Parshas Netzavim - Vayailech
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
Parashas Nitzavim: Standing Still, and Moving Up
All of you stand here today before G-d, your G-d -- with leaders of your
tribes, your elders, your law enforcers, all the men of Israel, your
children, your wives, and the proselyte that is part of your camp, from the
hewer of wood to the drawer of water -- about to enter into the covenant
with G-d, your G-d, and into His oath, which G-d, your G-d makes with you
today. (Devarim 29:9-11)
I don't know if the rabbis had this in mind when they established the
yearly-Torah cycle, but, nothing happens by accident. The fact that we
conclude a cycle of public Torah readings at the same time Moshe Rabbeinu's
life comes, at the same time that another year of life comes to an end, for
me, seems to add drama to drama.
Parashas Ki Savo always represents a watershed of sorts. With the except of
its opening aliyos, it is a long and frightening parshah. It is the
proverbial "fire and brimstone" -- the threat for those whom reason does
not make a lasting impact, for those who cannot generate enough ongoing
enthusiasm to keep the Torah and mitzvos just for the sake of keeping them.
It is the darndest thing. Every parent is baffled by the way children just
can't seem to understand that their parents want the best for them.
Healthy, loving parents derive pleasure and satisfaction from pleasing
their children, from making them smile. It is no different with G-d, for
Whom, had it not been for the fact that He made us as we are, we would be
It is insane to sin. This is what the Talmud teaches, that no person does a
sin unless a spirit of insanity enters him (Sotah 3a). Would you cut your
right arm for no good reason? Would you pull your hair out for the fun of
it? Would you ram your fist into a solid metal door just to hear what
knuckles sound like when they crack in unison?
Assuming you said no, then, why would you sin? It's insane, right? Right --
but we do it just the same. It's the darndest thing.
You know, as I write this essay, I sit at my dining room table, which has a
wonderful view of our garden, from which I get much pleasure. The grass is
green, and the trees are full. There is even a little gazebo under which to
sit on lawn chairs at the lawn table, and enjoy the awesome view. For me,
it is a quiet, but dramatic little piece of the Garden of Eden.
All the children are at school, and no main thoroughfares pass by my house.
It is VERY peaceful. Beyond my little courtyard and garden are some of the
beautiful Judean Hills, which have a mystical way of acting like a
spiritual corridor to the days of our Fathers. I feel history all around
me; I feel like a tiny part of something very big, Biblically big.
It is very inspirational. It is also an illusion. Beyond my garden, and,
beyond my own special portion of the Judean Hills, lies about 150,000,000
people who want my hills, want my garden, and maybe even me, not in
friendship either. Knowing this chases every last sensation of peace and
tranquility out of every pore of my body.
Beyond my little idyllic community lies a country that has had enough with
Orthodox Jews, at whom it is aiming its secular arrow. There is hatred in
them thar hills, and, if not defused soon, it is bound to blow up in all
directions, some obvious, some completely unexpected.
And, if that is not enough, then there are the physically unwell. So much
suffering, so much sickness, anguish, and mourning. Marriages are falling
apart, and, some that are happening are against the Torah. Halachah is
being misconstrued all over the place, by those who use it and by those who
abuse it. It is a very confusing world, very confusing.
Then there is the youth of today. Drugs are rampant, even in circles that
should not even know they exist! But they know about them, and they use
them, and they are affected by them, and it is tearing families apart, and
preventing some from being built. We have only scratched the surface of
this problem, which splinters into many directions.
But, that is not the world of my eyes, no, not at this moment. The world of
my eyes includes a wonderfully, completely blue sky, filled with
life-giving sunlight. The birds have congregated on my front lawn to
peacefully eat the remains of left-over Shabbos Challah. There isn't even a
slight breeze moving a single leaf.
The world of my mind is different. In spite of the message my eyes keep
sending it, my mind is working on a different track. Sometimes it becomes a
battle between the world of my eyes and the world of my mind, because,
after all, visual reality carries a lot of weight in our minds and hearts.
Someone, not too long ago, sent me this article of interest, which I found
fascinating. Titled, "Emotions Vs. Reason" (Sandi Kohn, Shelton, "Working
Mother," February 2000), it is a small article with a big message:
Ever wonder why your daughter goes ballistic over an unwashed pair of blue
jeans? Researchers at McLean Hospital Brain Imaging Center at Harvard
Medical School found that adolescents process emotions much more intensely
that adults do -- and even use their brains differently to handle what they
are told. Scientists examined how 16 kids between the ages of nine and 17
handled mental tasks involving emotion and language. Then they compared
these results to those of 24 adults. While adults showed activity in the
frontal lobe of the brain -- long believed to be the center of reasoning --
adolescents processed information through an older part of the brain that
handles impulses and instinct. The finding confirms what parents have long
suspected: Adolescents don't think like adults. "Adolescents are more prone
to react with gut instinct when they process emotions," says Deborah
Yurgelun-Todd, MD., director of neuropsychology and cognitive neuro-imaging
at the Brain Imaging Center. "But, as they mature into early adulthood,
they are more able to temper their gut reactions with reasoned responses."
The implications for parents are huge, say researchers. Instead of seeing
adolescents as hot-tempered or spacey, we need to realize they may not be
developmentally able to react calmly or to remember instructions. "It's not
that our kids don't hear us," says Dr. Yurgelen-Todd. "It's that their
brains aren't yet developed enough to encode what we're saying and hold on
The implications of this research are huge, not just for parents, but, for
all of mankind. For, the world of our eyes is based, primarily, upon
instinct; the world of our minds is not. The world of the true believer is
within reason; that of the disbeliever, is emotional. Just watch what
happens to a disbeliever when his lack of faith is questioned, and, his
ignorance is called into question. He goes ballistic.
There is a famous story of the Brisker Rav, who was once confronted by a
Jew on the "way out."
"I have questions," the man told the Brisker Rav, wanting to sound as if
his confusion and rejection of G-d and Torah was intellectually justified.
However, he chose the wrong rabbi to delude; the Brisker Rav sized the man
up and answered,
"No, you don't. You have answers " the Rav quipped accusingly. "If you had
questions," he continued, "I could answer them for you. But, you have
already made up your mind, and now you are looking for excuses to
rationalize your position."
It's a very emotional and instinctual world out there. Reason, today, does
not prevail. But we have a bris -- a covenant with G-d. It is an extension
of the bris, THE Bris made between the Master of the Universe and our great
ancestor, Avraham Avinu, and spoken about in this week's parshah. It is a
covenant to rise above instinct, like Avraham Avinu did, and to access the
reason-section of our minds. It is a bris to rise above emotion, and to
work out the difficulties in life that impede the path of moral behavior.
And, it comes around each year at this time, just in advance of Rosh
Hashanah, when we stand before G-d once again, on that awesome Day of
Judgment. It is at this time of year that we are asked to size up where and
when our emotions overcame our sense of reason, and made us commit the
insane. We do this in order to reverse the trend and put ourselves back on
track, the track of the mind, the track of reason. And, perhaps,
eventually, all of mankind as well.
Observe: I have set before you today, life and good, death and evil. I
command you today to love G-d, your G-d, to walk in His ways, and to keep
His commandments, His ordinances, and His judgments, so you may live and
thrive, and so G-d, your G-d can bless you in the land you will possess.
Of the many tracks on which mankind operates, perhaps the most predominant
is the idea of one "having his cake and eating it too," or, phrased
differently, "having the best of both worlds." But, alas, we all know that
"you can't dance at two weddings at once," and, at some point, "you have to
pay the pied piper."
The yetzer hara doesn't care for such negativity. It is his job to make us
believe that there IS a way to beat the system, and he laughs hardest when
he watches new people make old mistakes. He laughs because he knows that he
will be but an ancient memory when each individual stands before G-d on the
ultimate Day of Judgment and tries to justify their foolish, misguided
behavior in Olam HaZeh -- This World.
There is no reward in This World for performing mitzvos. (Kiddushin 39b)
So, where is there reward for walking in the ways of the A'lmighty?
"In order that it should go good for you." (Devarim 5:16): In the world
that is completely good; "In order to lengthen your days": In the world
that is completely long (i.e., eternal). (Kiddushin 39b)
In other words, though one can and will receive "blessing" in This World
for performing a mitzvah, he will not receive reward. The point of the
blessing is to facilitate the future performance of more mitzvos, not to
pay the mitzvah-doer off in This World (unless such a person has done so
little good in This World that it doesn't pay for G-d to hold off and wait
until the Next World to compensate him).
One of the reasons why we are not "paid" in This World for our mitzvos is,
because, in most cases, the reward is too fantastic for This World to
handle. It is like pouring 2,000 gallons of water into a crystal glass all
at once; the container cannot contain the contents. Therefore, G-d stores
away our eternal reward in a place into which we will "move" at the right
time, after we have been judged for our life in This World.
How fantastic? The Talmud states:
All the prophets foretold only regarding the Days of Moshiach. However,
regarding the World-to-Come, "No eye has seen, G-d, except for Yours"
(Yeshayahu 64:3). (Brochos 34b)
However, true as all this may be.
"In any case, one can merit, while still in This World, what is taught,
'your world you will see in your lifetime' (Brochos 17a), and, what is
written, 'for the good man, they let him taste from the fruits of his
deeds' (Kiddushin 41a), just as The Holy One, Blessed is He, gave the
Forefathers a taste of the World-to-Come in This World (Bava Basra 17a). In
Tanna d'Bei Eliyahu, it says, 'It happens for some tzaddikim that they
merit a life with no suffering and without a yetzer hara in This World,
like what The Holy One, Blessed is He, will give to tzaddikim in the
Time-to-Come.'." (Pri Tzaddik, Massei, 1)
The Talmud says it even more clearly:
The Holy One, Blessed is He, gave a taste in This World of the
World-to-Come to three, and they were: Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya'akov. With
respect to Avraham, it says, "In everything" (Bereishis 24:1); with respect
to Yitzchak, it says, "From everything" (Bereishis 27:33); with respect to
Ya'akov, it says, "All" (Bereishis 33:11). Over three people, the yetzer
hara had no control, and they were: Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya'akov. And,
some say Dovid as well. (Bava Basra 17a)
While we're at it, the Talmud continues and says:
The Angel of Death had no power over six people: Avraham, Yitzchak,
Ya'akov, Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam Seven people were unaffected by worms
(in the grave), and they were: Avraham Yitzchak, Ya'akov, Moshe, Aharon,
Miriam, and, Binyomin son of Ya'akov And, some say even Dovid as well.
Are there people today still alive who are tasting a little sample of their
eternal pleasure in the World-to-Come? Probably yes. In fact, while so many
billions of people run around trying to have their cake and eat it too,
only to end up with neither, there are those who will get their true "cake"
in the World to Come, and enjoy it then. And, there are some who are having
the best of both worlds, because, they have earned it the real, and, G-d
has given it to them.
Parashas Vayailech: Going, Going, But Never Quite Gone
And Moses went and told all of these statements to all of Israel. He told
them, "I am a 120 years old today. I can no longer come and go. G-d has
told me that I will not cross over the Jordan" (Devarim 31:1-2)
In this lifetime, perhaps. However, according to the Arizal, in Sefer
HaGilgulim, the archetypal book on the topic, undisputed by Kabbalists
throughout history, Moshe was due to return in full force:
"Moshe reincarnates into every generation to free the neshamos from the
unholy parts. When he finishes, then Moshiach will come, and 'death will be
swallowed forever' (Yeshayahu 25:8) For, in the future Moshe himself will
return in a gilgul in the last generation. As well, the entire generation
of the desert will also reincarnate with the Erev Rav. There is not a
single generation that Moshe Rabbeinu is not within, which is the
underlying meaning of the verses, 'the sun rise and the sun sets' (Koheles
1:5), and, 'a generation goes and a generation comes' (ibid. 4), in order
to rectify that generation, and, the Generation of Desert itself. And, this
is what is written (in this week's parshah as well):
G-d told Moshe, 'After you lie with your fathers, this people will act
immorally and pursue the gods of the strangers of the land, to which they
are going there (shin-mem-heh)' (Devarim 31:16)
-- which has the letters of 'Moshe,' because, Moshe will reincarnate with
each generation" (Sha'ar HaGilgulim, p. 54)
Many people do take note of how the patterns repeat themselves in
subsequent generations, but, not necessary of how the characters themselves
come back, over and over again. There are the Torah leaders in every
generation who remain steadfast in their devotion to Torah, and, their
faithful followers. Then, there are those from the "other side," the
rejecters of Torah, who, not only challenge Torah authority, but, disgrace
it with imprudent confidence. And, of course, there are their followers as
Just like it was in the desert. There was Moshe and his Bais Din, and those
who never left their camp. Then, there were those who questioned Moshe's
authority and his decisions, and, often made a mockery of them. And, of
course, we can't forget the Erev Rav, the portion of the Jewish people
(according to the Arizal), whose whole purpose in life, it seemed, was to
instigate against Torah and its authority.
Just like it was in that generation, or this generation, and so on.
A never ending pattern of Jewish behavior? On one level, yes, but, on a
much deeper level, it is the same show being acted out by the same souls in
each generation, who will keep acting it out until they get it right! This
is why, says the Midrash Ne'elam (Zohar, Parashas Toldos), the combined
period of Kibbutz Golios (Ingathering of the Exiles) and Yemos HaMoshiach,
will last a total of FORTY years -- corresponding to the forty years the
Jewish people wandered in the desert for rejecting Eretz Yisroel.
And, who will lead the Jewish people once and for all back to the Promised
Land and usher in the Final Redemption? The same soul that almost did it
the first time, but, who was prevented from doing so due to the inability
of his generation to adequately prepare themselves: Moshe Rabbeinu.
Today, we have the Bais Din, and, we have their followers. Seemingly, we
have the Erev Rav, their instigations, and, their followers. America has
been called a "desert," and, ALL of us might contain the souls of the Dor
HaDayah, the Generation of the Desert. All the pieces are in place from the
The only piece of the puzzle missing is the gilgul of Moshe Rabbeinu -- the
soul that will drive the body of Moshiach to do his holy work. Or is it?
Let's not forget that it wasn't until Moshe Rabbeinu reached the age of
eighty year that he was told he was destined to redeem the Jewish people
from Egypt. Maybe all that is REALLY missing is the Divine tap on the shoulder.
A Song of Ascents, by Dovid. I rejoiced when they said to me, 'Let us go
the House of G-d.' (Tehillim 122:1)
Let us return back to the "Shabbos Tehillim," the fifteen consecutive Shir
HaMa'alos we began speaking about a few weeks back.
The opening words sound nice, Jews enthusiastic to go up to G-d's Temple
for a supernatural encounter with the Master of the Universe. There's only
one problem: the Temple wasn't built yet. Hence, it turns out that such
nice words about G-d's Temple were a direct insult for Dovid HaMelech
(Yerushalmi, Brochos 2:1). But, did he take it that way? Says the Talmud:
Dovid said to The Holy One, Blessed is He, "Master of the Universe! I
overheard people asking, 'When will the old man (Dovid) die, so that his
son, Shlomo, can build the Temple and let us go up on the festivals to the
House of G-d?' When I heard this, I rejoiced"
In spite of the fact that Dovid's life held up the construction of the
Temple, and this caused people to yearn for his death, still, Dovid
understood their longing, and took joy from it. G-d felt differently,
though, and said:
"Far better a day in your courtyard than a thousand" (Tehillim 84:11):
Dovid, a single day of your Torah study in My Presence far surpasses the
thousand Burnt-Offerings which Shlomo is destined to sacrifice before Me on
the Temple altar." (Makkos 10a)
Self-sacrifice is the issue in the Torah world, and Dovid's sacrifice of
himself for the service of G-d is clear once again, this time by the way he
looked right through personal insult and saw devotion to G-d's service.
Stationary were our feet, within your gates, O Jerusalem. The built up
Jerusalem is like a city that is united together. For, there the tribes
ascended -- the Shivtei-Kah, who are testimony for Israel -- to give thanks
to the Name of G-d. (2-4)
So many people were "oleh-l'regel" (made the festival pilgrimage) that it
became impossible to move about. But, that brought little frustration; the
purpose of their being there, to stand in the Presence of G-d, instead
brought a sense of national "achdus" (unity), and feelings of Jewish pride
and love for one another. This itself becomes testimony to G-d's own unity,
and the centrality of His Torah in creation.
This is part of Jerusalem's power and mystery: it can unify the Jewish
people when we seek the Presence of G-d, or, tear us apart when we run from
It. Ultimately, though, because it is aligned with the "Jerusalem Above" --
the Heavenly Jerusalem -- it will rid the world of impure elements, and
unite what remains behind in purity.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; those who love you will be tranquil (6)
These words have adorned many a street sign in Jerusalem over the last few
decades, but, never have they had more meaning in recent history than
today. It is not coincidence that history is coming down to the political,
and, hence, spiritual fate of the Holy City -- the Center of the Universe.
This is a VERY strong message from Heaven about events to come, for,
according to the Zohar, "Eisav and Yishmael will team up against the Jewish
people and go up to Jerusalem."
Might we be witnessing this prophetic event today. Must we not pray
fervently for the peace of Jerusalem?
May there be peace within your wall, serenity within your palaces. For the
sake of my brothers and companions, I shall speak of peace in your midst.
For the sake of the House of G-d, our G-d, I will request your good. (7-9)
Here was a man who loved Jerusalem, and appreciated its centrality within
world history, and, particularly, Jewish history. This Rosh Hashanah pray
for the peace of the Holy City of G-d, and, especially for the return of
the third and final Temple. Especially if you live outside of Israel, think
of your brothers in Eretz Yisroel, and your "companions" there, and pray on
their behalf, which is really on behalf of all of us, the tribes of G-d.
L'Shannah Tova: Sikasayvu v'saychasaymu l'alter, l'chaim tovim u'l'shalom.
Have a Great Shabbos
L'Shannah Tovah ...
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