Why Not Hire a Babysitter When Parents Go to Hakhel?
The middle of Parshas Nitzavim contains the pasuk “The hidden things are for Hashem, our G-d, but the revealed things are for us and for our children forever, to carry out all the words of this Torah.” [Devorim 29:28] While this is not the simple interpretation of the pasuk, I saw an observation in the sefer Milchemes Yehudah as follows: “HaNistaros (the hidden things) L’Hashem Elokeinu” means that which a person does in private is between him and the Ribono shel Olam. “V’Haniglos (that which is revealed)” – but that which one does in front of his children – that is “Lanu u’levaneinu ad olam” — something which makes an impression on our children forever and ever.
No one sees that which goes on in a person’s heart or in his private activities. That is between him and the Almighty. He will ultimately have to face his Maker on that score. But “haNiglos” – not only the “public person,” but even the person’s actions in the confines of his own home – how he talks, how he acts, how he reacts – these personality traits leave a profound and indelible effect on his children, and ultimately on their children, for all future generations!
We are constantly “on stage.” This is especially true when we have young children or young grandchildren, but it applies even with our older children. Our actions, for better or for worse, are modeling behavior that will be understood as acceptable and even normal “for us, and for our children, forever.”
The truth is that this idea is perhaps contained in the famous Gemara [Chagiga 3a] which discusses the mitzvah of Hakhel (in Parshas Vayelech). The pasuk says “Gather together the people – the men, the women, the small children, and your stranger who is in your cities – so that they will hear and so that they will learn, and they shall fear Hashem, your G-d, and be careful to perform all the words of this Torah” [Devorim 31:12]
Everybody in the nation had to come to the Beis HaMikdash in Yerushalayim for the once-in-seven-year, Hakhel event. The Gemara asks: We understand that the men come to learn, and the women come to listen, however why do they need to bring the children? Rav Elazar ben Azaria answers “In order that those who bring them receive reward.”
This is a troubling exposition. Is there no point in bringing the children other than the reward the parents receive for bringing them? The correct understanding of Rav Elazar ben Azaria’s statement is not that the parents get reward merely for following G-d’s command, no different than they would be rewarded if the command was to schlep a bag of potatoes to Yerushalayim and they did that. Rather, he means to say that when parents expose their children to such a powerful spiritual environment, this is something they will reap reward for in the future. The children will see what is important to their parents. They will see that their father and mother are inspired and uplifted by the ruchniyus (spirituality) that was characteristic of Yerushalayim and the Bais HaMikdash. They will learn to be inspired by such environments as well. This is the reward that the parents reap by bringing their children to Hakhel.
The Mechilta ends off, “Happy are you, our Patriarch Avraham, that Elazar ben Azaria came from your loins.” What does Elazar ben Azaria have to do with Avraham Avinu? Why does having such a descendant make Avraham so happy?
The Torah says why the Almighty chose Avraham Avinu: “For I have cherished him, because he commands his children and his household after him that they keep the way of Hashem, doing charity and justice…” [Bereishis 18:19] The Ribono shel Olam gave Avraham a mandate: I have chosen you so that you should pass on My Ways to your children after you and to their children after them. This is exactly the lesson Rav Elazar ben Azaria was stressing in teaching his lesson of “To bring reward to those who bring them.”
Rav Nosson Adler makes an interesting observation. Let’s be honest: Will the parents have a more uplifting and spiritual experience hearing words of Torah and being in Yerushalayim and the Bais HaMikdash environment by themselves or with their children who are always saying they are hungry and asking when it’s time to go home? Certainly, the father and mother will have a more elevated experience if the children are not there nagging them! Then why bring them? The answer is a basic principle in Judaism: You give up some of your own ruchniyus (spirituality) for the benefit of somebody else. This is part of the mitzvah of chessed.
Part of the mitzvah of chessed is “I am going to get less out of this, but I am going to have an effect on someone else.” Avraham Avinu was in the business of chessed. He had a restaurant. Couldn’t Avraham have achieved a higher degree of spiritual accomplishment on his own, were he not distracted by having to serve meals to every Arab and idolater that came through? Yes! But he sacrificed his personal ruchniyus for the benefit of others.
This is exactly the implication of Rav Elazar ben Azaria’s teaching. I am going to schlep my kids to Hakhel and let them drive me crazy on the trip, and I am not going to get as much out of the experience. But that is worth it, because “haNiglos lanu u’levaneinu ad olam.” Therefore, that which my children see me doing will impact them and their descendants forever. Therefore, happy are you Avraham Avinu that Elazar ben Azaria comes from your loins.
The Difference Between the Choice in Re’eh And the Choice in Nitzavim
I would like to explain a cryptic teaching of the Meshech Chochmah in this week’s parsha.
The Torah says in Parshas Nitzavim: “For this mitzvah that I command you today is not hidden from you and is not distant. It is not in the heavens, for you to say, ‘Who can ascend to the heavens for us and take it for us, and let us hear it, so that we can perform it?’ Nor is it across the sea, for you to say ‘Who can cross to the other side of the sea for us and take it for us, and let us hear it, so that we can perform it?’ Rather, the matter is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to perform it.” [Devorim 30:11-14].
It is always amazing to me that on the last Shabbos of the year we read this parsha and we read these words. What is “this mitzvah” referred to in the pasuk? There is a difference of opinion amongst the classic Torah commentaries as to which mitzvah is being referred to here as “a non-distant mitzvah.” Ramban and other meforshim say it is referring to the mitzvah of teshuva.
Here we are, the Shabbos before Rosh Hashanah, and the Torah says that the mitzvah of teshuva is not wondrous and is not beyond our grasp. It is not in Heaven, but it is very close to us. It is within our mouths and our hearts to do it. What inspiring words to hear before the start of the Yomim Noraim: The mitzvah of teshuva is readily attainable!
The Torah continues, “See I have placed before you today life and good, and death and evil” [Devorim 30:15]. The Torah lays out the matter before us in very stark terms. If we decide to do good, we will live, if we choose bad, we are going to die. It is a zero-sum game. The Meshech Chochma asks an interesting question about this pasuk: This pasuk is strikingly similar to a pasuk we read a few weeks ago at the beginning of Parshas Re’eh. “See, I present before you today a blessing and a curse” [Devorim 11:26].
But there the Torah is not as explicit. The pasuk is not as stark. We are merely told that we have a choice between blessing and curse. It is only in this week’s parsha that the Torah tells it like it is: It is not simply a question of foregoing blessing that is at stake. No. The “Good” means life; the “Bad” means death! “I have placed life and death before you, blessing and curse; and you shall choose life, so that you will live, you and your offspring” [Devorim 30 19]. This is literally, “putting it on the table.”
The Meshech Chochma [Devorim 30:11] asks why in Parshas Re’eh the Torah merely alludes to a vague and generic choice, whereas in Parshas Netzavim it is stark and as explicit as can be.
The Meshech Chochma gives a cryptic answer (as is his style) but I think this is what he means: We are familiar with the Rambam in the third chapter of Hilchos Teshuva where he writes, “Every person has merits and sins. One whose merits outweigh his sins is a tzadik (righteous). One whose sins outweigh his merits is a rasha (wicked). One whose merits and sins are equally balanced is a beinonee (intermediate category).” This is Perek 3 Halacha 1 in Hilchos Teshuva.
Perek 3 Halacha 2 says the following: “The calculation of this balance is not based on the number of merits and sins, but based on their magnitude. There are some merits that outweigh many sins, and some sins that outweigh many merits.” This is not a simple matter of mathematics, counting up the debits and credits. There are some actions that tip the scales and outweigh many other actions that would weigh in the other direction.
Perek 3 Halacha 3 says: “Just like this calculation is made on the day a person dies, so too each and every year a person’s sins are weighed for everyone in the world—on the New Year.”
This is what is going to happen for everyone next Shabbos. We will all stand before the Master of the World and He will make the calculation: He who is found righteous will be inscribed for life. He who is found wicked will be inscribed for death. Those in the intermediate category will have their fate suspended until Yom Kippur. If they do teshuva, they will be sealed for life, if not they will be sealed for death.
Everyone asks the question: If the definition of a beinoni is someone who is exactly balanced – 50/50 – then why is it necessary for the person to do teshuva? Let him merely do one mitzvah, which will tip the scale and put him into the tzadik category! Let him visit the sick, learn a little more, grab an extra mitzvah or two, and seal his fate in a positive fashion! Why is specifically teshuva essential to put him over the top? Many people ask this famous question on the Rambam.
The answer is, as the Rambam writes: Sometimes a person does a sin that is a real whopper and can really tip the scales no matter how many merits are on the other side. What is an example of such a “whopper of an aveirah“? When the Ribono shel Olam comes and knocks on our door and says, “here I am, apologize” and the person does not do so. That is such an egregious sin that the person can lose all hope of emerging with a positive Judgement. In effect, this is a slap in the Face to the Ribono shel Olam.
He is coming. He is waiting. He is the aggrieved party. You do not do anything about it. That is a terrible sin. This is actually a famous Gemara [Yoma 87a]. The Amoraim had a custom that if someone insulted them during the year, they would go to that person on Erev Yom Kippur and avail themselves to that person, to give them the opportunity to repent and ask forgiveness. From where did the Amoraim learn this? They learned it from the Ribono shel Olam. “Seek out Hashem when He is to be found; call out to Him when He is near” [Yeshaya 55:6]. This, Chazal say, refers to the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Then the Gemara tells a scary story: Rav had an incident with a certain butcher. He had been insulted by the butcher during the course of the year. Rav came into the butcher shop on Erev Yom Kippur, not to buy meat for the Seudah HaMafsekes, but to make himself available to the butcher so that he could apologize to Rav. The butcher in effect told him “bug off.” The Gemara relates that the butcher was chopping a piece of meat with a bone, the bone flew up and hit him in the head and he died.
The question is asked: What did the butcher do that was so bad that he was deserving of death? The answer is that when Rav comes to you and in effect says to you “Here I am. I am willing to forgive you, just say the words ‘I apologize'”—and you do not react—that is a horrible aveirah.
That is what the Rambam means. If you do teshuva when you are “equally balanced” then you have rectified your past sins. However, if you do not do teshuva—you merely go around visiting the sick or seeking out other “mitzvah points”—that is still a slap in the Face of the Almighty! He is here, and you are not responding.
That is the answer of the Meshech Chochmah. The difference between Parshas Re’eh and Parshas Nitzavim is that Parshas Re’eh is very bland, very vanilla. “Blessing and curse.” But in Parshas Nitzavim, where the Torah is blunt and spells it out – “For the mitzvah that I command you today is not beyond your grasp and it is not distant from you…” The Ribono shel Olam is saying, HERE I AM – DO TESHUVA! Then the Ribono shel Olam says. “Guess what? I have given you this opportunity. Understand, I have given you this day the choice between Life and Death. Once you have the mitzvah of teshuva and you fail to take advantage of it, it is no longer vanilla. It is no longer generic “blessing and curse.” It is now a zero-sum game. You either do teshuva and get kapparah (atonement) and you will live—or the opposite.
That, the Meshech Chochma says, is the difference between Parshas Re’eh and Parshas Nitzavim.
Transcribed by David Twersky; Jerusalem [email protected]
Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Baltimore, MD [email protected]
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
- # xxxx – Dip the Apple in the Honey Make A Bracha: Which Bracha?
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.