Hear Today, Gone Tomorrow
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
Give ear, Heavens, and I will speak, and listen Earth to the words of my
mouth ... (Devarim 32:1)
If anyone has the right to poetic license, it is Moshe Rabbeinu. However,
as Rashi explains, Moshe, by invoking Heaven and Earth and charging them
with the role as witnesses to the covenant between G-d and His people, was
being far more than poetic:
"Why did he call Heaven and Earth as witnesses against them? Moshe thought:
I am human--tomorrow I shall be dead. If the Jewish people will ever say,
"We never accepted this covenant," who will come and refute them?
Therefore, he called Heaven and Earth as witnesses against them--witnesses
that endure forever." (Rashi)
But when was the last time Heaven and Earth spoke up for or against anyone?
Hence, Rashi adds:
"... If they should act worthily, the 'witnesses' can give them their
reward: the vine will yield its fruit, the ground will give its increase,
and the Heaven, its dew. If they transgress, then the 'hand of the witness
might first be against them': 'And He will restrain the Heaven, so there
will be no rain, and the earth will not give its increase and you will
perish quickly ...' (Devarim 11:17)--through the attacks of other nations."
What Moshe is alluding to is found in the Talmud:
Punishment comes only to the world because of Israel. (Yevamos 63a)
The Nefesh HaChaim spends an entire section to reiterate the same point,
bringing in all the relevant sources. The Jewish people may be a tiny
nation at any given point in history, having little, if any influence on
the World Below. However, by virtue of the special souls they possess, the
Jewish people have great influence on the World Above, which, ultimately,
determines the direction of the World Below. This is what the second verse
My doctrine shall drop as the rain ... (Devarim 32:2)
"This is what they will testify: In your presence I declared that the Torah
which I gave to you is life to the world like the rain." (Rashi)
The fourth section of Nefesh HaChaim explains in great detail why learning
Torah is so powerful. Very soon, again, when we begin the Torah all over
again, we will be reminded by Rashi that the word "bereishis" actually
means "for reishis" (i.e., for Torah, which is called "reishis"--the
first), G-d made creation. Furthermore, the Talmud elucidates on the verse:
And it was evening and it was morning, the sixth day [ha-shishi].
"Ha-shishi ... The letter heh [preceding the word shishi] is extra at the
end of the creation process to say that [G-d] made a condition with them
(all of creation): If the Jewish people accept the Five Books of Moshe,
[then it is good; if not, then you will resort back to null and
Hence, all of creation rides on the intensity of the relationship between
the Jewish people and Torah, because that relationship is indicative of the
one between G-d and the Jewish people (since, as the Zohar points out,
"taking Torah" is considered "taking G-d"). Yet, how many people learn
enough Torah (given the potential personal opportunity to do so)?
This is a very important part of the cheshbon hanefesh (accounting of the
soul) that one is supposed to be doing during these days of teshuvah. For,
as the Talmud points out:
A person only transgresses when a spirit of insanity enters them. (Sotah 3a)
And nothing works better to keep "insanity" in check than the pristine
godly clarity of Torah. And as the Maharshah points out on this section of
the Talmud, it is for not properly preparing ourselves against potential
sin that we are held accountable on Yom HaDin--the Day of Judgment--and all
the days of our lives.
Remember the days of the world; understand the years from generation to
generation. Ask your father and he will tell you, the elders, and they will
say to you. (Devarim 32:7)
Last year we spoke about the importance of staying in touch with history.
It is very easy to lose perspective on life when one lives only within his
or her own "slice" of time. All historical events look different when
viewed within their overall historical context, and they often provide
valuable insight into life and the future when viewed as a continuation of
the past. Hence, the mitzvah to "remember the days of the world."
Rashi explains what each section of the verse refers to:
:"Remember the days of the world ... What He did to previous generations who
provoked Him ...
... understand the years from generation to generation ... The generation
of Enosh over whom He caused the waters of the ocean to flow; the
generation of the Flood whom He drowned by a flood ... so that you might be
conscious of what can happen in the future ...
Ask your father and he will tell you ... These are the prophets who are
called 'fathers' ...
... The elders, and they will say to you ... These are the Sages." (Rashi)
A sefer called Mei HaShaloach offers a different interpretation of the same
words, as follows:
"Remember the days of the world ... This refers to Parashas Bereishis until
the section, 'And He completed ...' (Bereishis 2:1)
... understand the years from generation to generation ... That is, the two
parshios of Noach--the ten generations from Adam to Noach, and the ten
generations from Noach to Avraham, and how G-d dealt with them.
Ask your father and he will tell you ... This refers to the sections
concerning Avraham Avinu, that is, Lech-Lecha, Vayaira, and Chaye Sarah.
... the elders, and they will say to you ... This refers to the sections
about Yitzchak and Ya'akov, which includes until the end of Sefer
Bereishis; understand how great was G-d's involvement with them. This is
why it says corresponding to Avraham "vayagedecha" as opposed to "vayaged
lecha," because Avraham Avinu woke up the world and set it straight, and
gave each person the ability to praise the greatness of G-d on his own ...
Vayagedecha implies that each person was able to speak of the wonders of
G-d on his own." (Mei HaShaloach, Volume One, Ha'Azinu)
The difference between the two versions is striking. According to Rashi, it
is the Mesorah--the Oral Tradition--as handed down from prophet to prophet,
and then from Sage to Sage, that keeps the Jew in touch with his history
and more important, his destiny. When the Jew turns his back on the
prophets and the Sages, then he, de facto, turns his back on his raison
d'Ítre as well, and that can only spell trouble.
The Mei HaShaloach does not disagree with this, for this idea is
part-and-parcel of traditional Jewish belief. However, he adds that even in
such cases as when prophets cease to receive prophecy, and elders are not
available to ask, the Torah itself reveals this message in the stories and
narrations about the beginning of world and Jewish history--if one plays
close attention, and approaches Torah with a sense of awe and willingness
In fact, the Zohar has its own interpretation:
Ask your father and he will tell you ... This is the Holy One, Blessed is
He, and He will reveal to you the depths of wisdom including why the world
is as it was created. The six days [of creation] are the foundation of
creation, and they were only established for you, that you should come
along and keep the Torah. For, as we know, the whole world was created on
the condition that the Jewish people accept Torah. (Zohar, Ha'Azinu 298b)
G-d is willing to reveal the "depths of wisdom" to you, but, as the posuk
says, only if you ask--only if you really want to know.
In other words, Parashas Ha'Azinu is a perfect lead-in to the holiday of
Succos, during which we sit in the shade of the succos we have built. The
shade provided, says the Talmud, reminds us of the special "Clouds of
Glory" that enveloped the Jewish people as they traveled in the desert
during the exodus from Egypt. These clouds were special Divine protection
against the dangerous elements of the desert, and were indicative of G-d's
love and desire for the children of Avraham. These clouds were also called
"tzelah d'mehimnusa"--shade of Faith--another name for the Oral Law.
It is as if to say that when one learns the Written and Oral Law, they
warrant special Divine protection comparable to the Clouds of Glory. It is
both the Written and Oral Law together that create the proper spiritual
environment that allows the Jew to rise above the mundane world to a higher
spiritual plain. This, according to the Pri Tzaddik, is not unlike Parashas
Ha'Azinu itself which acts as "bridge" between the rest of the parshios and
Zos HaBrochah--between the Written Law and Oral Law--and Shabbos, which is
a unique spiritual reality that encompasses both.
Even in the posuk mentioned above:
"In His shade I delighted and there I sat, and the fruit of His Torah was
sweet to my palate" (Shir HaShirim 2:3)
There is another allusion to Succos. As Rashi explains (quoting the
Midrash), the esrog tree (see Tosafos, Shabbos 88a) is shunned by all
people when the sun beats down because it provides little shade. So too,
says the Midrash, did all the nations refuse to sit in the "shade" of G-d
on the day of the giving of Torah--all people, that is, except the Jewish
The Talmud says:
All who eat and drink on the ninth [of Tishrei] are considered as those who
fasted on the ninth and tenth day. (Rosh Hashanah 9a)
"That is, as those who were commanded to fast and did so." (Tosafos)
The Pri Tzaddik asks (Yom Kippur 1): Why does it say "as one who fasted on
the ninth and tenth day" (as opposed to only the ninth day)? He answers: It
means that fasting on the ninth day alone is considered like fasting two
consecutive days, because, as the Arizal says, one who fasts two
consecutive days is like one fasted 27 fasts (in the case of the ninth day
of Tishrei and Yom Kippur itself, the ninth day would could for 26 fasts,
and Yom Kippur would count as the twenty-seventh fast).
The Pri Tzaddik then elaborates by explaining that the number "26" is not
arbitrary, but corresponds to the gematria of G-d's Ineffable Name, the
Tetragrammaton, the Name that is not read the way it is spelt. Without
going into why this is so, what is important to know is that in this way,
the fast of erev Yom Kippur helps to rectify the sin of Adam HaRishon,
which was through eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
How? Because eating on erev Yom Kippur is an achilah b'kedushah--an "eating
in holiness"--which Adam's was not. Eating and drinking on erev Yom Kippur
in advance of the fast is the way that we state that we are fasting the
next day, not because we enjoy fasting (even if we do), but because G-d
commanded it. Hence, eating erev Yom Kippur is supposed to rectify any
illicit partaking of pleasure in the physical world, because it is an
eating that proves our loyalty to G-d.
For the Jew, physical pleasure is not the goal of this world, but a
wonderful by-product of it. Two people can have the same physical pleasure,
but if one did so as an end unto itself, then it counts as a negation of
the Divine purpose of creation. However, if in the course of trying to
fulfill G-d's will one has physical pleasure, not only is it permissible,
but it even serves to draw the individual closer to G-d. This is the ideal
Can there be any better preparation for the Day of Atonement than this?
Have a meaningful and uplifting fast.
Have a wonderful Shabbos.
Happy Lulav and Esrog shopping.