Netzavim / Vayelech
by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
"Lest there be among you a man or woman, family or tribe, whose heart turns
away from HaShem your G-d today, to follow and serve the gods of these
nations; lest there be among you a root that sprouts poison and gall. And it
will be, when he hears the words of this curse, that he will bless himself
in his heart, saying, 'I will have peace, for I am ruled by my own heart,'
in order to satisfy his thirsts. HaShem will not consent to forgive him, for
the anger of HaShem and His jealousy will smoke against that man, and every
curse written in this book will lie upon him, and HaShem will blot out his
name from under Heaven." [29:17-19]
Usually, the "Lifeline" has a nice, feel-good message. But sometimes,
especially before Rosh Hashanah, it's appropriate not to feel too good about
My teacher Rabbi Asher Rubenstein called this passage "The most frightening
in the entire Torah." What angers the Holy One, Blessed be He, more than
anything? "When he hears the words of this curse, that he will bless himself
in his heart, saying, 'I will have peace, for I am ruled by my own heart!'"
Complacency. Claiming to be just fine, ruled by our own hearts. Having an
attitude that permits us to follow our hearts' desires. "HaShem will not
consent to forgive him..."
What sin did the person commit? None! He merely decided in his heart to
follow his own desires, and ignore his obligations. Instead of engaging in
self-criticism and attempting to improve his actions, he decided to do
whatever he wanted to do. And that is so contrary to what HaShem desires
from us, that this alone causes, as it were, an implacable anger.
We live in a society that is all in favor of "following your heart," rather
than "following your conscience." "Seize the moment!" "Live for now!" - and,
"Look out for Number One!"
No one should say, "I'm a good Jew," or even, "I'm a good person" - unless
always followed by, "but I could be better." Let us recognize our errors,
and the vast room for improvement in our behavior. And let us make "New
Year's Resolutions" that we intend to keep beyond the Fast of Gedaliah [the
third of Tishrei, the third day of the new year.]
Text Copyright © 1996 Rabbi Yaakov Menken and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Director of Project Genesis.