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by Daneal Weiner
There is renewal in the air! That, according to Rabbi Osher Zelig Rubenstein is what this time of year is all about. Even the goyishe velt feels the forces of renewal. They don't know why but they role with the flow just the same; the new school year, new fiscal year, new rental season and next years model cars hit the showroom floor...and all because the Holy One injected into this time of year the force of renewal, so that during the approaching Days of Awe we may stand before Him a new nation, recommitted, cleansed of our sins and ready to serve Him anew. The astrological sign of Tishrei is Virgo, the virgin, a symbol reflecting this idea of renewal and innocence.
To start off with a few words from last week’s Ki Savo. We said a vort last week, which I now remember I heard from a Rabbi Hillel David and again from Rabbi Rubenstein. The Gaon of Vilna, (The Gra'h) knew from his teachers that although the Chumash is not a history book, all of history is in it. All of humanity is in it. (The codes have begun to reveal this to us.) The Gra'h added that the book of D'varim parallels the final millennia of history. Although D'varim is divided into 11 parshas, the Gra'h says two of the parshas are really 2 halves of a whole and these now 10 parshas correspond to the 10 centuries of this final millennia. The Gra'h’s accounting is not as simple as 5000-5100, first century. 5100-5200, second century. Etc.
According to the Gra'h’s accounting, (he lived approx. 300 years ago) last week's Parshas Ki Savo, the Tochahcha- the rebuke corresponded to a century which ended with the Holocaust. The parsha which lists the worst of the curses of the Torah was indeed testimony to the worst period in recent history. When the Torah warns what happen when would Jews turn from the ways of Hashem to run after the ways of world, when it said how it would happen, by whom it would happen and, as we're learning now, when it would happen, it was accurate to its every bitter detail. May Hashem avenge the blood of our loved ones.
The Torah doesn't end there, though.
The Gemorah tells us of when, shortly after the destruction of the second holy Temple, some Tannaim were ascending the Temple mount and they saw a fox coming out from the ruins that once was the Kodesh Kodoshim- Holy of Holies. The Rabbis wept but Rabbi Akivah laughed. They asked why he was laughing? He said he knew the verse from the prophets foretelling that foxes would roam the Temple Mount. He never knew if they were metaphoric or literal. Now that he knows they were literal than all the verses which describe the glorious rebuilding of Jerusalem and returned grandeur to Israel are to be taken literally as well! The Rabbis said, "You have comforted us Akivah, you have comforted us."
Back in Chumash, Rashi brings a Midrash that tells us after Israel heard all the curses of Ki Savo their faces were green with fright. They couldn’t imagine who could survive such horrors? Who could continue in the face of such tragedies? So Moshe says addresses Israel with the opening words of this weeks double parsha
"YOU are all standing here today..." Netsavim means not just standing but implies standing firm, implanted, imbedded. Moshe is telling them, “You survived! You will continue!” And just as Ki Savo ended the century which defined the Holocaust, we now live during the century of Netsavim which begins the rebirth of Torah communities which are blossoming the world over. Jews, young and old, on every continent are returning to their roots. Implanting themselves in the rich, fertile soil of Torah. I’ve heard it conjectured from reliable opinions that there are more Jews learning Torah now then there has been at any time since the beginning of this exile nearly 2000 years ago! The appreciation of Torah goes well beyond just the men and women who learn.
A Kollel system has been established. Those who appreciate Torah but haven’t the time to learn can support the studies of those who commit to 4 - 10 hours of study a day. For every 10 families in Kollel there are virtually hundreds behind them who create the possibility of their Torah study. Who help create future Torah teachers and future Rabbis. Who help create an environment and even more importantly, award the time for the seasoning and aging of our future Torah giants. And all this is in addition to the actual share in Torah which these supporters attain.
Exactly what is Olam Habah- the World to Come? We can only guess what will be. Our Sages offer analogies of how they understand it. One describes Olam Habah as an everlasting shiur- lesson in Torah. A shiur in which at every moment is taught a new, profound revelation in the Torah’s wisdom which is the source of the eternal bliss we know Olam Habah to be. What shiur does one get to attend? That of any Torah one has learned in their lifetime. One who eyes have not seen nor whose lips have uttered pages of Gemorah, paragraphs of Mishnah or verses of Torah has no relationship to the wellsprings by which Olam Habah is made. You can’t get into the shiur if you have no connection to the material. The connections are made in this world. It is discussed how the reward for Torah study is apportioned regarding the supporters versus the supportees. Is it equal? Do those who actually have the Torah under their belt get more? One thing is for sure, the supporters get into the shiur. Whatever Torah study they’ve supported, they get into that shiur! Similarly, when Rabbi Akivah returned home after 24 straight years of Torah study, he said to his 24,000 students (all Tannaic Sages!) who were wondering who this woman was who wanted to see their Rebbe, “All my Torah and all your Torah is her Torah!”
Although Torah study is breaking records, we have to keep things in perspective. You may have heard it asked, "How many people do they need learning in Yeshivas and Seminaries?" "Haven't they learned enough? When are they going to get a real job?" People who can ask such questions must have been born yesterday because they seem to know nothing about what went on the day before. When the flames of reform and haskala made it evident that European Jewry would no longer be the pillar of Torah Judaism it was decreed on High to be razed and its foundations uprooted. Every single Jew who survived Hitler's, y'sh, quest for world domination therefore was hand picked by Hashem to rebuild what was lost. It is important to stress Hitler’s desire to conquer the world in order to understand that the definition of a survivor is not one who has survived the camps or even survived war torn Europe. If you, your parents or your grandparents fled Europe even 50 years before the war then you are a survivor! Hitler may not have gotten to you but you were on his agenda! Every Jew alive today has been hand picked to revitalize Judaism and the Jewish people. History has shown us repeatedly, not just 50 years ago, but repeatedly, that without Torah we are nothing. We have nothing and we are nothing. And some people want to know, aren’t there are enough people learning?
The tribe of Issachar and the Tribe of Zevulun were the worlds first kollel arrangement. Zevulun worked and supported Issachar and Issachar spent all day studying Torah. From Issacher came the greatest minds, those capable of calculating the Hebrew calendar. The Torah’s census tells us there were 64,300 avreichim- kollel members in Issachar. That’s just over 10% of the 600,000 total souls of Israel. That was when every Jew knew what Torah was. That was when every Jew put aside time for Torah study, even Zevulun. That was when every Jew lived a Torah observant life. They still had 10%, a tithe of the people, set aside for Torah study. How many avreichim do we have studying today? How many avreichim and yeshiva students do we have studying today? How many a, sstudents do we have studying today? I think we hit a walloping .5% of Jews. "How many people do they need learning?" "Haven't they learned enough? When are they going to get a real job?" (You have to squeeze your nose when you read these questions for the full effect.)
Walking past a used sefer store I spotted a large two volume set of Mikra’os G’dolos Chumashim for a ridiculously low price. I bought them, of course. While on my shelf a friend noticed that the name and style font of the publisher on the bottom of the spine was uncannily identical to one of Israel’s secular newspapers, Ha’arets, home to some of the most venomous anti-Semitism of our modern day Israel. My friend opened the front cover to the publishers page and there it was, “Specially printed edition for the readers of Ha’arets.” Published 1959. We asked one of the older Rabbi’s if he had any idea why Ha’arets would put out a set of chumashim? He put his two fingers to his lips as if holding a cigarette, picked up his chin and said, “The high society folks used to enjoy a Shabbos afternoon off of work, puffing on a cigarette and intellectual stimulating themselves over a good Rashi.” Ah, the apikorsim of yesteryear. How many avreichim, yeshiva and seminary students and good ol’ apikorisim do we have studying today? That wouldn’t bring us any closer to the 10% mark.
Unfortunately, the apikorsim of today are total ignoramuses- which means we can’t call them apikorsim. They’re just self-loathing ignorant Jews. While working on this I went online and gleaned the following gem from an article in Ha’arets. It’s about intermarriage and the influences that determine with which religion the children are raised.
“The statistics indicated that 52 percent of all marriages performed in the previous five years were mixed marriages. Subsequent studies of intermarried couples showed that only 19 percent of the children of intermarriages are raised as Jews…The ultra-Orthodox accepted the results as justification for their isolationist practices.”
And yet just a few short paragraphs later the same journalist writes,
“One of the most surprising findings was that having a Jewish circle of friends was a more important factor than the relationship with the spouse's parents.”
What do you think? Last Shabbos was this journalist stimulating his mind or guzzling beer watching a soccer match?
Unsolicited testimony that the isolationists have answered the intermarriage problem! Moshe emes v’Toraso emes! Moshe emes v’Toraso emes!
“How many people do they need learning?” Vay, vay, vay. The next time you pass the construction site of a new skyscraper ask one of the workers, "Is such a big hole necessary? What do you need all that cement for?" I recommend stopping before you ask him, “When are you going to get a real job?”
Speaking of learning Torah, (oh, have we been?)
does have more to say on the matter. Verses 30:11-14 "For this commandment that I command you today- it is not far from you and it is not distant. It is not in heaven for you to say, 'Who can ascend to the heaven for us and take it for us so that we can listen to it and perform it?' Nor is it across the sea for you to say, 'Who can cross to the other side of the sea for us and take it for us so that we may listen and perform it?' Rather the matter is very near to you- in your mouth and your heart- to perform it."
The commentaries say the 'it' is the Torah and ‘this commandment’ means all of them. Rashi says it means both the Written and Oral Torah. Sforno says, ‘in your mouth and your heart' means the mitsvos which require action are inspired by the mouth (ie; walk your talk) and the mitsvos of the mouth are inspired by the heart. Rabbi Yoseph Dov Soloveitchik brings a Gemorah that says we were all taught the Torah in its entirety in the womb and we were caused to forget it at birth. This is why no matter what one’s age, if they begin to learn the Torah will seem 'very near' to them. Like an old forgotten friend.
I heard from a Rabbi Akivah Homnick two related Midrashim brought down on this parsha. The first epitomizes laziness. A man is told he should learn something from his Rav. He says my Rav isn’t in town. He is told his Rav is in town. He says there is a lion loose on the streets. He is told his Rav is next door. He says there is a lion at the door. He is told his Rav is in his building. He says his door is locked. He is told his door is open. His Rav is probably resting. If this guy sat in front of a plate of food he'd complain he can’t lift the fork. To him and to us all Moshe informs the Torah is "in your mouth"! Chew and swallow. It’s easy as pie! ……. No it isn’t. I break my head over this stuff! I see the great scholastic minds and businessmen step into these hallowed walls and within 2 days they’re reduced to dribbling first graders! What’s this ‘in your mouth’ stuff?
Enter Medrish #2: A loaf of bread is spotted up in the rafters. A simpleton stares up at it and says, “It's out of reach, impossible to get to." A Talmid Chacham looks at it and says. "If someone put it up there than it can be taken down." He goes and gets a ladder and reaches the bread. The Midrash concludes with a clear message. The method of achievement in Torah is one verse at a time. One chapter at a time. Easy as pie.
What? That message isn’t from this Midrash! If the bread was 1000 flights up and the simpleton said he'll never make it and the Talmid Chacham climbed one stair at a time till he got to the bread, that makes sense. Then we’d here the message, one step at a time. But he gets a ladder??? How do we explain this Midrash?
To do so Rabbi Homnick uses a Gemorah which says the vessels of Hashem are not like the vessels of man. By us, only an empty vessel can hold the maximum. As it is filled its potential to hold decreases till it can hold no more. Hashem’s vessels, when empty they can hold nothing. But the more they are filled the more they can hold! A bad example might be a balloon. When it is empty, its volume is little. As it begins to be filled its capacity to hold grows as well. The perfect example, because it is the thing itself, is us! We are Hashem’s vessels. The more Torah we take in, the more Hashem gives us. Now we can understand the Midrash.
It’s impossible to step onto the top rung of the ladder. It’s even quite difficult to stretch to the second rung. But step onto the first rung and you now have the capability of stepping onto the second. Step onto the second and the potential for the third presents itself to you. Climbing the ladder of Torah is as easy as pie because with each bite one fills himself with that Torah and with the potential to grasp the next bite.
It’s only due to Hashem’s infinite kindness that we have our potential for understanding Torah because Rashi makes the following deduction. (30:12) "It is not in heaven" This is a good thing Rashi says because "even if it were in the heavens, [ie: incomprehensible] we would still be responsible for trying and learn it!" We just spoke recently how our efforts are an end in and of themselves. Part of the short prayer of thanks we say when leaving the study hall is “We toil and they [other nations] toil. We toil and receive reward and they toil and don’t receive reward.” What does this mean? Imagine giving a tailor an order for a customized suit. He gets the fabric and measures and cuts and sews and trims and creases and cuffs and buttons and after 20 hours of fatiguing effort, the suit stands proudly in his showroom window. He goes home beaming with accomplishment over a job well done and the anticipation of having made a customer for life. The next morning the tailor finds a broken front window and the suit is gone. Can he call the customer and say, “I haven’t the suit but I’ve itemized the labor I put into it. Can I send you a bill?” They toil with no reward. We toil in Torah and are rewarded even when we draw a blank. AND Hashem gives us the invaluable gift of understanding. What a great G-d!
Let’s be real for a moment. Can we puny little Jews who are approaching the end of our 2nd millennia in exile, who have fallen to the 50th level of Tuma- shmutz, cawe really understand the depths of Torah? 300 years ago, the Gra'h looked into the Torah and saw a holocaust. He also looked into the Torah and saw the real war to end all war, the battle of Gog and Magog will be 11 seconds long. (and that was before subscriptions to “Better Homes and Plutonium” was available.) To us across the sea is more like across the universe! Have we really got a chance?
Of course. That’s why Netsavim is doubled up with
Deut. 31:1, "Vayelech Moshe vayidaber..." "And Moshe went and spoke [these things to all Israel...]" Rav Wolfson asks why "Moshe went and spoke..." and not the usual, "And Moshe spoke"? Next question, next verse, "...I [Moshe] am no longer able to go out or come in..." Rashi comments, "This teaches us that the wellsprings of wisdom were closed up from Moshe." This Rashi is difficult because it is a contradiction to an explicit verse at the end of Parshas Zose Habracha, (34:7) "[Moshe's] eyes had not dimmed nor his vigor diminished." Was Moshe cut off or was he strong to the finish? Rashi certainly knew the later verse so we have to ask how his comment in Vayelech is not a contradiction to the verse in Zose Habracha?
Rabbi Moshe Midner, zt'l, came before the Admo’r of Tchortkov, zt'l, and said, "I am of one of those fitting for the Admo’r to run after but I did not want to trouble him." The Admo’r asked him to explain. He said, "The Zohar Hakadosh teaches that Tsaddikim are obligated to run after the wicked to get them to do tshuva. It is therefore fitting that the Ardmo'r come after me for I am wicked and need to do tshuva. I did not want to trouble the Rav so I came to him." What a great idea! Let’s go to a Tsaddik. Better yet, Moshe! We can’t appear before Moshe, but maybe he has already ran after us.
There are 600,000 letters in the Torah. 600,000 is also the number of all the souls of all the generations of the Jews, from the first generations which walked with Hashem in the desert to the last generations of the footsteps of the Mashiach, the ones steeped in the 50th level of Tuma. Each soul is rooted in one of the letters of the Torah. Moshe Rabbeinu, on his last day wrote a Sefer Torah- Torah Scroll. By way of his writing the letters of the Torah he injected into their corresponding souls a spark of his own life force. This influence helps make possible our ultimate and complete reparation. Moshe says in verse 31:27, “Behold, I am still alive with you today.” When the Torah says ‘today’ it doesn’t mean just that day but even this day, today.
"And Moshe went and spoke..." Moshe went out to every letter, to every Jew in every generation. From the first 'beis' in Braishis to the till end of time. As the Gra’h said in his own way, the final chapters of the Torah are the final days of history. As Moshe inscribed these final chapters he had to restrict the magnitude of his influence to a level suitable for Jews of our time.
"Vayelech Moshe..." "And Moshe went", went from his own intensity, went from his level of spirituality, and he lowered himself to be able to reach the lower generations since the Tsaddik is supposed to go after the ‘wicked’ to get them to do tshuva. "The Wellsprings of wisdom were closed up from him" for our sake. But Moshe, himself, “his eyes were not dim nor his vigor diminished.”
Netsavim/Vayelech. We are the builders of a renewed Jewish Nation and we are just the ones to do it! We were specifically chosen for the task. Moshe himself is showing us the way. "For this commandment that I command you today- it is not far from you and it is not distant. Rather the matter is very near to you- in your mouth and your heart- to perform it." Give the performance of lifetime. Have a Moshe Rabbeinu inspired Shabbot Shalom!
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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