Parshat Nitzavim-Vayelech Vol.10 No.3

Date of issue: 23 Elul 5760 -- September 23, 2000

Mazal Tov to Mordechai "Mo" Kaplan
on receiving his Smicha.
From his very proud parents,
Ruby & Bobby Kaplan and Family

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This week's featured writers:

Dr. Joel Berman
Yair Manas
Ilan Tokayer
Daniel Wenger
Elli Friedman
-
*Medicine in the Gemara*
Halacha of the Week
Food For Thought
-by *Dani Gross*

If Igor Says So
by Dr. Joel Berman

Ki Karov Elecha HaDavar Meod "[The Torah] is very close to you" (30:14).

Rabbi Efraim Waschman tells of a Russian peasant, Yankel, a woodcutter, who had a dream that he found a king's treasure in a hollow tree he had cut down. Early the next day, very excited, Yankel loaded up his wagon and traveled into the forest expecting to find the treasure inside of a felled tree. After a few weeks, he lost hope of finding the treasure even though he continued to dream the same dream night after night. Finally, one day, he felled a tree, and out popped the treasure from its hollow insides. Having lost hope, Yankel failed to believe that he found the treasure, but being a practical person he loaded the "dream" on his wagon and rode home. When he entered the shtetel, people crowded around his wagon marveling at the treasure and giving him advice on what to do with it. Shimon the butcher shouted, "Yankel, you're rich!" Yankel replied, "Ach, Shimon pay no attention, it is just a dream." The Rav ran over to Yankel saying, "Yankel, this is wonderful! We need a new Bait Midrash. We need a new Ezrat Nashim." Yankel replied, "Ach, Rebbe, pay no mind. It's just a dream. Do not waste your time." When he approached his home, his wife ran out squealing, "Yankel, we will never be hungry or cold again." Yankel said, "Rivka, I am sorry, it is just a dream. Do not waste your time." Finally, Igor the water carrier threw his arms around Yankel shouting, "Yaakov, you are rich!" Yankel stopped. "Azoi zugt da Goy (This is what the Goy says)?! It must be true!"

For many years, science has taught that the gender of a fetus is determined at conception. Chazal teach us that the gender is determined at 40 days. A few years ago, one of the most advanced university research teams determined that the gender of a fetus is determined at 39 days. When this was brought to the attention of the Mashgiach of Lakewood, he said, "Imagine that; the scientists are off by just one day?!"

"Torah is very close"; it is accessible. Not only that, it does not require the validation of the other nations or of modern science. Every time Torah is put to the test, be that test in physics, biology, or any of the social sciences, it emerges shining. It works! To my knowledge, it is the only system that has survived intact for nearly 3,500 years. Contrast that with all other political, religious, and philosophical systems that have either disappeared or have exhibited severe shortcomings.

It is accessible to us no less than Yankel's treasure was to him, no less than the words of Chazal are to the research labs. We live in communities blessed with Rabbeim, Shuls, Yeshivot, and lists of daily and nightly Shiurim. Within anyone's time and budget there exist a multitude of resources of the highest quality. We forget that these things did not exist even one generation ago. We have it much easier now. Take advantage! Azoi zugt Igor!

{Editors' Note: For other ways to reconcile the words of Chazal with modern science, please see Elli Friedman's article below.}

Hide and Seek
by Yair Manas

In one of his final messages to Bnai Yisrael in Parshat Nitzavim, Moshe prophesied that after he passed away Bnai Yisrael would turn away from Hashem. They would suffer, go into exile, and feel like Hashem abandoned them.

There have been many times throughout history when it appears as if Hashem has abandoned us. Many tragic expulsions and massacres have cost the lives of many Jews, even of those Jews who felt secure in their societies. Jews contributed to the economies of Spain and Germany, yet they were still persecuted. The fact that they felt secure showed that they had been willing to adopt the gentile way of life.

Assimilation has always been a greater threat to the Jewish nation than oppression has been. Many Jews retained their faith in the ghettos, but today many have abandoned their religion for the "good life." Persecutions have always served as tragic reminders that a Jew is considered a Jew wherever he is, even if he no longer considers himself one.

Despite these oppressions, Hashem has never been completely hidden. Had He left us, the Jewish People would have ceased to exist a long time ago. Hashem is still is our Guardian, even though His presence may not be obvious. An obvious example of this point is the Purim story. Even though no supernatural events occurred to save the Jews, the events that took place could only have been engineered by Hashem.

We should hope for the day when Hashem will once again appear openly to us. In order for this to happen, we must perform good deeds, never forget that Hashem is the only God, and never wander from His ways.

Choices: Active or Passive?
by Ilan Tokayer

At the end of this week's Parsha, Hashem presents us with a choice between good and bad. The Pasuk says, Re'eh Natati Lefanecha Hayom Et Hachayim Ve'et Hatov Ve'et Hamavet Ve'et Hara, "See, I have placed before you today life and good, death and bad" (30:15). A few Pesukim later, the Torah says, Uvacharta Bachayim Lemaan Tichye Ata Vezarecha, "And you shall choose life, so that you and your children should live" (30:19). What kind of choice is Hashem giving us? Why would anyone choose death over life?

The answer lies within our interpretation of choice. We do not only choose with our will; rather, the Torah asks us to express our choice through our actions. Rashi explains that the way we choose good is by doing good, and we choose bad by failing to do good.

This Pasuk brings to mind the beginning of Parshat Re'eh where Hashem tells us, Reeh Anochi Notain Lifneichem Hayom Beracha Ukelala, "See, I give to you today a blessing and a curse" (11:26). This seems similar to our Pasuk, but there are two major differences between them. One is the difference between Et Hachayim Ve'et Hamavet and Beracha and between Et Hamavet Ve'et Hachayim and Kelala. The major difference is our role in each one. A blessing or curse is bestowed upon us by Hashem while for the Tov Vachayim or Ra Vamavet, we have an ability to reach out and get it for ourselves.

The other difference between the two Pesukim is that the criterion for the good in Nitzavim is our actually doing good. In Re'eh, the word used more than once is Leshmoa. In the Pasuk Et Haberacha Asher Tishmiu, the root letters Shin, Mem, and Alef are also used. Listening is passive, the same way that the Beracha is passive on our part, but Bechira, choosing, is active. We are the ones choosing Chayim through our actions with our knowledge of good and evil, but the Beracha Ukelala are passive.

As the Ramban explains in reference to Haidosi Bachem Hayom Et Hashamayim Ve'et Haaretz, (30:19) the heavens and earth bear witness that there are no extraneous factors from above or below affecting our freedom to choose between good and evil. We chose to live by good deeds and actions; therefore the Torah writes, Uvacharta Bachayim Lemaan Tichye Ata Vezarecha.

Selichot
by Daniel Wenger

This Motzai Shabbat, Ashkenazim will begin reciting Selichot, prayers beseeching Hashem for forgiveness, daily through Yom Kippur. As the literal translation of Selichot, forgivenesses, suggests, the purpose of reciting these prayers is to ask Hashem to forgive our sins. By reciting Selichot before and during the Days of Repentance, we take the early initiative to ask Hashem for forgiveness before Yom Kippur, the day on which Hashem will hopefully forgive all that we have done wrong.

It is important to understand the meaning of the Selichot and why we say them, for if we only say words without knowing why, our prayers will sound hollow and distant to Hashem. Therefore, I would like to briefly discuss the ideas conveyed by the Selichot that we will recite on Motzai Shabbat. The first Selicha prayer begins, "How can we open our mouth before You," and tells why we are not capable of adequately asking Hashem to forgive us. The Selicha ends by begging Hashem, in His eternal mercy, "May we be redeemed forever," hoping that He will listen to our meager prayers and act upon them.

The second Selicha tells of how evil and unworthy man is; that he does not deserve to be forgiven, "The good man [in today's world] is compared to a thorn bush." We do not believe that we can achieve our goal of complete forgiveness, yet we should nevertheless try anyway. As we finish the Selicha, we ask Hashem to, "Look down and answer us and lighten our eyes." If only Hashem could show us that our prayers are meaningful and can accomplish their intended goal, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel of sin, which leads to the purity of forgiveness.

The third Selicha of the day describes the difficult circumstances that surround us and how only Hashem can save us: "We have been given to our captors because of our sins." Our only hope is that Hashem, who is "True and Righteous," will be able to strengthen our will to do better and to "draw back His anger and console us."

The final Selicha of the night begins with the positive note of our desire to be forgiven, "When the day of rest leaves, we come to You right away." This enthusiasm will hopefully tell Hashem that we truly deserve forgiveness for our actions and hope that He will "listen to the song and the prayer." If He, the Creator of every creature, does this, we can truly be forgiven.

If we make the effort to understand the meanings of all the Selichot that we say, we can truly show Hashem that we are serious about our desire to be forgiven, and if the Almighty is merciful towards us, we can be purified and emerge with a clean slate after Yom Kippur.

Halacha of the Week

The Baal Keriah should not place the Yad (pointer) on the Sefer Torah. Rather, he should hold it above the Sefer Torah (Teshuvot Igrot Moshe Orach Chaim 1:37).

Food for Thought
by Dani Gross

1) 29:21 says, Veamar Hador Haacharon...Verau, "The later generations will say…and they will see." Later, in 29:24, the Pasuk says, Veamru, "They will say." The Or Hachaim asks why it is necessary to state Veamar in Pasuk 21 when they do not actually say anything until Pasuk 24.

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Staff at time of publication:
Editors-in-Chief: Avi-Gil Chaitovsky, Dani Gross
Managing Editors: Moshe Glasser, Zevi Goldberg
Publication Editor: Daniel Wenger
Business Manager: Yechiel Shaffer
Staff: Josh Dubin, Michael Humphrey, Binyamin Kagedan, Yair Manas, Uriel Schechter, Gil Stein
Webmaster: KJ Leichman
Faculty Advisor: Rabbi Howard Jachter

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