Taking Stock Of The Nation When The Time Comes For Transfer Of Power
These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: Tape # 561, Lo Bashamayim He. Good Shabbos
Parshas Nitzavim begins with the words: “You are standing today, all of you, before Hashem, your G-d: Your heads, your tribes, your elders, and your officers — all the men of Israel” [Devorim 29:9]. Rashi comments (in his second interpretation): “Since Israel was going out from leader to leader, from Moshe to Yehoshua, therefore he made a standing assembly (matzeivah) of them in order to exhort them. And so did Yehoshua do (before he died). And so too, Shmuel, who said ‘Stand and I shall contest with you’, when Israel left his hand and entered the hand of Shaul.”
In other words, whenever a leader would prepare for the handing over of the nation, so to speak, to the next generation of leadership, he would make them into a “standing assembly” (matzeivah).
What does it mean to make the people into a ‘matzeivah’? Rav Moshe Feinstein, in his published thoughts on Chumash, introduces an interesting concept. The thought is based on a somewhat homiletic idea. The Torah commands elsewhere: “Do not set up for yourselves a pillar (‘matzeivah’) that the L-rd your G-d despises” [Devorim 16:22]. Many masters of ‘derush’ (homiletics) interpret this pasuk [verse] to mean that a person should never make HIMSELF into a ‘matzeivah’.
A ‘matzeivah’ is an altar made of one piece of stone as opposed to a ‘mizbeach’ that is an altar made of many stones. The symbolism of a one-piece stone is: This is where the person is now and this is where he is always going to be. A person is not a ‘matzeivah’. A person should never make himself into a ‘matzeivah’ saying: “this is all that I am.” A person must try to grow. Either we grow or we regress. Spiritually, there is no such thing as standing still.
A person should never say: “What do you want from me? I have my wife. I have my kids. I learn my daf. I daven three times a day. I am a good guy. Leave me alone!” A person must never stagnate spiritually and thereby make himself into a ‘matzeivah’.
Our Sages comment on the words “Vayelech Moshe” [And Moshe went] at the beginning of next week’s parsha that the word “Vayelech” indicates chastisement (tochacha). We understand that there is plenty of tochacha in Parshas Ki Savo and so too in Parshas Nitzavim. But where is the tochacha in the word “Vayelech” at the beginning of Parshas Vayelech?
The answer is that Parshas Vayelech was written on the last day of Moshe Rabbeinu’s life (the Seventh day of Adar). The Torah is indicating to us that even at the age of 120, Moshe Rabbeinu was still a ‘holech’ (a mover). There are two types of beings in this word — a stationary being (an ‘omed’) and a dynamic being (a ‘holech’) — someone who is always on the move.
Moshe Rabbeinu did not walk into his retirement party dressed casually, without a tie, looking forward to giving up the tremendous burden of leadership that he bore on his shoulders all these years. Even to the very end, Moshe was a ‘holech’. This is the chastisement — to the rest of us!
The Vilna Gaon comments on a pasuk in Zecharia [3:7]: “And I will place before you movers (mehalchim) between these stationary people (haOmdim haEleh)”. The Gaon states that the only being that should be spiritually stationary is an angel. The pasuk is teaching that a person — sometimes — can even be a mover after his death, moving amongst the ‘omdim’, i.e. — the angels!
If a person works and accomplishes something while in this world and leaves a legacy, then even after death, he can be a ‘holech’. However, the time when a person is on this planet is certainly not the time to relax. There will be plenty of time to relax… in the next world.
As we get older, we look ahead to the generation older than us. I am strengthened by the fact that I see many people older than I, past retirement age, who remain dynamic and creative. They are still ‘holchim’ well into their seventies and eighties. They never allow themselves to become merely “omdim” (stationary). Some people go on to even greater life accomplishments after they “retire” from their professional careers than during that “productive period”. This is the way it should be with all of us. We must remain ‘holchim.’
To return to our point of departure, Rav Moshe interprets “Atem Nitzavim” [You are standing] as “he made them into a ‘matzeivah’.” As he is about to hand the nation over to Yehoshua, Moshe gives his disciple a status report on the nation. “Yehoshua, this is where they are spiritually right now. It is your responsibility to take them to the next level.” It is necessary to have such a measure, a snapshot in time, against which future progress can be compared and calibrated.
This is why, throughout Biblical history, every leader would make the people into a ‘matzeivah’ at the time when he was about to hand over the nation to the next generation’s leadership. This was to create a sort of snapshot, as if to say, “Where do they stand at this moment in time?” The past leader “took stock of the nation” before handing them over to the next leader. This is the meaning of “he made them into a ‘matzeivah.'”
This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Torah Tapes on the weekly Torah portion. The halachic topics dealt with in the portion of Nitzavim-Vayelech in the Commuter Chavrusah Series are the following:
Tape # 022 – Reading Haftorah: Scrolls vs. Book
Tape # 112 – Shoteh: Mental Incompetence in Halacha
Tape # 158 – Schar Shabbos: How Do We Pay Rabbonim and Chazzanim?
Tape # 205 – Kiddush Before T’kiyas Shofar
Tape # 252 – Buying Seforim
Tape # 295 – Burying the Dead on Yom Tov Sheni
Tape # 341 – The Brachos on the T’kios
Tape # 342 – Is Building a Succah a Mitzvah?
Tape # 385 – Fasting on Rosh Hashana
Tape # 386 – Succah Gezulah
Tape # 429 – Treatment of an Invalid Sefer Torah
Tape # 473 – Seudas Siyum Mesechta
Tape # 517 – What Exactly Is Mitzva of Shofar
Tape # 561 – Lo Bashomayin He
Tape # 605 – Selling A Sefer Torah
Tape # 693 – My Father’s Chumros
Tape # 737 – Borrowing and Lending Seforim
Tape # 781 – I’m the Baal Tokeah and Not You!
Tapes or a complete catalogue can be ordered from the Yad Yechiel Institute, PO Box 511, Owings Mills MD 21117-0511. Call (410) 358-0416 or e-mail [email protected] or visit http://www.yadyechiel.org/ for further information.
Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Yissocher Frand and Torah.org.