Parshat Ki Tetzei: Hashem Will Put the ‘Enemy’ into Your Hands by Rabbi Beinish Ginsburg

8 09 2011

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Parshas Ki Tetzei begins with a discussion of going to war against our enemies, and the first section of the Parsha discusses the ‘Aishes yifas toar’, the beautiful captive. The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh has a famous approach to these Pesukim which is especially appropriate for Elul. The Ohr Hachaim says that obviously B’derech hapshat the Torah is  discussing going to an actual battle and finding a captive. B’derech haremez, however, on a deeper level, this Parsha is discussing an individual’s personal fight against the Yetzer Hara. He says that success in this world depends on the actions of Am Yisroel, and Am Yisroel acting appropriately and serving Hashem depends of course on defeating the Yetzer Hara.


Here is the Ohr Hachaim’s approach: “Ki Tetzei Lamilchama,” that the Neshama leaves the Olam Haelyon, the spiritual realms up in Shamayim and it comes down to Olam Hazeh. That’s what ‘going out to war’ means; the Neshama goes out of Shamayim and comes down here to Olam Hazeh. That Neshama has to be ready for a battle. And that battle, that Milchama, is against its enemy which is of course the Yetzer Hara. This is what the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh says.


He points out that Chazal refer to this struggle against the Yetzer Hara as a battle, as a war. In Pirkei Avos (Perek 4) the Mishna writes: Aizehu gibur? Hacovesh es yitzro, one that conquers his Yetzer Hara. The language of ‘covesh’, of conquering, is the language of war. That’s the remez in this Parsha- when the Neshama goes out to battle against the Yetzer Hara.


The Ohr Hachayim makes a beautiful diyuk along these lines. The Torah writes “Ki Tezei Lamilchama”, with a patach under the ‘lamed’. The Torah doesn’t say when you go out to ‘a war’, but rather to ‘the war’. Lamilchama implies going out to the known war. This is a Remez to the ever present war and struggle against the Yetzer Hara.


The Ohr Hachaim explains the continuation of the Posuk as well. ‘Unisano Hashem Elokecha Beyodecha’ that Hashem will put the enemy into your hands. The Ohr Hachaim explains that Hashem is promising us that no matter how strong the Yetzer Hara is, Hashem gives you the strength to conquer it. If you put in the effort, you can beat the Yetzer Hara. This is a promise that is hinted out in this Posuk.


The Pesukim continue and talk about the Eishes yifas toar, which refers to the Neshama, which is beautiful ‘ad meod’. But, sometimes a person does Aveiros, r”l, and then the Neshama becomes Mitnavelet; it becomes dirty from the Averios. However, when a person conquers his Yetzer Hara, then again it’s ‘yifas toar’ and the Neshama returns to its original beauty.


The Pesukim continue that the person will bring the captive into his home for a month. The deeper explanation is that when one does Teshuva and conquers his Yetzer Hara, he brings the Neshama into the special home of Bnei Yisroel- the Beis Midrash. And what is the remez of the ‘month’? This is a remez to the month of Elul that is set aside for Teshuva[i].


This is one of our jobs during Elul[ii], to focus on winning the battle against the Yetzer Hara. The Neshama is beautiful, it’s yifas toar; and it’s our job to keep it that way and recapture that beauty. Again, the Posuk promises us that Hashem gives us the strength to conquer the Yetzer Hara, “Unisano Hashem Elokecha Beyodecha.” We have to always remember that the Yetzer Hara can be defeated. If one stops trying, however, he definitely loses. The Ohr Hachaim is teaching us to have confidence that we can defeat the Yetzer Hara, and therefore we should never give up.


Good Shabbos

B. Ginsburg

[i] The Ohr Hachaim explains more ideas along these lines, and it’s worthwhile to look inside and see how he explains the next Pesukim as well.


[ii] Clearly, this remez which the Ohr Hachaim developed fits beautifully into Elul and doing Teshuva at this time of the year. I always find it amazing how everything fits together in Torah Judasim. In Chumash Devarim, there is a general theme as to why certain ideas are included and certain ideas are not. Rav Hirsch at the beginning of Devarim discusses this point. There is also an internal order to Chumash Devarim, each Parsha flows into the next. With those ideas in mind, Hashem also worked it out that these Parshiyos that refer to Teshuva (and fit with the theme of Elul) fall out during Elul. The Parshiyos that we read from Elul to Yom Kippur, when a Jew is particularly focused on Teshuva and Cheshbon Hanefesh, all relate directly to these themes. Our Parsha, as explained by the Ohr Hachaim, is a wonderful example. This Parsha, with a remez to Teshuva and conquering the Yetzer Hara, falls out during Elul. We have a wonderful additional example of Hashgacha, how all aspects of Torah Judaism fit together to help us in our Avodas Hashem.


Safeguarding Our Holiness

9 03 2011

Based on a shiur on Chassidut by Rabbi Hershel Reichman

Safeguarding our HolinessIn his discussion on Parshat Shekalim, the Shem MiShmuel asks two penetrating questions. The machazit hashekel was donated in Adar and was used to fund the new cycle of korbonot tzibbur (public sacrifices) which commenced in Nissan. Why was it necessary to dedicate the entire month of Adar to collecting the half shekel when it could have easily been accumulated in less time?  Additionally, why is Nissan the beginning of the new season of sacrifices? Why do we not count from Tishrei, when the Jewish year actually begins?


The Gemara in Rosh Hashana notes that the Divine machshava (thought) to create the world took place in Tishrei. The actual creation began in Nissan. Rashi adds that when Hashem first conceived the world, he intended to create it with middat hadin (strict justice). However, because man is such an unpredictable and fickle creature, he foresaw that din alone would not work. Although angels are programmed to do good, humans have free choice and are constantly changing. This is our greatness and also our weakness. Life is a road with many curves, ups and downs, and triumphs and failures. The ultimate victory of good over evil, the battle of the inner self, is the ultimate human struggle. Therefore Hashem decided to use an unpredictable system, midat hachesed. A world based on mercy is a world filled with surprises. Indeed chesed is at the heart and soul of the teshuva process. Man can rectify his deeds by changing his ways. Our instability can create something wondrous, a transformation of self. In Tishrei, we face Hashem’s din. Not too many of us can pass muster. Therefore Hashem gave us a different time frame, Nissan, the month of chesed, the month when the Jewish people sunk in the forty ninth level of impurity were redeemed through Hashem’s mercy.


Life’s purpose is to build a relationship with Hashem. This is achieved through movement from above and below which will always affect a response. In Chassidic terminology it is called “iserusa d’letata” (arousal from below) and “isresua d’leyla” (arousal from above).  This is the difference between Tishrei and Nissan. In Tishrei, the month of din, man must take the first step. It is our obligation to do what is right and Hashem responds in kind. Chesed, on the other hand, begins from Hashem. It comes from above.  We have no claim on it. However there is a factor that can trigger it. Hashem redeemed us from Egypt despite our unworthiness because he saw our potential for greatness. He invested in us. This is the chesed of Nissan. It is a month of awakening, a month when Hashem extends us a credit line and gives us blessings, not for what we are today, but for what we have the potential to become. This is a moving testimony of Hashem’s love for us. We  actualize His trust by tapping in to our will to grow and connecting to the inner point of our soul which can never be destroyed.


Modesty and chastity are the hallmarks of the Jewish nation. Discarding this can cause us to lose our very identity. Yosef was the epitome of modesty. He remained holy despites the many temptations he encountered in Egypt. Mechirat Yosef was the abandonment of that model. The twelve tribes sold Yosef for twenty geira and each of them received half a geira. With the machazit hashekel, we make a commitment to rectify Mechirat Yosef and to follow the example of our holy leaders. We can then be deserving of Hashem’s beneficence.


The month of Adar is dedicated to correcting the sin of immorality, to connecting to the Beit Hamikdash, to bringing the sacrifices necessary to lead a holy life, to becoming a tzaddik like Yosef, and to actualizing the potential Hashem implanted within each of us. In this way we will merit the  heavenly mercy, the isrusa d’leyla, which immediately follows in Nissan, the month of chesed and ultimate redemption.

Parshat Vayakel: Removing The Mask

25 02 2011

Based on a shiur by Mrs. Shira SmilesParshat Vayakhel: Removing the Mask

There is an intriguing juxtaposition in Parshat Ki Tisa and Parshat Vayakel. In Vayakel, Hashem first tells Moshe to command the Jews about the mitzva of Shabbat and he singles out the prohibition of kindling a flame. He then tells the people about the mitzva of building the Mishkan. In contrast, Parshat Ki Tisa, which is a culmination of Parshat Terumah and Tezaveh and the building of the Mishkan, begins with the mitzva of Shabbat. Why the switch and why does the Torah continually connect Shabbat with the Mishkan?


The Siftei Chaim notes that Adam lived a pure existence before the sin of eitz hadaat. Every action he performed, even if it was physical, was entirely sanctified. His only goal was to do the will of Hashem. After the sin, Adam was thrust into a world of confusion. Suddenly he acquired busha (shame), which is a contradiction between what one knows to be correct and his actions. Every action from then on contains a mixture of good and evil, to the extent that man could now never say that his motives were completely altruistic.  Before the sin, Adam’s food did not require preparation. After the sin, producing bread became a long arduous process. This reflects life in microcosm. Life is about working with a mixture of good and evil and extracting the grains of goodness.


On Shabbat we can reach the state of Adam before the sin. All week long we mimic building the Mishkan by taking the physical and elevating it for Hashem. On Shabbat we enter a dimension of Gan Eden where we don’t need to work and can still achieve this same level of spirituality. Shabbat is about rejoicing with the kingship of Hashem. On this day we crown Him as master.  Our sages say that on Shabbat we receive an extra soul, an expansiveness of the heart. We can enjoy physical pleasures and our souls will not despise them because on Shabbat both the physical and spiritual work in tandem. Rav Wolbe notes that this level can be reached with the first kezayit of challa at the meal. If you consume it as if you are eating that first piece of matza at the seder, you can experience a foretaste of The World To Come.


At matan Torah, when the Jews completely nullified themselves before Hashem, they reached the state of Adam before the sin. After chet ha’egel they lost this level again. However, our Sages say that Moshe retained it. The parsha notes that he had a keren or, his face shone and he needed to wear a mask in order to speak to the Jewish people. His face, a reflection of his inner being, embodied a perfect melding of physical and spiritual. On Shabbat we return to this level.

The Netivot Shalom teaches that Shabbat is a propitious time for teshuva. The mask we wear all week long is lifted. We can return to our inner essence. Shabbat is a time to meditate on our true selves. Every Jew can recognize that life is about elevating the physical to the spiritual and about coming closer to Hashem. Our challenge is to take this message into our week and create a Mishkan for Hashem. The models of this were the women in Mitzrayim. They knew how to live Shabbat during the week. The Ibn Ezra writes that they were so committed to Hashem that they donated their mirrors, signifying their preoccupation with physicality, and came to the Ohel Moed to pray and learn.


Rav Kanatovsky notes that the reason for the reversal in the Parshiot is to teach us that we need to buttress the fundamental aspect of Shabbat-connection to Hashem, with action. Shabbat is the focus of Jewish belief. We need to recognize that we are not in control. Our job is to do our part, but ultimately the results are up to Hashem. This is why the Torah singles out fire. Fire symbolizes man’s mastery over the universe. The suspension of this act represents relinquishment of control. Shabbat is about recognizing that there is a larger force behind our everyday actions. Similarly, the word vayakhel means community. We belong to something bigger than ourselves.


The Klei Yakar writes that Ohel Moed reflects the womens’ tents. The greatest accomplishment of a woman is dedicating herself to a greater aspect of self, namely her home and family.  May our efforts to reach these lofty levels bring ourselves, those close to us, and all of Klal Yisrael to true sheleimut.

Parshat Ki Tisa: Bound to Our Creator

18 02 2011

Based on a shiur on Chassidut by Rabbi Hershel Reichman

Parshat Ki Tisa

Parshat Ki Tisa tells the pivotal sin of cheit ha’eigel (the sin of the golden calf), the subsequent breaking of the luchot, and Moshe’s prayer for forgiveness. In his exchange with Hashem, Moshe asks, “Let me see Your glory.” Hashem responds, “You will see My back, but My face you shall not see.” What was the back of Hashem that Moshe was privileged to see? Rashi explains that it was the knot of Hashem’s tefilin.

The Shem Mishmuel explores this puzzling passage. He notes that tefilin refer to thinking. Hashem’s tefilin are an allegory for His thoughts. According to halacha, when a man wears tefilin he must focus entirely on holiness and on the messages contained within the tefilin. Moshe had an incredibly close relationship with Hashem, more than any other human. Therefore, he had a connection to tefilin, which means connection to Hashem in thought.

Our tefilin speak about ahavat Hashem, His oneness, the Torah, and yetziat mitzrayim. They are about Hashem’s greatness and how it impacts upon us. Hashem’s tefilin are a mirror image of our own. They focus on the uniqueness and loftiness of Klal Yisrael, and Hashem’s love and loyalty to us. He created an unbreakable bond between Himself and the Jewish people. This is the knot of tefilin that Hashem showed Moshe.

The knot of tefilin hints that we are bound and knotted to Hashem in an eternal relationship. Hashem is with us in every situation we find ourselves in. Hashem describes himself as “hashochen itam b’toch tumotam, who dwells among the Jews even though they are defiled.” Just as a parent will never abandon his child, Hashem will always remain loyal to us, no matter how far we have strayed. True love is a balance between chesed and din. Sometimes Hashem sends us retribution, as a father who must punish his son. Still he remains our loving father. This is the indestructible knot of Hashem’s tefilin. The Jewish people accepted the Torah unquestioningly, proclaiming the words “Naaseh V’neshma.”  We are absolutely committed to our Creator. In return, we know Hashem will remain eternally loyal to us.

Why was Moshe the first to understand this irrevocable connection? When he descended with the luchot and saw that the Jews had sinned with the egel, he broke the tablets. His reasoned that if the Jewish nation were destined to be decimated, he wanted to die with them. Because of his incredible loyalty and self-sacrifice for his people, Hashem revealed to him the secret of the kesher shel tefilin. This message of faith has kept us alive as a nation throughout our long exile. This ray of hope will bring us to the final redemption.

Parshat Tetzaveh: Losing The Self

10 02 2011

Based on a shiur on Chassidut by Rabbi Hershel Reichman

Parshat Tetzavah: Losing the Self

In Parshat Tetzaveh, Hashem tells Moshe to command the Jewish people, “Ve’yikchu eilecha shemen zayit zach, They shall bring for you pure olive oil.” This is in contrast to Hashem’s previous command in Parshat Teruma, where He says, “Ve’yikchu li teruma.” They shall bring an offering for me.” Why is there a distinction between the general command for donations to the Mishkan, for me, and the specific request for oil, which was brought for you?

The Shem Mishmuel explains based on a mishna in Avot. The mishna says there are three crowns: the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood, and the crown of kingship. The fourth crown, a good name, overweighs them all. Why does the mishna note that there are three crowns when there are really four? Furthermore, if a good name means good deeds as the Bartenura explains, shouldn’t it be included in the crown of Torah? The midrash says that the crown of kingship corresponds to the Shulchan, which represents wealth, stability, and power. The Aron, which contained the luchot, signifies the crown of Torah. The Mizbeiach Hazahav corresponds to the crown of priesthood, and the Menora corresponds to the crown of good deeds. If the Menora was above all, why did it not have a crown-like ridge as part of its construction, as the other vessels did?

A crown symbolizes rulership and power. The Torah doesn’t encourage exercising control over others. Most people are slaves to their own passions. The Torah ideal is to be a king over your own spirit and desires. The crown of Torah, its laws and wisdom, give us the ability to rule over ourselves. The crown of priesthood, sublimates the kohen’s personal ambitions to serve Hashem.  The crown of kingship is given to the one who subdues his own personal interests for the good of his people. Indeed, the Jewish king is called the heart of the nation because his heart is not his own. It belongs instead to his nation.

The Shem MiShmuel discusses the idea of yesh and ayin. The three crowns of self-control use the yesh, the self, to attain goodness. The shem tov is ayin, losing oneself in Hashem’s vastness. Valued above the good performed for a person’s own goodness, the good performed solely for Hashem’s sake. This is the good beyond good.

Our sages say that olives are a bitter fruit and make one forget Torah. However, after they are pressed to a pulp and lose their identity, they transform into olive oil, highly prized for its outstanding qualities. This represents bitul hayesh, self nullification with the goal of producing something transcendental beyond the self.

We can now understand why Hashem first says “ve’yikchu li.” Hashem is saying, I will approve your actions in the yesh state. Hashem tells the Jews to use their powers of self to build the Mishkan. However, He then says, “Ve’yikchu eleicha.”  Eilecha refers to Moshe, who was the paragon of self- nullification. This is the shem tov, the shemen zayit, which is above the three crowns.

At some point, we must ascend to a higher level of bitul hayesh, of coming to the realization that we exist only as an extension of Hashem’s infinite all-encompassing being.

Parshat Mishpatim: The Seventh Point

28 01 2011

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Hershel Reichman

Parshat Mishpatim-The Seventh Point

The eved ivri (Jewish slave) was a rare occurrence during the Temple era and is certainly not relevant today. Why then is it discussed first in this parsha?
Chassidut teaches that space consists of six sides, namely: up, down, left, right, front, and back. There is an epicenter within this three dimensional cube, which is the seventh point. This parallels the human experience. Most of our life encounters touch us externally. However there are certain experiences that are so profound that they affect our inner core. This, the Avnei Nezer explains, is why the eved ivri works six years and goes free in the seventh year. The eved ivri is a common criminal or at best a social outcast, sold into slavery to repay his debts. He is bound to serve his master six years, signifying the six external points of his life that have experienced a terrible breakdown. Yet his inner seventh point remains pure and indestructible. This is why he is set free in the seventh year.


What is the secret of this indomitable inner core? At Har Sinai, Hashem said, “Anochi Hashem Elokecha.” I am Hashem who redeemed you from Egypt. This seems strange. The redemption was certainly incredible, but the creation of the world was even more so. Why does Hashem specifically introduce himself as our redeemer rather than our Creator?


The Shem MiShmuel notes that in halacha something that is hekdesh (sanctified) is not subject to human claim. When the Jews became a nation, they reached the level of hekdesh, and therefore the Egyptians could no longer have a hold on them. Our special relationship with Hashem over and beyond the other nations is the kedushat yisrael, the seventh inner indestructible point which connects us as a people to Hashem.


At Matan Torah, when the Jews said naaseh v’nishma they became entirely sanctified. All seven levels were freed and no nation could dominate them. After cheit haegel, the six external sides were contaminated again, but the seventh inner core remained pure. This state has stayed with us until today. The vagaries of life cannot affect us because inwardly we are eternally free. Even the eved ivri retains his pure core. Externally, he may have been broken, but his inner seventh point remained untouched, and that is why he is eventually set free.


Similarly, the Rambam notes that the world will exist for six thousand years. In the seventh year, we will be redeemed. Mashiach will come and the world will finally recognize the unique bond between us and Hashem that has kept us strong and indestructible throughout our long exile.

Parshat Vayeitzei: A Holy Nation

11 11 2010

Based on a shiur on Chassidut by Rabbi Hershel Reichman

Parshat Vayeitzei: A Holy Nation

If we examine the lives of Avraham and Yitzchak we find that they overcame many challenges and then Hashem blessed them. However, with Yaakov, it seems like things happened in reverse. Yitzchak blessed him and then Yaakov embarked on a long journey filled with difficulties and struggles. What was the difference between Yaakov and the other avot?


In Tehillim it says, “Ashrei shomrei mishpat oseh tzedaka b’chol eit. Praised is the person who protects justice and does charity at all times.” The Zohar links this verse to Yaakov who combined chesed and gevura.  Mishpat is internal justice between one Jew and another. Tzedaka is spreading knowledge of Hashem to all four corners of the earth. The Shem MiShmuel explains that during the first stage of the development of Eretz Yisrael, the Jews were led by the shoftim. The shoftim merely enforced justice within the land but did not lead the people to war to expand their boundaries. However, during the second stage of transition, when the kings ruled, they transformed Israel from a nation completely focused on itself to a nation that expanded outwards to influence other foreign countries. This teaches that first we must be a goy kadosh, a holy nation. We must strengthen ourselves spiritually. Then we can become a mamlechet kohanim, a model nation whose mission it is to spread the word of Hashem to the world.


Similarly, this was the story of Yaakov’s life. In the beginning he was an “Ish tam yoshev ohalim,” a shofet Jew sitting in the tents of Torah, fortifying himself to face the challenges ahead. Then Hashem led him to Charan as it says, “Vayelech Charona.” Charon means anger and strife. The world outside Israel was mired in sin and wickedness. Yaakov went to live with Lavan who was the essence of evil. Lavan wanted to uproot the faith of Yaakov. Yaakov, with his own power and that of the Avot, succeeded in overcoming him by building a Jewish family and bringing Torah and mitzvot into Charan itself. He achieved the mission of a king.  Subsequently, Hashem commanded him to return. At that point, by facing Lavan and overcoming his challenges, Yaakov had advanced spiritually to the point that he could defeat Esav, something he could not have done before.


When Yaakov overcame the angel of Esav, the angel called him Yisrael. Yaakov implies a narrow focus while Yisrael connotes openness.  A Jew must maintain a dual focus. Sometimes it is microscopic, such as focusing detailed attention to halacha. Sometimes it is telescopic, assuming the responsibility of spreading Hashem’s word to the world. In Parshat Yitro, when Hashem commands Moshe to speak to the women, He said, “Thus you should speak l’bait Yaakov, to the house of Yaakov” because women are meant to focus on the internal part of Torah.  The rest of the Jewish people are Yisrael. As much as Torah is for us, we need to influence others externally through our example and teachings.


Let us take strength from Yaakov’s victory over the angel of Esav and over the Lavan ideology. As we face the myriad challenges of life, may He grant us the power to be a Mamlechet kohanim v’goy kadosh, to become the spiritual giants and moral leaders of the world.

Parshat Vayeira: Two Paths of Serving Hashem

21 10 2010

Based on a shiur on Chassidut by Rabbi Hershel Reichman

Hashem tells Avraham in Parshat Lech Lecha, after the mitzvah of milah, that he will have a child. The Shem MiShmuel asks, why does Hashem deem it necessary to send an angel in this week’s parsha, Parshat Vayeira, to relay the news again? In addition, what is the connection between these two seemingly unrelated revelations – milah and the birth of Yitzchak?

The world rests on two fundamental pillars: chesed (kindness) and din (judgement). Sometimes there is chesed and other times din. The forces of nature that support life are all expressions of Hashem’s chesed. Avraham was the embodiment of chesed. Although the people of S’dom were wicked, he passionately prayed for them. Hashem loved Avraham, Ish Ha’chesed.

However, He gave him the mitzvah of milah. On the surface this commandment looks cruel and painful. Avraham was told to do an act of din. He needed to learn that although the world is grounded on chesed, it also needs din to survive. S’dom had to be destroyed because the world cannot tolerate absolute evil forever. Avraham needed to learn that unbridled love can be devastating. Therefore his prayers failed. On his personal being, he had to undergo milah, a painful mitzvah. This was because Avraham, the epitome of chesed, needed to pick up an element of din in order to become tamim – perfect. Therefore, Hashem told him about the birth of Yitzchak immediately
after milah.

Yitzchak represents din. He is defined by the akeidah – strict judgment and complete adherence to Hashem’s will. He was willing to forfeit his life in a seemingly senseless sacrifice to fulfill Hashem’s command. That is why when Avraham accepted the mitzvah of milah – an element of din, Hashem informed him about the birth of Yitzchak who is also din.

With Yitzchak we see a reversal of din to chesed. Yitzchak’s name comes from the root word, “tzechok” – laughter. Making people happy is an expression of kindness. Hashem wanted Yitzchak to acquire an element of chesed.

We need to maintain a balance of both of these attributes in our lives. Din without chesed can turn into cruelty. Chesed without din can be distorted. Chassidut teaches that this is the connection between right and left, water and fire. Water is chesed, fire is din. Water gives life, fire destroys. Yet the world needs both to exist. Right is chesed, left is din. The right side is stronger than the left. We need more chesed than din.

Avraham was chesed. Sarah was din. The combination of both of their attributes made them into the great couple that they were. Avraham could not reject anyone. Sarah therefore had to tell him to send away Yishmael. However since Sarah was din, she also needed some chesed. Therefore Hashem sent another message about the birth of Yitzchak with the angel in the context of chesed and hachnasas orchim. Avraham prepared the red meat, which signifies din. Sarah prepared the white bread and milk, which symbolizes chesed.

Let us try to imbue our lives with a balance of din and chesed, and with this may we merit to reach the level of Avraham, “V’hit’halech lifanei v’heyei tamim” – to walk before Hashem and reach perfection.

Parshat Nitzavim: Chassidut on the Parsha

1 09 2010

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Hershel Reichman

Parshat Nitzavim begins with, “Atem nitzavim hayom, You, the Jewish people are standing before Hashem.” Rashi writes that the Jewish nation renewed their commitment to the Torah by making a special covenant with Hashem. Why was this covenant needed now? To answer this, Rashi asks another question. What is the connection between the parshiyot of Ki Tavo and Nitzavim? He explains that after the Jews heard the 98 curses they recoiled in fear. Therefore, Moshe immediately comforted them by reminding them, “You have sinned in the past and yet, “Atem nitzavim,” you are still standing.

The Shem MiShmuel explains this idea further. In Parshat Vayeilech, we read how the Jewish people will sin and suffering will come upon them. They will say, “Ein Elokai b’kirbi. Hashem has left us.” Hashem will then say, “V’anochi haster astir panei, I will hide my face.” The Shem Mishmuel emphasizes that the most fundamental reason that leads a person to sin is “Ein Elokai,” he forgets that Hashem is constantly before him. In a sense, he experiences temporary spiritual amnesia. If the Jewish people have recognized this and have begun the process of teshuva, why does Hashem then say he will hide His face?

Rav Bunim MiPeshischa answers that stating that one’s misdeeds drove Hashem away is a terrible sin. Hashem never leaves the Jewish people. Our sins may create a certain distance but He is still there with us. Hashem says, “Anochi haster, I will hide.” But even in the worst concealment, my great hidden light, “panai,” remains with you.

After the Jewish people heard the 98 curses, they were worried that their faith would not remain intact after these awful punishments would be meted out. Therefore, Moshe deemed it necessary to make a new covenant, assuring the Jewish people that Hashem would never leave them come what may and that they too would remain bound to Hashem. This is the power of “Nitzavim,” the steadfast faith that every Jew carries in his heart, through myriad tragedy and suffering.

Nitzavim comes from the root word, matzeiva, meaning solid rock. Our foundation is as strong as rock and this is the legacy we bequeath to our children. The Midrash in Shemot Rabbah writes, “The Jewish people are compared to angels, of angels it is written, they stand on high and of the Jews it is written, behold you are standing.” We read in the book of Zecharya, “V’natati lecha makom ben ha’omdim haelah, you will walk through these standing angels.” Angels do not have free choice. Therefore they are referred to as “standing” – they will neither fall nor rise. In contrast, the prophet Zecharya is told, “You will move between these angels.” Man has the power to ascend to a level higher than the angels. On the one hand, we are meant to be similar to angels, nitzavim – firm in our faith, never descending to the depths of sin. Yet on the other hand, we are meant to be greater than them, always striving to reach further levels in avodat Hashem.

The Midrash says that Yaakov gave us the evening Maariv prayer because his life was filled with darkness and baffling challenges. Through it all he never wavered and remained strong and steadfast in his faith. Sometimes, life may hand us the “raw deal.” It is specifically at those times that we must bolster our trust in Hashem and tap into the hidden reservoirs of strength contained in Nitzavim.