Netzvim – Listening to the Wake-Up Call

Days before Rosh Hashana it’s very appropriate to be reading the Torah portion of Netzavim. In one segment of this week’s Torah portion, it discusses a time in the Land of Israel where people will be going astray and worshipping idols or anything besides Hashem. Hashem will even send warnings through nature for them to repent and fix their ways however they will not heed to the signs as it says, “Perhaps there is among you a man, woman, family, or tribe, whose heart strays this day from Hashem, our G-d, to go and worship the deities of those nations. Perhaps there is among you a root that produces hemlock and wormwood. And it will be, when he [such a person] hears the words of this oath, that he will bless himself in his heart, saying, “I will have peace, even if I follow my heart’s desires,” in order to add the [punishment for the] unintentional sins [of this man] to that of [his] intentional sins. Hashem will not be willing to forgive him; rather, then, Hashem’s fury and His zeal will fume against that man, and the entire curse written in this book will rest upon him, and Hashem will obliterate his name from beneath the heavens” (Devarim 26:17-19).
Rav Saadia Gaon, not being as concise as usual, depicts the very decrepit state these people are in. They are rooted in poison and are as bitter as bitter melons. “They calculated in their mind saying, ‘I will only have peace, and I will go according to the desire of my heart in order to rid myself of the draught through getting drunk. Hashem will not be willing to forgive him for this, rather Hashem will get very angry, and His wrath will be upon him and all the curses (from the previous parsha) will cling to him.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
It sounds like this person or people are quite delusional! They are steeped in terrible habits and ways, to the extent of believing and worshipping in idolatry, and they are so far gone that the Torah says their roots are bitter and poisonous. Besides that, they seem to be getting hit with violent warnings from Hashem to repent, and they are totally oblivious to the signs and decide to just drink away all their problems and follow whatever naturally gets rid of the present problems. They use whatever their heart desires, to the extent that they tell themselves everything is fine, I am doing nothing wrong. Meaning, they feel they can turn to science and any natural means to find solutions and resolve problems and ailments that are around them. And at the end of the day, they can just drink away all their problems as if they didn’t happen.

At that point, Hashem rains down terror on them, and the Torah goes on to say, “The later generations will say, your children who will arise after you and the foreigner who will come from a distant land, when they will see the plagues of that Land and its illnesses with which Hashem has afflicted it… And all the nations will say, ‘For what reason did Hashem do so to this Land; why this wrathfulness of great anger” (Devarim 29:21-23). The Torah goes on to say that the nations will be told that because these people rebelled against Hashem and His Torah they were severely punished and thrown out of the land of Israel.
 The Torah concludes this section by saying, “The hidden are for Hashem, our G-D, but the revealed are for us and our children forever, to carry out all the words of this Torah (29:28). Rav Saadia Gaon says on this pasuk that the later generation, your children that will come afterwards, “shall take mussar, learn a lesson, and should say this, ‘The hidden are for Hashem, our G-D and all that is revealed they are for us and our children…'”
 What is this lesson that we, the later generations, are supposed to take to heart, and how is it related to what the earlier generations did wrong?

The root of the problem with the earlier generations was not the idolatry itself, or any other sin they had committed, but the way they handled the situation when Hashem sent signs and warnings to repent. Instead of looking at their inner self and figuring out how to change their own lives, they looked around and tried to fix all the problem that came their way; draught, famine, sickness, etc. using scientific solutions. When those didn’t work, they turned to hallucinogens, but they ignored the real issue. Therefore, the lesson the later generation should take is that the hidden reasons behind why things in this world happen, be it climate change and the weather, pollution, disease etc. is for Hashem to deal with. We have to focus our time and energy into what is revealed to us, which is “to carry out all the words of this Torah.”

This does not mean we must stay ignorant of the sciences and not understand how the human body and the natural world around us works. However, it must be done in the framework of being sure our focus is to learn and observe the Torah, Hashem’s blueprints of creation and the handbook for mankind. If the Torah is our focus and the physical world is just part of our understanding of serving Hashem to the optimum, then the world would be a better place and we would not have to turn to alcohol or other substances to escape reality.

Good Shabbos and a good gabentched year,
Rabbi Dovid Shmuel Milder

Netzavim – The Yetzer Hara for Perfection

In this week’s Torah portion of Netzavim Moshe memorably tells the Jewish people in perek 30:

11For this commandment which I command you this day, is not concealed from you, nor is it far away. יאכִּ֚י הַמִּצְוָ֣ה הַזֹּ֔את אֲשֶׁ֛ר אָֽנֹכִ֥י מְצַוְּךָ֖ הַיּ֑וֹם לֹֽא־נִפְלֵ֥את הִוא֙ מִמְּךָ֔ וְלֹֽא־רְחֹקָ֖ה הִֽוא:
12It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us and fetch it for us, to tell [it] to us, so that we can fulfill it?” יבלֹ֥א בַשָּׁמַ֖יִם הִ֑וא לֵאמֹ֗ר מִ֣י יַֽעֲלֶה־לָּ֤נוּ הַשָּׁמַ֨יְמָה֙ וְיִקָּחֶ֣הָ לָּ֔נוּ וְיַשְׁמִעֵ֥נוּ אֹתָ֖הּ וְנַֽעֲשֶֽׂנָּה:

The Medrish Rabba extrapolates on these pesukim that Moshe told the Jewish people that they shouldn’t say another Moshe will come and bring us another Torah from heaven; I therefore am informing you “It is not in heaven” there is nothing left of the Torah that was not given, in heaven. Another interpretation, in the name of Rebbe Chanina, “It” and all its tools were given, which are: humility, righteousness, and uprightness, as well as it’s reward.

The Maharz”u clearly explains the Torah’s concern related in the medrish. “If you think it is possible to receive another Torah since Hashem can do anything, and your evil inclination will convince you to be lenient in fulfilling this Torah, to this I am informing you that all that is called by the name Torah and mitzvah is included in this Torah. And all that the prophets added and prophesied about and all that was prophesied about the future is all an explanation of this Torah which is higher than heaven and more expansive than earth, and deeper than purgatory, for it is the wisdom of The Creator who created everything and with it he keeps everything existing and there is no other way in the world except to cling to this Torah which is our life in this world and the Next World forever and ever. When the medrish writes about ‘another Moshe would get up’ it’s not literally Moshe, rather what it means is a prophet like Moshe, and just as there will be no other Torah, so to no prophet got up or will get up like Moshe. For even Moshiach will not give us another Torah, rather he will only uphold and explain this Torah. When in the Navi it says, ‘That the land will be filled with the knowledge of Hashem’ it is referring to an explanation of this Torah in our hands.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Who would imagine that another prophet like Moshe could bring another Torah, possibly bigger and better than this one? But even if it would be true, why wouldn’t everyone still observe what is in this one until then? This Torah is the blueprints of creation and handbook for mankind right now, and Hashem promises so much reward in this world and the next for observing it, and punishment for transgressing it?! Even more so, the Maharz”u says on Rebbe Chanina’s statement, “that all instruments which are used to acquire the Torah and the Torah refines those attributes as it says in the 6th perek of Pirkei Avos, ‘It makes him fit to be righteous, devout, fair and faithful.’ ‘And the Torah clothes him in humility and fear of Hashem etc.’ And one who is crowned with these traits is literally in this world but walking in heaven…!”

If a person is able to attain such pristine character traits from learning and practicing this Torah, and Hashem says this is what will give you a well-meaning life right now, then why wouldn’t you follow it, even if there could be something better in the future?

 It must be that this is the trick of the yetzer hara, the evil inclination, that convinces a person that the next time or the next thing will be better so forget about what you have now, therefore Moshe Rabbeinu is saying don’t think Hashem created a situation like this  for the evil inclination to creep in and convince you to stop following this Torah, (which actually sounds like if He would have made another Torah for the future we would not have been able to overcome this test and Hashem does not create tests that are impossible to overcome,) therefore Moshe is informing us that this is the only Torah, which will bring you a well-meaning life in this world and take you into the next world, for eternity.

Netzavim-Unity People

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There is a famous axiom in Jewish Law, that all Jews are responsible for each other, כל ישראל ערבים זה לזה. This is based on a gemara in Shavuos 39a. The question is how far does this concept extend?

The Gemara in Kiddushin 40b states: “Rabbi Elazar, son of Rabbi Shimon, says: Since the world is judged by its majority,and an individual isjudged by his majority,ifhe performs one mitzva he is praiseworthy, as he tiltsthe balance ofhimself and the entire world to the scale of merit.Ifhe transgresses one prohibition, woe to him, as he tiltsthe balancefor himself and the entire world to the scale of liability, as it is stated: “But one sindestroys much good,” i.e.,due to one sin that thisindividualcommits, he squanders much goodness from himself and from the entire world.” Interesting enough the Gilyonay HaShas says, based on a medrish, Jews and non-Jews are judged at two different times. Non-Jews by night and Jews during the day therefore when the gemara says “the world is judged” it is referring to the Jewish world which is all judged together and one person can make “a world of a difference!”  

In fact Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzatto in his Derech Hashem tells us: “Those who cause others to partake in the World to Come will definitely be the foremost in that Community. They will be the leaders, while those who enter by virtue of their association with them will be beholden and dependent on them. In order for this to be possible, all people were originally bound to each other as our sages teach us ‘All Israel are responsible for one another’ (Shavuos 39a). As a result of this, each individual is bound to everyone else, and no person is counted separately. G-D’s attribute of good is the stronger, however, and if the guilt for sin is shared by others, this must certainly be true of the merit associated with good deeds” (Derech Hashem, Individual Providence 2:3:9)

There is a Medrish Tanchuma on the opening pesukim of this week’s Torah portion of Netzavim which elaborates on this point. The pesukim say: “You are all standing this day before the Lord, your God the leaders of your tribes, your elders and your officers, every man of Israel, your young children, your women, and your convert who is within your camp both your woodcutters and your water drawers” (Devarim 29:9, 10).

The Medrish Tanchuma says: “Everyone is responsible for each other, even one righteous person amongst you, all of you are alive in his merit. Not only you, but even if one righteous person is amongst you, the whole entire world, in his merit keeps on existing, as it says, ‘And a righteous person who is the foundation of the world’ (Mishlei 10:25). And when one of you sins, the entire generation can be smitten, and so you find by Achan, ‘Behold Achan son of Zerach profaned the bounty etc.’ (Yehoshua, perek 7). The Attribute of punishment is less, and still the generation was grabbed by it, all the more so the attribute of good which is much greater. For this reason it writes ‘Every man of Israel,’ not only the great people amongst you but even your children and your wives, and your convert (The Etz Yosef points out that this terminology is emphasized to teach us that every Jew is responsible or are grabbed in the sin of even one person. But as we will see this is also true about mitzvos and reward.) This is why it says ‘every man of Israel’ since human beings tend to be more merciful on males more so than females, however Hashem isn’t like that, He is merciful on His entire creation, on the females and males, on the righteous and the wicked, as it says, ‘both your woodcutters and your water drawers’.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

The Biur HaAmarim on the Medrish Tanchuma points out that in Parshas Re’eh the medrish (paragraph 3) says that since the acceptance of the Torah on Har Sinai a generation will not be punished for one person’s sin. Therefore it must be that it is talking about if no one knew about it; but if people knew about it and were quiet, then everyone is responsible because that was part of the covenant. The extent of ‘all Jews responsible for one another’ is to the point that we are rewarded or punished in a global way for even one mitzvah, or G-D forbid, one sin, a person does. The consequences hit everyone, young or old, male or female, righteous, or wicked, and indeed Jews from all backgrounds; we are all connected as one and affect each other in everything we do.

The medrish points out that the Torah goes out of its way to mention that Hashem also includes women in the reward for a good deed of the righteous, because people think differently based on an attitude throughout history that women aren’t equal. In fact the Biur HaAmarim says “there are those who are more merciful on males but there is also the opposite.” But why should that be? Every human was created in the image of Hashem, with free will and the ability, for the most part, of everyone to be able to speak on an intellectual level; why then should there be gender inequality?

It must be that because people are different then it causes others to look at them as unequal. But Hashem purposefully created men and women to be different in order that the ultimate purpose of the world will be fulfilled in the most optimum way, with each half focusing on their own specialties. That is why men and women have different responsibilities in serving Hashem, though many of the responsibilities still overlap.

Therefore, Hashem, who doesn’t see differences as inequalities, of course will treat everyone equally. But in order for humans, with our frailties, to comprehend that, Hashem had to go out of his way to point that out in these pesukim.

Natural human instinct seems to equate difference with inequality. It takes Divine precision to realize we are all deserving to be responsible of each other and share to a lesser extent in our punishment, and more of an extent in our reward.