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Parashat Nitzavim / Vayelech

Dedicated for a Refuah Shelemah for Eliyahu ben Esther.

Parashat Nitzavim / Vayelech

Still Standing

The parasha begins with the passuk, “Atem nitzavim hayom kullachem lifnei Hashem Elokechem—You are standing today, all of you, before Hashem, your God (29:9).” Moshe is telling B’nei Yisrael, “You made it! You came through the desert for 40 years and 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 that would befall B’nei Yisrael if they deviate from the terms 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 they were 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 purpose of the curses was to put the fear of G-d in the people. They were very effective; the people were scared stiff. He accomplished what every leader wants to achieve — 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 tochecha—rebuke?

Many commentaries direct us to a straightforward truth. There is a vast difference between the fear of G-d and hopelessness. It is one thing to be afraid, 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 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 tremendous power. But if they are tears of helplessness and hopelessness, they don’t get in, and that is why the gates are necessary.

A Gemara in Masechet Rosh Hashanah (18a) discusses two people suffering from the same life-threatening illness and two others dealing with the same financial crisis. The two who have diseases pray to Hashem for a refuah. The two who have financial problems pray for parnassah. One person in each situation is answered, and the other is not.

Why was one answered and the other one not answered?” It then says that the one that is answered had prayed a full tefillah, whereas the other one wasn’t complete. Rashi expounds on this, explaining that one prayed with kavanah—concentration, and the other didn't. How is it possible 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? Rashi says that one person didn't really believe in the power of tefillah to help him, and the other did. If you think that tefillah will help and you’re optimistic and not hopeless, Hashem will come to your rescue!


Rabbi Mansour commented that there is another interpretation of the verse: “You are standing today.” As opposed to encouragement, this phrase also expresses harsh rebuke and admonition.

Humans differ from angels in their ability to change, grow, and improve. Angels cannot change; they remain the same from the moment they come into existence until they expire. For this reason, the prophets generally describe angels as omdim—standing. Angels stand in only one place, unable to advance or progress forward. Human beings, by contrast, are often referred to as holchim—walking. This refers to their capacity to progress, move forward, grow, work on their characters, and become better. If a person remains stagnant and complacent and has no interest in improving himself and advancing to the next level in religious observance and character refinement, he has negated his most basic human quality.

Moshe perhaps sensed that after forty years of traveling in the wilderness, the people began lowering their engines, relaxing their efforts, and going into cruise control. He, therefore, rebuked them. “Atem nitzavim hayom—you are all just standing! You have become like the angels, who are omdim, who remain in one place without progressing forward.”

Rabbi Joey Haber told a story about complacency. A religious nurse worked in an oncology ward in the hospital. Shirley, a very ill patient in her 70’s told the nurse, Bruchy, her story. “My parents were both Holocaust survivors and I was their pride and joy. I took it all for granted, my faith was tested through their stories, and I renounced religion and married a gentile. My parents sat shiva for me.

“I divorced him a few years later, and now here I am with no one left, with only a few weeks to live. Bruchy, you look religious. What can I do in my last few weeks here to serve G-d?”

Bruchy said, “Shirley, my friend is getting married in a couple of weeks, and she is so short on funds. Her parents can’t afford to give her a wedding. Maybe if you sponsored the wedding, you would have the zechut to have a piece in building a Jewish home. They need $25,000.”

Shirley was ecstatic to be able to do a chesed and a mitzvah of this magnitude on her deathbed. She asked who she could make the check out to, and Bruchy answered, “My friend’s name is Sarah Leah.” Shirley started to cry, stunned to hear the Hebrew name she was given by her parents. She wrote the check and passed away a couple of weeks later.

We can’t live our lives stagnant and complacent like the angels, waiting until it’s almost too late to move forward and do mitzvot. Elul is the most exciting time of the year—a time when we get to look in the mirror and say, “I have greatness inside of me. I can maximize my potential.” We have to wake up, grab this chance and opportunity, and use our incredible power to live life with purpose and Torah.

Growing Up

You are standing today, all of you, before Hashem, your G-d – your leaders, your tribes, your elders and officials, all the men of Israel, your children, your wives, the strangers in your camp, from woodcutter to water-drawer – to enter into the covenant of Hashem, your G-d, and its oath, which Hashem, your G-d, is making with you today, to establish you today as His people, that He may be your G-d, as He promised you and swore to your ancestors, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov (29:9-12).

Something seemingly unremarkable happened in Parashat Nitzavim that was, in fact, monumental with life-changing implications: Rabbi Sacks explained that the terms of Jewish history were about to shift from Divine initiative to human initiative. Moshe was preparing the Israelites for this during the last month of his life in the long series of public addresses that make up the book of Devarim. It’s as if he had said, “Until now, G-d has led you in a pillar of cloud and fire, and you followed. Now, Hashem is handing over the reins to you. From here on, you must lead. If your hearts are with Him, He will be with you, but you are no longer children; you are adults.” An adult still has parents as a child does, but the relationship is different. An adult knows the burden of responsibility. An adult doesn’t wait for someone else to take the first step.

That is the significance of Nitzavim. The parasha stands almost at the end of the Torah, and we read it almost at the end of the year. It’s about getting ready for a new beginning, in which we act for G-d instead of waiting for Him to act for us.

Nitzavim marks the end of the childhood of the Jewish people. From there on, Judaism became Hashem’s call to human responsibility. For us, faith is not waiting for G-d. Faith is the realization that G-d is waiting for us.

This idea can be put into practice with people we interact with. Whenever you find yourself distressed because someone hasn’t done what you think they should have done for you, turn the thought around and do it for them. Don’t wait to be praised; praise others. Don’t wait to be respected; respect others. Don’t stand on the sidelines, criticizing people. Do something yourself to make things better.

Don’t wait for the world to get better. Take the initiative yourself. The world is waiting for you.

Moshe’s Jealousy

In our second parasha of the week, Parashat Vayelech, Hashem informed Moshe of the sad news that “The day of your death is approaching (31:14).” Moshe Rabbenu did not want to die. On that last day, he wrote 13 Torah scrolls, one for each tribe, plus a master copy that would remain in the Ark. Moshe reasoned, “Since I’m occupying myself with Torah which is the source of life, the day will pass, and the decree that I am to die will be nullified.”

Rabbi Frand quotes a midrash that says Hashem instructed Moshe to call Yehoshua. Moshe offered Hashem a deal. “Let Yehoshua take over my role and lead the Jewish people but allow me to live.” Hashem responded, “If so, you will have to relate to Yehoshua as he related to you. He will be the leader, and you will be his disciple.” Moshe agreed to this offer. He went to Yehoshua’s house, straying from the previous arrangement of Yehoshua coming to him. From there, they went into the Tent of Meeting – Yehoshua as the rav and Moshe as the disciple. The Shechina descended and spoke to Yehoshua. When the Shechina left, Moshe asked Yehoshua, “What Word came to you?”

Asking such a question for the first time in his life must have been a most humbling experience for Moshe. Yehoshua answered, “When the Word came to you, did I know what was spoken to you?” This was a very gentle way of telling Moshe, “It is none of your business. I am the rabbi, and you are the student now.”

The midrash concludes that Moshe began to scream at that moment, “Let me die 100 times rather than suffer this pang of jealousy that I am now feeling.” He was envious of Yehoshua. How is that possible? We are taught that a person is jealous of everyone except his son and his student (Sanhedrin 105b).

Chiddushei Harim says, “If I am a rabbi and my son becomes a Rosh Yeshivah, I will not be jealous; I will be proud of him. If he becomes far more successful than I ever was, I will take it in stride and with pride. However, if he takes MY job, if I am forced into retirement, and he takes over my congregation or my yeshivah, that is hard to take, even from a disciple or a son.”

Rabbi Frand said that Moshe Rabbenu was 120 years old and about to die. And yet, he, himself, felt that he was being gripped with envy. He admitted that the emotion he felt was worse than one hundred deaths. We see from here that if anyone ever claims, “I am too old to be jealous,” or “I am above that already,” don’t believe him. We are never finished with the challenge of being jealous until we are in the grave. At least Moshe recognized and acknowledged it. He was sensitive and wise enough to feel it and declare, “I don’t want any part of it!” We must be firm like Moshe Rabbenu, not just pretend to overcome jealousy, but admit to it and try to run away from it.

The Children Shall Learn

Parashat Vayelech continues, “Gather the people—men, women, children, and the strangers in your communities—so that they may hear and learn to revere your G-d and to observe faithfully every word of this Teaching. And their children … shall hear and learn to fear Hashem, your G-d, all the days that you live on the land to which you are crossing the Jordan, to possess it (31:12-13).”

Shouldn’t the Torah say, “all the days that they live on the land?” Why does the Torah tell the adults to teach the children for all the days their parents live on the land? Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky explains that we learn here that children must be trained and taught not for post-parental existence but rather “all the days that you live.” We must teach them to practice while we can enjoy the nachat! Torah is a living entity, not only to pass from dying embers to rekindle new flames but to pass a vibrant torch with leaping flames onto the youth whose boundless energy will inspire new generations!

Though we don’t always do what’s right, may we pick ourselves up, accept that we are still standing, and take the opportunity to return to Hashem. May we not stand stagnant in one place and continuously grow and move forward. May we strive to run away from jealousy like Moshe Rabbenu, who gave up going to Eretz Yisrael to not be plagued with such a feeling. May we take extra care to raise our children with Torah, so they will be kindhearted people who look out for their fellow Jews. May we be able to witness our children’s happiness and beracha and receive plenty of nachat from them for years to come. Amen!

Discussion Point:

· We learned that even Moshe was susceptible to envy. Was there a time you were able to logicize and break down the feeling of jealousy until you no longer felt it?

Etz Haim

Shining Light on the Parasha

is available to purchase at

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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

Yehoshua Ben Batsheva

Luratte Bat Masouda

Esther Bat Menucha

Uri Ben Rahel

Rivka Bat Dona

Anyone interested in Dedicating this Divre Torah Le'ilui Nishmat or Refuah Shelemah or In Honor of someone, can email me at Checks can be made out to “A Life of Torah” for $101 and mailed to Jack Rahmey at 2387 Ocean Avenue Suite #1G, Brooklyn, NY 11229(please put in the memo “Divre Torah”)

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