Parshat Nitzavim/Vayeilech 5777: Collective, Unified Jewish Responsibility and the Message of Hakhel

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShevua, Parshiyot Nitzavim/Vayeilech is co-sponsored by Reuven and Leah Goldman and Mordechai and Gila Bernstein of Ramat Beit Shemesh and dedicated for a total, complete Refuah Shlaima and good health for Yishaya Shalom ben Malka Gittel Blass. To the Goldman and Bernstein families, many thanks for your sponsorship and for your continued kindnesses.

You can celebrate a Simcha — a birth, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a Chassuna or other Simcha event in your life, or commemorate a Yahrtzeit of a loved one, or for whatever other reason by sponsoring a Parshat HaShevua.

Please forward to your relatives and friends and encourage them to sponsor a Parshat HaShevua. And please be in contact with me with any questions, or for further details.

Best Regards,

Moshe Burt
skype: mark.burt3

Parshat Nitzavim/Vayeilech 5777: Collective, Unified Jewish Responsibility and the Message of Hakhel

by Moshe Burt

As the Chaggim rapidly approach, we find ourselves with another doubleheader Parshat.

Our Parshat Nitzavim opens with Moshe Rabbeinu’s final address address to the B’nei Yisrael, on the final day of his life. And Parshat Vayeilech teaches about the Mitzvah of Hakhel — the communal gathering which took place every seven years; that is at the beginning of the year following the end of the Sh’mittah year. As with other Parshiyot or Twin Parshiyot, Nitzavim and Vayeilech seem as extensions of each other.

In Parshat Nitzavim, Torah relates:

“Atem Nitzavim HaYom… You are standing today, all of you, before Hashem, your G’d…. for you to pass into the covenant of Hashem, …that Hashem… seals with you today in order to establish you as a people to Him and that He be a G’d to you as He spoke to you and as He swore to your forefathers, to Avraham, to Yitzchak and to Yaakov.” (as rendered to English in the Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash, Sefer Devarim Perek 29, posukim 9-13)

But weren’t the B’nai Yisrael initiated into the Covenant back at Matan Torah when they gave this response?:

“Everything that Hashem has spoken, we will do… (Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash, Sefer Sh’mos. Perek 19, posuk 8)

The Stone Chumash introduction to Parsha Nitzavim (page 1086) states on this question:

What is new about this Covenant was the concept of responsibility for one and another, under which every Jew is obligated to help others observe the Torah and to restrain them from violating it. This is why Moshe [as the Stone Chumash cites from Or HaChaim]… said that Hashem would not hold them [presumably the collective — the Kehal] responsible for sins that had been done secretly, but that they would be liable for transgressions committed openly. This…. explains why one may not be apathetic to the shortcomings of others and why public desecration of the Torah is the concern of every Jew of good conscience.

Sefer Shem Mishmuel (Written by R’ Shmuel Bornstein, the Sochaczever Rebbe, rendered to English by R’ Zvi Belovski) further explains this Covenant (page 421):

This bris [Covenant] was the establishment of unity between all sectors of Jewish society — male and female, great and ordinary. Through this Covenant, they would be able to conquer and inherit Eretz Yisrael.

This citing from Sefer Shem Mishmuel therefore jives with Rabbi Mordechai Katz, in his sefer “L’lmod U’lamed”, citing Mesechta Shabbos 67 (page 183):

All Jews are princes (that is, all Jews have equally noble ancestry — the poor like the rich).

In other words, this “entry into the Covenant of Hashem” referred to in our parsha represents a renewal of the original Covenant of Matan Torah with an expanded definition of unity and collective responsibility which would apply for all time.

Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch z’l notes in the Hirsch Chumash, Sefer Devarim, Parsha Nitzavim page 692:

…Scripture stresses the common Responsibility of all Israel for upholding the Torah and fulfilling its commandments. According to this principle, the individual does not fulfill his role if he is faithful to his duty in his personal life alone, but does not do his utmost to promote observance of the Law throughout his community.

In the same way as R’ Hirsch explains about the common responsibility of all of Am Yisrael upholding and fulfilling Torah and its laws, Sefer Shem Mishmuel offers the following and echos R’ Hirsch (page 419-420):

Eretz Yisrael is the land given by Hashem to Klal Yisrael. It is firmly the domain and right of the nation, not the individual Jew. Indeed, Chazal tell us:

‘The conquest [of any part of Eretz Yisrael] by an individual does not have the status of a conquest.’ (Gittin 47a)

We may suggest that the reason for this is that the unity of Eretz Yisrael is the unifying force for the nation itself. The laws of mutual responsibility [the original Covenant of Matan Torah with an expanded definition] which demand a single nation, only came into operation after they crossed the Jordan into the land, in order to relate to its special nature, must be performed by the klal, who are… unified by that act of conquest.

…Whether or not klal Yisrael are victorious in their wars is dependent on them functioning as a unified nation.

Returning to Rabbi Katz’s explanation defining unity and collective responsibility in his sefer “L’lmod Ulamed (pages 183-185):

A warning was issued… If the public sinned, then the land would be destroyed. When later generations would wonder about the cause of this destruction, they would be told that it had come about because of the abandonment of Hashem and His Ways.

The Artscroll Stone Chumash provides explanation of the Hakhel (page 1095):

The mitzvah of Hakhel is where Sefer Devarim is read by the [reigning] Jewish king through to the end of Shema (Sefer Devarim, Perek 6, posuk 9), the second paragraph of the Shema (Perek 11, posukim 13-21) and from Perek 14, posuk 22 through to Perek 28, posuk 69 which concludes in Parshat Ki Tavo.

The Hakhel is a Mitzvah dating back to Moshe Rabbeinu’s mussar talk on the last day of his life when he convened the entire nation; men, women and children — from the wealthiest to the most itinerant woodchopper, to the Ger:

…So that they may hear and so that they may learn and fear Hashem and guard to do all the words of Torah. (Sefer Devarim, Perek 31, posuk 12)

Sefer Shem Mishmuel, written by Rabbi Shmuel Bornstein, z”l, the Rebbe of Sochaczev, as rendered into English by Rabbi Zvi Belovski beautifully explains why Israel’s reigning king’s role in reading Hakhel is crucial (page 425):

The Rambam notes that the king is a central focus for Klal Yisrael, a product of their communal needs — like the heart within a body:

His heart is the heart of all Klal Yisrael… (Rambam, Yad, Hilchos Melachim 3:6)

Since the king is the heart of the people, it must be he who reads from the Torah at Hakhel. For Hakhel… is a very special moment in Jewish national observance. It is the time when Klal Yisrael re-connects to their source by internalizing the most basic messages of the Torah. It is therefore fitting that the “heart” of the people should activate this re-connection, for just as the physical heart pumps blood through the whole body, so too does the spiritual heart — the king –infuse his entire nation with the ideas of the Torah.

The Artscroll Stone Chumash notes on Hakhel (Commentary on Sefer Devarim, Perek 31, posuk 12):

The time to inculcate values in children is from their earliest youth, and especially by the example of the parents and others who sincerely strive for the ideals they preach…. Thus, for bringing their children to Hakhel, parents deserved to be rewarded, for they demonstrated that the Torah was precious to them.

So we learn from Torah, with the added clarity of the above citings, that an insightful Torah, Mussar atmosphere and surroundings insures the growth of a Torah-rooted generation and of Torah-grounded leaders rather than a self-affectionated, self-aggrandized, self-serving, corruption-laden political, governmental “leadership” of intrigue.

We learn in our Parsha (Sefer Devarim, Perek 31, posuk 16 as rendered to English by both The Artscroll Stone Chumash and by The Sapirstein Edition The Torah: with Rashi’s Commentary);

“Hashem said to Moshe. ‘Behold, you will lie with your ancestors, but this people will rise up and stray after the gods [false deities] of the foreigners in whose midst it is coming, and it will forsake Me and annul My covenant that I have sealed with it.’”

Torah Gems, by Aharon Yaakov Greenberg (page 314) cites a Mikra MeForash which notes;

Torah refers to this as “rising up”, when it would seem more proper to use a verb such as “to descend.” Rather, what this teaches us is that the people will rise up. They, rather than their leaders, will be the rulers, and that will result in their falling to the lowest depths.

The “people”, rather than their [Torah] leaders, will be the rulers resulting in the nation’s fall to the depths?

Then, in the very next posuk (Sefer Devarim, Perek 31, posuk 17 as rendered to English by both The Artscroll Stone Chumash and by The Sapirstein Edition The Torah: with Rashi’s Commentary):

“My anger will flare against it on that day, and I will forsake them, and I will conceal My face from them, and they will become prey, and many evils and distresses will encounter it…”

How very much does the above Torah Gems citing sound like modern-day self-affectionated, self-
aggrandizing, corrupt Israeli Torah-devoid governance? And how very much does this citing sound like the great rhetorical noise, i.e., which Israel’s so-called “leaders” make — about the advent of Iranian nukes, or after countless terror attacks with resultant Jewish injuries and fatalities — rhetorical noise (boasts) which translate into far less than total victory in a compulsory War for Torah? The extent of their empty boasts, bluster and equivocation is such that their enemy now turns their very words against them, i.e. their empty demands, now lacking the credibility of decisiveness, for Arab recognition of Israel as a Jewish State have now been mimicked by PA officials who demand that Israel “recognize a Palestinian State (sic)” [Israel National News has apparently deleted it’s link regarding the PA demand] as precondition for Netanyahu’s absurd “land swap (sic)” proposal.

These same so-called “leaders,” these big, brave Shotrim who show mercy to the cruel, arrest and persecute Jews who fight for Eretz Yisrael and for the Torah way against internal ruling subversion?

How very much these so-called big, brave “leaders” and their Shabaknikim and Yassamnikim “Shotrim” fit the descriptions of the above citings, i.e. the “people”, rather than their [Torah] leaders, will be the rulers resulting in the nation’s fall to the depths, as they smash Jewish heads and abuse women and babies in the dead of night and on Shabbos in countless venues? And how very much does this anti-Torah mercy to the cruel translate in the mindset of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the PLO, ISIL, Iran, etc. as weakness and lack of resolve of the Jewish nation and her leaders, rendering Israel as weak, hypocritical and illegitimate in the perception of the nations?

Oh, that the Netanyahus, Bennetts, Lapids, Baraks, Livnis and a host of other wimp, Torah-lacking politicians, with their fingers in the air to see which way the populous wind blows, would come to realize and internalize Jewish values, as well as the rest of the above posuk (Sefer Devarim, Perek 31, posuk 17):

“They will say on that day, ‘Have not these evils come upon us because Hashem is not within me?’”

Thus, it seems clear that the Hakhel of Parshat Vayeilech connects with Parshat Nitzavim and Moshe

Rabbeinu’s final address to B’nei Yisrael as Hakhel would re-instill, reinvigorate and rejuvenate Torah, halacha and spirituality in our hearts, minds and subconsciousness, as well as to inculcate and nurture Torah values in children is from their earliest youth.

It seems to this author that these questions, points and more regarding both Parshat Nitzavim and Vayeilech are crucial for the Kehal — the Am, today’s political governmental leaders, as well as for Rabbanim to internalize and ponder long and hard during Rosh Hashana and the Asseret Yomei Teshuva (Ten Days of Repentence before Yom Kippur).

To repeat the point this author made in the past, Asserting and taking Mutual responsibility — it may just be key to The Ge’ula!

May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them and that the expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. May our dear brother Jonathan Pollard be liberated and truly free — only upon his return home to Israel, and that Sholom Rubashkin, as well as the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of three years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos! May You, All of My Brothers, Sisters, be Inscribed and Sealed, for another Year of Life… Now and Always!

Moshe Burt is an Oleh, writer and commentator on news and events in Eretz Yisrael. He is the founder and director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network and lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.

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