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Parshat Nitzavim-Vayelech (5764)

Towards the end of the first book of this week's section G-d tells the Jews:

"I am making the heavens and the earth witnesses today that I am putting before you the life and the death; the blessing and the curse...and you should choose life in order that you and your offspring will live." (30:19)

Does this make sense?

What type of witnesses are the heavens and the earth? And why does G-d need witnesses at all?

What does it mean 'choose life'? Do we need the Torah to tell us this?
Everyone wants to live! Even animals want to live! Exactly the opposite; some of the biggest sinners don't observe the Torah because they want to REALLY live with no restrictions!!

And if you say the Torah is speaking here about spiritual life then why does it mention offspring? Spiritual life is mostly in the 'hereafter'. There are no offspring in the hereafter!

And finally, there are many situations beyond our control. Consider the sick, handicapped, oppressed etc. people that never had, or will have the opportunity to decide or choose their fate. The Torah is supposed to be applicable to ALL times and ALL situations; here seems to be an exception.

To understand this, here are three stories from the Talmud.

Rabbi Akiva was perhaps the greatest of all Torah scholars. He lived some 1,800 years ago shortly after the destruction of the second Temple and at one point had some 24,000 pupils!

Once he was in the middle of a lone journey and before nightfall entered a large village to spend the night.

But every house rejected him. Perhaps they hated Jews, or perhaps they were simply cruel but in any case they told him to leave.

Rabbi Akiva instead of getting angry, cheerfully said "Whatever G-d does is for the good" and exited the gates of the town.

He found himself a small clearing a good distance away and settled down under a tree to sleep thanking G-d that he still had his rooster, candle and donkey.

The rooster was to awaken him at midnight, the candle to provide him the light necessary to learn Torah until the morning and the donkey would take him to his destination.

It wasn't easy to light the candle but he got it lit before nightfall, tied his donkey to a tree, gave some grain to the rooster and prepared for sleep.
Then suddenly a wind swept his little encampment extinguishing the small flame and leaving him in almost total darkness; he could barely see anything in the dim moonlight.

"What G-d does is for the good" Said Rabbi Akiva and continued his preparations in the quiet night.

Suddenly the silence was broken by insane cackling and wild flapping. Rabbi Akiva turned and let out a startled cry; a weasel was dragging away the quivering body of his rooster. "Whatever G-d does is for the good" he said calmly. And instead of getting depressed and cursing the darkness he again lay back down and closed his eyes.

Only moments later the air shook with an awesome roar and frantic braying.
He sat bolt upright to see a lion crouched on the thrashing carcass of his donkey; digging its teeth and claws into its flesh and finally dragging it too into the night.

Instead of being filled with fear and gloom Rabbi Akiva confidently repeated, "Whatever G-d does is for the good", closed his eyes and again went to sleep.

The next morning he woke to the smell of smoke. He sat up looked in the direction of the town and was greeted by a frightening sight; it was totally in flames! It seems that that night a large band of robbers had raided the place, killed most of the men, took everyone else as slaves and put the entire city to the torch.

"Aha!" He said to himself, "Truly everything that G-d does is for the good!
If the candle had been lit, the rooster had crowed or the donkey brayed I certainly would not be here now." (Brachot 60b)

The second story is about Rabbi Akiva's teacher Nachum Ish Gamzu.

Once, the Rabbis in Jerusalem got wind of an anti-Semitic edict that was about to be passed by the wicked Roman government. After long deliberation they decided that the rumor was true and the only way they could have it rescinded was to bribe the emperor of Rome.

With great self-sacrifice the Jews gave literally all they had, many even borrowed large sums of money, and finally prepareda small chest full of fine precious stones and handcrafted jewelry.

And Nachum Ish Gamzu, being the most impressive, wise and optimistic of the Rabbis, was picked to deliver it. In fact his name 'Gamzu' was derived from his custom to say "Gam Zu L'tova" (Also this is for good)' in even the worst of situations.

But here the plot thickens.

At the last inn that Rabbi Nachum stopped for the night, the owner of the place somehow sensed that he was carrying valuables and managed to get his hands very briefly on the treasure chest. But that was all he needed; a few seconds later it was back in place, emptied of riches but full of . common dirt!

Rabbi Nachum never suspected a thing.

The next day he was proudly and humbly standing, dressed in his best garments before the emperor, the chest on a small marble table before him.
Then, after a few words about 'his majesty's loyal servants the Jews', with a wide smile on his face and a theatric sweep of his hand, opened the box before the entire court of ministers and generals.

A gasp went up from the crowd! The king frowned!!! Everyone began murmuring.
Instead of a breathtaking view of startlingly impressive diamonds and gold was ... dirt!

'Gam Zu l'tova' said Rabbi Nachum with the certainty of a true believer.

Suddenly a well dressed stranger appeared, approached the King's throne, bowed deeply and spoke under his breath so only the king could hear.
"Certainly, your majesty knows that this is the magical dirt that the patriarch of the Jews, Abraham, defeated all his enemies with."

"Ehh?" murmured the king, raising one eyebrow as the frown faded from his face. "Magic dirt? What is Magical dirt? What does it do?"

"Ahh," Answered the stranger a bit louder so the crowd could hear if they listened, "It turns into spears and arrows that never miss their mark.
Here, try throwing it at that wall."

Everyone moved out of the way. The king motioned to one of the generals who
stepped forward, took a handful of the dirt and threw it. A gasp went up
from the crowd, the women screamed in awe. Sure enough, before their very eyes it transformed into all sorts of hideous iron weapons that flew, point first, with frightening speed and stuck in the wall with an awesome thud.
Immediately the emperor commanded his generals to use it against his bitterest enemy, who, the next day (when they saw what the dirt could do) surrendered unconditionally.

The emperor filled twenty some chests with gems and gold for the Jews and sent Nachum home with an honor guard.

Incidentally, the stranger that saved Rabbi Nachum was none other than Elijah the Prophet. Who went to heaven in his body some eight hundred years
earlier.(Taanit 21a)

The final story is also about Rabbi Akiva; once he and three other holy Torah scholars had to walk past Jerusalem. (This was shortly after it's destruction by the Romans).

When they got within seeing distance of the ruins of the once beautiful, holy city, they tore their garments in mourning.

But when they got even closer and saw a small fox jump out from the rubble of the very place where once stood the Holy of Holies, it was too much for them to take and three of them burst out into bitter tears.

But Rabbi Akiva began laughing! Not the laughter of one insane from grief but genuine, happy laughter.

The others were shocked! "Akiva! Why are you laughing?"

"And why are you crying?" He replied.

"Why are we crying!? Oy!" they replied, "The holiest place in the world, a place so pure that anyone other than the High Priest on Yom Kippur would die if they entered!! And now foxes are walking there!! How can we not cry!?"

"And that is precisely why I'm laughing" He replied.

"If we see before our eyes the fulfillment of Mica's prophesy (3:12), 'Jerusalem will become a plowed field', certainly will be fulfilled the prophesy of Zacharia (8:4) 'Again will sit elders in the streets of Jerusalem each with staff in hand.' That Moshiach will come and raise the dead (Makot 24b, see Tosfot).

These three stories have the same point: Even in impossibly bad situations we can chose life... and even TRANSFORM it all to good.

True there are many things beyond our control, but how we JUDGE them is COMPLETELY in our control: if we CHOOSE to see the GOOD in everything we can actually CHANGE impossible situations.

For instance, the Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that by trusting in G-d we make a NEW VESSEL for a NEW BLESSING! And our trust can change the entire universe.

That is the meaning of 'The heavens"; namely all the spiritual worlds, and "the earth"; the entire physical world: all creation will be "witnesses" on our behalf and help us if we choose the positive path of Torah!

And it will be good for our offspring; indeed for the entire world as well.

Because if we CHOOSE life..then we will bring life. The entire world will transform to even HIGHER than the 'heaven on earth' it was when it was created (Indeed, that is what we celebrate on Rosh HaShanna).

That is why it is one of the basic principles of the Torah to IMPATIENTLY desire the arrival of Moshiach. irregardless of what state the world seems to be in and why the Lubavitcher Rebbe said we should 'OPEN OUR EYES' to see that Moshiach is here.

Because our positive thoughts can make a positive world. As Rabbi Akiva said in our last story; WE can actually bring Moshiach NOW!!

Wishing all our readers a healthy, happy, sweet new year with....


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