Rabbi Frand on Parshas Netzavim – Rosh Hashana
These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: Tape # 295, Burying The Dead on Yom Tov Sheni. Good Shabbos!
Giving In To the Dictates of One’s Heart
This week’s parsha contains the pasuk [verse] “And it will be, that when he hears the words of this curse, he will bless himself in his heart, saying ‘Peace will be with me, for I will go as my heart sees fit (ki b’sherirus leebi eilech)'” [Devorim 29:18]. This pasuk is discussing a person who does not take the multitude of curses threatened in the previous Torah portion seriously.
Rash”i explains the expression “sherirus leebi” to mean “the way my heart sees it” (as in the expression ashurenu v’lo karov [Bamidbar 24:17]). In other words, whatever my heart perceives as being the correct path, that is how I will proceed. This is the simple interpretation of the expression.
Rav Gifter (Rosh Yeshiva of Telshe Yeshiva, Ohio), however, provides an interesting insight. The word “sherirus” actually should be spelled — shin reish YUD reish vov sof. It appears without the yud so that when reading the letters without vowels, the words sound like “b’serarus leebi” (by the rule of my heart). Rav Gifter says that if a person wants to follow the inclinations of his heart, eventually his heart will rule over him. His heart will control him.
The task of every Jew is to rule over the dictates of his heart. Once a person says, “I want to go my own way, I will indulge and have a good time”, ultimately he will be so controlled by his heart that he will be incapable of saying ‘no’.
When one goes after the _vision_ of his heart (sherirus), he ultimately winds up controlled by the _dictates_ (serarus) of his heart.
The Head of the Fish/The Hat of a Chosid: Thoughts for the Days of Awe
On the holiday of Rosh Hashana, there is a Jewish custom that after returning home from shul [Prayer Services] at night, we eat various foods that are symbolic of a propitious start to the New Year. We eat the head of a fish or the head of a lamb so that we “will be at the head and not at the tail”. We dip challah and apple in honey so that we will “have a sweet year”. We eat fish so that we will “multiply like fish”.
TIs it not peculiar that we spend a whole day in shul on Rosh Hashana, pouring out our hearts, asking for what we need, and yet when we come home from shul we need to rely on these “signs”? Will the head of the fish accomplish what six hours of davening [prayers] did not accomplish?
To answer this question, let us ask one other question. Our Rabbis tell us that three barren women were remembered on Rosh Hashana — Sarah, Rachel, and Channah [Rosh Hashana 11a]. What point are our Sages making by telling us this? The Shemen HaTov quotes a Tikunei Zohar: “The people, on the day of Yom Kippur, bark like dogs, ‘give us sustenance’ (like an aggressive dog, who barks for bread).” People come on the Days of Awe with a wish list. “Hav, Hav (Give, Give) — give us food, give us sustenance.”
This human tendency to focus on one’s physical needs causes us to miss the major focus of the day. If we look at the nature of the Rosh Hashana liturgy, we will notice that it contains very little by way of asking for personal needs such as livelihood, sustenance, etc. On Rosh Hashana we primarily ask G-d to “rule over the entire world with Your (His) Honor”. Rosh Hashana is a cosmic day. Rosh Hashana does not deal with trivial and mundane pursuits. Rosh Hashana must be more elevated than that. Rosh Hashana is really all about the concept that He is the King and we are the servants. Nothing else in our entire life should concern us, other than that we establish that He is the King.
A recent article in the Washington Post noted that the United Methodist Church removed the word “Lord” from its liturgy, because “Lord” implies that we are servants (this was in 1993). “That is too harsh! Redeemer is fine; Healer is fine; Friend is fine; but if he is the Lord, where does that leave me? I would then be a servant.” That seems to be politically incorrect thinking today.
On the contrary, on Rosh Hashana, we stress that G-d is the King and we are indeed the servants. The true servant has no other wish in life other than that the King should be exalted and glorified.
This is true to such an extent that the only time we really worry about our sustenance, about our ability to have children, or about having a little sweetness in our own lives, is when we come home at night after having finished in shul. Then we have the “signs”. The context of those “signs” becomes “Yes, G-d, I know what it is all about. It is about serving You. But I can not serve You unless I have a livelihood, unless I have health, unless I have children, etc. Therefore, please help me out.”
That is why these three women were remembered on Rosh Hashana. These three women had something in common. They all worried about someone else.
“G-d remembered Sarah as he said” [Bereishis 21:1]. Rash”i cites the connection between this portion and the immediately preceding portion. Since Avraham prayed for a cure for Avimelech, Avraham’s own needs were answered. Avraham thought about someone else’s needs, and therefore his needs were provided for.
“G-d remembered Rachel” [Bereishis 30:22]. Why did G-d remember Rochel? G-d remembered Rochel because she remembered someone else. Rochel thought about the embarrassment of her sister. She was selfless. That is what Rosh Hashana is about — selflessness.
Chana was also remembered on Rosh Hashana [Shmuel I 2:21]. Why did G-d remember Chana? He remembered her because of the reason why she was asking for a child. Chana was not asking for a child because she wanted someone to cuddle. Chana wanted to have someone to dedicate to G-d all the days of his life. Her request was altruistic.
This is the difficult task of Rosh Hashana. It is a day when we must put things in their proper perspective. Life is really about being a faithful servant. As hard as that may seem for modern man living in the end of the twentieth century, that is the name of the game. All the needs that we present to G-d must be in the context of “Can I thereby become a better servant?”
The Shemen HaTov tells of the following incident, which involved the grandfather of the present Belzer Rebbe. It was Yom Kippur in Belz. They had finished the Mincha prayer early, and the Chassidim went to take a rest or a walk before they began the Neilah prayer, the final prayer of Yom Kippur. Everyone left the Beis HaMedrash [Study Hall]. Like many others, one of the honorable and wealthy Chassidim left his Shtreimel [fur hat worn by Chassidim] at his seat. When he returned before Neilah, the Shtreimel was missing. Someone stole a Shtreimel from the Beis HaMedrash in Belz on Yom Kippur!
There was a great commotion. Who could do such a thing?! The Rebbe (unaware of what had happened) went to begin Neilah as scheduled. After Yom Kippur the Rebbe called over the Chassidim and asked them, “What was the big commotion before Neilah?” They told him “Someone stole a Shtreimel”. The Rebbe told them to all to go and break their fasts. Later, the Rebbe asked to see a certain chossid.
The chossid came to the Rebbe and the Rebbe told him “You stole the Shtreimel”. The fellow denied it. The Rebbe persisted in the charge until finally the chossid broke down and confessed.
The next day in Belz, “For the Jews there was Light” [Esther 8:16]. Everyone proclaimed a miracle: “the Rebbe has Ruach HaKodesh [Divine Spirit].” However, the Rebbe explained that “It was not Ruach HaKodesh. The way that I knew who stole the Shtreimel was as follows. Before Yom Kippur, all of my Chassidim gave me a kvittel (a small written note with their prayer requests). Everyone had needs. This one asked to see nachas from his children, this one asked to marry off a daughter, all sorts of requests. One Chossid, however asked only for Parnassah (livelihood). A Jew who can think to ask for nothing else on Yom Kippur besides Parnassah, is the type of person who would steal a Shtreimel on Yom Kippur.” That is how the Rebbe knew.
As important as all of our needs are, Rosh Hashana is the day on which we must put them in perspective. All these needs are only the medium for being able to do what we are supposed to be doing — working to establish the Kingship of G-d over the entire world, speedily in our days.
Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Yerushalayim.
This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Torah Tapes on the weekly Torah portion (#295). The corresponding halachic portion for this tape is: Burying the Dead on Yom Tov Sheni. The other halachic portions for Parshas Nitzavim and/or VaYelech from the Commuter Chavrusah Series are:
- 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 # 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
Tapes or a complete catalogue can be ordered from:
Yad Yechiel Institute
PO Box 511
Owings Mills, MD 21117-0511
Call (410) 358-0416 for further information.
Also Available: Mesorah / Artscroll has published a collection of Rabbi Frand’s essays. The book is entitled:
and is available through your local Hebrew book store or from Project Genesis, 1-410-654-1799.