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Posted on September 6, 2023 (5783) By Rabbi Yisroel Ciner | Series: | Level:

This week we read Parshas Nitzavim, quickly followed by the holiday of Rosh Hashana two days later. In our parsha, on the last day of his life, Moshe gathers together all of Bnei Yisroel for a final initiation into the bris {covenant} with Hashem. He warns to be very vigilant with idol worship and describes the destruction Hashem will send upon Eretz Yisroel if we don’t follow the way of Hashem.

“Ha’e’dosi va’chem ha’yome es hashamayim v’es ha’aretz {I bring the heavens and earth as witnesses today} ha’chaim v’ha’mavess nasati l’fanecha ha’b’racha v’ha’k’lala {I have placed before you (the choice of) life and death, blessing and curse}u’va’charta ba’chaim {you should choose life} l’ma’an tich’ye atah v’zar’e’cha {in order that you and your children will live} [30:19].”

What testimony is being brought by the heavens and earth?

Rashi explains that, in the future, when evil will befall us, the heavens and earth will testify that we had been warned.

Rashi then quotes the Sifri which offers an additional explanation. Hashem is calling upon Bnei Yisroel: “Look at the heavens that I created to serve you, have they deviated from their prescribed path? Has the sun ever missed a day and not risen from the east to illuminate the world? Look at the earth that I created to serve you, has it ever deviated from its prescribed pattern? Have wheat seeds ever produced barley? If they who don’t receive reward or punishment haven’t deviated from their ordained paths, you Bnei Yisroel, who do receive reward for obeying and do get punished for transgressing, certainly should adhere to your ordained path.”

The Be’er Yosef is troubled by this Sifri. How can Hashem compare the roles of heaven and earth to that of man? The state and purpose of the heavens and earth has remained the same from the time of creation until today. They are supposed to be doing the same exact things day in and day out. Man’s obligations, on the other hand, are constantly changing from moment to moment depending on the situations in which he finds himself. Furthermore, based on this constant change of circumstances, there have been people through the generations who have claimed that since the world has changed, the Torah as we have it is no longer applicable…

He explains in the following way. Chaza”l reveal that the first word of the Torah — B’reishis {In the beginning}– alludes to the very purpose of creation. The world was created for the sake of the Torah that is called ‘reishis’ and for the sake of Yisroel who are also called ‘reishis’. Yisroel, through the instructions of the Torah, would fulfill the purpose of creation. The Torah was the blueprint through which the world was created. Every detail of the world was created in the precise way that it was, in order to create the proper environment in which the Torah would be fulfilled.

When we look at the heavens and earth, we must remember that they were created to enable us to serve Hashem. The fact that there has been no change in them is testimony that there has also been no change in the applicability of the Torah and in our ability to observe its teachings. The All-Knowing and Eternal G-d was well aware of all of the changes that the world would go through. The heavens and earth were summoned as testimony that the eternal Torah will always apply to us.

As the days of Rosh Hashana approach, we must keep in mind the second half of the passuk we quoted above: “I have placed before you (the choice of) life and death, blessing and curse — you should choose life! [30:19].”

The Akeidas Yitzchak illustrates this with a penetrating parable.

A certain king had three sons whom he wanted to appoint to prominent positions. However, the law of that country dictated that before a person could be appointed to such a rank, he had to have proven his wisdom. The king therefore advised his sons to travel for a few years, gather wisdom and then he’d summon them to return.

The three brothers set off. As they drew near to a distant island, they discerned an incredibly beautiful and elaborate orchard. They decided to drop anchor and to investigate. At the entrance of the orchard sat three men. One was a very old man. The second was a person who suffered from terrible bodily afflictions. The third, the wisest of the three, had a pure and brilliant glow emanating from his face.

As they were entering, each of these three men turned to them and offered advice. The first one told them: “Know that you cannot remain in the orchard forever.” The second one warned them: “You can eat what you want but you can’t take anything with you.” The third one advised them: “When you eat from the fruits, stay away from the bad fruits — only choose the good ones.”

Upon entering the garden, they were mesmerized by the sight and scent of magnificent plants, trees and flowers. As they continued in further, they came across beautiful fountains and springs which comprised a very elaborate irrigation system. The wisdom that had gone into the planning of this orchard was quite evident. As they continued even further, they came to different mines of gold and precious gems.

At first, the three brothers stayed together, enjoying the fruits and the beauty of the orchard. After a few days they split up with each involving himself in his particular interest. One became totally involved in the delicious fruits that were available there, spending his days eating and drinking. Another decided to involve himself in what he considered to be a more worthwhile pursuit and spent his days gathering gold and gems.

The third brother was not interested in the path of the other two. He instead spent his time delving into the wonders of this orchard. The more he probed, the clearer it became to him that incredible wisdom had gone into the planning and planting of this orchard. He began to search for some sign of who had made this orchard. He came across some texts written by the designer which further testified to the genius of that individual. He spent his days gathering as much wisdom as he could. He’d taste the different fruits and admire the gems but his energy was devoted to acquiring an understanding of the designer through understanding what he’d built.

Time passed and the awaited message came from their father, the king — it was time to return home. They hurried to leave the orchard and to begin their return voyage.

The first brother had become so accustomed to the sweet pleasures of the orchard that he was unable to live without them. He never made it back to his father’s country.

The second son tried to carry out the fortune he had amassed. The heavy work and sleepless nights from his obsession with riches had taken their toll. He looked like a broken man, not like a prince. To add insult to injury, as he had been warned before he entered, all of the wealth that he tried to take with him was confiscated.

The third brother left filled with excitement. This was the day he was longing for. He could now show his father all the wisdom that he had gained.

The two remaining brothers reached the palace. The guards recognized the third brother and gave him a princely welcome. The second brother was unrecognizable and was not allowed to enter. The king sat with his son, delighted in the wisdom he had gained, and prepared a seat for him amongst the leading officers of the kingdom.

The three sons represent mankind being sent to this world. Upon arrival one receives three warnings. Adom Harishon warns him: You were formed from earth and to earth you will return. Iyov {Job} admonishes: You were born naked and that’s how you’ll return. Moshe exhorts: Choose life…

In the Rosh Hashana prayers we say: Remember us for life, O King Who desires (us to have) life and inscribe us in the Book of Life, for Your sake, O Living G-d.

In order to honestly ask Hashem for life, we must first make the decision to choose life.

Good Shabbos and a k’siva v’chasima tova,

Yisroel Ciner

This week’s parsha-insights is dedicated in mazel tov to Howie Hershkovich and Martha Vays in honor of their upcoming wedding. May they be zocheh to much happiness together and to build a bayis ne’eman b’Yisroel.

Copyright © 1998 by Rabbi Yisroel Ciner and Project Genesis, Inc.

The author teaches at Neveh Tzion in Telzstone (near Yerushalayim).