Shabbat B' Shabbato

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Volume 1643: Nitzavim  28 Elul 5776 01/10/2016

As Shabbat Approaches

Repentance/Rabbi Mordechai Greenberg
Rosh Yeshiva, Kerem B'Yavne

In this week’s Torah portion, we are told the following about “teshuva” - repentance: “It is not in heaven... and it is not across the sea... Rather, the matter is very close to you.” [Devarim 30:12-14]. Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook wrote as follows: “Repentance is on one hand the easiest thing to do, since even a hint of a thought to repent is already accepted as repentance. And on the other hand it is one of the most difficult tasks of all.”

Ramchal writes the following about the difficulty of repentance: “By strict law it would be appropriate for a sinner to be punished immediately, and that the punishment should show stark anger. For how can a human being mend what he has done? He has committed murder or adultery, how can he go back and fix the real world? However, due to the trait of mercy... rooting out the original desire is considered as if the act itself has been revoked.” [Messilat Yesharim 4].

In another place Ramchal writes that every mitzva and sin can be viewed in two different ways: (1) That the person is revolting against G-d, a matter of simple discipline; or (2) Engraving the essence of the evil action into the human soul.

The Natziv calls these two alternative viewpoints “A royal decree” and “A physician’s advice.” A royal decree refers to nothing more than a matter of discipline. One who revolts against a king is punished. A physician, on the other hand, does not mete out punishment to anybody who refuses to accept his advice. Rather, the person himself acts in a way to make the illness more serious. For example, one who eats forbidden food has caused himself spiritual damage, beyond the fact that he revolted in his actions, almost as if he had eaten poison. The Sages have written: “From the time that the Holy One, Blessed be He, said, ‘Behold, I have put before you today a blessing and a curse,’ [Devarim 11:26], He does not have to do anything else. Rather, the mitzvot accomplish their goal and the sins accomplish their goals.”

It is true that one part of repentance, removing the punishment, is a relatively easy thing to accomplish, but to eradicate the effect of a sin on the soul is very hard to do, since the damage has already been done! The Creator has been kind enough to us to cause repentance to be like a medical treatment, as is written, “And he will repent, and he will be cured” [Yeshayahu 6:10]. Repentance has the power to erase an effect which took place in the past.

In the terminology of the Tanach, these separate aspects of repentance are called “atonement” (kaparah) and “purification” (taharah). Atonement removes the punishment of the sinner, while purification erases the impurity of the soul which was caused by doing a sin.

And this can help us understand the difference between the mitzva of repentance all year round and the mitzva of repentance on Yom Kippur. Since we have been commanded all year long to repent, we might well ask what is special about Yom Kippur. The answer is that all year round, if a person who has a pile of evil deeds repents from one sin and does not touch the others, he is observing the mitzva of repentance. However, this is not true for Yom Kippur, when the command is, “You shall purify yourselves before G-d from all your sins” [Vayikra 16:30]. On this day the mitzva is purification, and this must include “all your sins.” One who immerses himself in a ritual bath but leaves a single hair out of the water does not become pure. The mitzva on Yom Kippur is for a sinner to repent all the sins. Purification must be all-inclusive.

Based on this reasoning, Rabbi Soloveitchik wrote that even according to the opinion of Rebbe – that “the essence of the day brings atonement” without a need for repentance – such a sinner will not be accepted the day after Yom Kippur as a proper witness. Yom Kippur leads to “atonement” but not to “purification.”

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Point Of View

Enough Legalese when Confronting an Enemy! /Rabbi Yisrael Rosen
Dean of the Zomet Institute

“Do not judge Your slave strictly, for no human being can ever be considered righteous before You” [Tehillim 143:2].

“Do not judge us, for no human being can ever be considered righteous before You.” [Selichot Prayer, Ashkenazi tradition].

I am writing this close to the time of reciting the first Selichot prayers before the beginning of the new year, at the end of the Shabbat before the holiday (or one week earlier if, as happens this year, there are not at least three days between Shabbat and Rosh Hashanah). A refrain in the Selichot which is repeatedly recited is the one quoted above: “Do not judge us.” We beg G-d and ask to be released from judgement on this fateful day. Our request to be released from judgement and to have “what we skipped in the prayers be a source of love” is based on the sentiments of King David, also quoted above: “For no human being can ever be considered righteous before You.” We are not capable of standing up to the demands of strict law, and we can only survive if they are applied together with a measure of mercy.

David was the one who “established the standard of repentance.” (“The words of David Ben Yishai, and the words of the man who was chosen to be supreme” [Shmuel II 23:1] – “He established the standards for repentance” [Avoda Zara 5a].) He asked to close the accounts of his sins (including sending Uriyah, Batsheva’s husband, to his death) outside of the realms of the courts – that is, beyond a strict legal framework, and not within regular legal processes. David knew that within the confines of the legal system there was not much opportunity for mercy. In fact, not only were his chances for mercy low, we see in his words a general call against ruling according to strict legal principles whenever there is reason for special considerations: “No human being can ever be considered righteous before You.”

We have had Enough of Strict Legalese

The above words will serve as an introduction leading from the current time of the year, the season of judgement, on to current events within our land: The exacting legal process which is taking place now against Sergeant Elor Azaria. This combat medic from the Kefir Brigade was rushed to treat an IDF soldier who had been stabbed in Tel Romeda, in Chevron, where many terrorist attacks have taken place. Elor is accused of shooting the terrorist even though it would seem that he had already been neutralized. As it happens, this took place on Purim of this year, a date which is known for serious events in the area (such as the Goldstein killings).

I do not remember any other military trial that was conducted with such fanfare, including fundamental analysis of the purity of arms and setting the safety lock of weapons when confronted by an enemy, on the ability to make snap judgements about life and death under battle conditions, on the future influence on the moral stance of soldiers and officers who will from now on be afraid of being brought to trial, and on the need to maintain an appearance of wielding “swords of justice” as judged by hostile western nations who get their support from traitorous Israeli leftists. I simply cannot remember any such case in the past!

It is interesting to see (and for me it is very refreshing) that a strong lineup of military and security experts has come forward to “testify” in favor of Elor, based on military, security, and moral considerations. It seems to me that the only officers who followed the line of the Commander-in-Chief and appeared for the prosecution are currently still in uniform. (Can it be that they are driven by extraneous considerations, such as future promotions?) The clear conclusion from what has transpired so far is that this farcical affair must be brought to an end immediately, without trying to settle all the details of the ballistics or the pathology involved (exactly when did the terrorist die?). It is not relevant for us to try to determine if the soldier was experiencing a “shooter’s high” (for the very first time in his life?) or if he should have run a table of considerations through his head whether to shoot or not, and then to make a cool decision, taking into account doomsday feelings and the influence of lawyers.

As far as I am concerned, we have heard enough in the testimony brought before the learned military court in Yaffo. The curtain should be drawn on this show, and a conclusion should be reached – with complete agreement of all sides and behind closed doors – to give a minimal sentence, without a formal judgement. Any other alternative will cause harm to the IDF and/or to the State of Israel in international circles.

If He had been Religious and a Settler...

I want to make one more point: It is nothing short of a heavenly miracle that Elor Azaria does not wear a kippa, is not a settler, and doesn’t even sport a beard. I can just imagine the reactions of the media that we would have seen against our own people if he had appeared to be “one of us.” All that remains for us is to pray for all those refined souls who thirst for Azaria’s blood that their own sons will never find themselves in Chevron in a similar situation.

“Do not judge us, for no human being can ever be considered righteous before You.”

(Written after the end of Shabbat, Torah portion of Ki Tavo.)

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Responsa For Our Times

What are we Judged for on Rosh Hashanah?/Rabbi Re'eim Hacohen
Rosh Yeshiva and Chief Rabbi, Otniel

Rabbi Krospodai said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: Three books are opened during Rosh Hashanah – one for completely evil people, one for completely righteous people, and one for people in the middle. Righteous people are immediately written down and sealed for life. Evil people are immediately written down and sealed for death. Those in the middle remain hanging from Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur. If they have merits, they are written down for life; if they do not have merits, they are written down for death.

The words of Rabbi Yochanan are brought into sharper focus by the Rambam: “Every single person has merits and sins. Whoever has more merits than sins is righteous, and whoever has more sins than merits is evil. Anybody who has equal merits and sins is considered in the middle. The same is true for an entire country. If the merits of the entire population are more than their sins, the country is a righteous one, and if the sins are more than their merits it is evil. And the same is true for the entire world. Any person whose sins are greater than his merits dies immediately for his evil, as is written, ‘for your many sins’ [Yirmiyahu 30:15]. The same is true for a country whose sins are more than its merits, as is written, ‘The cry of Sedom and Amorah is great...’ [Bereishit 18:20]. The same is also true for the world as a whole. If their sins are more than their merits, they will be destroyed immediately, as is written, ‘and G-d saw that the evil of mankind was great’ [6:5]. This consideration is not according to a count of the merits and sins but is rather on their seriousness... And the only one who can weigh these things is the G-d of knowledge, for He is the one who knows how to compare merits and sins.” [Hilchot Teshuva 3].

* * * * * *


What are people judged for on Rosh Hashanah? Can it be that everybody who passed away during the year was evil, and whoever continues to live among us year after year while sinning all the time is really a righteous person?


The Definitions of “Righteous” and “Evil” People

The Ramban discusses the above definition in a sermon for Rosh Hashanah, and he gives a novel definition: “Anybody who is exonerated in his trial is called a completely righteous person, anybody who is found guilty in his trial is called a completely evil person.” According to the Ramban, there are two systems of justice. The normal system involves the sum total of actions of a person, and this is relevant at the time of death, when the reward in the world to come is decided. However, the decision of “who will reach his appointed end and who will die before the appointed end” every year depends only on the actions of that year. Thus, the definition of “righteous and evil” in this case is a matter for a specific judgement and does not reflect on the quality of the person in general.

However, there is a problem with the definitions of the Ramban, since from this viewpoint it is not at all clear why one person is exonerated or found guilty in his trial, and in fact this matter does not seem to depend on his specific actions. This is different than the approach of the Rambam, who seems to have ruled based on a simple interpretation of the passage in the Talmud (see Hilchot Teshuva 3:1-2). He also greatly emphasizes the fact that a person must make a great effort before the Days of Awe.

Guidance of Uniqueness and Guidance of Justice

In the writings of the Ramchal, Rosh Hashanah is presented as a day based on “Guidance of Uniqueness.” This is a concept that is a foundation of the philosophical outlook of the Ramchal. It describes the way the Holy One, Blessed be He, supervises the world. This can be compared to a second regime of “Guidance of Justice.” This is the system of reward and punishment, which operates in reaction to the actions of man and is expressed in natural and fixed rules.

The concept of free choice, which is the basis for the Guidance of Justice, allows for the existence of evil, which has the ability to turn the created world away from its appointed task. In order to prevent this from happening, the Holy One, Blessed be He, operates also within the framework of Guidance of Uniqueness, which has as its objective the fulfillment of the goal of the world, without taking into account the actions of mankind. This type of guidance can sometimes be seen, as a flicker of miraculous revelations. That is when events occur which diverge from the regular sequence of nature and Divine justice. A great abundance has an effect on many people, including some who do not deserve it according to the strict rules of justice. On the other hand, great disasters can harm people seemingly at random.

According to the Ramchal, these two systems of guidance operate in parallel, at the same time. From the exposed and external point of view, reward and punishment are visible, following the regular rules. At the same time, the world is constantly progressing towards its ultimate goal, based on the Guidance of Uniqueness.

The Central Role of Declaring G-d as King

Thus, according to the Ramchal, the purpose of Rosh Hashanah is not to put mankind on trial for their deeds but to bring the world closer to its ultimate goal – declaring G-d as King of the world, something which is very strongly emphasized in our prayer for the holiday. Therefore, the elements of the holiday are not based on reward and punishment. It is true that the fates of individuals are decided on this day, but that is merely a side effect in relation to the main subject. The main question is not what has happened in the past but rather what will be in the future. Which person will be best able to take on a role that will advance the position of the Divine Kingdom, based on the eternal Divine plan? And that is how we should understand the words quoted above by Rabbi Yochanan: Those who are evil or righteous are not defined by their actions before Rosh Hashanah but rather according to the future, the year that is now beginning.

What can an individual person do under these circumstances? The action of a person on Rosh Hashanah is to declare his readiness and his desire to be an active participant in bringing the world closer to its ultimate goal. This is to be done by making a personal enhancement to the royalty of G-d. We must be ready to stand before G-d and declare, “I am ready!” A person who makes such a declaration shows that he or she is ready for any Divine demand, and that he or she accepts a role of participating in the guidance of the Holy One, Blessed be He, on the path to the ultimate objective of the world. In this way the person rises up above the mundane considerations of reward and punishment, reaching towards the uniqueness of G-d. This is an action which the Ramchal describes as follows: “To establish the royalty of the Holy One, Blessed be He, over His world, so that He will be the leader.”

In our times it is necessary to clarify that the crowning of G-d is to be done by all of humanity, and that this law is meant for everybody. What is required on Rosh Hashanah from the nation of Yisrael which has returned to its land is to fulfill its messianic mission and take care of all humanity. We must replace the prophecy of the evil one, Bilam, “This is a nation which dwells alone” [Bamidbar 23:9] by that of Moshe, that we are “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” [Shemot 19:6]. We are duty bound to fulfill the prophecy of redemption: “And you will be called the priests of G-d, you will be known by the name of the servants of our G-d...” [Yeshayahu 61:6].

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When The Children Open Their Hearts

The Sticker in the Window /Meirav Maggeni,
Author of Content and Stories in Chemed, the Religious School System

“Wow, what a traffic jam!” I was complaining bitterly to Imma while I sat in our car, belted in and squeezed together with my two little brothers. They couldn’t stop bickering with each other, even for a moment. An hour passed, and the traffic was just about standing still.

I wasn’t sure that it was worthwhile to keep driving, since in any case we were already very late for my cousin’s bat-mitzva party. Her name is Roni. I stared with despair at the rear window of the car in front of us, and then I noticed the sticker there.

I am sure you have seen this sticker, but for me it was the very first time that I saw it: “G-d is the King!” The letters were displayed right in front of me, and they seemed to flicker in my vision. G-d is the King! What did that mean? Luckily, after a few minutes the traffic jam opened up, and very soon we arrived at the bat-mitzva party in Bnei Berak. Savta greeted us excitedly, “Boy was I worried. You are so very late, and I couldn’t get you on your cellphone.” Imma apologized, “We were in a huge traffic jam, and I forgot my phone at home. You know very well that we don’t rule our own lives but that G-d is the King!” Imma quoted the sticker that I had seen, and I once again began to wonder: What does that mean?

Anyway, my brother Gai was happy. He cried out, “At least we got here in time for the main course!” He sat down at the table, and I remembered that I was hungry and thirsty too. I started to say to him, “The meat-filled pastry is very good,” but Aunt Chanah leaned over and said, “Quiet – Uncle Shalom is speaking!”

Uncle Shalom was saying, “In a few days, we will all gather together to declare, ‘G-d is the King!’ We will shout out our support for the King with the sound of the shofar, and we will crown Him as our King, as we do every year. We will show our King how much we love Him.” With that, Uncle Shalom finished his speech and sat down.

This was too much for one day. It wasn’t funny at all. Everywhere I turned, I kept hearing and seeing the same theme: “G-d is the King!” Could it be that G-d, the King, was trying to tell me something?

Joyous music burst out in the hall and I joined the circle of dancing women. The musicians played, “Siman Tov and Mazal Tov!” I almost completely forgot about the King. But then, suddenly and very loud, the band switched to a different tune, and my heart started to beat very strongly: “G-d was King, G-d is King, and G-d will be King forever and ever!” Everybody jumped and danced around, while I skipped away from them and looked for a place to be alone. I just had to think about what I had heard and get it all straight in my mind.

I repeated the words over and over, “G-d is the King!” Suddenly, without meaning to do it, I bowed my head in front of the King of the World, who will be crowned by us, His subjects, in a few days. The King accompanies us wherever we go, and guides us all the time, in traffic jams and when the road is clear. The King loves us, and we show our appreciation for Him with the blasts of the shofar and with window stickers on our cars.

On the way home, Imma asked me, “Where did you go right in the middle of the dancing? I was worried about you.”

I said to her, “Don’t worry, Imma, G-d is the King!” Just then, a car passed us, and in the window was another sticker: “ There is none other except for Him!” I wonder what that means...

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Holy & Secular

Staying in Love /Rabbi Amichai Gordin
Yeshivat Har Etzion and Shaalvim High School

He put his case down on the table in the living room. He dropped down onto the sofa, took a deep breath, and calmed down. What a hard day it had been at work, what a mess. He thought to himself, I barely find time there for myself and for a bit of quiet. I am lucky that I have a life outside of work.

A few hours later, sitting with her on a park bench, everything looked different. They talked and laughed. She told him how her day had been. He told her about the events of his day. “What do you have to talk about for so long?” his mother often asked him. “Yesterday you talked for three hours...”

And he would reply, “It’s so much fun just to share my world with her.” He would close his eyes and imagine how they would sit on the same bench in their old age. Just sitting and gabbing.

* * * * * *

Ten years later : He put his case on the desk in his office. He dropped into the padded chair, took a deep breath, and calmed down. What a hard day at home, what a mess. He thought to himself, I barely find time there for myself and for a bit of quiet. I am lucky that I have a life outside of my home.

A few hours later, he found himself gabbing with a colleague. He told her a little bit about his uncertainty and about his son, who was about to enter the first grade. And she told him about the problems she and her husband had with an offer of a job abroad. It was a pleasant short talk, full of calm and peace.

And then he had a new text message on his phone. It was his wife. “Can you take Yotam to his extracurricular activity later?” He replied, “No problem.” And he sighed to himself, that’s all I do, errands. I am lucky that I have somebody here to talk to a bit. At home we are busy all day long with our obligations.

* * * * * *

The late Professor Zev Lev was a very unique person, a combination of genius and practical living. He was a leader in the development of microwave devices and MRI's, and he also founded the “Lev Institute” which combines Torah study with high-quality technological studies.

A young man once came to Prof. Lev for a blessing before his marriage. The professor gave him three pieces of advice. The most important one was that it was necessary to go out and spend some time with his wife once a week. He said, “I don't mean for you to go to a wedding or a public affair. Go out just to be together, just the two of you. Every week.”

* * * * * *

Personal discussions are a critical component of a relationship. Sharing with your mate what happened in the last day or the last week, about your uncertainties and feelings, or just any thoughts that you have – this is a central and decisive element in a couple's relationship. A relationship without personal talk will fade away.

The authors of the Tosafot, who lived in France in the thirteenth century, understood the importance of this contact very well. They declared that the Torah requires a man to speak to his wife (Yevamot 62). A man who is leaving on a journey must spend some time talking to his wife before he goes. The masters of the Tosafot understood how important personal contact is for a meaningful relationship.

Such a conversation must not only be about practical matters in which they are involved. A couple must have some time for talking. For matters that concern them only, not external obligations. This is not a luxury, it is a basic need which cannot be compromised. This is what their covenant at their wedding ceremony is all about – baring their souls to each other and love.

* * * * * *

When a man and a woman bare their souls to each other they strengthen their love and their relationship. That is why this is so important for their intimate contact. That is why such contact with other people of the opposite sex is forbidden. A man and wife have not only physical contact but also contact of the soul. Just as they limit their physical contact with others, they must do the same with contact of the soul.

When a man feels a need to unburden his emotional state, he should talk to his wife. A man sharing his emotions with another woman is a bad thing. It is bad because what he shares with another woman he will not share with his wife. It is bad because a personal conversation creates a meeting of the souls, and this can sometimes develop into love.

Social conversations between men and women are a normal and worthy phenomenon. But personal and intimate conversations are very problematic and must be avoided. One should avoid talk that is personal in nature. Discussions of a social nature that I would be happy to hold in the presence of another ten people in the room are reasonable and worthy. But intimate discussions which I would never hold if there were other people in the room are not proper. They should be restricted to your mate alone.

For reactions and comments:


Loudspeakers for Shabbat – but not for Hearing the Shofar! - by The Zomet Institute

The Zomet Institute provides loudspeaker systems that can be used on Shabbat without violating the halacha. They are available for such places as: synagogues (Orthodox only – up to now, only synagogues outside of Israel have taken advantage of this); hotels (for Shabbat-observing conferences and for the Pesach Seder); in assisted-living homes (for Torah lessons); and for institutional and private affairs (systems are available for short-term rental). The halachic basis of these systems has been fully described in a wide-ranging article in volume 15 of Techumin, which is available on the Zomet website.

We authorize the use of these systems only if the local rabbi explicitly gives his consent or at least does not object to their use.

Note that this equipment is not suitable for blowing the shofar because in that case the sound must reach the ears directly from the shofar. In our opinion, the same is true for listening to the Megillah on Purim in any place where the reading cannot be heard without the loudspeaker. However, it is suitable for other elements of holiness, such as replying “amen” to the chazzan who repeats the Amidah prayer, listening to Torah reading, and the obligation of hearing Kiddush and Havdalah.

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Riddle of the Week

Nitzavim /Yoav Shlossberg, Director of "Quiz and Experience"

(Today’s riddle is connected to Rosh Hashanah.)

“Weakened” +

“One who continued on his grandfather’s path,

Interpreting the words of the sages.”

What is this?

(With thanks to “Mann” (a penname), from Petach Tikveh.)

Answer to last week’s riddle – it was: I appear in the Prophets.My father’s name is mentioned in the Tochahah (the Rebuke). One of the curses of the Tochachah happened to me at the end of my life.

Answer: Shimshon.

- The word “Manoach” (the name of Shimshon’s father) appears in the verse, “Among those nations you will not find quiet, and there will be no rest (manoach) for the sole of your foot” [Devarim 28:65].

- The Pelishtim blinded Shimshon near the end of his life: “The Pelishtim held him, and they gouged out his eyes” [Shoftim 16:21].

- Blindness is one of the curses in the Tochachah: “G-d will strike you with insanity and with blindness, and with an empty heart” [Devarim 28:28].

* * * * * *

We will be happy to publish your riddles here, with proper credit to the author. Send your suggestions to the e-mail address given below.

Do you have a bar/bat mitzva coming up? Are you looking for a special quiz? To order:


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