“Deadline,” “due date,” and “finals” are all terms we associate with “all-nighters,” frantic attempts to pull together all of our work. The approaching Rosh Hashanah has similar symbolism. Rosh Hashanah is the big day. It is the day on which our closing arguments are being made, as well as our moment of opportunity to impress Hashem as He sits in judgment. This may seem like a time for desperation or for attempts to show Hashem how different we are going to be. Actually, a more effective recipe calls for patient steps of gradual self-improvement. When Richard Simmons was asked how he is able to infuse hope and encouragement in people to lose tens or even hundreds of pounds on diet, he responded by saying that he has never convinced anyone to lose hundreds of pounds. Instead, he convinces people to lose a few pounds by concentrating on one meal at a time. If the goals are realistic, the diet will be successful.
One of the first “Baalei Teshuva” in history is Kayin. After killing his brother Hevel and accepting rebuke and punishment from Hashem, Kayin exclaims, “Gadol Avoni MiNeso,” “My iniquity is too great to bear” (Bereishit 4:13). Kayin initially reacts with desperation, unable to shoulder responsibility for his wrongdoing. However, the Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 22:13) continues this story. After Kayin’s initial despair, he meets his father, Adam, who asks: what was Hashem’s verdict? Kayin responds that he has done Teshuva, “VeNitpasharti.” What does this word “VeNitpasharti” mean? Rav Yissocher Frand suggests that the word comes from the root Pesharah, which means compromise. Kayin is describing his Teshuva as one of compromise. When faced with the daunting task of recovering from a seemingly unbearable judgment, Kayin describes his approach as compromise. Kayin realizes he can not do Teshuva in one desperate prayer, or through an extreme and immediate reversal of his inherent nature. In contrast, he chooses an approach of gradual, realistic change.
The Chafetz Chaim illustrates this idea with a story. A merchant once placed an order with a wholesaler. After the wholesaler completed the order and presented the bill to the merchant, the merchant asked to put the bill on credit. After looking over the merchant’s troubling record, the wholesaler regrettably had to tell the merchant that he couldn’t continue adding to the already large debt he owed the wholesaler. The merchant begged and pleaded, but with a heavy heart, the wholesaler was compelled to say no. Finally, the merchant began bawling and crying hysterically that this was the last time he would ask for his credit to be extended and he would begin paying back very soon. Another customer who over heard this conversation interrupted. Hearing both sides of the story, he offered a very practical solution. The merchant should place a small order with the wholesaler and pay for it in cash. The wholesaler, who normally wouldn’t sell this small amount of merchandise for the wholesale price, would make an exception for this merchant and sell the merchandise at the discounted price. Then, the merchant would sell his goods and return, cash in hand, and begin paying off his debt, while still continuing to buy small amounts of the merchandise with the remaining money. While certainly not a glamorous business plan, this approach proved very successful in paying off the merchant’s debt.
Teshuva is not so different from business practices or diets. Small, gradual steps towards self-improvement works! Harold B. Melchart once said, “Live life each day as you would climb a mountain. An occasional glance towards the summit keeps the goal in mind…Climb slowly, steadily enjoying each passing moment; and the view from the summit will serve as a fitting climax for the journey.” We don’t need to come out of Rosh Hashanah with New Year’s propositions which will be overly challenging. Instead we might pick one or two small items we wish to improve and a vision of the ultimate goal. After successfully reaching these goals, we will be confident and determined to continue this process. LeShana Tova Tikatevu VeTeichateimu.
The Choice is Yours…Or Is It?
by Ariel Caplan
Parshat Nitzavim ends with Moshe presenting the ultimate choice to Bnei Yisrael (30:15): ”Re’eh Natati Lefanecha HaYom Et HaChayim VeEt HaTov VeEt HaMavet VeEt Hara,” “See, I have given before you today the life and the good, and the death and the evil.” Seemingly, Moshe is offering the Jews the choice of whether to follow the Mitzvot, meriting life, or to ignore them, bringing death upon themselves. However, Moshe also states several Pesukim later (30:19), “UVacharta BaChayim,” “And you shall choose life.” If Moshe wants to offer good and evil as two choices, why does he then only allow us to choose one?
Rashi answers that this is not a command; rather, it is advice to choose correctly, much as one would advise to his friend to choose correctly when it comes to financial matters. (Rav Saadya Gaon suports Rashi's understanding, translating UVacharta not as “You shall choose” but somewhat loosely as “I advise you to choose.”)
Still, is it not obvious that one should “choose life?” With almost no exceptions, anyone will without hesitation, given the choice between life and death, choose life. Why, then, does the Torah, which never wastes words, need to tell us this seemingly obvious fact? Does it also need to tell us to eat every day and wear a coat in the winter?
The answer can be found in the next Pasuk, “Ki Hu Chayecha VeOrech Yamecha,” “For He is your life and the length of your days.” Although there is some debate over whether Hu refers to Hashem or following the Mitzvot, the message is the same. Quite simply, the only life that is really called Chayim is a life of following the word of Hashem.
As Bikurei Aviv (quoted by Maayanah Shel Torah) notes, “Yeish Bnei Adam SheHeim Chayim Kedei Le’echol VeOchlim Kedei Lichyot,” “there are people who live to eat and eat to live.” Their entire existence is dedicated to performing mundane actions to continue their existence, in an endless cycle devoid of meaning. Innumerable people follow this pattern, believing that true life is one of pleasure and materialism. To counteract this misconception, the Torah has to tell us to choose Chayim. Instead of wasting away our lives on meaningless pursuits, we must aim for a life of Torah and Mitzvot that has a real purpose. Only Chayim is real life.
With the Yamim Noraim swiftly approaching, it is imperative to evaluate the spiritual quality of our lives. As we say in UNetaneh Tokef, our physical lives hang in the balance; Midah Keneged Midah, they depend on our Chayim, spiritual lives. Therefore, when we do a Cheshbon HaNefesh, a calculation of our strengths and weaknesses, our accomplishments and our faults, the overarching question must be: am I entirely devoting myself to physical, materialistic goals, or does my life have a higher meaning? This self-analysis will hopefully inspire us to refine our goals and direct our lives toward true Chayim.
The Simple Shofar
by Avi Levinson
The Gemara in Rosh Hashanah (26a) poses the following question: why are all Shofarot Kesheirim to be used for the Mitzvah except that of a cow? One of the answers given is that “a prosecutor cannot become a defense attorney.” Since cows are associated with the Cheit HaEigel, the sin of the golden calf, we do not want to “remind” Hashem of this sin on Rosh Hashanah. The Gemara then asks why the clothes the Kohen Gadol wears on Yom Kippur are made out of gold; shouldn’t that also “remind” Hashem of the Cheit HaEigel? The Gemara answers that only the Avodah which was performed inside the Kodesh HaKodashim in the Beit Hamikdash has to deal with the problem of “a prosecutor can not become a defense attorney.” However, the Shofar is not blown in the Kodesh HaKodashim, so why should this problem be relevant? The Gemara explains that because Shofar-blowing is done for Zikaron, remembrance, it is as if it is in the Kodesh HaKodashim. Shofar is as close to Hashem as we can get on Rosh Hashanah; it is as if we enter the Kodesh HaKodashim itself. What gives Shofar this immense power to connect us to Hashem? What is the meaning of Shofar-blowing?
Perhaps these questions can be answered based on the Netivot Shalom on Parshat Ki Tavo. Dealing with the statement that Bnei Yisrael “cried out” (Devarim 26:7) to Hashem when they were enslaved in Mitzrayim, he asks: why we did not express ourselves to Hashem the usual way, with words of prayer? Alternatively, why did we “scream?” He answers that the requests of Bnei Yisrael in Egypt were not expressible in words. The pain was so intense that they were unable to articulate any requests; they simply “cried out” to Hashem.
The same is true of Shofar. The Shofar is a simple sound, much like screaming. Shofar represents all of our requests, which come from so deep inside our hearts that they cannot be expressed in words. That is the incredible power of Shofar. The Shofar carries for us all those things that we need so much but simply can’t explain to Hashem. [Editor’s note: This concept has also been dealt with extensively in the writings of Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik ZT”L.]
by Chaim Strauss
Rashi, citing the Midrash, asks why Parshat Nitzavim was written next to the Kelallot, the curses against Am Yisrael in Parshat Ki Tavo. The Midrash answers that when Am Yisrael heard the 98 Kelallot, they were dismayed and disgusted to the point where their faces literally turned green, and they asked, “Who can bear these Kelalot?” Moshe started to calm them down and said the Pasuk (29:9), “Atem Nitzavim Hayom,” “You are standing today,” and you have angered Hashem but, nonetheless, you are still standing before Him and have not been destroyed.”
No matter what kind of Aveirah or how much evil we do, we all have the ability to ask the Ribbono Shel Olam for forgiveness for our wrongdoings. This is very similar to a father-son relationship, because we have the ability and privilege to stand in front of Hashem, our Father, no matter how much we anger Him. Every person from Am Yisrael, righteous or not, will always be one of Hashem’s children.
Given that Rosh Hashanah is only days away, it is important for us to realize that because we are all part of Am Yisrael, we all have the ability to stand in front of Hashem on Rosh Hashanah and ask Him for Mechilah, forgiveness. When we do so later this week, may will all merit to be written and sealed for a wonderful year of life.
Today is a New Day
by Dani Yaros
In Parshat Nitzavim, the Torah writes (30:15), “Re’eh Natati Lifneichem Hayom Et HaChayim VeEt HaTov VeEt HaMavet VeEt Hara,” “See, I have placed before you today life and good, and death and evil.” An obvious question must be posed: why does the Torah write the seemingly superfluous word of Hayom, “today?” We know that the Torah has no extra words, and is it not obvious that Hashem is saying these words today? What does the Torah come to teach us through this word?
Rav Moshe Feinstein Z”L explains that every day, a person wakes up and has the opportunity to do either good or bad. Will this person or will he not say Modeh Ani, daven, recite Berachot before he eats, etc.? This person’s past is irrelevant. Just because one has never done Mitzvot before and has been a non-observant Jew from the day he was born does not mean he is exempt from doing Mitzvot now and in the future. Conversely, just because a man has always been the biggest Tzadik in the world does not mean he will continue with his righteous acts. For example, the Gemara tells a story of a great Tanna referred to as Acheir, who after many years of being a great Tzadik and one of the Gedolei HaDor abandoned Torah and Mitzvot and left Hashem.
Every day, we must feel as if Hashem is commanding us once again to do every single Mitzvah. We must realize that we have two roads in front of us: the road of the good and the road of the bad, the road of Mitzvot and the road of Aveirot. Which road will we choose? We must strive to always choose the road of the good and follow the path of righteousness, and to be constantly involved in Mitzvot and Ma’asim Tovim. With Rosh Hashanah merely three days away, it is incumbent upon all of us to do Mitzvot and Teshuvah even if we have neglected them for a long time. Every day we must feel as if we are accepting the Mitzvot upon ourselves once again. -Adapted from a Dvar Torah in Torah Lodaas
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