file Musings on Parshat Netzavim-Vayelech

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6 years 1 month ago - 6 years 1 month ago #291 by Heshy Berenholz
Musings on Parshat Netzavim-Vayelech was created by Heshy Berenholz

 Continuation of Moshe’s final speech
 Renewal of the Eternal Covenant with God with the entire nation, not just a select few
 Promise of God’s Ingathering of Exiles
 Power of Repentance
 Accessibility of the Torah to all: it is not too mysterious or remote or distant
 Using one’s Free Choice to choose goodness and life
 Preparation for new leadership under Yehoshua
 Hakhel public reading of the Torah ceremony every seven years on the first Succoth holiday after completion of the seven-year shmita cycle
 Moshe is told about the events after his death
 God’s testimony for the future
 Moshe’s Torah scroll is placed with the Ark
 Gathering of the Elders to hear the song of Ha’azinu
 Repetition of the word hayom (today) may be emphasizing that every day is a new beginning and an opportunity to change for the better

Two Parshiot that are one

The Lubavitch Rebbe cites Rav Sa’adia Gaon’s opinion that Netzavim-Vayeilech is really one Parsha.

In the opening verse Moshe reminds the people: “Atem Netzavim Hayom”, “You are standing firmly today, all of you together before God your God”. The Rebbe notes that the use of the more forceful word Netzavim instead of omdem (also meaning standing) emphasizes that we are to stand firm and unshakable in our belief. We stand fully conscious of the presence of God, bound together as one nation—“Ish Echad B’Layv Echad”.

Parshat Vayeilech begins with “Moshe went and spoke the following words to all Israel.”

The word Netzavim connotes stability, reliability and strength. Vayeilech is about movement, growth and expansion. The Rebbe thinks that the linking of “standing still” and “moving” is the eternal reminder that that our growth (upward movement in financial, social, and personal areas) needs to be steeped in-- and never at the expense of-- our core stable, reliable and strong religious foundation and beliefs.

On T’shuva

A seven-time recurrence of the verb “return”, in points to the key underlying theme of this Parsha—T’shuva (from the Hebrew root meaning “return”) which is defined as a transformational process that leads to our regeneration and rebirth. Like the snake that sheds its skin and gains almost a new identity, the person who does T’shuva sheds his old self and is spared from the punishment that was to be inflicted on the old self that no longer exists.

If we as a nation grasp the lesson of history and decide to return to God in word and deed, He will turn to us, gather us, ”circumcise our stuffed up hearts” and help each of us transform ourselves into “new,” better people. The idea of circumcision links to the Bris which was performed by Avraham Avenu on his son Isaac, at which time God promised His everlasting Covenant for creation of an Israelite nation with our own land.

God promises us that He will cut away (circumcise) the layers of rationalization, cynicism, apathy and laziness that block us from experiencing the essential goodness that exists deep inside each of us. Excision of this negativity permits us to tap into our deep emotions of devotion/faith/ethical behavior/love.

In beautiful, poetic language the Torah describes that no matter how far away we are, literally and emotionally, we have the ability to return to God (i.e., do T’shuva). The initial stages of the T’shuva process are, in the words of Rav Kook (cited by Nechama Leibowitz) purifying and refining ourselves as we move first toward God, then to the higher stage of onto God, being one with Him. This two stage process is seen in the subtlety of the text where initially the Torah’s words are “…And you return upto the Lord your God…” then later the terminology is”…If/when you return unto the Lord your God.”

The inner struggle that is T’shuva consists of…
• Thinking about one’s past actions
• Verbally confessing/expressing regret
• Committing not for repeat this behavior in the future.

The ultimate test is how one behaves when confronted with a repeat of a situation.

The “three Rs” of the T’shuva regeneration process are:
• Remembering
• Remorse (to be verbalized)
• Returning wholeheartedly

The predominant themes of the month of Elul are T’shuva and God’s Love. The Lubavitch Rebbe sees the words “to love God your God with all your heart” as reflecting His deep-rooted love for the Jewish people which we are called upon to reciprocate. Only a lover can demand that the object of his love reciprocate those feelings.

It is good to feel love and be loved. These positive feelings build our confidence and prepare us to tackle the difficult, painful introspection that is the start of the T’shuva process of reconciling with both God and Man.

“You must choose life, so that you and your descendants will survive”

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks notes that, unlike surrounding cultures, the Torah is concerned more with life than with death. The explicit statements regarding death after life and the resurrection of the dead are almost completely absent from Tanach. Despite their importance they are only hinted at in the Written Word. Although some observers have argued that mortality is one of the key forces driving living and civilization, the Torah’s view of death is that it is a source of tumah (ritual impurity). This negativity and the view that the dead are not to be worshiped were revolutionary ideas in ancient cultures like Egypt.

Instead of focusing on death in the closing days of his life, Moshe the great leader and teacher focuses on the nation’s Covenant with God. One can achieve immortality by being part of this Covenant, argues Rabbi Sacks, because living by being part of the Covenant means that parents and grandparents live within us and that we live on in our progeny. It is for this reason that Moshe emphasizes that the Covenant exists even for “…those not with us today [i.e., children and grandchildren] ” and “ it is precisely because Judaism focuses on this world, not the next, that it is the most child-centered of all the great religions”.

The hakhel ceremony (see below) is a renewal of the Covenant every seven years so that it does not become an outdated and irrelevant piece of ancient history. The commandment for one to write a Sefer Torah for oneself (Rambam) is a way of creating ownership of faith and becoming an integral and eternal part of an eternal God.

At the moment of his own mortality Moshe is telling us that we each need to confront our own mortality and reminding us that, unlike most civilizations known to history, our faith is about finding God in life, about experiencing God in love and joy. God is here and now; there is no need to climb to heaven or to cross the sea to encounter Him.

Unlike the ancient rulers who built magnificent and elaborate temples and pyramids for self-glorification, Moshe died without anyone even knowing
where he is buried—to prevent his grave from becoming a place of worship. His immortality is in his “making us his disciples”, teaching us to choose life. Concludes Rabbi Sacks: “to be a leader…do deeds that heal some of the pain in the world and act so that others become a little better for having known you”.

On Hakhel

"At the end of each seven years, at a fixed time on the festival of SUKOT, after the year of release, when all Israel comes to present themselves before God, your Lord, in the place that He will choose, you must read (from) this Torah before all Israel, so that they will be able to hear it.

You must gather together (Hakhel) the people, the men, women, children and proselytes from your settlements, and let them hear it. They will thus learn to be in awe of God, your Lord, carefully keeping all the words of this Torah. Their children, who do not know, will listen and learn to be in awe of God, your Lord, as long as you live in the land which you are crossing the Jordan to occupy."

Rambam describes the Hakhel ceremony as follows:

"How is the public reading conducted? Clarion calls are sounded throughout Jerusalem to assemble the people. A large wooden dais is brought and set up at the centre of the Women's Court in the Sanctuary. The king sits upon this dais so that all may hear his reading. All pilgrims will stand around him. The overseer of the government will hand the Torah over to the presiding officer, who passes it on to the deputy high priest. This one will turn it over to the high priest, who will tender it to the king. This gesture expresses obeisance to the king in front of the multitude. Now the king rises and accepts the Torah standing. He opens the scroll, looks for the beginning of (the Book of) Devarim, then pronounces the customary benediction prior to public reading from the Torah. Then he will read out the prescribed selections, concluding with seven special benedictions."

The prescribed sections to be read are:

• From the beginning of Devarim until the end of Shma Yisroel (Devarim 6:9)
• The entire second section of Shma Yisroel beginning with "V’haya im shamoa”
• From the beginning of "Asayr T’asyr” through the entire section on the blessings and curses in Parshat Ki Savo.

In the absence of a King in Israel, the public reading is to be conducted by the highest ranking national official like the High Priest or the President of the Sanhedrin (judiciary). The special concluding benedictions are:

• "Ata B’chartanu" ("You chose us from all the nations ...")
• "Modim Anachnu Lach" ("We bow to You ...")
• "R’Tzay" ("Accept favorably ...")
• A prayer for the continued existence of the Temple concluding with "... who resides in Zion"
• A prayer for the continuation of the Kingship in Israel concluding with "... who chooses Israel"
• A blessing that the priests' service should be found favorable
• A private prayer that concludes with "... save your nation Israel that needs salvation. Blessed art Thou, Hashem, who listens to prayers."

Rabbi B.S, Jacobson surveys some of the ideas related to the Hakhel ceremony:

 Flavius Josephus maintains that the purpose of the Mitzvah is to provide an impressive public admonition for the entire nation. The public recitation of the Torah and its laws educates people about the consequences of their religious behavior. No one can claim ignorance as a basis for non-observance. The ceremony takes place as the Israelites prepared to journey home to resume their agricultural life.

 Aharon Halevy, the 13th century author of Sefer Hachinuch sees in this ceremony a national reunion to hear Torah words; to create a greater national awareness of the Torah laws; and to foster a greater appreciation and affection for its values as is stated in the text "... that they may hear and fear... and observe."

 Ibn Ezra (1092-1167) thinks that the pomp and circumstance is meant to inspire every individual to devote his leisure time-- both the weekly Shabbat day and the septennial Shabbat year of Shmita -- to the study of and reflection on the Torah. [Ibn Ezra maintains that the ceremony takes place at the beginning of the Shmita year.]
Even young children are obligated to attend. According to the Talmud, men assemble to learn, the women assemble to hear while the little ones come "in the interest of those who bring them"(i.e., an additional Mitzvah for the parents).Ramban (1194-1270) thinks the obligation is for children who are old enough to be impressed by the awesome experience and to study the Torah. This experience will prompt questions—the key to their education (K’day Sheyishalu Hatinokos).

Rabbi Menachem Leibtag thinks that the Hakhel ceremony was meant to be a re-living of the Mt. Sinai experience that took place some forty years earlier. Because the vast majority of the Israelites were not present at Mt. Sinai, they needed to undergo a similar Mt. Sinai experience as they stood ready to enter the Land of Israel and fulfill the destiny of their parents’ generation. Their parents gathered together at Mt. Sinai to hear the words of God and learn to fear Him. Their generation (and future generations) assembled at Hakhel for the same reason. Just as there were korbanot offered at Mt. Sinai, the Israelites were busily offering extensive korbanot during the Succoth festival. Rabbi Leibtag finds similar key words and phrases used at both Mt. Sinai and Hakhel. The location of the Mitzvah of Hakhel here, near the end of the Torah, serves as a reminder for all future generations of the awesome experience at Mt. Sinai and its eternal meaning.

Rav Dovid Hoffman observes that the Hakhel ceremony takes place after the crop-less shmita year when lands lay fallow (“vast wasteland”?) just like the Torah was given at Mt. Sinai in the barren Sinai desert.

Hakhel is the earliest reference to the commandment of public Torah reading. Tradition attributes to Moshe the reading on Shabbat, festivals and Rosh Chodesh. Ezra the Scribe extended public reading to Shabbat afternoons and to Monday and Thursday mornings so that no more than two full days can pass without people hearing the words of the Torah.

In 1945, the Yeshurun Central Synagogue in Yerushalayim conducted the first modern Hakhel ceremony, reviving a custom that lay dormant for nearly 2000 years. Hakhel since has become an established tradition for Chief Rabbis and civic leaders in the State of Israel. On Tishrei 18, 5769/October 17, 2008 the Hakhel ceremony was performed on the Temple Mount and in the Old City of Jerusalem.
The Jewish people may have entered the post-shmita year dejected and full of despair with no crops and no money. Perhaps the hakhel ceremony with its reading of God’s promise of better times ahead helped lift the peoples’ spirit so that they could celebrate the remainder of the holiday as commanded, “you shall rejoice on your holiday”.

Saw you at Sinai

According to a Midrash, every Jewish soul of every generation was at the momentous, nation-creating Mt. Sinai experience .I think this is a way of expressing the idea that each of us has a shared destiny. Every generation has the potential to experience that moment through Mitzvahs. For example, the Ramban notes that the Mishkan that travelled with the Israelites during their desert resembled a “traveling Mt. Sinai” in that the Israelites…
 Were encamped around the Mishkan
 Saw the fire and smoke of the offerings
 Were taught Torah by Moshe
The new generation of Israelites about to enter the Holy Land was not present at Mt. Sinai. But it was their--and our--responsibility to fulfill the destiny planned for their parents’ generation of…
• Living by the Torah and its ethics
• Creating a personal relationship with God
• Becoming a nation that properly represents God and His ethics to the nations of the world
As mentioned, Rabbi Leibtag notes that Hakhel sets the tone for us to capture these emotions. On Succoth every individual is obligated to offer various korbanot just as the Israelites offered korbanot at Mt. Sinai. Hakhel is another re-creation and re-living of the Mt. Sinai experience.

A Happy Ending

Why is it, asks Rabbi David Fohrman, that rather than letting Moshe die in peace as his death approaches, God tortures Moshe with His prediction of the bad things that will happen after his death. After Moshe had worked so hard to build and mold the nation it appears that all his efforts were in vain. In the future, the Israelites will:
• Stray after other indigenous gods
• Desecrate His covenant with them
In response, God will…
• Become enraged
• Abandon them
• Hide His face
• Make them vulnerable to their enemies
• Bring terrible things upon them
Rabbi Fohrman concludes that what is happening here is that God is communicating to Moshe that so long as he is still alive there is something that Moshe can do to influence the nation. When the nation sins in the future, God will ignore the nation’s attempt at t’shuva because they will not be sincere in their efforts. They will claim that the source of their woes is “because God is not within us” instead of looking within and realizing that it is their abandoning God that triggered His rage.
“Now therefore, compose a song for you and teach it to the children of Israel…” God commands Moshe to compose Haazinu, the epic poem that retells Jewish history (and next week’s Torah reading) and also provides a glimpse into its future. It describes in detail how God the designer of the universe is also the architect of the nation of Israel. He is our father and our creator and would obviously never pull back from us unless we pulled back first.

Moshe will be remembered as the author of this poem that directly refutes the people’s claim. When they read and hear it they will be reminded of Moshe and what he did for his people.

Torah Quotes

“Secret things belong to God…but regarding revealed things it is for us and our children to forever do all the provisions of this [Torah] teaching”

“Even when your outcasts are dispersed to the ends of the world, [eventually] God will gather you…and bring you to the land which your fathers occupied”

“…surely this instruction…is not too baffling for you nor is it beyond reach…it is not in the heaven…neither is it beyond the sea…no, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and your heart to observe it”

“I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse .Choose life!”

Rabbi H. L. Berenholz
Last edit: 6 years 1 month ago by Heshy Berenholz.

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