This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Nitzavim-Vayelech (5766)
This Shabbat is the last one before and a preparation to the Jewish New Year: Rosh HaShanna and in it we read the 'double' Torah reading near the end of the Book of Deuteronomy: Nitzavim –Vayelech both of which deal with Moses' last words of encouragement and warning to the Jews before they enter the Promised Land without him.
Although the names of these two Chapters are taken, apparently, incidentally from the words they begin with, really they hold much significance.
Nitzavim means 'Standing firm and –Vayelech means Moving" which is very symbolic of Rosh HaShanna. On one hand we are all standing firmly before G-d; certain that He is our King and our Father (Avinu Malkenu) and will bless us with a good new year. But we are also moving; spiritually upward and forward into more genuine levels of awareness and responsibility to the Creator.
But we see something strange here; G-d says to Moses (31:15)
Behold....this people will stray after the gods of the land....and they will leave Me and transgress My covenant.
And then Moses (31:29) repeats to the Jews, 'I know that after my death your will surely sin and turn from the path etc' . And afterwards (next week's reading) Moses writes the poem 'HaAzinu' to discourage idolatry.
Even more, these warnings didn't help. Just a few years later Jews began worshiping idols, continued sporadically through the days of the Judges, more constantly in the first Temple and at this very moment myriads of Jews are involved in cults, religions and other forms of idolatry (may G-d have mercy on them!)
Why does the Torah remind us of all this depressing stuff before Rosh HaShanna when it is supposed inspire us to feel positive, 'Standing and moving'!?
I'd like to answer with a story: (Sipuri Chabad, vol. 15 pg 72)
About two hundred years ago in the days of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Rebbe of Chabad (whose birthday was earlier this week on the 18th of Ellul) lived a rich Jew who made his fortune by building ships for the Russian Navy.
The Russians have no love for the Jews, most of them are outright anti-Semites, and it so happened that a large group of his workers were 'blessed' with an unusual measure of this hatred. They despised their Jewish boss, were jealous of his success and would have killed him outright were it not punishable in court.
So they came up with a plan. They purposely put flaws in their work and then went to the police presenting a neatly fabricated story, supported by the the defects in the ship they were building, that it was all the doing of their boss.
In no time the whole thing became a public scandal: A Jew took money from the government, sabotaged the Czar's navy and tried to undermine the entire kingdom!
Our hero was taken by complete surprise!
Before he knew it he was being led to jail. He had no choice but to pay the high bail and make tracks to the best lawyers possible. But none of them wanted to touch his case. There were too many witnesses and too much evidence against him. He tried to offer them more money but it didn't help; all the money in the world couldn't convince them to defend … a potential traitor!
With no recourse he ran to the city of Liozne where Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the first Chabad Rebbe, lived. He heard that this Rabbi did miracles to help people and he desperately needed one; only a big miracle could save him.
He made it to the Rebbe, asked for an audience and, after a few hours wait found himself standing in the Rebbe's study, pouring out his heart to this holy man.
The Rebbe heard his problem, thought for a few seconds, smiled and said. "You have to go to the local horse market and buy four of the best and most expensive horses there, spare no money. Just make sure they are the strongest and most impressive horses there. "
"Horses?" he blurted out in surprise.
"Yes", answered the Rebbe "Then ask where you can buy a carriage and buy the most ornamented and costly one available. Have the horses hitched to the carriage and drive to the city of Petersburg where the Czar's palace is and drive back and forth in front of the royal palace. Do you understand?
The poor fellow shook his head yes but was completely bewildered. He didn't believe that this was happening to him! First being accused of capital crimes he never committed and now this holy man was telling him to buy horses! But he had no choice.
The Rebbe continued. "Eventually an official looking servant will stop your carriage and ask you if the horses are for sale but you must answer 'no, not for all the money in the world!' Do you understand?
He meekly shook his head yes and the Rebbe continued,
"He will offer you more and more money but refuse until he will say that the Czar saw them from his window and wants them.
"When he says this, you get out of the wagon, stand at attention and say, 'For the Czar?! I give them to our glorious Czar as a gift!'
And then pray for a miracle!"
The poor fellow backed out of the Rebbe's room, closed the door and stood there stunned as though trapped in a bad dream. But he thought for a minute, decided he had no other option, and did as he was told.
He went to the horse market, bought the best horses there, had them harnessed to the finest carriage, drove many hours till he reached Petersburg and finally began driving around and around before the Czar's palace thinking to himself 'I hope they don't think I'm insane and put me in a hospital! And even if the Czar does notice me and I give him the horses… how will he know who I am? Maybe I should write a note or something.'
But as he was thinking….. sure enough; a servant came out of the palace, motioned for him to stop and offered to buy the horses! He refused as the Rebbe told him to and, as the Rebbe said, the servant raised the price over and over until the Czar's name was mentioned at which point he feigned surprise, exited the carriage, stood at attention, raised his eyes majestically to the heavens, said what he had to say and gave the horses and carriage to the servant and stood there praying for a miracle.
Meanwhile the Czar himself had been watching all this from his palace window and when he received the beautiful horses his curiosity was really aroused. He sent another servant with orders to ask his benefactor for his full name and city of residence.
In moments the servant returned with the information and when the Czar heard it he shook his head knowingly saying, "A Jew ehhh! Well well! This Jew has succeeded in bribing even the Czar himself!"
Then suddenly the Czar remembered something… this name was familiar… Aha! He remembered! This must be the Jew that was accused of sabotaging the ship! But, unexplainably, something inside him told him that something was wrong; that the charges were trumped up.
He paced about in his room for a few minutes then went into the royal stables to admire the new gift horses and the more he petted and stroked them the more his intuition told him the Jew was innocent.
That next day he issued an order to the Minister of Justice to delay the case until further notice and then formed an official committee and set off to investigate the ship personally.
Sure enough, after a few hours of inspection and interrogation of the 'witnesses' their evil plans were exposed! By the time the Jew returned home he discovered that the charges had been dropped and the real culprits had been imprisoned.
The Jew was beside himself with awe for the Rebbe and joy for his release! And at the first opportunity he went to the Rebbe to thank him profusely for the miracle he did.
But the Rebbe just smiled and shrugged his shoulders. "I did a Miracle? HaShem did the miracle! I just remembered that the Torah forbids a Jewish king from increasing horses (Deut.17:16) so I reasoned that if even a holy king like King David or King Solomon has to be warned about horses it means that kings, even gentile kings, must have certainly have a lust for them!
This answers our question: Just as kings have an unexplainable, burning desire for horses …. so Jews have a burning, irrational desire for idolatry.
But it's not so unexplainable.
It comes from the fact that Jews are created in the 'image of G-d' and are the 'Sons of G-d (Deut 14:1)!
In other words, intrinsic in the being of each and every Jew is the 'feeling that they are 'G-d'!! Namely they feel themselves as a independent existence and perhaps the only true existence (Ain od Milvado, Deut.4:35)!
This is called false egotism (Yesh) and is the source of idolatry; Namely that there are realities and powers totally independent of the Creator.
And Just as a king must resist his desire to add horses so too the must each Jew resist his/her drive and 'certainty' that there is something 'other' than HaShem… 'other gods'.
But the reason we read this before Rosh HaShanna is because our Torah portion also ASSURES us that we will all transform this idolatrous feeling into true spiritual progress called "Tshuva" (literally 'return'). "You will return to G-d… and even though you may be scattered to the ends of the heavens… from there I will gather you etc. (30:1-10)
Maimonides (Laws of Kings 11:1) writes that this implies that G-d will send the true Jewish Messiah (Moshiach) to transform all idolatry to the awareness of the Creator. (As we say thrice daily in the 'Alenu' prayer "All idolatry will be eradicated and even the sinners will turn to You G-d).
Moshiach, who will be a true king, will see to it that EVERY JEW, even those that are scattered to the 'ends of the heavens'; worshiping every spiritual power or 'god' possible, will return to the Truth and the Torah. He will build the Third Temple, gather ALL the Jews to Israel (even the Israelis that left) and harness ALL the horsepower and human power in the world to the Creator!
In other words, the only reason 'sin' and 'idolatry' exists is to negate it and pray that G-d transforms its energy to good. (See the end of Tanya Chapt. 9)
This is the message we will take into the 'Slichot' prayers after this Shabbat and to Rosh HaShanna this coming Thursday and Friday: HaShem will soon reveal Moshiach to the entire world. Then the true G-dliness in the entire creation will be felt by all mankind.
As we say in the High Holiday prayers "Yo'daya Kol Poel sh'Ata Poalto" Every creation will feel that You, G-d, are it's creator"
We have to do all we can; learn about, talk about and transform ourselves and the world to make it happen. Even one more deed, word or even thought can tilt the scales to blessing for all mankind.
This year when we hear the Shofar let us pray with all our hearts for ……
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