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Parashat Nitzavim/Rosh Hashanah

Dedicated Le’ilui Nishmat Moshe Ben Zakiya by Rachel and Alan Fallas

Parashat Nitzavim/Rosh Hashanah

Still Standing

The parasha begins with the passuk: "Atem nitzavim hayom kull'achem lifnei Hashem Elokechem. – You are standing today, all of you, before Hashem your God." Moshe is telling B'nei Yisrael: “You made it! You came through the desert for 40 years and you reached your destination! Israel is just beyond the Jordan River.” Rashi presents a midrash that explains why Moshe spoke these words right after last week’s parasha, Ki Tavo, listed all the klalot (curses) which will befall B'nei Yisrael if they deviate from the words of the Torah. The reason is that when B'nei Yisrael heard the 98 curses, they turned pale, asking, "Who can possibly endure these curses?" This verse is the reply with which Moshe appeased them: he assured them that they are still standing and ready to accept their role as G-d's chosen people.

Rabbi Frand questions what Moshe Rabbenu is doing here. This appeasement appears to be contradictory. The whole purpose of the curses was to put the fear of G-d in the people. The curses were very effective; the people were scared stiff. He accomplished what every leader wants to accomplish — he shook them up, but now he seems to be undoing the whole thing. “Don’t worry, you’ve gotten away with a lot in the past, and you’re still standing…” Doesn’t this destroy the whole impact of the tocheha - rebuke?

Many commentaries direct us to a very simple truth. There is a vast difference between the ‘fear of G-d’ and hopelessness. It is one thing to be afraid and frightened and nervous about the future. It is a totally different thing to feel that the situation is hopeless. That is what Moshe was trying to prevent. The worst thing any Jew can do is to give up hope. This is a lesson we should all bear in mind as we approach the Day of Judgment. The Yom HaDin is nothing to take lightly. It is serious business. If we really understood, honestly understood what it was about, we would be scared and frightened. But this is not the same as looking at the situation as hopeless. Hopelessness is not a Jewish characteristic. Never give up hope. Our Rabbi’s tell us that after the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash, “All the Gates (which prayers travel through) were closed, except for the Gates of Tears (Bava Metzia 59a).” Although it was much more difficult for our prayers to penetrate the Heavenly Court after the destruction of the Temple, one gate remained open because we still had hope.

The Kotzker Rebbe asked: if the Gates of Tears never close, then what is the purpose of the gates? A gate implies that some get in and some do not. He answered that tears of desperation don’t get through. When a person cries because he feels he needs the help of G-d, when the tears represent the innermost and purest of a person’s thoughts, those tears have terrific power. But if they are tears of helplessness and hopelessness, they don’t get in, and that is why the gates are necessary.

We are now within a few days of Rosh Hashanah and we are still standing! We're approaching the last days of the month of Elul and we're preparing for Rosh Hashanah, when Hashem will determine whether to grant us a healthy and prosperous year. There's a Gemara in Masechet Rosh Hashanah (18a), that discusses two people who are suffering with the same exact life-threatening illness and two others who are dealing with the same exact financial crisis. The two who have the disease pray to Hashem for a refuah. The two who have the financial problem pray for parnassah. One person in each situation is answered and the other one is not.

So the question is asked: "Why was one answered and the other one not answered?" Rashi answers this question, explaining that one prayed with kavanah (concentration) and the other one didn't. Rabbi Lopian comments that it’s impossible that a person who is sick with a life-threatening disease or someone with a financial crisis will not pray with great kavanah from his heart! Rabbi Lopian answers, that what Rashi is saying is that one person didn't really believe in the power of tefillah to help him and the other one did. If you believe that tefillah will help and you’re optimistic and not hopeless, those prayers are answered. Hashem will come to your rescue!

Empty-Handed

Rav Naftali Trop once said, we say in Selihot, “Like paupers and poor men, we bang on Your door.” There is a very big misconception that comes about on Rosh Hashanah that this line in Selihot clarifies. Many of us feel that when we stand in front of Hashem on Rosh Hashanah, we have a lot in our pocket. Baruch Hashem, we have health, a job, a family, a life. So, all Hashem would need to do this year is to stay uninvolved and let us keep what we already have. But this is not true. According to Selihot, we are poor men. When Rosh Hashanah comes, we are not renewing a lease, we are starting a new one. We should not be asking as successful people to continue our good lives, but rather as paupers, as empty-handed people, asking Hashem with humility to find us a job, to grant us a family, and to provide us with good life.

Our Father, Our King

As Jews we must believe that Hashem is there for us and will help us like a father, because He is our Father in Heaven with the power to help us. That's why when we pray on Rosh Hashanah, we recite the words: "Avinu Malkenu" which means, "Our Father, Our King". We pray to Hashem as “Our Father” first, because our own father wants to give us everything, but he may not be able to. But then we pray to Hashem as "Our King" because as a King, He can give us anything we want, including refuah and parnassah or anything else that we may feel is beyond the reach of our father.

Rabbi Diamond elaborates on this concept to explain how Hashem's mercy is with us through the following parable; "A father has a son who runs into trouble and no matter what the father does, he can't get the son to straighten out. Eventually the son runs away. Then one day, many years later, the son calls the father and he says these six words: "DAD, I WANT TO COME HOME!" So the father says to his son, "Ok son, I'll come and get you. Where are you?" And the son says, "But Dad, I'm in such trouble!" The father says, "Don't worry, son. I'll take care of you! I'll get you the best treatments and help get you better!"

That parable is about us; all our lives we may have committed certain sins and now years later, all we have to do is tell Hashem, our Father in Heaven one thing: "I want to come home" and Hashem will take us back with open arms and forgive us. But we are responsible to take that first step! On Rosh Hashanah we must recognize Hashem as our King of Kings in Heaven, "Melech HaMelachim," and even though we keep doing the same sins repeatedly, even if it’s been a thousand times, still Hashem as our Boss in Heaven doesn't fire us. He has unlimited patience and gives us a chance to make teshuvah every year, if we choose to take advantage of this gift of teshuvah that Hashem gives us!

Repaid in Full

Rabbi Steven Ammon recounted a story that happened to him one Rosh Hashanah. Every year, erev Rosh Hashanah, Rabbi Ammon’s wife would go with her father and siblings to the Staten Island Jewish cemetery to visit her mother’s grave. One year, a couple of weeks before Rosh Hashanah, she was driving with her husband from their home in Deal, New Jersey to Brooklyn to visit their grandchildren.

“We were on the 440, right next to Arthur Kill Road, the road that leads to the cemetery. I saw that there was an accident up ahead. I knew that my wife wasn’t going to be able to make it to the cemetery on erev Rosh Hashanah that year, so as we approached the accident, I asked her, ‘Should we just pull off the exit and you can go now?’”

So they took Arthur Kill Road instead of continuing on Route 440. When they got to the cemetery it was completely empty. They were able to pull up right next to the grave. Rabbi Ammon finished praying before his wife did. As he was waiting for her to finish, he looked around and noticed a hearse and some cars pull into the cemetery and stop a few rows behind them.

“One of the men called me. ‘We need a number ten for Kaddish.’ I told my wife, ‘I’ll be back.’ I helped them put the coffin into the grave, and they said Kaddish. After that they started leaving. I said, ‘One minute, you didn’t bury him.’ They said, ‘Don’t worry, the tractor does that, we don’t do that,’ and they left. Well, I remembered learning in yeshivah that this scenario was also referred to as met mitzvah. Met mitzvah does not just apply if there’s no one in the family to bury the person. If there were living relatives who walked away, the met also didn’t have anyone to bury him. I went to the person sitting in the tractor and I said, ‘Do you mind if you give me a shovel and I’ll bury the person, and you can go?’”

Rabbi Ammon spent an hour and a half finishing the burial, until the entire grave was covered with dirt. He turned to take the marker that the family had left and stick it into the grave, but not before taking note of the name. The whole way driving to Brooklyn, he was thinking, “Why me? Why now? I wasn’t planning to be here, a funeral pops up in the middle of nowhere, I’m number ten, and then I’m the person who’s burying him.”

Rabbi Ammon decided to make some calls and find out a little bit more about who this person was. One of the people who he called was the late Rabbi Herman Neuberger, the executive director of Ner Yisrael, the yeshivah that he had gone to. But when he told him the person’s name, Rabbi Neuberger almost dropped the phone.

Rabbi Neuberger told him, “Forty years ago, when you were growing up in Seattle, Washington, and you enrolled in Ner Yisrael, your father had lost his job. I decided to try to help and find a person who could supplement your tuition. The person who ended up paying your tuition for all your years in yeshivah was the fellow that you just buried.”

On Rosh Hashanah we describe Hashem as a “zocher kol hanishkachot — the One who remembers all the forgotten things.” When you forget what you do for others, and you don’t expect anything in return, Hashem says, “I’ll remember that. Decades later, when everyone has forgotten, I’ll make sure that you’ll be repaid in full.”

We should all merit to be put into Hashem’s book for another year of life and we should all merit Hashem's mercy! We should also be able to recognize the sins that we have done, and cry out to Hashem our father that "We Want to Come Home" and make a commitment to learn more and accomplish more, so that we can go into this Rosh Hashanah with the confidence that our teshuvah will be accepted with open arms like a father to his long lost son!

May we all come to realize that Hashem is our King in heaven but he's also our Father who loves us and only wants to do good for us no matter how difficult our lives may be. Hashem is always with us and he's giving us exactly what we need to succeed. We have to do our part by following the Torah and doing the mitzvot which will bring us to a level where we will be able to recognize and believe that Hashem is here for us always, like a father who has unconditional love for us, His children!

Wishing Everyone a Happy, Healthy and Fulfilling Year of Accomplishments, Mitzvot and Maasim Tovim! Amen!

Shabbat Shalom and Tizku Leshanim Rabot!

Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey

Discussion Points:

  • Do we make sure to pray with kavanah and optimism, but not hopelessness?

  • Do we do hessed without expecting anything in return?

Le’ilui Nishmat....

Eliyahu Ben Rachel

Rabbi Shimon Chay Ben Yaasher Avraham Ben Garaz

Sarah Bat Chanah

Esther Bat Sarah

Avraham Ben Mazal

Shulamit Bat Helaina

Rabbi Meyer Ben Chana

Rahamim Ben Mazal

Batsheva Bat Sarah Esther

Rafael Ben Miriam

Ovadia Ben Esther

Rav Haim Ben Rivka

Moshe Ben Mazal

Moshe Ben Yael

Yitzchak Ben Adele

Avraham Ben Mazal

Meir Ben Latifa

Chanah Bat Esther

Yaakov Ben Rachel

Malka Bat Garaz

Moshe Ben Garaz

Avraham Ben Kami

Yaakov Ben Leah

Mordechai Ben Rachel

Chacham Shaul Rachamim Ben Mazal

Natan Ben Rachel

Saadia Ben Miriam

Eliyah Ben Latifa Simhon

Margalit Bat Mazal

Ovadia Haim Ben Malaky

Rabbi Aharon Chaim Ben Ruchama

Anyone interested in Dedicating this Divre Torah Le'ilui Nishmat or Refuah Shelemah or In Honor of someone, can email me at jrahmey@rahmeyfinancial.com.

Checks can be made out to “Mikdash Melech” for $101 and mail to 1326 Ocean Parkway, Brooklyn, NY 11230 (please put in the memo “Divre Torah Food for Shabbat”)

Anyone interested in past parashiot please go to the website ParashaPerspective.org

Anyone interested in Dedicating this Divre Torah L'ilui Nishmat or Refuah Shelemah or

In Honor of someone, can email me at jrahmey@rahmeyfinancial.com.

Checks can be made out to “Mikdash Melech” for $101 and mail to 1326 Ocean Parkway, Brooklyn, NY 11230 (please put in the memo “Divre Torah Food for Shabbat”)