Parshas Vayeilech - Shabbos Shuva
"Going" In The Direction of TeSHUVAH
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
Moshe went and spoke these words to all of Israel. He told them, "I
am 120 years old today, and I am no longer able to go and come
anymore..." (Devarim 31:1)
As the Torah points out at the end, and Rashi points out here, Moshe
was not referring to a reduction in physical capability. He was
referring to a change of the guard; the leadership of the G-d's
nation had been handed over to his student and protege, Yehoshua bin
There is a difference of opinion regarding an event in Moshe's long
life, back at the beginning of Parashas Shemos, on the posuk:
When Moshe was grown, he began to go out to his own people... (Shemos 2:11)
Grown to what age? According to the Midrash, it was to the tender
age of 12 years old in one place (Shemos Rabbah 5:1), and to the age
of 40 years in another place (1); according to the Sefer HaYashar, to
the age of 18, and according to Rabbi Moshe HaDarshan, 60 years of
After Moshe was forced to flee Egypt for having killed the Egyptian,
the Midrash says that he ruled in Kush, Africa for forty years. By
the time his "reign" had come to an end, he was 67 years old. This
would mean that he began his rule at the age of 27 years, which does
not work with any of the opinions, assuming that Moshe had fled Egypt
and went directly to Kush.
From Kush, Moshe had traveled to Midian, afraid to return to Egypt.
There he met his future wife, Tzipporah, and her father, Yisro.
However, once Yisro had learned that Moshe had fled Paroah and the
Egyptian court system, he himself incarcerated Moshe in a deep pit,
out of his own fear of Paroah. There Moshe remained for ten years,
after which time he would have been 77 years old.
According to the Torah, in two years time once Moshe reached the age
of 79 years, he would come across the Burning Bush and receive the
command to redeem the Jewish people. In the course of that time, he
would marry Tzipporah and have two sons, and tend to the flocks of
his father-in-law, Yisro. In Moshe Rabbeinu's eightieth year, he led
the legions of the Jewish people out of Egyptian slavery and into the
service of G-d.
According to the Arizal, there is a clear path. At this point in
Sha'ar HaGilgulim, Rav Chaim Vital is talking about the spark that
has reincarnated into many of the great Torah leaders of the past:
"Later, it reincarnated into Shmuel HaNavi, only to later return to
Eliyahu HaNavi, as mentioned (in Chapter 32). From there, it went to
Elisha HaNavi, and then to Chizkiyahu king of Yehudah. It then
reincarnated into Yochanan Kohen Gadol, a Chashmonai, and later into
Akavia son of Mehalelel, and after that, Rebi Yochanan ben Zakkai
HaKohen. From there, it reincarnated into Rebi Akiva ben Yosef, and
this is the sod of what is written: Three lived until 120 years of
age: Moshe, Rebi Yochanan ben Zakkai, and Rebi Akiva (Rosh Hashanah
31b). Moshe spent forty years in the house of Paroah, forty years in
Midian, and forty years leading the Jewish people. Rebi Yochanan ben
Zakkai spent forty years in business, forty years learning, and,
forty years teaching. Rebi Akiva, for forty years was a simpleton,
then for forty years he learned, and then taught for forty years."
(Sha'ar HaGilgulim, Chapter 36)
It stands to reason that the forty years is not incidental either.
The Jewish people spent forty years in the desert after leaving
Egyptian slavery that was meant to last four hundred years, or ten
times forty years. Moshe himself received the Torah at Mt. Sinai
over forty days, then pleaded for forgiveness for the sin of the
golden calf over the next forty days, after which he received
atonement and the second set of tablets at the end of the third and
last set of forty days.
According to the Zohar, "Kibbutz Golios" (Ingathering of the Exiles)
at the end of days, will last forty years altogether. According to
the Talmud, one can pray regarding the gender of a fetus up until
forty days from conception (Brochos 60a), and if I had only thought
of those vort two and a half years ago, I would have been forty years
old at the time of writing it, perhaps within the forty minutes it
ought to have taken.
Enough said. From all of this we can see that the number forty is
one of the more significant numbers in Kabbalah, symbolizing Torah
and spiritual development. Even though the amount of time that Moshe
Rabbeinu spent in Kush developing his leadership skills was also
forty years, it was, perhaps, more important to do the same in
G-d told Moshe, "Behold, you will lie with your fathers, but this
people will arise and stray after the gods of the strangers of the
Land, in whose midst it is coming, and it will abandon Me and annul
My covenant that I have sealed with it." (Devarim 31:16)
We can assume that Moshe was not surprised to hear these words.
Disappointed and fearful perhaps, but not disappointed. After all,
even without our unique national stiff-neckedness, mitzvos are
mitzvos and human nature is human nature. Let's face it,
commandments have never been an easy sale.
Nevertheless, wouldn't it be nice if we Jews would read this verse
and say, "You know, we have done exactly that! G-d said that we
would, and we DID . . . Let's get back to Torah while we still can."
Nice? Try the biggest miracle since creation itself! This is the
story of the Jewish people.
What does the next posuk say?
"My anger will flare against it on that day and I will leave them; I
will conceal My face from them and they will become prey, and many
ills and distresses will come to it."
This is the story of the last year, and of the last week for sure.
Two weeks ago, most people outside of South Africa probably barely
knew where Durban was, if at all. Now, one week and one conference
(and one Parashas Ki Savo and its 98 curses) later, the events of the
Anti-Racial Conference that occurred there have captivated the
world's attention, making Durban, South Africa infamous.
As the dust settles, what should we Jews make of it? While we ponder
that question with all the so-called experts and analysts, consider
the following. A simple scan of the entire Torah for the letters:
dalet-raish-bais-nun (Durban) produced an interesting result.
Why scan for this particular city more than any other? Because, as
we have pointed out on many occasions, when something stands out and
appears more unusual than we might have thought it should, especially
when it so directly affects the destiny of the Jewish people, it is
considered DIRECT Divine Providence and a message from G-d to the
Jewish people. As Dovid HaMelech said:
This is from G-d, that which is wondrous in our eyes. (Tehillim 118:22).
Well, I don't know about you, but the conference and the way it was
run sure made me wonder out loud. And, judging from the articles and
letters I have received from different places in the world, it
produced unpredictable results. Within days, Jews who had spoken
little of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust all of sudden were worried
about the future of the Jewish people, and their own personal safety.
In the end, so many Jews are so grateful that the conference was able
to reach a "compromise" with the Arab nations when the real truth was
that a compromise should never have been needed:
"The Arab states had called for the conference to condemn Israeli
practices as racist. The European Union had refused to allow the
conference to take sides in the conflict. 'We are not satisfied with
this conference,' said Canadian representative Paul Heinbecker,
registering his country's objection to the paragraphs regarding the
Middle East. 'Too much time has been spent on an issue that does not
belong here. We want to condemn at this conference the attempts to
de-legitimize the state of Israel.'"
Exactly. From the beginning, the Arab nations tried to hijack the
conference, and even though they did not succeed, thank G-d (though
Shimon Peres chose to take the credit instead), in carrying out their
most desired objectives, people do not fully appreciate just how much
damage was done in the end. Jews, rather than read the writing on
the wall, may simply and quite mistakenly sigh in relief instead.
So, what did the "simple" scan of the Torah produce? It led to the
only place in the entire Torah where the four letters that spell
"Durban" in Hebrew show up, albeit in reverse though in the correct
order, in the following verse:
Therefore, the well was called, "The Well of the Living One Appearing
to Me." It is between Kadesh and Bared (Hebrew: ubein Bared).
The last four letters of the posuk are: nun-bais-raish-dalet - Durban.
In case you do not recognize this posuk, it is talking about Hagar,
Avraham's Egyptian concubine who was expelled from his home for
impudent behavior towards her mistress and Avraham's wife, Sarah.
Waterless in a deadly desert, it took a major miracle to save her
life, and therefore, that of her future offspring.
The miracle did indeed occur for her, as the posuk above reports, and
therefore, Hagar survived. Thus, the VERY NEXT posuk relates:
Hagar bore Avram a son and Avram called the name of his son that
Hagar bore him Yishmael.
Who would Yishmael grow up to be? The angel who had just visited her
to tell her the good news of her survival and future progeny told her
He shall be a wild man: his hand against everyone, and everyone's
hand shall be against him; and over all his brothers he will dwell.
Interesting, no? To say the least!
Shabbos Shuvah, 5762
Return (Shuvah), Israel, to G-d, your G-d, for you have stumbled in
your sin... (Hoshea 14:2)
The Shabbos between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, traditionally, is
called "Shabbos Shuvah," and the first word of the above posuk
reveals why. However, the Haftarah was chosen, of course, because it
is the Ten Days of Repentance, four of which have already passed.
The Book of Hoshea is the first of the Trei Asar - the "Twelve
Prophets." Many of the books are quite short, but all of them are
quite powerful, often containing important information about Jewish
history, especially towards the End-of-Days.
It begins at the beginning of the end, after the Kingdom of Dovid
HaMelech has already divided into two kingdoms, the Ten Tribes to the
north (Kingdom of Israel), and the two tribes of Yehudah and Binyomin
(Kingdom of Yehudah) to the south.
At the beginning, it is the northern kingdom of the divided nation
that is by far the largest and more powerful of the two. Some 350
years later, the Ten Tribes have been permanently exiled, and it is
the southern tribes of Yehudah and Binyomin, after the miracle of
Purim, who are returning to the Land to rebuild the Second Temple.
In Jewish history, very little at the beginning is what it is at the end.
The Book of Hoshea is one of the most "unusual" in all of Tanach.
Hoshea, in his zealousness to admonish his people to return from
their sinning ways, referred to the Jewish people as an "estranged
wife," not an unfamiliar language to be used by a critical prophet.
However, G-d was not pleased. As a result, the book begins with a
commandment to Hoshea to marry women whom, otherwise, he would never
have ever considered marrying. A loyal prophet, Hoshea does exactly
what G-d commanded him to do, and as a result, suffers tremendous
personal anguish and torture.
The message to Hoshea and through him to the Jewish people: In spite
of Israel's major shortcomings, we are His "Chosen People" forever.
In spite of our extreme lack of loyalty to G-d, and our willingness
to "move in" with false gods and disloyal peoples, G-d will never
abandon us. Hoshea's own story and personal test of an extreme,
drives home the point that the bond between G-d and the Jewish people
is an eternal one.
The Talmud, in discussing the Final Redemption, wants to know if G-d
will redeem His people only if they are worthy of being redeemed
(Sanhedrin 97b). The first opinion states that redemption will only
come if the Jewish people are deserving of being redeemed. The
second opinion, of course, says just the opposite. Each brings a
verse to support their opinion.
In the end, the Talmud reaches a "compromise:" If the Jewish people
are NOT deserving of being redeemed at the End-of-Days, G-d will
cause a ruler to arise who will decree against the Jewish people as
did Haman in the days of Mordechai and Esther, making their lives so
difficult that Jews far and wide will be "forced" to turn back to
G-d, and BECOME deserving of redemption.
This will NOT be because G-d has abandoned us, or because He has come
to hate us. Just the opposite! He will do this because He LOVES us,
and because He still cares about us. Whatever will befall us at the
End-of-Days will be because G-d is trying to bring redemption, not
put it off.
Hoshea's message, one fitting for the Aseres Yemai Teshuvah: If we
love OURSELVES as much as G-d loves us, we'll return to Him BEFORE
His will "forced" to set up the Hamans of history to do what we ought
to do for ourselves.
History & Beyond: Last Installment
This is the last installment of what has been a multi-part series
outlining a more Kabbalistic outlook on world history. G-d willing,
the entire series will remain on my website, www.thirtysix.org, which
will also contain additional notes that have not appeared in this
section of the weekly parshah sheet.
There is so much more to say, but even what was presented was quite
deep and complicated, depending upon the level of the reader, which
when it comes to "Perceptions," can vary tremendously.
What was the point? Perspective. We learn from the Midrash and so
many other holy works that the yetzer hara, that aspect of life that
allows us to compromise on values that we know we ought not to
compromise on, depends upon our losing perspective. It needs to
somehow "make us" believe that the mistake we are about to make is
"not so bad after all."
On Yom Kippur, when we gain that perspective back by reviewing in
earnest the severity of our "mistakes." This is why on Yom Kippur
the yetzer hara is powerless (Yoma 20a). This is also why Yom Kippur
is associated with the eighth sefirah, Binah, which means
"understanding" and the World-to-Come, where the purpose of existence
is one hundred percent clear.
The goal of the yetzer hara is to involve a person so deeply in
everyday mundane (and even not-so-mundane) matters that one has no
time to glimpse the "big picture." It is constantly looking for new
ways to distract us away from the goals of creation, and our own
personal purposes for being here. "Live for today" is its favorite
motto, and it takes advantage of our bodily desires to drive the
Righteous people know this, and this is precisely what makes them
righteous. For, as the Talmud warns, "A person does not sin unless a
spirit of insanity enters him" (Sotah 3a), meaning that, at the
moment of sin, he loses his perspective on what counts the most, and
The goal of Torah IS perspective, and must remain so. For, even
Torah can become a distraction from the true goal of life, albeit one
of the safer and holier ones. However, even people who learn Torah
can remain on spiritually low levels, relatively speaking, and become
terrible representatives for G-d's holiest gift to mankind after life
This happens when the study of Torah remains on the level of
"Asiyah," the World of Action, which Toras Beriyah, the level of
Torah within our possession ever since the Jewish people sinned with
the golden calf, deals with primarily. Usually out of ignorance,
sometimes out of fear, people can forget that Torah Beriyah is only
meant to be a threshold to Toras Atzilus, the much higher, more
sublime level of Torah understanding - the ULTIMATE big picture.
All right, not everyone, and even most people are not prepared to
make the jump to such a higher level of Torah understanding. In
fact, doing so prematurely can lead to even greater ills than not
trying at all. Therefore, like all of Judaism, Torah-understanding
is a spiritual and intellectual tight-rope balancing act. But, walk
the rope we must, if we are to gain and maintain the necessary
perspective to not become "servants" to our yetzer haras - the
ultimate form of idol worship.
I hope this series of classes, if anything at all, opened the minds'
eyes for all those who read the material and for whom it was new. I
hope that it allowed people to glimpse beyond their immediate
intellectual reality, in order to grasp that a bigger picture exists,
one beyond the business world, one beyond our social spheres, even
one beyond the deadly situation within which we find ourselves at
this late stage of history.
May we become elevated to the point that we become worthy of sharing
G-d's vision of reality, as much as is humanly possible, and in doing
so, merit to witness the time when, as the prophet has said, "the
world will be full (G-dly) understanding.
Have a great and meaningful Shabbos, and G'mar Tov