Parshas V’Eschanan: One Day At A Time

In this week’s parsha, Parshas V’Eschanan, Moshe exhorts the Bnei Yisrael to go in the ways of Hashem and Torah, and the pasuk tells us: וְאַתֶּם, הַדְּבֵקִים, בַּהאֱלֹקִיכֶם חַיִּים כֻּלְּכֶם, הַיּוֹם, you who cleave unto your G-d, you are all alive today (Devarim 4:4).  

Why does Moshe Rabbeinu add the word ‘הַיּוֹם, today’?  Is it not sufficient for him to say: you who cleave unto your G-d, you are all alive.  As no word in the Torah is superfluous, what can be learned from the addition of the word ‘today’?

Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski zt’l writes, “In my work treating alcoholics, I have found that the greatest success for sustained abstinence from alcohol is through participation in the program of Alcoholics Anonymous.  One of the fundamentals of this program is taking ‘one day at a time.’  The addicted alcoholic cannot conceive never again being able to drink.  Inasmuch as he has relied on alcohol to feel good, he sees a lifetime of sobriety as being completely unrealistic.  There is no point in even trying to do the impossible.  Therefore, he is taught a new philosophy, ‘Take one day at a time.  There is nothing that you can do today about tomorrow’s drinking, so there is no point in thinking about it.  It is not impossible for you to stay sober just for today.  That is certainly within your ability.  So stay sober today, and when tomorrow comes, you can deal with its challenges then.’

“One of my friends would write down each day how many days he had been sober.  When he died at age eighty-three, it was found that the night before he had written the number 16,472.  He had been sober for forty-six years because he took it one day at a time.

“…More than one hundred and fifty years ago, Rav Moshe Sofer, the Chasam Sofer zt’l (d.1839) cited the verse in our parsha as teaching this concept.  וְאַתֶּם, הַדְּבֵקִים, בַּהאֱלֹקִיכֶם חַיִּים כֻּלְּכֶם, הַיּוֹם, you who cleave unto your G-d, you are all alive today.

“The Talmud quotes ben Sira, ‘Do not agonize about tomorrow’s problems, because you have no way of predicting tomorrow’ (Sanhedrin 100b).  The Chasam Sofer says that this is the way one can vanquish the yetzer harah.  If a person thinks that he must resist the yetzer harah’s temptations throughout his entire lifetime, he might consider it impossible and may give up without trying.  Therefore, the Chasam Sofer says, think about resisting the yetzer harah only today.  That is certainly within everyone’s abilities.

“This is what Moshe told the Israelites.  ‘You can cleave to G-d and observe all His mitzvos if you think only about living הַיּוֹם, this day.  Don’t take on tomorrow’s challenges today.’

“… It is standard operating procedure for people to make ‘New Year resolutions,’ and it is common knowledge that they invariably fail.  The reason is that they say to themselves, ‘I will not smoke this entire year!’ or ‘I will not eat excessively this entire year.’  This is far too great an undertaking and one fails because one cannot conceive of ever being able to succeed.  The correct thing to do, as the Chasam Sofer teaches, is to tackle only today’s problems and challenges today.  Breaking a resolution down to bite-size pieces makes it feasible to keep over the long term” (Twerski on Chumash, p.367-368).

וְאַתֶּם, הַדְּבֵקִים, בַּהאֱלֹקִיכֶם חַיִּים כֻּלְּכֶם, הַיּוֹם, you who cleave unto your G-d, you are all alive today.  Sometimes, with the challenges and life situations we all face, avodas Hashem may seem daunting.  We may want to change, we desire to improve ourselves and come closer to Hashem, but when we think of the work that needs to be done, it may be so overwhelming, we might just want to give up before we even try!  Hence, Moshe Rabbeinu, in his profound, eternal and prophetic wisdom, gives us the secret to success in all realms of life: Just focus on today.  Today, surely, you can be successful in your quest for greatness.  We will worry about tomorrow, tomorrow.  

R’ Binaymin Finkel, son of the Mirrer Mashgiach Rav Aryeh Finkel zt’l, and popularly referred to as Reb Binyamin HaTzaddik, pointed out that the yetzer harah is really just a two trick pony.  When he sees that someone has decided to improve himself, he says: “What are you making yourself crazy about? You are still young, and you have your whole life still ahead of you!  No need to get caught up with these things at your age.  Of course, they are important and of course you must learn more and improve your character traits, but when you are older. Now, you still have plenty of time left for these things!”

Then one day, it suddenly changes.  You decide to embark on some course of improvement, and sure enough, right on cue, the yetzer harah shows up.  This time, however, the message is different. “Now you decide to work on improving your character traits!?  Now you decide to complete a tractate of Gemara!?  Now!? At your age!  Don’t be foolish; it is too late!  You are too old to accomplish something like that!”

That is his entire ploy.  At first, he tells you that you are young and you still have plenty of time to accomplish.  No need to rush things, all in due time.  Then, one day, it just changes.  You are too old!  It is too late to change!  Nobody knows exactly when this happens, the switch from ‘You are still young, you have plenty of time,’ to ‘You are too old already, it is too late to begin working on such projects!’ (Portraits of Prayer, p.299).  

As we look ahead to Chodesh Elul, the final month of the year, and a time of cheshbon ha’nefesh (introspection) and teshuva, repentance, let us remember that the Torah is our guidebook for life.  If we but focus on overcoming the battles of today, then we will reach success today, and every day going forward.  

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום

Michal

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