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Parshas Nitzavim ~ Torah Gems

Nitzavim

I. Being judged

1. ‘You are standing…’ (Devorim* 29.9) When a person has a bad or sinful thought that is contrary to the true belief in HaShem*. In the second he is having the thought either his or one of his family’s nashamos* are being judged above. [At that time] he should strengthen himself in order to nullify this bad thought. He should bind himself with faith in the everlasting G-d, with a simple faith. He should believe and know that there is no place which is free of Him. As we have been taught by the Baal Shem Tov and all the other Tzaddikim*: HaShem gives life to all, He gives sustenance to all, His guidance is on all things, and He judges all people on every action and every word. Therefore a person should always do tshuva* with joy, and a good heart. He should serve his creator. Every morning he should proclaim that if his Yetzer HaRah* will come to him to try and take him from the correct path, and if he should have some [evil] thought that comes from his Yetzer*, then with his whole heart he truthfully desires that it should be considered nullified.  (p. 590 sefer Baal Shem Tov teachings of the Baal Shem Tov.)                                 * * * II. Levels of service to HaShem 2. ‘If you should be cast out to the outermost parts of heaven, from there HaShem your G-d will gather you, and from there he will bring you.’ (Devorim 30.4) I heard in the name of the man of G-d Rebbe* Yisroel Baal Shem Tov of Mezbuz an explanation of the verse, ‘And there shall come the lost ones [Heb.  ovdim] from the land of Asher and those cast out [Heb. neduchim] in the land of Egypt [Heb.  Mitzrayim]’ (Yeshaya* 27.13). The man who thinks that he has fulfilled his responsibilities to Heaven, and his ways are approved of [Heb. oshir] by HaShem and his service is not lacking.  This person is lost (G-d forbid) forever, and for his whole life there will be no help [for him].  He certainly has not even begun to serve HaShem, and does not know the truth. He will die without wisdom, and will live in falsehood his whole life. This is not the case with the man who is a Tzaddik, and he knows the truth, and the greatness of the Blessed One. The more he serves HaShem [the more] he rises to higher levels [of service]. He then understands more of the greatness of HaShem and he sees that until now his service has not been good. Who is greater then Moshe Rabbeinu* O’H* who said just before he died, ‘You have begun to reveal to your servant…’. He felt that all of the service to HaShem he did until then was only a beginning. [He had only just begun to have HaShem revealed to himself.] He thought that he was cast off (G-d forbid) from HaShem and he had yet to reach the level of a Tzaddik. This is then what the verse says, ‘And there shall come the lost ones from the land of Asher’. Those in the land of Asher, who think that they are approved of [Heb. osherim] in their service by HaShem. These are called ‘lost’. ‘And those cast out’, the ones who think they are in the land of Egypt [Heb. Mitzrayim] , i.e. in the straits. [Heb. metzer yom, meaning that they are on a small level.] They have yet to begin to have any honor.  These are called ‘cast off’ but not ‘lost’. [The verse therefore means that those who are on a level of being ‘cast off’ will be gathered by HaShem.] (p. 593 sefer Baal Shem Tov, teachings of the Baal Shem Tov.)                                 * * * III. The effect above 3. ‘And HaShem your G-d will return [you from] your captivity and he will have mercy on you.’ (Devorim 30.3) When a person does tshuva and he regrets the wicked deeds that he has done until this day [this will have an effect above. The reason is that] it is known that everything that a person does here below has an effect in the worlds above. An inspiration below causes an inspiration above. As it is explained on the verse, ‘HaShem is your shadow on your right hand.’ Just like a shadow, whatever the person does, the shadow will likewise do. So it is that with every action done in this world there is an effect above. This idea is used by the Tzaddikim to explain the following teaching by Chazal*.  ‘Know what is above you.’ [Heb.  mimchah lit.  from you] >From yourself you are able to tell what is above. This is because everything depends on the person, who HaShem has given the power that his actions will have an effect above. Therefore when a person does tshuva he causes tshuva above and HaShem regrets his creating of the Yetzer HaRah. This can be understood with a parable. A father once gave to his beloved son a knife to play with.  The son had great enjoyment from playing with the knife. However due to the foolishness of the child he did not close the knife and he cut his hand with it. He then had a lot of pain. When his father saw the pain that his son had, he was also pained.  Besides the pain he had from his son cutting himself, he also was pained from his having given his son the knife.  Even though the father’s intention in giving his son the knife to play with was a good one, he still regretted that he had given his son something that could cause him pain. For the same reason HaShem created the Yetzer HaRah, for the good of people, as is known. However it is necessary for people to close themselves to the desires and the power that comes from the Yetzer HaRah. Then the Yetzer HaRah will be for their good. If the person doesn’t do that and the Yetzer HaRah strengthens itself over him, HaShem regrets that he created the Yetzer HaRah. When HaShem sees that the person is suffering very much due to his sins, that the Yetzer HaRah convinced him to do, HaShem says, ‘Why have I created this thing which causes such suffering to my son [Israel.] He is made to have such regret and cause suffering to himself due to his tshuva and his regret of his actions. He [Israel] is almost consumed because of the great pain caused by his sins.’ When HaShem says this and he regrets creating the Yetzer HaRah. This causes the power of the Yetzer HaRah to be nullified and it is eliminated from the world. From the regret that a person has [for his sins] the sins are wiped out. Since he regrets them and feels that it would have been better if he had not done them, the Yetzer HaRah is wiped out. And HaShem says that it would have been better had he not created the Yetzer Harah. This is the meaning of the verse: ‘And HaShem your G-d will return [Heb v’shav] [you from] your captivity.’ [Heb. shevesachah] By your doing tshuva HaShem also does tshuva. And he will rescue you immediately from the Yetzer HaRah. (p.  146 sefer Zerah Kodesh teachings of Rebbe Naftuli Tzvi of Ropshitz.)                                 * * * IV. Repentance 4. ‘And HaShem your G-d will turn your captivity’ (Devorim 30.3) It appears to me that we can explain this verse according to what I heard from Admor* Rebbe Yakov Yitzchok ZT’L* [the Chozeh of Lublin] who heard it from his Rebbe, the Holy Rabbi Elimeilech ZT’L [the Rebbe Reb* Elimeilech of Lizensk], who said that today everyone is called a Baal Tshuva*. And HaShem because of His great mercy accepts all of us in repentance. However for the person [who has sinned] it is very bitter at first when he starts to repent. That is because he starts with fear [of HaShem and of the punishment he is deserving of.]  But after that HaShem gives him love and joy so that he could be ‘redeemed with song’. This is the meaning of the verse, ‘And HaShem your G-d will turn your captivity’.  Your repentance will be turned over by HaShem to love and joy. That is the meaning [of what it says after that] ‘and he will have compassion’. He will turn and gather you from amongst all the nations, and from this you will merit speedily to the ingathering of the exile. (p. 216 sefer Or LaShamayim teachings of Rebbe Meir of Apt talmid of the Chozeh of Lublin.)                                 * * * V. Holiness 5. ‘And your stranger who is in your camp.’ (Devorim 29.10) We can explain it according to what it says in the Zohar* on the verse, “‘and your camp shall be holy’. These are the 248 limbs of the man.” A man needs to make holy all 248 of his limbs for [the service of] HaShem. This is the meaning of the ‘stranger who is in your camp’, you should consider what rests in your 248 limbs the whole year [i.e. your holy soul.]  And if you set your heart to make them pure and holy, [you will be on the] level of ‘and your camp shall be holy.’                                   * Also one needs to consider that he is only on the level of a ‘stranger’ in this world, and not a ‘citizen’. This is because a person does not live forever. And by making holy his 248 limbs by performing the 248 positive commandments, he purifies his body and physical self, and causes the light of his soul to shine in it. He then acquires perfection, and eternal life in his body and soul. This is what King David O’H said, ‘I am a stranger in the land don’t hide from me your mitzvos*.’ By doing the mitzvos of the Torah* he will also acquire eternal life for his body. Through this ‘you will enter a covenant with HaShem your G-d.’ If you take the numerical value of the last letters of these three words [covenant, HaShem, your G-d] add to them the number of letters in the three words you get 428 which is the value of the name of the angel who is the messenger to bring sustenance. [This signifies] that there should be for us this Rosh HaShanah* (may it be His will) a writing and sealing for life for all of Israel spiritually and physically. [The verse says after this:] ‘And in an oath’. An oath is the level of truth.  This is hinted at in the words of oath [Heb. olaso], which has the numerical value of ’emes’ [truth].  And truth is the seal of HaShem, [as Chazal say] ‘his seal is truth’. This is ‘and the oath which HaShem your G-d makes with you this day.’ [This day means Rosh HaShanah.] In Rosh HaShanah HaShem makes a covenant with each and very Jew. By accepting upon himself to become accustomed from now on to go in the proper and good way, he will be written and sealed to life. This is the level of ‘who apportions life for all the living.’ HaShem will bestow life and sustenance in plenty.  And he will renew a good and blessed year with all kinds of good for all Israel, to [Israel] in general and to each individual [specifically], spiritually and physically, with children, health, and livelihood in plenty, speedily in our times, amen. (p. 181 sefer Magen Avraham teachings of Rebbe Avraham the Trisker Maggid*, son of Rebbe Mordechai Maggid of Chernobel.)                                 * * * VI. Strengthening Yourself 6. ‘You are standing today…’ (Devorim 29.9) I have many times stated that a person should be strong in his understanding. As I have said in the name of my Rebbe the Holy Rav* of Ropshitz [Rebbe Naftuli Tzvi of Ropshitz.] On the verse, ‘You should relate in order that you be vindicated.’ This means that he should relate and talk together with HaShem in order that he be vindicated in judgement. (Until here his words.) [through his understanding he can talk with HaShem and vindicate his actions.] Therefore I have said that the word ‘standing’ [Heb. Nitzavim] is a language that denotes strength as the verse says, ‘Dasan and Aviram went out standing.’ Rashi* comments on this verse that they stood upright [in an arrogant manner.] The word ‘today’ refers to Rosh HaShanah as is well known. Therefore the verse ‘You are standing today’ means that each one should go with strength and they will then vindicate themself. [As he said above.] ‘All men of Israel.’ This means every Jew. Even if he is lowly in his own eyes. He should come with strength. And be strong in his own eyes. He should praise and bless himself that he is a Jew. i.e. that he comes of the children of Jews, who were separated from those who err. As I have explained the verse in Esther, ‘Because they told him [Haman] that he was a Jew.’ The meaning being that the servants of the king had asked why he did not follow the commands of the King of the world [HaShem.] And he answered that he is still a Jew. Blessed is our G-d, who created us to honor Him, and separated us from those who err, and did not place our portion with them. In this way now before Rosh HaShanah every Jew is aware of his lowliness. He should rejoice in his portion, that he is a Jew. That is the meaning of ‘All men of Israel.’ He should be strong in his own eyes that he is a Jew. (p. 72 sefer Ravid HaZahav teachings of Rebbe Yisroel Dov of Yashnivitz)                                 * * * VII. Asking for the right things. 7. The Holy Rebbe of Tzanz used to tell parables during the third meal of Shabbos during the month of Elul which proceeds Rosh HaShanah.  One of them was: ‘There was once a son of a King who sinned against his father who then drove his son from his house. The son then wandered around. As long as the son was close to the palace of the king he was given honor by the people and his friends gave him to eat and to drink. Since they knew that he was the son of the king they honored him. However when he went far from the lands of his father they didn’t recognize him so he didn’t have what to eat. Then he started to sell his clothes in order to buy food to eat. When he no longer had what to sell, he became a shepherd and then he did not lack anything since he didn’t need so much. He wore simple clothes, and also ate simple things. He stayed always with his sheep on the mountains in order to herd them.  He would sing like the other shepherds, and he forgot that he was the son of a king. He felt no loss for those things he was used to having when he was in his father’s house. The custom of the shepherds was that they would make for themselves a small hut of straw to protect themselves from the rain and the sun. The king’s son also wanted to make one of these for himself but he was unable to since he lacked the straw etc.  This caused him a lot of anguish that he could not make this hut. It so happened that at that time a king came to that country and the custom was that anyone who had something that he needed from the king would write it upon a piece of paper and throw it into the kings carriage.  The king’s son came together with the other people coming to make their requests, and threw his into the carriage. In his request he asked for the king to make for him a small hut like the custom of shepherds was. When the king opened the request and he recognized the handwriting of his son, whom he had exiled, he was deeply pained to see to what low level his son had fallen. His son had forgotten that he was the king’s son, and he felt the only thing he needed was a small hut like the other shepherds.’ The Rebbe ended and said, ‘So it is today with the people here. They have completely forgotten that they are each sons of a king. And what do they feel is lacking? One cries out for livelihood, another cries for children. But that which we are lacking: all of the precious things that we had before [we went into exile] everyone has completely forgotten.’ (p.  267 sefer Otzar HaChaim customs of the Holy Rebbe Chaim of Tzanz.) Zechisom Yugan Aleini v’Al Kol Yisroel ———————————————————————

Glossary:

Arizal: Hebrew initials of the words: Adoni Rabbenu Yitzchok    Zechorono LeVaracha our master Rabbi Yitzchok. Better known as    Yitzchok Luria the great 16th century Kabbalist
Chazal: Hebrew initials for: Chochmenu Zichrona Levaracha (Our sages of Blessed memory) Used to refer to Rabbis of the Talmud.
HaShem: Noun used in place of G-d. Lit. The Name
HY’D: Heb. HaShem Yimkom Domov: HaShem should avenge their blood.
Mishleh: One of the books of the Tenach, called in English Proverbs.
Mitzvah (mitzvos): One of the commandments of the Torah.
nashama: Hebrew word for soul.
peshat: A method of Biblical interpretation based on finding the simple meaning in the Torah.
Rashi: The primary commentary on the Tenach.
Rebbe: Leader of a Chassidic group or a teacher
Shabbos: Tractate in the Talmud
Shemos: Second book of the Torah. Called Exodus in English
Talmid (Talmidim): Disciples of a Rebbe.
Talmud: An ancient work of Jewish law.
Tehillim: Hebrew name for Psalms.
Torah: a. First 5 books of the Jewish Bible            b. Also refers to the whole of Jewish law            c. also common term for a chassidic teaching

Tshuva: Hebrew word for repentance

Tzaddik (Tzaddikim): lit. Righteous. Another name for a Chassidic Rebbe.
Yetzer: lit. Inclination. It is Jewish belief that every Jew has both an evil and good inclination within him, that are at ‘war’ to see which of them the person will follow.
Yetzer Tov: Heb. Good Inclination
Yetzer HaRah: Heb. Evil Inclination.
ZT’L: Hebrew initials of the words: Zechor Tzaddik LeVaracha (The memory of a Tzaddik – Righteous person is a blessing.)
ZY’A: Hebrew initials of the words: Zechiso Yagan Aleinu (His merit should protect us.)
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