Friday, September 15, 2006

Parshas Nitzavim - Vayelech

The two hardest parts of Judaism for me are the concepts of Moshich and Teshuva. I heard a great d'var Torah this morning from R' Baruch Simon of YU which made me think that I wasn't so helpless in the Teshuva process after all...
כי המצוה הזאת אשר אנכי מצוך היום לא נפלאת הוא ממך ולא רחקה הוא
לא בשמים הוא לאמר מי יעלה לנו השמימה ויקחה לנו וישמענו אתה ונעשנה:
ולא מעבר לים הוא לאמר מי יעבר לנו אל עבר הים ויקחה לנו וישמענו אתה ונעשנה:
כי קרוב אליך הדבר מאד בפיך ובלבבך לעשתו:
"For this mitzvah that I am commanding you today; it is not abstruse to you nor is it distant. It is not in heaven, [for you] to say, "Who will go up to heaven for us, and acquire it for us, and inform us of it, and we will fulfill it?" Nor is it overseas, [for you] to say, "Who will travel overseas for us, and acquire it for us, and inform us of it, and we will fulfill it?" For the matter is extremely close to you; in your mouth and in your mind to fulfill it. "

The simple understanding of this mitzvah which the Torah tells us is an easy one, as described the Gemara in Eruvin, is the mitzvah of Talmud Torah/learning. G-d is teaching us that no matter where we are, Torah is not our of our reach. However, the Ramban understands differently, and says that this mitzvah which the Torah is discussing is that of Teshuva/repentance. Explains the Ramban – lest one think that Teshuva is an impossible task, the Torah is teaching us that this is not the case; no matter where you are in life (physically or spiritually), repentance is possible.

The Shinover Rav, Rav Yechezkel Shraga Halberstam (who, interestly, according to this website, was anti-zioism) contrasts the language used in these verses to the language used in the first paragraph of Shema. In the first paragraph, it says that we should “love Hashem with all our hearts, soul, and might”/l’vavcha, l’nafshecha, m’odecha. Rashi, explaining these 3 terms, says that your heart/levavcha is your yetzarim (yetzer hara/yetzer tov – evil/good inclinations). Basically, one should attune these drives in order to best serve Hashem. L’Nafeshcha/your soul is self-explanatory, and M’oedcha, says Rashi, is with all of your money; meaning, one should be willing to incur financial loss for Hashem, etc. etc.

The Shinover contrasts this order of priorities with that of our pasuk. As noted in the last verse quoted above, it first mentions “M’od”, then “B’Ficha/your mouth”, then finally, “L’vavcha/your heart.” As an aside, he explains why B’Ficha refers to Dibbur/speech, and what the strong connection is between “Nafshecha/your soul” and Dibbur – it’s not for now, but take my word for it. So, if this is the case, the order of priorities of Teshuva (as we learned from the Ramban) in our parsha is completely OPPOSITE from those listed in shema! What gives? He explains that over there, in Shema, the Torah is talking about a Tzadik Gamur/a completely righteous person. For him, it’s just as easy to ask for forgiveness with his hard as it is with his soul and his money. But, explains the Shinover, for us, who are not all tzaddikim/righteous, the order changes. For us, we start small. Let’s say I damaged the property of someone that I hated. The easiest level of repenting for our sin would be to pay this guy back (M’oedcha). The next higher level would be apologizing, and asking for forgiveness from the person (Dibbur/Nafshecha). And then, of course, the highest level of repentance would be to truly feel sorry in our hearts. For us, the 3rd level is not as easy as the first, so the verse couldn’t have ordered the words as it did in Shema; we need to work our way up.

He brings a beautiful connection from a Gemara in Bava Kama which really drills home the idea of not feeling helpless when faced with the daunting task of Teshuva. The gemara over there says that if I want to make an object “hekdesh/holy”, I can do so by simply saying that, “I want X and X to be Hekdesh”; and the object immediately attains a higher level of holiness. However, this is assuming that two criteria are met: a) that the object is yours and b) it is in your possession. The gemara explains that if my pen is stolen from me, even though it is still technically my pen, since it is not in my possession, I can not make it Hekdesh. Similarly, the robber can’t make it Hekdesh; even though it’s in his possession, he doesn’t own it, so both men are up the creek. But, this set of circumstances is the case as long as we haven’t been “Meyayeish/given up”. If we’ve given up on the object, it is considered ownerless, and the robber now effectively owns the pen and can make it Hekdesh himself.

Explains the Shinover; Teshuva is something that we view as being “stolen” from us, and something that we need to get back. As long as we are not meyayeish, and we don’t give up, the item (teshuva in our case) is technically ours, and the robber is holding an item that isn’t his. But, if we view teshuva as the kind of thing that is out of our reach and unattainable, the Yetzer Hara wins and our repentance is a guaranteed failure; as it is in his possession. The advice given by the Torah, as evidenced by the order of things in this parsha is that we shouldn’t give up, and we should start small, and work our way up to bigger things.

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