Torah Weekly - Parshat Nitzavim/Vayelech

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Parshat Nitzavim/Vayelech

For the week ending 23 Elul 5760 / 22 & 23 September 2000

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    On the last day of his life, Moshe gathers all the people in a final initiation. The covenant includes not only those present, but even generations yet unborn. Moshe admonishes the people to be extremely vigilant against idol worship, because in spite of having seen 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 result from failure to heed the mitzvot. Their descendants and foreigners alike will remark on the singular desolation of the Land and its inability to produce crops. The conclusion will be apparent to all -- the Jewish People have forsaken Hashem. Moshe promises, however, that the people will eventually repent. However assimilated they become, eventually Hashem 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 the last day of his life, Moshe goes from tent to tent, bidding farewell to his beloved people, encouraging them to "keep the faith." Moshe tells them that whether he is among them or not, Hashem is with them. He summons Yehoshua and exhorts him to be strong and courageous. Moshe teaches the mitzvah of hakhel: That every seven years on Succot, the nation is to gather at the Temple to hear the king read from the Book of Devarim. Hashem tells Moshe that his end is near, and he should summon Yehoshua to stand with him in the Mishkan where Hashem will teach Yehoshua. Hashem tells them that after entering the Land the people will be unfaithful and worship other gods. Hashem will then "hide His face" so that it will seem that the Jewish People are at fate's mercy. Hashem tells Moshe and Yehoshua to write down Ha'azinu, which will serve as "witness" against the Jews when they sin. Moshe records this song in writing and teaches it to Bnei Yisrael. Moshe completes his transcription of the Torah, and instructs the levi'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.




    "And it will be that when he hears the words of this curse, he will bless
    himself in his heart, saying, 'Peace will be with me...' " (29:18)

    There once was a convicted murderer standing in the dock who said: "I believe that this court and everyone in it is a figment of my imagination. Everything here is imaginary." To which the judge replied. "Fine. I believe I'm sentencing you to the imaginary electric chair."

    One of the more unusual birds that G-d created is the ostrich. As everyone knows, when confronted with a dangerous situation, the ostrich takes immediate action -- and buries its head in the sand.

    Sometimes in life, there are situations that we would prefer not to deal with. Maybe it's a problem that we just can't come to terms with, or a habit which we can't seem to kick. It's tough to admit that we're less than perfect, that we need help. So sometimes we just pretend that the problem isn't really there at all. We find a nice big emotional sandpit and submerge our consciousness into it. And before we all nod our heads knowingly in self-satisfaction -- maybe we should take a look at our own lives. Maybe there's something in my life that needs a little truthful examination. Maybe, there's a little (or not-so-little) sandpit in my own backyard? Maybe... No. It's other people that have problems. I'm perfect.

    Why is it so difficult for us to admit that we're "other people" too?

    The reason is something called cognitive dissonance.

    Cognitive dissonance is a kind of armor that we build up to ward off information that we don't want to hear. According to cognitive dissonance theory, we seek consistency among our beliefs. When there is dissonance between belief and behavior, we change something to eliminate the dissonance. We could change our behavior to accord with our beliefs, but usually, we change our attitude to accommodate our behavior. It's much less work.

    For example: You buy an expensive car and take it for a drive up the coast. Even though the car looked great in the showroom and handled well in town, you discover that on long drives, it's about as comfortable as a wooden bench. Dissonance exists between your beliefs that you have a) bought a good car, and b) that a good car should be comfortable. Dissonance could be eliminated by deciding that it doesn't matter since the car is mainly used for short trips (reducing the importance of the dissonant belief) or focusing on the cars strengths such as safety, appearance, handling (thereby adding more consonant beliefs). The dissonance could also be eliminated by getting rid of the car -- but that's a lot harder than changing our beliefs.

    During the Hebrew month of Elul which leads up to Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, we involve ourselves in an introspective process to free ourselves of cognitive dissonance. This process is called in Hebrew teshuva. Teshuva means return. Return to reality. Taking our heads out of the sandpit.

    In last week's parsha, the Torah spells out the dire results of collective Jewish "ostrich-ism." Ninety-eight curses -- each more chilling than the former. After hearing such a litany, a person could think, "Okay -- but that's for you religious guys. I don't believe -- so I'm going to be okay."

    The Chafetz Chaim used to say that people at a funeral think two clubs are represented there: The "live-ers" and the "die-ers." And everyone believes they belong to the "live-ers." The truth is -- no one gets out of here alive. When a person comes before the Heavenly court, he will not be able to plead atheism.

    "And it will be that when he hears the words of this curse, he will bless himself in his heart, saying, 'Peace will be with me...'"

    One week to Rosh Hashana.... If there's one thing we can do in these crucial seven days, it is to realize that the slogan "peace will be with us" is a self-deluding folly. It is the slogan of the ostrich. And for the ostrich -- there is no peace.

    May G-d write us all in the Book of Life for a good year! (Ostriches included.)


    Yeshaya 61:10 - 63:9


    In this last of the seven "haftaras of consolation," the Prophet Yeshaya describes how just as the land will seem to bloom and flourish in the time of the mashiach without any prior cultivation, so too Hashem will redeem his people and shower them with kindness without any prior action on their part, and without them deserving it.

    The Targum Yonatan translates "For Zion's sake, I will not be silent" to mean that there will never be peace in the world while the Jewish People are scattered in exile.

    Love of the Land
    Selections from classical Torah sources
    which express the special relationship between
    the People of Israel and Eretz Yisrael


    This agricultural settlement in the Jordan Valley near Lake Hula bears a name which goes back thousands of years. When the first group of Jews led by Ezra the Scribe left Babylonian captivity for Eretz Yisrael, the "beginning of their ascent" is described in Scripture (Ezra 7:9) as "yesud hama'ala."

    The groups of young Jews who organized their aliyah while still in their native Polish village envisioned themselves as a reincarnation of that pioneering spirit and assumed the Biblical term for their community. It was this spirit which helped them to overcome bandits, disease and lack of agricultural training in developing their settlement.

    Love of the Land Archives

    Written and Compiled by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair
    General Editor: Rabbi Moshe Newman
    Production Design: Michael Treblow

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