29 Sep 2016 Parshas Nitzavim: Lessons of the Game
In this week’s parsha, Parshas Nitzavim, Moshe Rabbeinu continues to lovingly encourage, exhort, rebuke and teach the people as he prepares to part ways with his beloved nation: he to his death atop Mt. Navo, they to the Promised Land under the leadership of Yehoshua.
Parshas Nitzavim, which is always read the Shabbos before Rosh HaShanah, speaks about the power of teshuva, repentance and return.
ושבת עד ה׳ אלקיך ושמעת בקלו ככל אשר אנכי מצוך היום אתה ובניך בכל לבבך ובכל נפשך – And you will return to Hashem, your G-d, and listen to His voice, according to everything that I command you today, you and your children, with all your heart and all your soul (Devarim 30:2).
ומל ה׳ אלקיך את לבבך ואת לבב זרעך לאהבה את ה׳ אלקיך בכל לבבך ובכל נפשך למען חייך – And Hashem you G-d, will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, to love Hashem, your G-d, with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live (ibid, v.6).
The Ba’al HaTurim teaches, את לבבך ואת לבב – ראשי תבות אלול. The first letter of each of these four words spell the word אלול.
It is during Elul that Hashem opens our hearts, and the hearts of our children, as we come back to Him in repentance, as we return from our ways of sin, as we yearn for closeness to Him once again – to love Him with all of our heart and all of our soul, so that we may live.
If the greatest consequence of sin is the distance it puts between us and Hashem, then the greatest benefit of a life of Torah and mitzvos is the closeness it yields between us and our Father in heaven. ואני קרבת אלקים לי טוב – And as for me, closeness to Hashem is good (Tehillim 73:28). As we close out the month of Elul and prepare to usher in a new year, let us contemplate the power of teshuva, as we yearn and strive to close the divide between us and Hashem.
A story is told about the Rebbe, R’ Nachum of Shtefenesht, the son of R’ Yisrael of Rizhin (1796-1850). He once entered the Beis Medrash and found some of his chassidim playing checkers. The chassidim were aghast when they saw their rebbe in the doorway, and were certain that he was going to berate them for wasting their time.
To their surprise, however, a little smile played on the rebbe’s lips. “Do you know the rules of the game of checkers?” he asked them.
The chassidim did not understand what the rebbe was alluding to, but he continued, “The rules of checkers are basically the same rules as avodas Hashem. Let me teach you how to play.
“Number one: In the game, you always move upward. Similarly, a servant of Hashem always has to look upward and strive to reach higher levels in his avodas Hashem.
“Number two: You can’t jump two spaces at a time. Similarly, in avodas Hashem, a person can’t jump more than one level at a time.
“Number three: At times it is worth giving up the opportunity to move ahead one space in order to move ahead two spaces later. Similarly, a Jew has to know that sometimes he has to withdraw in order to attain a higher level later on.
“Number four: When you reach the top of the board, your piece becomes a ‘queen,’ and is able to move in any direction. Similarly, when a person conquers his evil inclination and elevates himself spiritually, he is better fortified to cope with any situation.”
As we return to Hashem, after a year perhaps wherein we have become sullied with sin, let us recognize Gd’s great kindness in taking us back.
וְחַנֹּתִי אֶת-אֲשֶׁר אָחֹן, וְרִחַמְתִּי אֶת-אֲשֶׁר אֲרַחֵם – And I shall be gracious to whom I shall be gracious, and I shall have mercy on whom I will show mercy (Shemos 33:19).
On this verse, the Medrash (Shemos Rabbah 45:6) teaches:
At that time G-d showed Moshe all the treasure houses of reward that await the righteous. Moshe said to Him, “For whom is this treasure house designated?” Hashem answered, “For those who perform mitzvos.” “And for whom is this designated?” asked Moshe regarding another treasure house. And Hashem said, “For those who raise orphans.” And so on, for each and every treasure.
Finally, Moshe beheld a vast treasure house and asked, “For whom is this designated?” And Hashem told him, “Those who have earned their reward – I give them from that which is theirs; those who have not earned any reward – I give them for free (from this vast treasure house), as it is written, I shall be gracious to whom I shall be gracious.”
In the merit of our always striving to move upward; advancing slowly, step-by-step, with great determination and effort; knowing when to withdraw to attain higher levels later on; and fortifying ourselves to effectively battle the yetzer harah, we will merit Divine gifts and closeness to Hashem. And even if, through our actions, we are not worthy, Hashem, in His great kindness and compassion, will bestow treasures upon us – His children – regardless.
May we merit a year of yeshuos, refuos, brachos, shalom and the ultimate redemption, may it be immediate and in our days, amen.
,בברכת כתיבה וחתימה טובה ושנה טובה ומבורכת