The sixth Aliyah of Parashat Nitzavim begins with the Pasuk: “Ki HaMitzvah HaZot Asher Anochi Metzavecha HaYom Lo Nifleit Hi Mimecha VeLo Rechokah Hi,” “For this commandment which I command you this day, is not concealed from you, nor is it far away” (Devarim 30:11). In this Pasuk, the Torah describes a Mitzvah that seems not to be difficult for even the simple Jew to attain. In fact, the Torah says that this Mitzvah is not something that one would even have to look anywhere for other than within himself, as the Torah later states, “Ki Karov Eilecha HaDavar Me’od BeFicha UViLvavecha La’asot,” “For this thing is very close to you; it is in your mouth and your heart, so that you can fulfill it” (30:14). This Pasuk means that this Mitzvah is very close to each of us – it is in our mouths and hearts.
The obvious question on this important Pasuk is, to which Mitzvah is this description referring? Many Meforashim take the basic approach and say that this Mitzvah is clearly the Mitzvah of Talmud Torah. The Torah is telling us that any Jew, no matter how motivated, can fulfill this amazing Mitzvah because it is not a Mitzvah that anybody has to even look for; it is within all Jews, in their mouths and hearts. Anybody can fulfill the Mitzvah of Talmud Torah as long as he puts in the basic effort required. The Gemara (Eiruvin 54a) takes this idea a step further and quotes Rav Yitzchak, who understands the Pasuk as follows: “When is this Mitzvah close to you? In the time when it is in your mind and heart to actually do it.” The Torah Temimah (to our Pasuk) explains that someone who learns Torah just for the educational benefit or as a scholarly pursuit and doesn’t intend to fulfill the Mitzvot is completely missing the point of the Mitzvah of Talmud Torah and the idea of “Karov Eilecha.” One who doesn’t perform the Mitzvot has no chance of coming close to the Torah and the Mitzvot within: he views learning Torah as the same as reading an encyclopedia, which is also a scholarly pursuit.
Since Parashat Nitzavim is always read the week before Rosh HaShanah, many other Meforashim take the approach that the Mitzvah alluded to in the Pasuk is the Mitzvah of Teshuvah, something timely for the upcoming Yom Tov of Rosh HaShanah. The Keri’at HaTorah on the second day of Rosh HaShanah is the story of the Akeidah. The final Aliyah in that portion goes through the genealogy of Avraham Avinu’s family leading to the birth of Rivkah. Rav Shimon Schwab zt”l, in his Seifer titled Ma’ayan Beit Hasho'eivah, states that given the fact that this is the last Aliyah we read on Rosh HaShanah, there must be some added significance that could add to our Avodah on this very holy day. He explains (citing Rashi) that this section is written only because of the birth of Rivkah; all the other people mentioned in this Parashah are mentioned merely because of their being related to Rivkah. If this is true, why is Lavan (the brother of Rivkah) not mentioned in this portion? Rav Schwab explains that the reason for Lavan’s being left out is that he was a Rasha to the extent that he didn’t deserve to have his name mentioned in this part of the Torah.
According to Rav Schwab, this omission of Lavan is actually the reason we read this portion now. There is essentially a hidden lesson within this exclusion. The idea is that as we reach the end of our Tefillah on Rosh HaShanah, what better way to inspire us to do Teshuvah than to be reminded of Lavan and the fact that he was left out of the Torah (in this section) because he was a Rasha.
As we approach Rosh HaShanah, we should take these messages of Torah and Teshuvah to heart and make sure not to be like Lavan and be “left out” when Hashem is providing us the chance to become closer to Him.