Parashas Nitzavim/Vayeilech – Return to Your Heart!
This week we have the last of the Torahs double sedras as we near the conclusion of this years reading with Parashas Nitzavim and Vayeilech. They also happen to be two of the shortest Parashas in the Torah with a mere 40 possukim in Nitzavim and only 30 in Vayeilech, so expect an early lunch this Shabbos! In gemara Megillas, Tosfos discusses why these sedras are sometimes read separately (The Baal HaTurim in his opening commentary to Parashas Vayeilech informs us that this separation occurs when Rosh Hashannah falls on a monday or a tuesday), where as the last two sedras of the book of Bamidbar, Mattos and Masei, are always read together... even though they are nearly 250 possukim in size!! Wouldn't it therefore be more logical to separate these two longer Parashas and always read Nitzavim with Vayeilech as a double sedra? Tosfos answers in his commentary there, that the reason this order is sometimes undertaken is because we want to distance the curses found in Parashas Ki Savo (last week's sedra) from Rosh Hashannah, and we are therefore more likely to separate these shorter Sedras in order to do this, rather than the longer Mattos and Masei of Bamidbar. According to most Mefarshim, Parashas Nitzavim also holds a chunk which is dedicated to Teshuvah, which is of course very in tune with the time of year these sedras fall in, with the count down to Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur shortening every day. We therefore see that their positioning and occasional separation of these Parashas is to remind us of the mitzvah to do teshuvah and to also distance the curses of Ki Savo from this holy time of year.

Parashas Nitzavim begins with a renewal of the covenant which was sealed with the previous generations. According to Midrashim, we are told that on the final day of his life, Moshe gathered together every member of the Jewish nation and renewed the covenant of Hashem with them. Following the ninety-eight curses given over in the Admonition of Parashas Ki Savo, Moshe comforted the Jewish people, assuring them that despite previous sins in the past, they were still in fact “standing... before Hashem” [29:9], and just as He had no discarded them in that past, He would also maintain them in the future. Rashi tells us that the Admonition would prevent them from sinning through fear of the consequences but if this did not work then the punishments would bring them to Teshuvah and not destruction. So what was the point of this renewed covenant? The Or HaChaim explains that there was a unique new aspect to this renewed covenant with the inclusion of the concept of joint responsibility whereby every Jew would be responsible to help others observe the Torah and to restrain them if, chas veshalom, they tried to violate it. We learn out from this that Hashem does not therefore hold us responsible for sins that are committed in private as we are unable to prevent such transgressions and the onus is therefore fully on the person doing the action. We did however accept upon ourselves the responsibility for open transgressions of the Torah which are visible to us, hence why, for example, certain factions of the Charedi community make public stands to try and prevent the open desecration of Shabbos in their neighbourhoods... as they see themselves as jointly responsible for the aveiras being committed there. The Or HaChaim goes on to solidify this point in his commentary by describing how Moshe divided the people into categories of responsibility whereby the nation's individuals would be aware of how wide an influence they were able to exert over other Jews; for example, leaders would have the responsibility to effect masses of people whereas women might only hold responsibility over their immediate families and neighbours. He also describes how even children would have the responsibility to try and positively influence classmates or friends as, after all they were also present at this renewal of the covenant. The Ramban doesn't however agree with the responsibility attributed to children and states quite clearly that although they were present at the renewal of the covenant, they could not legally accept it and were therefore only present because Hashem wanted them to share in the privilege of being part of this grand event.

So who else was present at the renewal of the covenant? The Torah teaches that Moshe requested... “the heads of your tribes, your elders and your offices - all the men of Israel, your small children, your women, your proselyte... from the hewer of your wood to the drawer of your water” [29:9-10], we therefore see that literally every person from Klal Yisrael, even the most menial, were present but the Torah then goes on to describe how... “Not with you alone do I seal this covenant... but with whoever is here... and whoever is not here with us today” [29:13-14]. Various Kabbalistic sources bring down that we were also therefore personally present at the sealing of this covenant, (our Neshamas), and that all Jewish souls were accepting of it and therefore bound by its requirements. There are also sources that claim that the same thing happened at Mount Sinai and that we, as the later generation, are therefore just as obligated to guard the mitzvahs of the Torah as the generation who were physically attendant at the two events. If your average epikoris (heretic) doesn't like this argument and disputes his role as a Jew due to his lack of personal agreement to the Torah, then we can always show him examples of restrictions he is bound by in society to events which took place before he was even born as well... for example the constitution in America or even laws pertaining to taxes which he has to pay which he didn't agree to but is bound by due to his citizenship which he was born into. We therefore see that the argument that the Torah is not effecting on us today as we were not present at the covenants which sealed it to the Jewish people of our generations is flawed, with the Torah specifically stipulating that... “whoever is not [physically] here with us today”, the Torah will still be incumbent upon them.

The rest of Parashas Nitzavim is literally scattered with illusions to the mitzvah of teshuvah which is the buzz word of our month with the high holidays approaching. The first of these illusions is found in the text immediately following that of the renewal of the covenant, in which we are warned of the potential for sections of the Jewish nation to stray and... “to go and serve the gods of other nations”, the Torah describes such a person who disconnects spiritually himself as a... “שרש פרה ראש ולענה/shoresh poreh rosh v'la'ona” [29:17] which translates quite unpoetically as “a root flourishing with gall and wormwood”. Just as such a root will no longer sprout new healthy buds or leaves, so to the Torah is teaching us that someone who strays in such a spiritually damaging way will be as if they are this infested root with a lack of clean produce from them, whether that be themselves or their children. Unfortunately we see this tragedy occur in the form of assimilation today, with such individuals' children coming from a rotten root with little to no Jewish awareness due to the lack of spiritual care from their parents. Hidden within this possuk however is the instrument used to awaken them... if we take the first letters of each word and rearrange them we have the word “שופר/Shofar”... which is blown to awaken us spiritually and lead us to Teshuvah. We therefore see that although this possuk alludes to a bleak future from the root of gall and wormwood, there is always the opportunity for Teshuvah if that person is spiritually awoken, symbolised by the Shofar.

In his halachas on Teshuvah, Rambam describes four steps in which one can perform Teshuvah with; the first step coming in the form of restraint from the sin, we then need to come to a positive decision not to do it again, we then need to regret the actions and finally we need to perform Viduy which is translated in English as 'confession', but is obviously a much deeper concept than the English word facilitates. This is, in the words of an excited Yerushalmi Chassid, gevaldik! ... but the real challenge is that stage before these, of one deciding that what he is doing is wrong and that he needs to do Teshuvah in order to accommodate the Torah in his busy 'Western' life. In the Parasha on Teshuvah which is found in this weeks sedra, the Torah describes how “this commandment that I command you today... is not hidden from you and it is not distant” [30:11]. Majority of the mefarshim connect this possuk to the performance of Teshuvah with the Ramban commenting that first a Jew needs to “והשבות אל לבבך”... return to his heart, and then he will “ושבת אד ה' אלקיך”... return to Hashem. A Jew therefore only needs to 'return to his heart' in order to find the Torah, and it is therefore not a great distant for any of us. The great Rav Meir Simcha, known famously as the 'Ohr Somayach' brings down a beautiful peshat on this Ramban. He explains that in order to perform a full Teshuvah, a Jew will first return to what is engraved on his heart, a feeling of kinship when around other Jews, and a feeling of alienism when surrounded by goyim. He goes on to describe how the optimum conditions for this 'returning to ones heart' occurs when there is a level of covert anti-Semitism within the world. It is important that this must by covert as overt anti-Semitism forces Jews together and therefore removes the element of choice within his decision; for example Nazi Germany where Jews who had been removed for four generations were suddenly forced with the title of 'Jew' again. The Ohr Somayach describes how it is then, when the Jew feels this feeling of kinship amongst his own, spurned by the concealed hatred of the world towards his identity, that he will investigate further why he feels this way in his heart. This will then lead to Torah learning and a return to Hashem... “ושבת אד ה' אלקיך”. It is incredible to see the accuracy of these words by the Ohr Somayach in today's growing Baal Teshuvah community with that first initial connection to Judaism usually coming from both the warmth of being around other Jews and also usually helped by the world's current covert anti-Semitism in the form of the poorly concealed “anti-Israel” campaigns worldwide. No wonder so many young Jews are swapping the University campus for the Yeshivah or Seminary one!

May we all be zochar to do a full Teshuvah and return to Hashem speedily in our days. Shabbat Shalom and Chatzlacha Rabba for the week ahead,

Daniel Sandground, (student at Ohr Somayach Yeshivah, Jerusalem)

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