For the week ending 4 September 2010 / 24 Elul 5770

Parshat Netzavim - Vayelech

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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On the last day of his life, Moshe gathers together all the people, both young and old, lowly and exalted, men and women in a final initiation. The covenant includes not only those who are present, but even those generations yet unborn. Moshe admonishes the people again to be extremely vigilant against idol worship, because in spite of having witnessed the abominations of Egypt, there will always be the temptation to experiment with foreign philosophies as a pretext for immorality. Moshe describes the desolation of the Land of Israel which will be a result of the failure to heed G-d's mitzvos. Both their descendants and foreigners alike will remark on the singular desolation of the Land and its apparent inability to be sown or to produce crops. The conclusion will be apparent to all - the Jewish People have forsaken the One who protects them, in favor of idols which can do nothing. Moshe promises, however, that the people will eventually repent after both the blessings and the curses have been fulfilled. However assimilated they will have become among the nations, eventually G-d will bring them back to Eretz Yisrael. Moshe tells the people to remember that the Torah is not a remote impossibility; rather its fulfillment is within the grasp of every Jew. The Parsha concludes with a dramatic choice between life and death. Moshe exhorts the people to choose life.


On this, the last day of his life, Moshe goes from tent to tent throughout the camp, bidding farewell to his beloved people, encouraging them to keep the faith. Moshe tells them that whether he is among them or not, G-d is with them, and will vanquish their enemies. Then he summons Yehoshua, and in front of all the people, exhorts him to be strong and courageous as the leader of the Jewish People. In this manner, he strengthens Yehoshua's status as the new leader. Moshe teaches them the mitzvah of Hakhel: That every seven years on the first day of the intermediate days of Succos, the entire nation, including small children, is to gather together at the Temple to hear the King read from the Book of Devarim. The sections that he reads deal with faithfulness to G-d, the covenant, and reward and punishment. G-d tells Moshe that his end is near, and he should therefore summon Yehoshua to stand with him in the Mishkan, where G-d will teach Yehoshua. G-d then tells Moshe and Yehoshua that after entering the Land, the people will be unfaithful to Him, and begin to worship other gods. G-d will then completely hide his face, so that it will seem that the Jewish People are at the mercy of fate, and that they will be hunted by all. G-d instructs Moshe and Yehoshua to write down a song -Ha'azinu - which will serve as a witness against the Jewish People when they sin. Moshe records the song in writing and teaches it to Bnei Yisrael. Moshe completes his transcription of the Torah, and instructs theLevi'im to place it to the side of the Aron (Holy Ark), so that no one will ever write a new Torah scroll that is different from the original - for there will always be a reference copy.


How’s Your Standing?

"You are standing today, all of you, before G-d" (29:9)

Fearing G-d is out of fashion right now. It's acceptable to be in awe of His Majesty, to sit on the top of a mountain and commune with Beyond. But fearing? Come on, G-d's a nice G-d. He won't really punish me for speaking lashon hara (slander) or for adjusting my income tax a little. All that punishment stuff is really for kids anyway. Why do I need something so crass as fear when I have awe?

There can be no true awe without real fear.

The essence of fearing G-d is to accustom ourselves to be aware that He is watching us all the time; that He knows what we are thinking; that He sees every move we make, every move that we don’t make but would like to.

If there is a time in the day when we visualize standing in front of the Creator more than any other, it is during the Amida prayer that we say three times daily. (Amida, quite literally means, "standing.") If there is a day in the year when we try to visualize standing in front of the Creator more than any other, it is Rosh Hashana.

Rosh Hashana, a day that should strike fear into our hearts — "who will live, and who will die who by water, and who by fire." Who in a bus, and who in a restaurant.

And yet are we really frightened about what sort of year this will be for us? I don’t think so.

Why not?
A true story:

Jerusalem has its fair share of parking problems for which one fellow had his own unique solution. After driving round the block a couple of times, he would pull up to a curb with red stripes. Getting out of the car, he would reach for his trusty can of black mat spray-paint, and proceed to black out the red stripes the entire length of his car.

How much of the time do we do just that in our relationship with G-d? How much of the time do we try to alter the rules to suit ourselves and our own ideas of right and wrong?

Rosh Hashana is a time to come clean, to clean off the spray paint from the sidewalks of our lives.

Before we get more than a ticket.

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