Sunday, September 6, 2009

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Parashas Nitzavim-Vayeilech 5769

שבת טעם החיים פרשת נצבים-וילך תשס"ט
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Parashas Nitzavim-Vayeilech 5769

Teshuvah is right around the corner
In this week’s parasha, Nitzavim, it is said (Devarim 30:11-14) ki hamitzvah hazos asher anochi mitzavecho hayom lo nifleis hi mimcho vilo richokah hi lo vashamayim hi leimor mi yaaleh lanu hashamaymah viyikacheho lanu viyashmieinu osah vinaasenah vilo meiever layam hi leimor mi yaavar lanu el eiver hayam viyikacheha lanu viyashmieinu osah vinaasenah ki karov eilecho hadavar meod bificha uvilvacho laasoso, for this commandment that I command you today – It is not hidden from you and it is not distant. It is not in heaven, [for you] to say, “Who can send to the heaven for us and take it for us, so that we can listen to it and perform it?” Nor is it across the sea, [for you] to say, “Who can across to the other side of the sea for us and take it for us, so that we can listen to it and perform it?” Rather, the matter is very near to you – in your mouth and your heart – to perform it. The Ramban understands that these verses refer to the mitzvah of Teshuvah, repentance. Thus, the Torah is informing us that this mitzvah is not beyond our capabilities. Rather, one can perform the mitzvah of Teshuvah in any place and at any time.
Teshuvah should be as simple as repenting
One must wonder why the Torah needs to elaborate on the mitzvah of Teshuvah by stating that the mitzvah is not distant, is not in the heavens and is not on the other side of the sea. Would it not have been sufficient to state that one should repent and that it is simple to do so? Why is it necessary for the Torah to dramatize the difficulties that one may face when attempting to perform the mitzvah of Teshuvah?
A grandfather’s prayers help his grandson return
The story is told that a non-religious man was once walking in Tel-Aviv when he was approached by a religious man who was seeking a tenth man to complete a minyan, a quorum for prayer. The man kept walking, but the religious man ran after him, pestering him to help out until the non-religious man finally acquiesced. Upon entering the shul, the non-religious man watched with fascination as the men recited Ashrei and Kaddish, and then all the men began swaying back and forth while reciting the Shemone Esrei. The man, who had never witnessed such behavior before, was fascinated by what he saw, and eventually became religious. The friends of his non-religious father heard about the son who had returned to the ways of his forefathers and they sought to confirm the incident with the father. The father of the newly religious man confessed that there was more to the story than met the eye. “The truth is,” said the father, “my father was religious back in Europe and had subsequently made his way to Tel-Aviv. I, however, left the path of my father and raised my son in a non-religious atmosphere. The shul where my son entered for the very first time in his life was the very same shul that my father used to pray in. I honestly believe that it was in the merit of my father’s prayers that my son was drawn back there, and that is what allowed him to return to the ways of his grandfather.” (See full story from Rabbi Frand below)
Teshuvah can occur through a miracle
Perhaps the Torah is teaching us that from a logical perspective one may find the concept of Teshuvah daunting. Thus, one may never imagine it possible to repent, as the environmental obstacles may indeed appear to be insurmountable. Nonetheless, he should know that HaShem can allow for a miracle to occur, and Teshuvah will literally be right around the corner. HaShem should grant us the opportunity this year to find an easy path to repentance, so that we can serve Him wholeheartedly.
The Shabbos connection
The entire week we struggle with the biggest enemy of all, the Evil Inclination. At times we may feel we are winning the battle, but it is only with the onset of Shabbos that we know for certain the struggle is over. The next week the struggle begins anew. we must then rely on the holiness and purity of Shabbos to provide us with spiritual sustenance. The infusion of Shabbos into the mundane weekday will give us the strength to withstand the machinations of the Evil Inclination. HaShem should allow us to merit overcoming our struggle with the foreign influences that confront us. We should also merit observing the Shabbos properly and meriting a Happy and Healthy New Year.

Shabbos Stories
We have these children
Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky writes: Rabbi Berel Wein relates the story of Chief Rabbi Isaac Herzog’s visit to Chicago, Illinois following World War II. The entire Torah-revering community gathered at the airport. All the day schools and Yeshivos sent their students to greet the Rabbi, and many prominent lay leaders left their businesses to join as well.
Rabbi Herzog, his distinguished frame, unbent from the enduring pain of the plight of his brothers and sisters, in Europe and Palestine, walked upstanding and tall down the silver airplane steps, his silver tipped cane in one hand, his head majestically adorned with his signature top hat.
He was led to a podium from which he delivered a lecture on a complicated portion of the Talmud.
When he finished, his face immediately lost its radiance, and became somber and staid.
“I come not from Jerusalem,” he told the assembled, “I come from Rome. I have just met with Pope Pious.
During the terrible war, many children were sheltered in monasteries across Europe. The kind Christians saved them from the Nazis. I asked him to release those children, back to their heritage. Let them be raised as Jews.” Suddenly, to the shock of the children and the awe of the adults, the Rabbi began to cry.
“The Pope did not acquiesce. He said that once a child is baptized, he can never be returned.”
Rabbi Herzog trembled as he continued to sob uncontrollably. He looked at the assembled children
“My dear children,” he wailed, “We lost them! Then his demeanor changed, as a ray of hope sparkled from his eyes. "We lost them," he repeated, “but,” he continued, as he locked his eyes at the young faces, who stared directly at his teary eyes, “WE HAVE YOU! WE HAVE YOU!”
A Grandfather’s prayers
Rabbi Frand writes: There was a non-religious Jew in Tel Aviv, who had absolutely no interest in anything related to Judaism. Outreach workers who met this fellow would try to have some kind of effect on him, all to no avail. One day he was walking down a street in Tel Aviv. He passed a shul and there was a Jew standing outside the shul yelling “Mincha! Mincha!” The fellow continued walking. The Jew ran after him and explained that they needed a tenth man for the minyan. He replied, “I’m not interested.” But the Jew was persistent... “Perhaps he had Yahrtzeit...” He kept begging and begging, until finally against his better judgment, the non-religious fellow allowed himself to be pulled into the synagogue for the afternoon prayer service.
As painful as this is for us to think about, unfortunately, there are many Jews in Eretz Yisroel who have never witnessed, let alone, participated in a minyan - never even witnessed other people praying. There are unfortunately people in Eretz Yisroel who do not know what “Shema Yisroel” is all about.
The fellow sat in shul watching people say Ashrei, say Kaddish, and then everyone stood up to daven Shemone Esrei. Those raised in observant families have seen this all our lives, and think that it is no big deal to see people standing, “shuckling” (rocking back and forth), quietly reciting the standing prayer. But the first time a person sees that in his life, it can be an amazing sight.
[I similarly heard after the Siyum HaShas, the ceremony upon completion of study of the Talmud -- which, for the tens of thousands studying a page per day according to the “Daf Yomi” cycle, was a public gathering held in multiple locations -- that the part of the event that made the biggest impression on the non-Jewish ushers at Madison Square Garden was the silence of the tens of thousands of people during the silent Shemone Esrei of Maariv. Everyone was seemingly in a different world. It was an amazing sight even for the Jews who were there, how much more so for the non-Jews who were seeing this for the first time.]
This Israeli was taken aback by what he saw during those 15 minutes of observing Mincha in the Tel Aviv shul. He left the synagogue immediately after Mincha, but he decided that he would have to look into the matter further. He went back to the Kiruv workers from Lev Leachim who had pestered him before. To make a long story short, he became interested in Judaism and became a Baal Teshuvah.
When the friends of his non-religious father heard that the son became a Baal Teshuvah, they started asking the father what happened. They heard rumors that he was invited to daven one Mincha and from that he overturned his life. They wanted a confirmation of this incredible story.
The father confessed that there was more to the story than the single Mincha. The father admitted that his own father, the boy’s grandfather, was a religious European Jew. His father came to Tel Aviv many years earlier, but he -– the son of this European Jew -– left the fold and raised his son totally without religion, until the son now returned.
The grandfather always used to daven in a specific shul in Tel Aviv. It was the very shul that was lacking the minyan for Mincha the day his grandson passed by and was pulled in to be the tenth man.
The father said that he firmly believed that it was the prayers of his own father who called his grandson back, and those prayers were answered. [Reprinted with permission from ]
Saved by the dead
The son of the Rizhiner Rebbe, R’ Avraham Yaacov of Sadigora, once told this story. One Erev Shabbos the Baal Shem Tov appeared in a town unexpectedly. Declining invitations from all the locals, the Baal Shem Tov elected to remain alone in the Shul after Shabbos evening davening. The wonder of the residents turned to alarm when they saw the Baal Shem Tov’s fervent Tefillah and Tehillim continue the whole night long. The townsfolk assumed that something was surely the matter. In the morning, however, the Baal Shem Tov appeared relaxed and joyful, and he accepted the invitation of one of the locals for the morning Shabbos meal.
Naturally, all of the townspeople crowded into the house of the host to see the Holy Baal Shem Tov. As they were sitting at the table, a local peasant came around looking for a drink of vodka. The people were about to drive the peasant away when the Baal Shem Tov called out that he should be brought in, and provided with a generous glass of vodka. The Baal Shem Tov then proceeded to ask the peasant to tell what he had seen in the mansion of the Poritz (wealthy Polish estate owner) the previous night. The peasant’s tongue, loosened by the vodka, related that the Poritz believed that he had been cheated in a business deal by a Jewish merchant. The Poritz therefore decided to assemble his peasants and arm them with knives and hatchets, telling them to be on the ready to avenge themselves on the Jews at his command. The peasants would then be able to liberate their stolen riches from the Jews.
“The whole night we waited for the command,” the peasant related. “The Poritz, however, had closeted himself in his office with an unexpected visitor, an old friend that he hadn’t seen for forty years! Finally, the Poritz emerged and instructed us all to go home. The Poritz then declared that the Jews were upright and honest people and nobody should dare lay a hand on them. We all went home and that’s the whole story!”
“This old friend,” explained the Sadigorer Rebbe, “had been dead for decades. The Baal Shem Tov had dragged him from the grave to influence his friend the Poritz.”
The Sadigorer Rebbe then concluded his tale with a question. “I always wondered why the Baal Shem Tov had to travel all the way to that town for Shabbos to avert the decree. Could the Baal Shem Tov have not just as well have remained in his hometown of Medzibuz?”
“Now,” said the Rebbe, I understand the motives of the Baal Shem Tov. The Baal Shem Tov said to himself, ‘if I can succeed in saving the town, fine...but if not, then I will perish together with them’!”
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim
Parashas Nitzavim-Vayeilech 5769

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