21 Sep 2022 Parshas Nitzavim/Rosh Hashana 5783
In this week’s parsha, Parshas Nitzavim, Moshe Rabbeinu teaches the nation about the mitzvah of teshuva, repentance and return. Not for naught is this parsha read erev Rosh Hashana, as we prepare to leave 5782 and enter the new year of 5783. The mitzvah of teshuva is always timely and relevant, but particularly to this time of year as we all engage, individually and collectively, in repairing our thoughts, actions and deeds.
Moshe tells the nation: כִּי הַמִּצְוָה הַזֹּאת, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם—לֹא–נִפְלֵאת הִוא מִמְּךָ, וְלֹא רְחֹקָה הִוא – for this mitzvah that I command you today, it is not hidden from you and and it is not distant; It is not in the heavens for you to to say, Who will ascend to the heavens for us and take it for us… Nor is it across the sea, to say, Who can cross to the other side of the sea for us and take it for us… so that we can perform it? כִּי–קָרוֹב אֵלֶיךָ הַדָּבָר, מְאֹד בְּפִיךָ וּבִלְבָבְךָ, לַעֲשֹׂתוֹ, for the matter is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to do it (Devarim 30:11-14).
According to the Ramban, in his peirush al ha’Torah, כִּי הַמִּצְוָה הַזֹּאת, ‘for this mitzvah’ refers to the mitzvah of teshuva. Teshuva is close to us, possible for all of us, and very, very near to us. If we but want it, Hashem will help us along the path of return.
As part of the teshuva process, and coming closer to Hashem as a result, chapter 27 of Tehillim is recited twice a day, beginning on Rosh Chodesh Elul and continuing through the yomim tovim of Tishrei. The kapitel begins with the famous and stirring words of Dovid ha’Melech. Tehillim 27:1 – לְדָוִ֨ד ה’ אוֹרִ֣י וְ֖יִשְׁעִי מִמִּ֣י אִירָ֑א ה’ מָע֥וֹז חַ֜יַּ֗י מִמִּ֥י אֶפְחָֽד: Of David. The L-rd is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The L-rd is the stronghold of my life; from whom shall I be frightened?
Further in the chapter, the pasuk says what seems to be a perplexing statement: כִּֽי־אָבִ֣י וְאִמִּ֣י עֲזָב֑וּנִי וַֽ֜ה’ יַֽאַסְפֵֽנִי – For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but Hashem gathers me in (v.10). Do a father and mother ever abandon a child? And yet, King David reminds us that with closeness to G-d, one is never forsaken, nor abandoned. Even if, in this world, man feels utterly alone, deserted even by those closest to him, Hashem is always with him.
When man is beset by affliction and travail, when suffering overtakes man, this is often when he feels the most abandoned and the most lonely. And it is specifically then, in his pain and sorrow, that man finds G-d.
Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik zt’l, the Rav, powerfully teaches, “The shock of suffering opens up man to another dimension: loneliness… The trauma caused by the surprise of being singled out… The pointing out of one of the crowd is a traumatic experience.
“The same is true of the man of sorrow. When the blow strikes, the first question which pops up upon the lips of the sufferer is: Why me? Why should I be different from others? Why was I selected to explore the valley of sorrow? A feeling of envy fills out the heart of the afflicted. He envies everybody, pauper and prince, young and old. They were spared, while I was picked out.
“… Gradually this feeling of loneliness pervades one’s whole being with ever increasing predominance; the whole self becomes immersed in solitude and the awareness of being taken away from the community. The man who is bound to others by countless invisible threads is torn loose from his social bearings. He makes his exit from the community and retreats into himself because he was singled out… The elected retreats even from his closest friends and beloved ones, not excluding wife and children.
“The night before my operation, when my family said goodbye to me, I understood the words of the psalmist, כִּי–אָבִי וְאִמִּי עֲזָבוּנִי וַה’ יַאַסְפֵנִי (Ps.27:10). I had never understood this verse. Did ever a parent abandon his child? Of course not! Yet in certain situations, one is cut off even from his parents or his beloved wife and children. Community life, togetherness, is always imbued with the spirit of cooperation, of mutual help and protection. Suddenly one realizes that there is no help which his loved ones are able to extend to him. They are onlookers who watch a drama unfolding itself with unalterable speed. They are not involved in it. This realization brings to an abrupt end the feeling of togetherness. I stand before G-d; no one else is beside me. A lonely being meeting the loneliest. Being in utter seclusion is a traumatic but also a great experience. These two experiences, that of non-being and that of loneliness, must not be forgotten” (Out of the Whirlwind, p.132-134).
On Rosh Hashanah, each individual – every single lonely solitary being that inhabits the face of the earth – stands before G-d. Alone. Before G-d. At that moment of judgement, when all of humanity passes before Him like sheep before a shepherd, all mortal support and assistance falls away. Nothing and no one stands with man when he is summoned before G-d on this awesome day. It is as if, on the Yom Ha’Din, even one’s mother and father have abandoned him and man casts his lot with G-d alone.
While this is a time of pachad, awe and fear, it is also an exalted and elevated time. “Being in utter seclusion is a traumatic but also a great experience.” While we fear the judgement when the Book of the Living and the Book of the Dead are open before Him, we also trust in His all-encompassing Mercy and Eternal Kindness.
עָלָ֣ה אֱ֖לֹק֣ים בִּתְרוּעָ֑ה ה’ בְּק֣וֹל שׁוֹפָֽר – “Elokim ascends in the teruah, Hashem in the sound of the shofar” (Ps. 47:6, recited 7x immediately prior to tekias Shofar on R”H). As the shofar is blown, the Rav teaches, Elokim (G-d of Judgement) moves from the throne of Justice to that of the throne of Mercy (Hashem). It is here, in the Mercy of Judgement, standing alone before G-d, that man finds salvation and redemption.
May 5783 be a year of bracha, simcha, health, prosperity, shalom, and geula for our people and our Land. Halavay, kein yihi ratzon.
בברכת שנה טובה מבורכת ומתוקה,