Gleaned from the Sfas Emes

Back to this week's parsha| Previous Issues

Parshas Nítzavim

Right Here!

Chapter 30, verses 1-10, is called Parshas haT'shuva, the Chapter of Repentance. Assurances are given to those who truly repent...

"And the L-rd, your G-d, will return with your returnees and have mercy on you. And He will return and gather you from all the nations, from wherever the L-rd, your G-d, has scattered you. If you will be cast out to the ends of Heaven, from there the L-rd, your G-d, will gather you; and from there He will take you" (30:2,4)

Regarding the words "And the L-rd, your G-d, will return with your returnees..." Rashi comments that G-d goes with us into exile; and when we repent, He, too, "will return with the returnees."

But G-d is everywhere. How can we speak of His 'going' or 'returning? Futhermore, why does the verse say "If you will be cast out to the end of Heaven...", rather than 'to the end of the earthí?

The terms 'go' and 'return' do not refer to G-d's actual Pesence, but to our sense of G-d's Presence. In exile, G-d seems to 'slip away', and feels far from us. Of course, He really hasn't gone anywhere, but we have lost our awareness of Him. As we return with our repentance, our awareness of Him returns, becoming active and acute.

This thought is continued in the second verse, which can be read as referring to G-d, thus explaining the word 'Heaven'. "Even if your casting out (of G-d, by your sins, will be) to the end of Heaven, (and then you will repent - then immediately) from there, He will gather you. As we sink ever deeper into the exile, G-d may seem to be as distant as the end of Heaven. Though He is present, we do not feel His Presence. But whenever we wish to re-attach ourselves, wherever we are, He is right there waiting to take us back.

We need no special exertions to come close to G-d. He is always with us, waiting for us to reach out. And when we do - from the very depths of exile, G-d will hasten our redemption (Sfas Emes, Nítzavim 5640).

As in all efforts to come close to G-d, though external influences may help, the main effort must be on our own: introspection, commitment, and work. We don't have to go to others, we donít have to go far to reach G-d. He is right here.

Before a potential chassid would travel to a Rebbe, Rav Simcha Bunim Benihardt, zt"l, would tell him the story of the "Rí Isaac, Rí Yakele's shul" in Cracow - how it came to be built.

There was a poor Jew, Rí Isaac, son of Rí Ya'akov, who had a recurring dream. He dreamt that under the bridge that led to the King's palace in Prague, there was a treasure awaiting him. Finally, he decided to make the trip to Prague, and see.

At the bridge, Rí Isaac was stopped by the the King's guard, who asked him his business. He told him his dream. "You fool!" the guard laughed. "I too have a dream - that under the stove in the house of someone named Isaac, in Cracow, there lies a treasure. But do you think I'm crazy enough to chase my dream all the way to Cracow? Forget your dream and go home!" said the guard.

Rí Isaac understood that his entire trip had been only to hear these words. Back home, he dug under his stove and found the treasure - from which the shul was built.

Rí Bunim would conclude, "The point of your going to a Rebbe is only to be told where to search for the treasure that is within you!"

"Gleaned From the Sfas Emes" - excerpts adapted from a soon to be published book, G-d Willing, by Simcha Grossbard. Rabbi Grossbard is author of "The Sfas Emes Haggadah" (Targum Press) and "Kasheleg Yalbinu", a two volume (Hebrew) work based on Sfas Emes.

Parshas Vayeilech

The Spark

On the first night of Chol HaMoed Succos following shmita year, all the Jews would gather, to hear the reading of the Torah...

"Gather the people! The men, the women, the infants, and the proselytes in your gates! That they may listen, and that they may learn, and fear G-d..." (31:12)

Rashi comments: Why were infants brought? To reward the exertion of those who brought them.

But if the infants were too little to be impressed by this ceremony, why should people be rewarded for bringing them?

Certainly the infants, though too small to understand what was transpiring on this occasion, were affected by the spiritual emanations of the event. Rashi's intent can be understood, if we first consider the following: It is written "Who preceded Me, that I should pay? All that is under the Heavens is Mine." (Iyov, 41:3). Can a person do anything if G-d doesn't will it? All our accomplishments are possible only with G-d's help. But if our intellect, emotions, abilities - even the inclination to do His will - are from G-d, why should we be rewarded?

There is one tiny point within each person's volition that G-d leaves alone. Only we, ourselves, can spark this point, with an initial will to do good. If we do, G-d helps. It is for this initial sparking that G-d rewards us.

Yet, if reward is conditional on our initiating that first spark to do good, why should G-d reward infants with such spiritual benefits? This is what Rashi is asking, Why were infants brought? They have no will to do good, so they won't be rewarded with being impressed with the event's spiritual emanations. His answer is that the parents' willingness to exert themselves for the spiritual welfare of their children, 'causes' G-d to reward the infants, too, with the beneficial effects of this important mitzvah. (Sfas Emes, Vayeilech 5634)

There is a custom for a father to learn all night before his son's bris. Rav Ya'akov Kamenetsky, zt"l, once commented that a lack of zeal for this custom accounted for the noticeably few exceptional Torah personalities in our generation, as compared to the generations in pre-war Europe. Perhaps, as explained above, the current apathy about this custom reflects a lack of diligence about toiling for a son's success in Torah learning - and therefore that beneficial spiritual influence which would produce exceptional scholars is lacking, too.

"Gleaned From the Sfas Emes"- excerpts adapted from a soon to published book, G-d Willing, by Simcha Leib Grossbard.Rabbi Grossbard is author of "The Sfas Emes Haggadah"(Targum Press) and "Kasheleg Yalbinu", a two volume (Hebrew) work based on Sfas Emes.

Back to this week's parsha | Previous Issues