The Weekly Parsha: A New Dimension

by Rabbi Heshy Grossman

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PARSHAS NITZAVIM

TICHLEH SHANAH V'KILELOSEHA

"Ezra instituted for Israel that the Klalos of Toras Kohanim [VaYikra] be read before Atzeres [Shavuos], and those of Mishneh Torah [Devarim] be read before Rosh HaShanah."

"For what reason?"

"Said Abaye, and others say, Resh Lakish: Keday SheTichleh Shanah V'Kileloseha, to wipe out this year and its curses." (Megilah 31b)

The simple understanding of this statement is that the Tochacha is read in order to put our troubles behind us. We want to finish off the year and start anew on a fresh footing. Therefore, we speed up the weekly Torah reading, insuring that Ki Savo and Nitzavim are heard before Rosh Hashanah, safely out of the way.

This cannot be true.

The Rambam says that the Minhag of completing the entire Torah in the course of one year was not the only method of Torah reading. Certain communities had a three year cycle for the completion of the Torah. If so, the Takana of Ezra could not be in order to rid ourselves of the upcoming Tochacha. The weekly Torah portion may have been holding in Shmos. In those communities, a separate Torah was taken out, from which the Tochacha was read. Meaning to say, there was a deliberate attempt to specifically read the Tochacha, although it was not due to be read.

In the same manner that we read Parshas Amalek on Shabbos Zachor, the place of the Tochacha is before Rosh HaShanah. It is read as preparation for Yom HaDin, not as an escape from trouble.

How?

"Keday SheTichleh Shanah V'Kileloseha".

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"L'Avrecha B'Bris Hashem Elokeicha" - Three covenants G-d established when they left Egypt: When they stood before Har Sinai, one at Chorev, and one here [Ki Savo & Nitzavim]. Why did Hakadosh Baruch Hu make one with them here? Because the Bris at Har Sinai was voided when they said 'Eleh Eloheicha' [Chet HaEgel], therefore, He returned and established a covenant with them at Chorev, setting with it a Klala for he who would rescind his word." (Midrash Tanchuma, Nitzavim 3)

This Midrash is quite puzzling.

A question is asked regarding the necessity for the third covenant of Sefer Devarim. The answer: The first Bris was voided at Har Sinai, hence the need for a second Bris at Chorev, that of Parshas Bechokosai, instituting a system of curse and rebuke for subsequent violators of the covenant.

But the question was in regards to the need for a third Bris! How do we resolve the problem by citing the reestablishment of the broken Sinai covenant, albeit on harsher terms?

Let us begin by explaining the origin of the word 'Bris'.

The Ramban (Breishis 6,18) defines 'Bris' as rooted in 'Brias' - creation. The Bris establishes a permanent relationship, created by Hashem. It defines the immutable and enduring nature of that relationship. For this reason, the Targum translates 'Bris' as 'Kayama' - everlasting.

The Bris is our connection to Hashem. It stands apart from the mundane pattern of daily life, separate from the physical world.

It is not subject to change because it is part of the very fabric of existence. Our covenant with G-d is not an incidental element of life, but the foundation of reality. Just as the world we inhabit is the basis for physical life, so too, on a spiritual level, the Bris is the substantive structure that is the bedrock of Klal Yisrael.

The Bris of Har Sinai opened a new dimension, placing Klal Yisrael in a higher reality. When they sinned with the Golden Calf, that world was destroyed. Similar to the original sin of Adam HaRishon, which removed man from life in Gan Eden, the Chet HaEgel damaged the very fabric of existence.

The Bris of Toras Kohanim allowed for a permanent relationship despite the tainted spirit of Klal Yisrael. Paralleling the second Luchos, it established the relationship with G-d as a function of the Mitzvos performed by mortal man. Were man to sin again, the Klala would be activated, directing him back to the path of good. The Klala insures that the basis of existence will no longer be harmed. Man will be allowed to go only so far before the rebuke of Hashem restores him to his proper place.

The covenant of Sinai required no Klala to insure that it be upheld. On the contrary, it was the Bris that maintained the world, not the world that kept alive the Bris. The second covenant has a different function. It assures that our relationship with Hashem remains permanent, utilizing admonishment as a tool that guarantees our obedience.

What precisely is added with the third covenant of Mishneh Torah?

After Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai was forced into hiding, the Sages record an incident describing his severely felt absence.

"One day, the Chachamim in the Bais Medrash asked: The Klalos of Toras Kohanim refer to the First Temple. The Klalos of Mishneh Torah refer to the Second Temple and the final exile. In the Klalos of Toras Kohanim there are promises, and the love of Hashem for Klal Yisrael, as is written, 'V'Zacharti Es Brisi Ya'akov...', and 'V'Af Gam Zos B'Hiyos B'Eretz Oyveihem'. In the Klalos of Mishneh Torah there are no promises, and there is no Nechama at all, as there are in the first Klalos. And nobody knew [how to answer this question]."

"Rav Yehuda Bar Ilai stood and said: 'Pity that we are missing Bar Yochai, and noone knows of him. And if he was known of, there would be no permission to have it revealed.' "

"R. Yosi ben R. Yehuda arose one morning, saw all the birds flying, and one dove following them. He got to his feet and said: 'Dove, trustworthy dove, from the days of the Great Flood, the image of the Jewish People [who are compared to a dove] is appropriate and fitting for you. Go and perform for me one task to Bar Yochai, in the place where he is.' "

"That dove hovered and stood before him. He wrote a note, saying what he did. The dove flew up, taking the note in its mouth, and went to Rebbi Shimon, placing the letter on his lap. He looked at the letter and cried, he and Rebbi Elazar, his son. He said: 'I am crying for the separaton from my Chaverim, and I am crying for these words, that are not revealed to them. What will the later generations do, if they look at this?' "

"At that time, came Eliyahu z'l. He saw that they were crying, and said: 'I was prepared for another task, now Hashem has sent me to soften your tears......go out and see, a king that has love for his son, even though he may curse and strike him, he has an inner love for him. It is when he displays a strong anger, that he actually is having mercy upon him. So too, Hashem, although he gives a curse, he is filled with love. He is displaying openly a Klala, but it is actually an abundance of good, for these curses are with love. Unlike the first Klalos, which were all a harsh judgment....."

"And the harshest of these curses is.. : 'Gam Kol Choli V'Chol Makah Asher Lo Kasuv B'Sefer HaTorah Ya'alem Hashem Aleicha Ad Hishamdach' - ' And even all disease and plague that is not written in the Torah, Hashem will bring upon you, until you are destroyed'.

"These are the promises of a father to his son....'Ad Hishamdach', which can never be, forever and ever, because G-d has sworn never to destroy Israel, forever and ever.....and since G-d has sworn never to destroy Israel, therefore these sicknesses and plagues are destined to be hidden and covered, not to come out and cause them harm. Until the time that they will be destroyed, which will never happen, forever and ever." (Zohar Chadash, Ki Savo)

Let us now explain.

The Bris of Toras Kohanim contains harsh punishment for those who have strayed. As all rebuke, it is designed to rectify the sinner's evil ways, driving him back to the good and just path of G-d's will.

The Klala is just that. Hashem activates a pattern of harshness which demands consolation if man repents, and repairs his ways.

The Klala of Mishneh Torah is different. It is not for the man who takes the lesson to heart and rectifies his deeds. It is for he who rejects the rule of G-d, insisting that he has no place with the destiny of Klal Yisrael.

"Lest there be among you a man or a woman, or family or Shevet, whose heart turns away from Hashem our G-d, to go and serve the Gods of those nations, lest there be among you a root which will produce a poisonous herb and bitter weed."

"And it will be when he hears the words of this oath that he blesses himself in his heart, saying, ' I will have peace, because I will follow the way of my heart..' "

"G-d will not be willing to pardon him...and all the curse which is written in this book will rest upon him, and G-d will blot out his name from under the heavens." (Devarim, 29,18-19)

This too is part of the Bris.

As opposed to the covenant of Parshas Bechukosai, the Bris of Sefer Devarim is written in singular form. The Vilna Gaon (Aderes Eliyahu, Nitzavim) explains that the covenant of VaYikra, written in plural, is addressed to each and every individual of the community, while the singular nature of our Parsha applies to the nation as one whole.

After witnessing the hardship and suffering of Jewish history, man may be tempted to say, 'I will have peace', because I am opting out of the community. The words don't apply to me for I choose to reject the covenant signed by the Jewish People.

Unknowingly, his very repudiation serves to reveal the covenant that he rejects.

Let us imagine entering a store with one thousand bottles of soft drink. We are then informed of the likelihood that one of those bottles has been tainted with dangerous poison. Only one bottle.

Would a reasonable person dare to take his chances?

Logic tells us that even for chances that are far smaller, no man would put his life in danger.

If so, how is that people can openly rebel against the word of G-d, ignoring the possibility of negative consequences? Certainly, even to the non-believer, there is an element of risk greater than one poisoned bottle on the wall. Perhaps, just perhaps, there is something to what those religious folks have beeen saying all these years?

How is it that we are not enveloped by total fear for the consequences of sin?

Careful reflection will show that there is only one answer to this vexing problem.

Man is granted freedom of choice. It is Bechirah that classifies man as a powerful being, a Tzelem Elokim. Though normal process should have man cowed in fear, such a situation would prevent man from exercising his freedom, counteracting the purpose of creation. Therefore, Hashem allows for the possibility of total rejection, providing space for the option that expresses true autonomy.

In other words, the existence of a Rasha is a miracle. It is clear evidence that G-d alone directs the world towards a clear and defined goal. It is the obstinance of man in the very face of G-d's threatened punishment, that reveals the Covenant he supposedly rejects.

It is the punishment itself that reveals this idea. The existence of evil, whether it be a forbidden possiblity, or actualized by the man who so chooses, teaches the world a deeper truth.

It is Eliyahu HaNavi, the angelic bearer of redemption, who reveals this secret to Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai. Though the word of G-d is hidden to mortal man, and the suffering of Israel is apparent evidence of His rejection, careful study and refllection discloses the eternal truth: Klal Yisrael can never be destroyed. G-d and the Jewish People are one.

This Klala is not designed to repair the broken covenant.

It is the covenant.

It is the existence of evil and the suffering it brings that reveals the truly fragile nature of our physical existence, bringing to light the One G-d whose covenant can never be removed.

Let us explain this idea from a different perspective.

In the same passage cited above, Eliyahu tells Rebbi Shimon that the redemption of Israel is alluded to in the verse that foretells "the worst of all the Klalos".

Rebbi Shimon studies and finds the most awful of the punishments.

"And your life will hang in doubt, and you will be in fear day and night, and you wil have no faith in your life" (Devarim, 28, 66)

The punishment reaches a point where man's very existence is threatened. He has nothing left to rely upon, no base to build his life.

He finally recognizes the truth.

There is no basis to existence other than the D'var Hashem. All man's worldly efforts cover up the truth that Eliyahu HaNavi is destined to reveal. The physical world is an illusion, a deck of cards standing on thin air.

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Man once had the option to grasp this on his own. He was ordered to sacrifice his life on the altar of Divine service, devoting all his energy towards this goal.

Instead, man chose to travel a different path, a road where G-d's command does not reign supreme. He feels free and alive, pursuing every whim and desire that strikes his fancy.

And one day it all comes crashing down.

He has built a fantasy world, with no purpose or substance.

No permanence. No Bris.

But that itself is the Bris.

The Klala IS the Bris. It is the one truth left upon which we stand. It is the reality of our existence. After everything else ultimately dissipates in a cloud of disappointment, man is left to realize the truth he chose to ignore.

Our life is ALWAYS hanging in the balance.

There is no need for passages of promise at the close of this Tochacha.

The Tochacha is solace of its own.

Ezra instituted that the curses of Mishneh Torah be read before Rosh HaShanah.

Why? "Keday SheTichleh Shanah V'Kileloseha"

We do not read the Tochacha in order to rid ourselves of its troubles and get us on our way.

It is the converse that is true. All that has happened, good or evil, is united as one in the actualization of G-d's dominion. We accept the Klala, indeed, we bring it upon ourselves, in recognition that the covenant with Hashem is immutable and everlasting.

As we mentioned, Chazal explain that the Tochacha of Toras Kohanim refers to the destruction of the First Temple. Much as the Babylonian exile was short-lived, with the return to Israel after seventy years, so too, the Parsha ends with the promise of G-d's return to the Jewish People.

Our Parsha refers to the lost Second Bais HaMikdash. It concludes with a sour note, with no hope for repair. Nothing to grab onto in the long and torturous exile.

As the suffering we endure during years of Tochacha grows wider and deeper, it becomes eminently clear that this is precisely the point.

Our precarious lives hang in doubt in a world that questions the very right of our existence.

It's true.

Ain Lanu Ela Avinu SheBaShamayim.

Have a good Shabbos!

Any questions or comments? Address them to: grossman@actcom.co.il


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