Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig
e-mail yosilr@widomaker.com

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Parshat Nitzavim - Vayelech

Dear Friends, My constant travels between Newport News and Canada does not allow me to publish a new "VORTIFY YOURSELF" again this week. Last years Vortify has some very important points of information that should be investigated by our new sunscribers and reviewed by those who have previously received the Vort. Please forgive me for republishing former Vortify's.

In the second Parsha of the two Parshiot read this week, Moshe Rabbaynu passes the mantle of leadership to his faithful disciple Yehoshua, and Moshe steps aside and allows Yehoshua to guide Am Yisrael. Hashem asks Moshe to summon Yehoshua to the entrance of the Ohel Moed so that they might receive instruction together. Hashem tells them that after Moshe passes away, Am Yisrael will forsake the Torah and Hashem will conceal His Face from them, and great suffering will ensue.

The Torah therefore commands that Am Yisrael should: "Kitvu Lachem Et Hashirah Hazot - Write this SONG for yourselves, and teach it to the B'nai Yisrael, place it in their mouths, so that this SONG shall be for Me a witness, against the B'nai Yisrael." Devarim 31:19

Hashem requires of every Jew to write a Sefer Torah (Kitvu Lachem Et Hashirah Hazot) in order to recall the covenant and the responsibility of that covenant with Hashem.

Hashem refers to the Torah as Shirah, literally 'the song'. Song is perhaps a bad translation. In Hebrew, Shirah can mean song or poem. I believe that poem would be more accurate. This gives us great insight into what the Torah is and how we are to relate to it.

Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, commonly known as the Netziv (1817-1893) presents a beautiful explanation of this thought. He writes that biblical scripture is commonly viewed as prose and therefore taken literally. However, if we relate to Torah as poetry, then the purpose of the Torah Shiba'al Peh (the oral Torah), becomes clear - to illuminate and clarify the meaning behind text.

For instance, when we read in the Torah that our matriarch Sara lived for "one hundred years and twenty years and seven years" (B'rayshit [Genesis] 23:1), its unusual phrasing alludes to a deeper meaning. The Torah is sending us a message that at the age of one hundred, she was as sinless as a twenty year old. At twenty, she had the innocent beauty of a seven year old.

When we look at the Torah as prose, we often get bogged down in the validity and conflicting interpretations of Torah Shiba'al Peh. But when we see it as poetry, Torah Shiba'al Peh adds dimension and a wide spectrum of meaning to each and every word.

The verse that teaches us this is in itself a classic example of the opportunity to see meaning that goes deeper than the words. The Malbim (acronym for Meir Liebisch ben Yechiel Michel, 1809-1879) asks why the Torah says in Devarim 31:29: "Liman T'hiyu Li Hashira Hazot L'ayd B'b'nai Yisrael So that this song shall be for Me a witness, against the B'nai Yisrael."

On first reading, one might understand from these words that when the B'nai Yisrael stray from the Torah, the Torah itself will testify against them. As prose, this seems to be the meaning behind the words. But does Hashem need a witnesses to oversee Israel?

The Malbim explains with a parable. A king frees one of his subjects who was imprisoned for theft and appoints him to guard his treasury. Since the king knew that by nature this man was prone to thievery, and it was safe to assume that he might steal again, the king chronicled the appointment in full detail.

The other citizens believed that the king did so to warn the former thief, that if he ever stole in the future, he would be put to death for stealing from the king is an act of treason. But actually, the king's reason for writing it all down was to remind himself, that if this man was ever caught stealing, the king should be lenient with him, for he should have known better than to appoint him keeper of the treasury.

So, too, does Hashem record here: "So that this song shall be for Me a witness, against the B'nai Yisrael".

The King of kings asks that this poetry be recorded, with all its nuances and all its meanings so that He will always be aware of our shortcomings and act towards us in a more Merciful manner.

Those who study the Torah as prose, view Hashem as a Vengeful G-d. Those who study the Torah as poetry, view Hashem as a Merciful G-d. At the approach of the Yamim Nora'im (the Days of Awe), when we beseech Hashem to be merciful with us, may we have the insight to see the poetry of His Torah.

Shabbat Shalom.
Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig

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