei Yisrael brought these fruits to the Kohen, the were supposed to recite several Pesukim. One of these states, "VaNitz'ak El Hashem Elokei Avoteinu, Vayishma Hashem Et Koleinu, Vayar Et Anyeinu VeEt Amaleinu Ve'Et Lachatzeinu," "Then we cried out to Hashem, the God of our forefathers, and Hashem heard our voices and saw our affliction, our work and our oppression." This Pasuk refers to the years we spent tortured by the Mitzrim prior to entering Eretz Yisrael.
The Chofetz Chaim points out the significance of this Pasuk by citing a story from the Navi Hosheia. Hashem tells Bnei Yisrael to pray to him with words so He will respond. Bnei Yisrael complain that they have nothing concrete to offer Him. Hashem responds to them again that all He wants is words. Bnei Yisrael still does not understand and continues to complain. Responding for the third time, Hashem reminds Bnei Yisrael how He took them out of Eygpt once they stopped just complaining about oppression and started expressing a wish to be freed.
We should learn from this Pasuk and story in Hoshea the significance of our voices. Hashem could have said, "I want you to pray to me" and "I heard your prayers," but instead He pointed out how Bnei Yisrael needed to voice their opinions in order to be heard. We should learn from this, especially in the month of Elul, that some of the most important prayers are not done in silence but rather out loud to Hashem. Only by using our voices can we truly connect to Hashem and have our prayers answered.
Written in Stone
by Ari Levine
In Parshat Ki Tavo, Moshe commands Bnei Yisrael to set up stones when they cross into Eretz Yisrael on which they must write the words of the Torah. He states that this copy of the Torah must be written specifically in stone: "You shall inscribe on the stones all the words of this Torah" (27:8). Why did Hashem command us to make these monuments out of stone as opposed to other materials?
There is a very famous story about Rabi Akiva that while walking through his fields one day, before he had learned much Torah, he noticed a rock with a hole in it. Under closer examination, he saw tiny drop of water dripping onto the stone. Over the years, these drops of water bore a substantial hole through the rock. Rabi Akiva, an illiterate forty-year-old man, realized that if something as soft as water can puncture something as hard as a rock (given enough time), surely Torah, too, can penetrate the soul of a Jewish person. Rabi Akiva went on to become one of the greatest Talmidei Chachamim to walk the face of the earth.
With this story in mind, we can understand why Moshe commanded that the Torah be written specifically on stone. He wanted to make sure that people would remember that even if a person is not capable of easily grasping a particular Daf of Gemara or Halacha or Perek of Tanach, he must still continue to strive to become more of a Talmid Chacham because it will always affect him spiritually in a positive way, just as water is famous for doing to stone. --Adapted from a Dvar Torah in Vedibarta Bam
Staff at time of publication:
Editors-in-Chief: Ariel Caplan, Jesse Dunietz
Managing Editors: Etan Bluman, Roni Kaplan
Publication Managers: Josh Markovic, Mitch Levine
Business Manager: David Gross
Webmaster: Avi Wollman
Staff: Kevin Beckoff, Avi Levinson, Gavriel Metzger, Jesse Nowlin, Shmuel Reece, Dov Rossman, Chaim Strassman
Faculty Advisor: Rabbi Chaim Jachter