VOLUME 52 NUMBER 6
AUGUST 27, 2010
ELUL 17, 5770
Finish ‘er Off
By Rabbi Raphael Leban
A few years ago, Denver had a magnificent visit from Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky, a world renowned teacher from Jerusalem. He came right before Rosh Hashanah, and everything he said, over the course of eleven talks around the city, was geared towards getting ready for the New Year.
In his final talk, he discussed why we always read this week’s parsha right before Rosh Hashanah, with Parshas Nitzavim in between. The reason is given in the Talmud (Megila 31b), “tichle shana vikililoseha,” which means, “finish the year with its curses.”
Sounds rather grim, and in fact the parsha itself has a rather grim reputation. It contains ‘the tochacha,’ Moshe’s prophetic rebuke of the people for all times. He tells them what horrors await them if they veer sharply from the path that G-d has commanded them to follow. It’s chilling to read, especially while looking in the rearview mirror of history. Any student of Jewish history knows that we have lived through these horrors more than once in the long dark night of our exile.
Why would we want to ‘finish off the year’ with such frightening verses of doom and gloom? To get us really excited to go to shul for Rosh Hashanah? Doesn’t get me off the couch.
Parshas Ki Savo has more than just the frightening curses in it. It also contains a description of the fabulous blessings that G-d can send us. Material prosperity, world recognition, spiritual transcendence. He shall grant us our land, free of our enemies and settled with our people. Rain in its time and grain in our storehouses. Abundance, peace and nobility of spirit. Just as He can send curses for abandoning His Torah, so too He grants blessings for its observance.
We’re just left to decide what really motivates us.
Unfortunately, what really gets people off the couch is fear. We’re afraid of repercussions. Or suffering. We rise to respond to terrible news.
Why not be motivated by the good stuff, like appreciation of our blessings? Why not act in recognition of God’s goodness and beneficence? Instead of praying with heartfelt devotion when we need G-d to save us from illness, let’s pray with that same devotion in appreciation of the good health we have. Each and every one of us has a wealth of things to be appreciative of, no matter what challenges we face alongside them. There are blessings and curses, each one to motivate us and push us upwards and onwards in our spiritual lives. Let’s choose the blessings!
As the year draws to a close, we read this parsha and we say, “Enough of being motivated by the curses. Let them end with last year. This year, G-d, we’re going to be motivated by the blessings. Try us!”
By Rabbi Dovid Nussbaum
When the Jewish nation entered Israel, they then established a bris, or covenant, with Hashem by the blessings and curses that were recited after they crossed the Jordan River. Malbim questions how these blessings could have been fulfilled. After all, the only time a person receives a blessing for not having erred is if he had the temptation and did not succumb. Such situations are rare, and it seems unlikely that the blessings would refer to odd, unusual situations.
Talmud Yerushalmi quotes an opinion that these blessings and curses were only stated 14 years later, when they had conquered the land and divided it amongst the different tribes. Even though the monolithic stones which were inscribed with the Torah were set up immediately, the affirmation of the blessings and curses took place much later.
Based on this, perhaps we can address the question the Malbim posed. How could the blessings be fulfilled if there was no opportunity to make an idol, for example? The Malbim’s point may only be valid when the various cities and communities were not yet established. After each tribe’s land was apportioned and communal interaction became the norm, there was the potential for improper behavior. Within the context of a society, ills and depravity run rampant. Therefore, when the nation was finally settled in their tribal lands and population began to swell, it was the appropriate time for the blessings and curses, to encourage the people to maintain their uplifted spirits and lofty ideals.
We can undoubtedly take this idea one step further. If an individual within his community would strengthen others to fulfill their obligations with more vigor and sincerity, surely that person would merit blessings such as those mentioned in this week’s parsha. Not only would that person become enriched on a personal level, but also on a communal level. In other words, all the wonderful mitzvos and Torah study that would occur due to his inspiration and influence would accrue to his ‘account’, and his lot would also be cast with the community that he had so positively inspired.
This last concept is mentioned by many great Torah scholars as a way to address the Heavenly Court on Rosh Hashanah. When we stand in judgment before Hashem, unfortunately our past year is often marked with glaring blemishes and stains. How can we hope to appeal for another year of health, happiness and good health? What will convince the Heavenly Court that we should be inscribed in the Book of Life? If we could be viewed within the context of our communities as necessary and vital to their growth and development, then we would have the momentum with which to supplicate the gates of Heaven. Surely an extra kind word to a friend to support him or a gesture of friendship to another to buoy his spirits would be effective in this way. When we look to help others, we will also merit that Hashem will ‘want’ to assist us as well and usher us into a new year of profound joy and enduring good health.
Byte for Shabbos
Even when the Chofetz Chaim was already an elderly man, he would travel far and wide to many Rabbinic gatherings in order to encourage the new generation to follow in the ways that had been established by the previous generations.