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Posted on September 7, 2023 (5783) By Rabbi Yissocher Frand | Series: | Level:

This dvar Torah was adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: Tape # 385, Fasting On Rosh Hashana. Good Shabbos!

According to the standard order of the weekly parshios, Parshas Nitzavim is always read before Rosh HaShana. Despite the fact that our current order of reading the parshiyos is not necessarily the way that it was always practiced, there could be no more appropriate parsha to read at precisely this time of year. Nitzavim contains the following series of pesukim (verses):

“For this mitzvah that I am prescribing to you today is not too wondrous for you, it is not too distant. It is not in Heaven that you should say ‘Who shall go up to Heaven and bring it to us so that we can hear it and keep it?’ It is not over the sea so that you should say ‘Who will cross the sea and get it for us, so that we will be able to hear it and keep it?’ It is something that is very close to you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can keep it.” (Devarim 30:11-14)

There is a difference of opinion among the early commentators as to which mitzvah the Torah is referring. According to the Ramban (1194-1270) and others who follow his opinion, the Torah is referring to the mitzvah of Teshuvah (Repentance, Return to G-d). Teshuvah is this mitzva that is “within our capacity and within our reach to fulfill.”

The Sforno (1470-1550) writes as follows concerning this pasuk: “It is not too wondrous for you” – that you would require neviim (prophets). “It is not too distant” – that you would require distant wise men of the generation to explain to you that which is necessary to accomplish it, even while you are still in exile.”

A person should not think, “In these times, I am incapable of doing Teshuvah. Had I lived in the times of the neviim who could have directly told me exactly what I was doing wrong – then I could have repented properly. Unfortunately, I live in a period of history when there are no neviim.” To counteract such thoughts, the Torah assures us “It is not in Heaven” – implying that we do not need prophetic words from heaven to allow us to do Teshuva. This is no excuse.

Likewise, we cannot argue “If I had a real maggid mussar (expounder of homiletic lessons of chastisement) then I might be inspired to repent. If the Chofetz Chaim or the Vilna Gaon were here and would tell me to do Teshuvah, I would do it!” To counteract such thoughts, the Torah informs us “It is not across the Sea.” This, too, is no excuse.

“For the matter is very near. It is within your mouth and your heart to do it.” We do not need neviim or wise men. It is all up to us. This pasuk is a double-edged sword. Teshuvah is easy. It is accessible. But, on the other hand, it is completely up to us. We cannot fall back on external excuses.

Perhaps this is hinted at in the famous Gemara (Avodah Zarah 17a) regarding Eleazar ben Durdaya. When the woman of ill repute told Eleazar ben Durdaya that he would never be able to repent, he pleaded “Heaven and Earth request mercy for me.” They responded that they could not help him. He invoked the aid of the stars and of the sea and was given the same answer. The Gemara says that he put his head between his knees and he expired on the spot as a result of intense remorse and repentance. What is the symbolism of placing his head between his knees? This was the ultimate acknowledgment that his repentance was dependent upon himself alone.

We cannot wait for others to do Teshuvah for us and we cannot blame others for our failure to do Teshuvah. It is not because our parents raised us poorly. It is not because our environment was bad. There are no excuses! The ability to do Teshuvah is within our own mouths and hearts.

Transcribed by David Twersky; Seattle, Washington.

Edited by Dovid Hoffman; Yerushalayim.

This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly Torah portion. A listing of the halachic portions for Parshas Nitzavim / Vayeilech is provided below:

  • # 022 – Reading Haftorah: Scrolls vs. Book
  • # 112 – Shoteh: Mental Incompetence in Halacha
  • # 158 – Schar Shabbos: How Do We Pay Rabbonim and Chazzanim?
  • # 205 – Kiddush Before T’kiyas Shofar
  • # 252 – Buying Seforim
  • # 295 – Burying the Dead on Yom Tov Sheni
  • # 341 – The Brachos on the T’kios
  • # 342 – Is Building a Succah a Mitzvah?
  • # 385 – Fasting on Rosh Hashana
  • # 386 – Succah Gezulah
  • # 429 – Treatment of an Invalid Sefer Torah
  • # 473 – Seudas Siyum Mesechta
  • # 517 – What Exactly Is Mitzva of Shofar
  • # 561 – Lo Bashomayin He
  • # 605 – Selling A Sefer Torah
  • # 649 – Minhagim of the Yomim Noraim
  • # 693 – My Father’s Chumros
  • # 737 – Borrowing and Lending Seforim
  • # 781 – I’m the Baal Tokeah and Not You!
  • # 825 – The Shuls of Gaza – A Halachic Perspective
  • # 826 – Yom Kippur: Women and the Shehecheyanu; Women and Kor’im
  • # 869 – The Mitzvah of Chinuch-Whose Responsibility? Mother or Father?
  • # 870 – Yom Kippur – The Yom Kippur That They Did Not Fast
  • # 913 – The Tefilah of Oleinu
  • # 957 – Coming Late for Tekias Shofar and Other Rosh Hashana Issues
  • # 1000 – Ta’amei Hamikra – The Tropp – How Important Is It?
  • # 1044 – Must You Stand for Chazoras HaShatz on Rosh Hashana?
  • # 1088 – Learning During T’kias Shofer?
  • # 1131 – Asking For Personal Needs On Rosh Hashana?
  • # 1173 – Oops! I Forgot Ya’Aleh Ve’Yavo in Bentching on Rosh Hashana
  • # 1217 – Fascinating Halachos Pertaining to a Choleh on Yom Kippur
  • # 1261 – Did I Say Hamelech Hakadosh? / Nuts on Rosh Hashana
  • # 1305 – The Case of the Esrog That Was Not As Advertised
  • # 1349 – The Baal Tokeah Who Was Doubtful If He Could Blow
  • # 1437 – Dip the Apple in the Honey Make A Bracha: Which Bracha?
  • #1481 – Selichos: Can It Be Said Without a Minyan? Sitting Down?
  • #1525 – Rosh Hashana: Oops I Forgot Yaleh VeYavo in Bentching Must I Bentch Over?

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