Parshios Netzavim & Vayeilech
The Longest Day
All of you stand here today before God, your God … (Devarim 29:9-11)
Easily the longest day, but not the "longest day" with which most people are
familiar. We are not talking about D-Day, as in the final battle of
World War II, but as in D-Day, the day that Moshe Rabbeinu died.
The entire sefer of Devarim was our greatest leader's farewell speech, and
though it spans 11 parshios, and we usually read it over the course of 10
weeks, it all occurred on the 7th day of Adar, the day on which Moshe
Rabbeinu was born and the day on which he died, in his 120th year of life,
right to the final moment, an appropriate point to make on this last Shabbos
of the year.
There are four known dimensions, although Quantum Mechanics now
speaks of 11. The first three are spatial -- height, width, and depth -- and
the final one is time. In a sense, the first three represent the reality of man,
who is 3-dimensional, and the last one, time, represents the history of which
he is apart.
There are different ways to describe the fundamental difference in outlook
between the Torah point of view, and the non-Torah point of view, but
a novel one is that, according to the Torah, it is the fourth dimension that
gives meaning to the first three. However, according to the secular opinion,
it is the first three that give meaning to the fourth one, making time less
than it really ought to be.
Hence, the Talmud states:
The righteous, even in death are called living...whereas the evil, even
while alive, are called dead. (Brochos 18a)
Figuratively-speaking? Well, yes and no; it all depends upon what you
call life. Obviously life is not merely a matter of physical existence, because
some people, unfortunately, only have that, and we call that a tragedy. On
the other hand, others are lacking body parts, R"L, but go on to live meaningful
lives anyhow, sometimes more meaningful than people who are
We also know that quality of life is not measured by the amount of
physical pleasure we enjoy. It is also called tragedy when someone takes
drugs or drinks alcohol to remain in a constant state of euphoria. Going to
an amusement park or a fancy restaurant may be enjoyable, but only for a
set period of time. Beyond that, people forced to remain there indefinitely
would beg to leave, which begs the question, what does the Torah mean
when it says in this week's parshah:
See, I have placed before you today the life and the good, and the death
and the evil...choose life that you will live...(Devarim 30:15, 19)
Apparently, what it means is this: choose to use the four dimensions in a
meaningful way. You have been blessed with a physical body; use it in a
meaningful way. You have been given time to live: use it in a meaningful
way. Use both in manner that will result, eventually, in eternal reward in a
timeless world, Olam HaBah -- the World-to-Come.
Hence, as Rashi points out, righteous people live out their lives to the
very last moment. They tend to "expire," rather than to "die," the former
being more a function of time, and the latter, a function of physical
Hence, dying "before one's time" does not mean that a person can die
before God wills him to leave this world. Rather, it means that a person can
die before having accomplished what he should have in his allotted time to
For example, explains the Arizal, the root of one's soul dictates how long
a person can "naturally" physically live (Sha'ar HaGilgulim, Ch. 35). Some
people, because of the root of their soul above, will always have short lives
below, regardless of how righteous they are in any given incarnation, or
how well they take care of their bodies.
However, what determines their portion in the World-to-Come -- where
they will never die again --is what they accomplished each time in the
short lives. As the Talmud states:
Some people earn their portion in the World-to-Come after many years,
whereas some earn it in a single moment. (Avodah Zarah 17b)
The common denominator for both? What each did with the moments
they personally had to live out their lives.
It is amazing how much time affects our lives, which is why we spend so
much of it trying to manage and gain control over it. Our very heart beat is
determined to be "good" or "bad" based upon how many times it beats per
minute. Even our bodies have their own clocks -- the circadian cycle --
which we must obey to remain healthy, and which impose themselves upon
us, bringing about physical changes at different stages of life, whether we
are ready for them or not.
This is another reason why Shabbos is so indispensable to the Jew. We
take for granted that opposites exist in Creation -- good and bad, light and
dark, pure and impure -- as if it is the most natural thing of all, which it is,
once God built it into Creation. And, He did so, so that we can appreciate
good by knowing what bad is; light, because we experience darkness; pure,
because we are, at times, impure.
And time, because we have the eternity of Shabbos.
Fascinating it is how, even though the sun sets almost the exact same
time at the beginning of Shabbos as it did the day before, and that the stars
come out Motzei Shabbos as they did the previous night, that from sunset to
nightfall, there is a feeling of eternity. Pity the Jew who has yet to discover
the eternal sensation of the 24 hours of Shabbos, for his life exists within a
continuous hourglass, seven days a week, giving him little appreciation of
time, and therefore, of life.
Rabbi Tarfon said, the day is short, the work is great, the workers are
lazy, the reward is great, and the Master of the house is insistent. (Pirkei
With everything in life, you can't fully understand something until you
have witnessed its opposite. Likewise is it with respect to the finiteness of
time: to appreciate it, you have to taste, on some level, its infiniteness. At
some point in the week, the temporal must yield to the infinite, and the
must step aside for the finite.
In the case of the former, it is like stepping through a portal into another
dimension, a fifth one, if you will. Personally, I love the walk down my
street to the shul at which I welcome in Shabbos, as the sun sets, beautiful
hues of red and orange over the Judean mountains behind me. In the near
distance to my right are more beautifully sculpted, beautifully settled hills,
that reflect the rays of retreating sunlight through a haze of fresh moisture.
The view is Heavenly, befitting the arrival of the Shabbos Queen.
On my right and left are homes that exude Shabbos, with little children
adorning the streets, dressed for Shabbos and playing in a Shabbos-like way.
The air is sweet, and feels holy, and all of it elevates me and makes me feel
as if I do not have a care in the world, even though I had plenty just hours
before, and I will have them again after Shabbos goes out.
Even though the color of the sky changes dramatically over the course of
the next 24 hours, this Shabbos feeling usually continues up until around
Seudos Shlishis, when I usually begin to feel Heaven tugging at Shabbos. It's
as if to remind her that the time is fast approaching when she must ascend
once again to her Heavenly abode for another six days.
As I walk home from shul Motzei Shabbos, having dovened and after
saying "V'yitein lecha," I can feel the clock ticking once again. I do not
make Havdalah or do any creative activity until 72 minutes after sundown
(as per the opinion of Rabbeinu Tam), but once I walk into the house, I am
hit once again with the mundane reality of the weekday. One son is usually
playing guitar, while the others are already involved in other weekday
Indeed, my own computer usually beckons me: check your e-mail,
complete "Perceptions" or "Connecting the Dots," etc. However, I usually
make a point of not running right from Havdalah to my computer, just to
allow Shabbos to linger a while longer. A "queen" has been in my midst,
and I am not going to savor the moment as long as I can?
But alas, just as time must give way to timelessness, timelessness must
also give way to time. Besides, a Melava Malkah also seems nicer once the
house looks more like Erev Shabbos than Motzei Shabbos, which means a
serious clean-up job. The fourth dimension has returned once again, not to
be ignored, but to be utilized to transform this week’s opportunity of life into
more eternal reward. This way, by the time the sun sets next Friday afternoon,
Shabbos can be proud of our accomplishments, and anxious to reward
us with a taste of the world for which we truly strive, Olam HaBah.
Hence, the World-to-Come is called “the day that is completely Shabbos,”
which is also why it was Moshe Rabbeinu, while the Jewish people
were still enslaved in Egypt, who arranged for the Jewish people to keep
Shabbos. The tzaddik who had mastered the four dimensions of reality, especially
the element of time, was the perfect conduit for the gift that could
allow his brothers to rise above the limitations of the three physical
of which the slavery took advantage.
Hence, as 5769 fast approaches its completion, the one thing we become
most aware of is time, since so little of it remains before Rosh Hashanah
and the judgment on time. We become super conscious of how we
spend the final moments of the year, at least we ought to be, and are reminded,
by these 11 parshios and the final moments of the life of our greatest
teacher, just how much can be accomplished in a single day, let alone
over the course of an entire lifetime, when we work with time, not against it.
Text Copyright © 2009 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Torah.org.