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Parashat Nitzavim / Rosh Hashanah

Dedicated in Honor of My Friend Victor Setton by Sol Ayal

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 could 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 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 rabbis 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.

Rosh Hashanah is approaching next week, and we are still standing! 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, 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!


Rabbi Frand teaches that Parashat Nitzavim provides an important lesson in chinuch—raising children with Torah. It says, “The hidden things are for Hashem, but the revealed things are for us and for our children forever, to carry out all the words of this Torah (Devarim 29:28).” A person must always realize that how he acts will have an influence on his children. Whether it is how a person acts in shul or how he interacts with his fellow man, his children are watching and learning from this behavior.

The job we do raising our children lasts with them and perpetuates throughout future generations, because how we raise them directly influences how they raise their children. Everyone wants to have “good children.” The surest way to accomplish that is to “talk the talk and walk the walk.”

Someone once posed the following question to the Chazon Ish. He had the option of praying in a shul on Rosh Hashanah where he would be able to take his child with him or to pray in a yeshivah, but since the yeshivah is so crowded, he would not be able to take his child with him. However, praying in the yeshivah is a superior religious experience for the father, because he would have greater kavanah. The Chazon Ish told him that it is preferable to pray with his child next to him. It is important to show the child how his father prays on the High Holidays. This leaves an everlasting impression on the child.

The way one acts has an impact not only on the person but also on his children and on all future generations of descendants. This should give everyone pause as to how they behave.

A Golden Opportunity

Rabbi Yehoshua Zitron once said that if someone does a mitzvah with joy, the Orchot Tzaddikim says the reward is 1,000 times greater than if he did it feeling like it was a burden. And if one does a mitzvah with humility, it is 1,000 times greater than if he does a mitzvah with arrogance. The Ben Ish Chai says if one does a mitzvah on Shabbat, the reward is 1,000 times greater than that of a mitzvah done during the week. So imagine if a person does a mitzvah on Shabbat with joy and with humility. That’s 1,000 x 1,000 x 1,000. That’s the reward of 1 billion mitzvot!!! Before Rosh Hashanah comes, we must put our hearts into our mitzvot and serve Hashem with joy and humility, so we can be written into the book of life for many years be’ezrat Hashem!

On Rosh Hashanah, we are standing in front of Borei Olam. We stand before the King of Kings, and we have a golden opportunity to do teshuvah and to ask for whatever our heart desires. On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we are incredibly close to Hashem, and it is a sin to take this time for granted. The Rambam says that a person must look at himself as if his scale in heaven is at 50:50. He must take advantage of this amazing opportunity to be close to Hashem, and to do teshuvah, and pray that his mitzvot will outweigh the averot. We read on Rosh Hashanah the stories of Sarah and Chana. Both these women were physically incapable of having children. However, because of Hashem’s infinite kindness, both women’s’ prayers were answered on Rosh Hashanah to teach us that anything is possible on this day. As Rabbi Nachman said, “Prayers have the ability to alter nature.”


Rabbi Yehoshua Nissan told an amazing story about a jewelry store owner who had some interesting customers come into his store one day. The owner was behind the counter when three small children walked in. Their heads barely reached the counter as they stood on their tiptoes, pointed to the case, and said, “We would like this necklace, please. How much is it?” The jewelry store had hundreds of thousands of dollars in inventory, and the necklace was over $3,000.

The store owner looked at the children with their piggy banks at the ready, and said, “Who are you buying this beautiful necklace for?” The oldest child said, “Our mother is very very sick. She’s been in the hospital for a long time, and she’s not able to take care of us. But our older sister has been like our Mommy, and she’s taking us to school and making us dinner and tucking us into bed at night. We would really really like to buy her something very special. We took all our money that we saved and put it together so we can buy her a present.”

The jewelry store owner, so touched, took the piggy banks from the children, and counted $1.37. He wrapped up the necklace, and said, “This is perfect, it’s just the right amount. Please give this to your sister.” The kids were overjoyed, giggling excitedly when they left the store.

Sure enough, a few hours later, a teenage girl walked into the jewelry store with a bag in hand. She said to the owner, “Hi, my young siblings were in here earlier. Obviously, there’s been a mistake. I’m so sorry. Please take this necklace back.” The owner of the store said, “Nope! That necklace was paid in full. I can’t take it back.” The girl did not understand, and she protested, “This piece costs thousands of dollars! There’s no way they had that kind of money. Please take it back; we don’t need charity. Thank you.”

The owner said again, “That necklace was paid in full. They paid $1.37 in cash, and $3,000 in heart. That’s $3,000 of actions and sentiment, $3,000 of love for their sister. I refuse to take it back. Please enjoy it.”

On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we approach Hashem with our measly $1.37. We say, “Please Hashem, I have $1.37, what can I get with this?” And Hashem looks to see if we scrounged for that $1.37, if we searched high and low with good intentions. And He accepts it as $1 million of effort, of heart, of dedication to Hashem.

There’s a story written in Torah Wellsprings by Rabbi Biderman. Around forty years ago, two bachurim got lost in a forest and couldn’t find their way out. But they did find railroad tracks, so they decided to follow them, certain that the tracks would lead them out of the forest. After a while, they got tired, so they lay down to sleep. One boy slept on the side of the tracks, and one bachur accidentally fell asleep on the tracks.

Suddenly, a freight train carrying timber came roaring down the tracks. The engineer saw a person on the tracks but couldn’t stop the train in time, so he desperately yanked on the train’s whistle. The loud sound woke the boy who slept at the side of the tracks, but the bachur on the tracks didn’t wake up and, unfortunately, didn’t survive. If he just stepped one inch off the tracks he would’ve been saved.

When it comes to teshuvah, Hashem isn’t waiting for us to make significant changes in our lives all at once. He wants us to move just one inch away from where we are now, and that small move could make all the difference.

May we all remember to take advantage of the golden opportunity we have during Rosh Hashanah, to pray to Hashem, to do teshuvah, and to ask for anything, even if it seems impossible. May we witness the incredible miracles of Hashem answering our prayers for the good. May we try our hardest to scrounge for our $1.37 and take baby steps to slowly but surely achieve true teshuvah. May we listen to the sound of the shofar announcing Mashiach’s arrival soon!

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

Shabbat Shalom and Shanah Tovah!

Rabbi Amram Sananes, written by Jack Rahmey

Discussion Points:

  • Do we take our golden opportunity for granted? Do we remember that we are standing directly before Hashem on Rosh Hashanah?

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