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13 Elul 5759 - August 25, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
The Torah's Advice: How To Arouse Oneself To Teshuvah
HaRav Emanuel Toledano

Part I

1) It is interesting that before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we read the Torah portions of the tochecho (rebuke). On a year that has two months of Adar (such as 5760) we read parshas Nitzovim on the Shabbos before Rosh Hashanah (of 5761), as we also do this year. In this parsha the Torah tells about the entire Jewish Nation being wrathfully exiled by Hashem.

On the previous Shabbos we read parshas Ki Sovo, which includes the prophecy about the terrible desolation of Eretz Yisroel after the churban and the bitter golus. On the same Shabbos that we read Nitzovim we also read parshas Vayeilech, which contains the frightening forecast, "Then My anger shall be kindled against them on that day and I will forsake them, and I will hide My face from them, and they shall be devoured, and many evils and troubles shall come upon them" (Devorim 31:17). On Shabbos Shuvah, before Yom Kippur, we read parshas Haazinu, that portrays this gloomy future.

In some years with only one Adar, when Nitzovim and Vayeilech are separate, we read both the ninety-eight curses of Ki Sovo before Rosh Hashanah and also parshas Nitzovim. Parshas Vayeilech we read before Yom Kippur on Shabbos Shuvah, and Haazinu we read between Yom Kippur and Succos.

In a year with only one Adar when Nitzovim and Vayeilech are combined but there is no Shabbos between Yom Kippur and Succos (such as this year, 5759) we read parshas Haazinu on Shabbos Shuvah, Nitzovim- Vayeilech before Rosh Hashanah and Ki Sovo the preceding Shabbos (this week).

2) The explanation for this sequence of readings is as follows. The Torah in parshas Nitzovim explicitly teaches us that analyzing Jewish history, both our periods of glory and of shame, jolts a person and prompts him to repent his sins thoroughly -- to do teshuvah sheleimah. Of course, only studying our past after being aware that everything was predestined by HaKodosh Boruch Hu can bring such an effect.

This is in fact the wise advice of Moshe Rabbenu, from whose mouth the Shechina spoke. He taught us how to arouse ourselves to teshuvah: "And it shall come to pass, when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, that you shall bethink yourself among all the nations where Hashem your Elokim has driven you, and you shall return unto Hashem your Elokim and hearken to His voice according to all that I command you this day, you and your children, with all your heart and with all your soul . . ." (Devorim 30:1- 2). This posuk simply promises us that by reflecting on the fact that Am Yisroel's future had already been exactly recorded by HaKodosh Boruch Hu at the time of matan Torah (parshas Bechukosai) and at the plains of Moav (parshas Ki Sovo, Nitzovim, Haazinu), one can arouse himself to teshuvah. (See the commentary of the Ramban on the Torah (Devorim 30:11), where he infers from the posuk a Divine promise that the Jews will repent in the future).

My dear friend HaRav S. Sokolovsky shlita has written a book called Providence and Promise, showing how our nation's history is fully written in the Torah. He cites, in the Ramban's name, that the tochecho in parshas Bechukosai refers to the destruction of the first Beis Hamikdash, while the tochecho at the plains of Moav in parshas Ki Sovo (until the end of Haazinu) refers to the destruction of the second Beis Hamikdash and apparently also to the long golus and all the terrible events that came as a result of the churban of the second Beis Hamikdash.

I will record what a Holocaust survivor told me that he personally saw and experienced.

The suffering, hunger and thirst in all concentration camps and ghettos where the Nazis gathered the Jews, is a matter of public knowledge. Many of them died from sheer hunger ("The wasting of hunger and the devouring of the fiery bolt and bitter destruction" [Devorim 32:24]).

One of the methods used to annihilate European Jewry was forced labor while at the same time denying the workers basic nourishment (they were often given just one slice of bread and a cup of coffee daily), until they collapsed. My friend, HaRav Yisroel Dovid Neivner shlita, a Holocaust survivor who was imprisoned in a Nazi work camp, told me that a certain talmid chochom and oveid Hashem worked together with him, building roads. While he was digging, the Torah scholar would justify his fate by repeating the pesukim in Ki Sovo (28:47-48), "Because you have not served Hashem your Elokim with joy and with gladness of heart, by reason of the abundance of all things, therefore you shall serve your enemy whom Hashem shall send against you, in hunger, and in thirst, and in nakedness (without proper clothing), and in want of all things (without any shelter, without a bed to sleep on), and he shall put a yoke of iron upon your neck until he has destroyed you." (It is a fact that at the end of the war the Nazis regretted their destroying a great potential source of manpower that could have contributed immensely to their arms industry. HaKodosh Boruch Hu apparently made them act foolishly so that these pesukim and the rest of the tochecho would be fulfilled.)

Later in Ki Sovo (v. 66-67) is written, "And your life shall hang in doubt before you, and you shall fear night and day, and shall have no assurance of your life. In the morning you shall say: `Would it were evening!' and at evening you shall say: `Would it were morning!' for the fear of your heart which you shall fear, and for the sight of your eyes which you shall see." All this was plainly fulfilled, as those who were under Nazi rule tell us.

World War II started sixty years ago in Elul 5699 (Sept. 1, 1939), and already in Tishrei the Nazis began slaughtering Polish Jewry. In three and a half years the Germans murdered three million Jews living in Poland. They concentrated them in the Warsaw Ghetto "in siege and in straits" (v. 55) and "in hunger, and in thirst, and in nakedness, and in want of all things." On the first day of Pesach 5703 (April 20, 1943) the Nazis began burning down the Warsaw Ghetto with all who were still alive there.

Just recently the reason why the Germans chose that specific date to devastate the ghetto became known. Hitler's birthday, yimach shemo, was on April 20, which fell that year, 5703, on the first day of Pesach. Heinrich Himmler, yimach shemo, the commander in charge of Warsaw, wanted to send a "gift" to the Fuhrer. He thought that there could be no better birthday present than to let Hitler know that on that day Poland became Judenrein. After killing all the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto he sent a telegram to Hitler telling him of the good news. (This telegraph was among the documents seized by the Allied forces after the war).

Such an occurrence was alluded to in verse 63: "And it shall come to pass, that as Hashem rejoiced over you to do you good, and to multiply you, so he (Rashi explains that, cholila, one cannot say that Hashem rejoices over Yisroel's destruction, but the posuk means that others will rejoice over Yisroel's destruction) will rejoice over you to cause you to perish and to destroy you."

Here in Eretz Yisroel after the war there were those who criticized the Jews' allowing themselves to be led to the slaughter like sheep. Sometimes an entire train would be guarded by only a few Germans. Likewise in the camps a few Nazis oversaw tens of thousands of Jews. Why did the Jews not rise against their murderers?

The answer to this question is found in parshas Haazinu (26-31). HaKodosh Boruch Hu wrote that it was fitting that the enemy should destroy all the Jews, but He will leave some over, so that the enemy would not be able to claim that through their own power and not that of Hashem they killed the Jews. Hashem says in the Torah that such a claim is utter foolishness, since, "How could one chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight, except their Rock had given them over" and put fear in their hearts? So it was with the Nazis. Only the atheists who think that the hand of the Nazis destroyed Am Yisroel and not Hashem could ask such questions.

Parenthetically, during the Holocaust too, Hashem saved whomever He wanted and the Nazis were incapable of hurting such people. The Nazis pressured the Japanese immensely to annihilate the talmidim of the Mirrer Yeshiva, and the Japanese twice actually formulated plans to destroy them, but they never put them into action. In the continuation of Haazinu is written that whom Hashem wants to save, He saves. Not the hand of the enemy brings evil; all are sheluchim of HaKodosh Boruch Hu.

3) What did Moshe Rabbenu intend by his advice about how to arouse oneself to teshuvah? What depth is hidden in it?

First, we see that HaKodosh Boruch Hu actually creates history. A novi can prophesy about future happenings, although he has no part in forming the future; but to prophesy about two contradictory possibilities, diametric opposites, as Hashem does in the Torah, is unique, and shows that Hashem governs over the whole world and causes all events to happen. Hashem promises the brocho, "to make you high above all nations that He has made, in praise, and in name, and in glory" (Devorim 26:19) as one possibility, while the malediction "you shall come down lower and lower" (Devorim 28:43) is the other. All is dependent upon our behavior: when we fulfill Hashem's will, no nation can harm us, but when we do not, we are given over to a lowly nation.

The pesukim in Yeshaya (1:19-20), too, teach us this: "If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land. But if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured with the sword, for the mouth of Hashem has spoken." Since Hashem causes everything to exist and rules over everything -- "For He spoke and it was, He commanded and it stood" (Tehillim 33:9) -- it must inevitably be so. He is the one who made, makes, and will make all happenings.

Knowledge that Hashem is the supreme power in the heavens above and on the earth below, together with proper contemplation about how the pesukim of the tochecho have been fulfilled completely during our history, alerts a person about Hashem's providence over this world and causes him to arouse himself to teshuvah.

4) Reflecting on our past causes a person to recognize Hashem's reality: He did, He does, and He will do all deeds. Furthermore, such reflection also generates the recognition that a person is rewarded for his good acts and punished for his sins. "Your acts will either bring you near or distance you" (Eduyos 5:7). A person should consider that sins cause punishment and divine revenge. He should not forget the horrible retribution wrought upon Am Yisroel through the generations when the Jewish Nation did not fulfill His wish, while on the other hand, "You make me to know the path of life, in Your presence is fullness of love" (Tehillim 16:11) during the periods that Yisroel did Hashem's will. "And you, Shlomo, my son, know the Lord of your father and serve Him with a whole heart with a willing spirit, for Hashem searches all hearts and understands all the imaginations of the thoughts. If you seek Him you will find Him, but if you forsake Him He will abandon you forever" (I Divrei Hayomim 28:9).

5) Upon reflecting deeper we will see even more clearly the exactness of Divine Providence surrounding Klal Yisroel. In Haazinu Hashem warns the Jewish Nation about how bitter their lot will be if they forsake the Torah, and what a glorious past they had. Let us note how Moshe Rabbenu starts Haazinu, the parsha that reads like a song and appears in the sefer Torah in double columns and short lines.

The parsha opens with, "Give ear, you heavens, and I will speak . . ." which is an introduction to the Haazinu song, demanding that the heavens hear what is said. The main message starts from, "The Rock, His work is perfect, for all His ways are justice. Hashem is a Lord of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is He" (Devorim 32:4). The Torah is telling us that this song encompasses all that will happen to you later when you abandon the Torah and what will happen to you when you first enter Eretz Yisroel, observing the Torah and its mitzvos.

First we must be aware that anything that happens, either good or bad, is justified, since HaKodosh Boruch Hu is perfect (without any blemish and without any possibility of criticizing Him), "for all His ways are justice." Also, the goodness that He does to us is not for free but because He is "a Lord of faithfulness" and gives everyone what he rightfully deserves.

Probably each of us has already read a book written by a Holocaust survivor, in which are reported the suffering, hunger, thirst, nakedness, lack of all basic needs, hard work, diseases, beatings, tortures and murders they went through during the five years under Nazi control. These books are also full of the Divine Providence and miracles they witnessed during that period until they were saved. Haazinu teaches us that we should be aware that any suffering, even the most minute, that we experienced during that terrible time, and any modest divine grace that we received, were always justified. Everything was exactly weighed in Hashem's scale, since "His work is perfect" and "just and upright is He."

End of Part I

HaRav Emanuel Toledano is a rosh yeshiva in Yeshivas Sheiris Yosef in Beer Yaakov.

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