The shmuess was given before Rosh Hashonoh this year, but
its lessons are worth applying at any time.
Every year we read parshas Nitzovim on the Shabbos
before Rosh Hashonoh. Those that derive hints from the Torah
say that this is a hint to a person's situation before Rosh
Hashonoh. He must be standing (natziv): he needs to
stop and contemplate, and make a spiritual accounting, each
one according to his level.
The parsha teaches us that the important central point
is that a person should not say, "Peace will be with me."
Seemingly, this poses a difficulty. If the Torah is
addressing a person who has cast off the yoke of Heaven, who
is sunk into in the temporal vanities, what is the use of
rebuke? If his heart is sealed from hearing mussar,
how will the threats of even the most terrible punishments
help? He is not listening. The words fall on deaf ears.
This year a horrible and terrible thing happened in Monsey,
in the U.S.A. It is a city in which the great majority are
real bnei Torah. It became known that a main butcher
store, with a mehadrin hechsher, sold meat that was
not slaughtered and not salted for an unknown — but
long — period of time.
This is absolutely shocking!
G-d-fearing Jews sat at their table on Shabbos night, made
Kiddush on wine, said words of Torah, sang
zemiros with longing, every man by his encampment and
every man by his banner — and ate treif!
This is incomprehensible! Jews that are stringent about the
slight as well as the strict, who are exact in mitzvos,
stumbled for a long period of time in eating forbidden food.
Noro ve'oyom! Incredible!
The public outrage against that man, if he can be called a
man, is righteous anger. This is a man who appears externally
to be chareidi, who blows the shofar and reads the
sefer Torah on Shabbos for the kehilloh, and
delivers a Daf Yomi shiur.
However, in reality he has no connection to
Yiddishkeit. He was capable of giving an entire city
treif meat to eat, something that has never been heard
of. People who are careful about any slight concern of a
prohibition to the point of self-sacrifice were brought to
stumble on such a great transgression!
However, placing the blame solely on that man cannot satisfy
us. We must ask ourselves what this has to say about
ourselves. In fact, it is true that it was an entirely
involuntary situation (onus gomur). No one could
believe that such a thing could happen, and there were other
However, this does not conceal the bitter fact that Jews ate
neveilos. It is not only the timtum haleiv,
spiritual blockage of the heart, which results from eating
forbidden food even in an involuntary situation that is the
problem. Rather, we have to ask why HaKodosh Boruch Hu
brought about the circumstance that Jews ate treif
meat, even if by accident and unintentionally.
In truth, it is impossible for us to know the intention of
Hashem's ways, but we are still obligated to ask and cry out
about what has happened to us.
The answer is that "peace will be with me" (sholom yihiye
li) in parshas Nitzovim was not written with
regard to one who casts off the yoke of Heaven. On the
contrary, it was said with regard to a G-d-fearing man who is
exact in the mitzvos. The danger of "peace will be with me"
lies in wait specifically to someone like this,
because he is confident and complacent.
He knows that he is `okay' in all respects: he eats only the
very best hechsher, buys the very best tefillin,
and is sincerely careful about the finest detail of
It is this type of person that the Torah warns. He must not
say, "Peace will be with me," for he is likely to lose the
heart, the feeling. He is likely to come to the situation
that he does all the mitzvos out of sheer habit. This is the
greatest danger facing a person.
A Jew could live a life of Torah and mitzvos out of habit, to
pray and be exact in mitzvos out of habit. He was brought up
and educated to do so. He does everything he is supposed to
do to perfection. But there is no inner feeling, no real
feeling; nothing penetrates the heart. He is sunk into and
drowning in the sea of habit — week follows week, month
This is the purpose of Rosh Hashonoh, to stop once a year, to
contemplate and examine his ways, and to shake a person from
his complacency and take him out of the routine of habit.
We have become accustomed to the best, the mehadrin,
in both ruchniyus and gashmiyus. We look for
the best in mitzvos: A lulav mehudor, and the very
best hechsher. However, we forget about the intention
of our hearts. The highest standard has become habitual.
A man who has fallen into habit is a man who has stopped
thinking. He acts like a machine. There are siddurim
in which the intention behind Hashem's Name is printed at the
top of each page, but it is possible to pray from them
without intention as well, for it all enters into the system
People say, "Boruch Hashem," or "Be'ezras
Hashem," without thinking about the words coming out of
their mouths. Someone might say, "May Hashem help you,
be'ezras Hashem." Although this may seem like a joke,
he is actually just reciting what he is accustomed to say
from childhood, without paying attention to what he is saying
and without really hoping sincerely for Hashem's
We should not think that these things happened in faraway
America and have nothing to do with us. It could happen here
as well, Rachmono litzlan, in Eretz Yisroel,
and no one would be surprised if such a shocking scandal
happened here. We have become accustomed to the very best as
well. We also act out of habit and do not pay attention to
what we are doing.
The matter cries out and calls for us to check ourselves from
the foundation: Our Torah study, our prayer, our tefillin,
our mezuzas, and the way we earn our livelihood.
Everything needs to be checked thoroughly. We have to be
cured first from doing mitzvos by rote. Without this, someone
could live his entire life in tranquility and in the end it
would turn out that everything was false.
There is one piece of advice for this: We must cease to seek
the very best in the matters of Olom Hazeh. We must
cease to eat whatever is permissible, to do whatever is
permissible, and to say whatever is permissible.
A Jew must set limits for himself. There are things that are
permissible to do, yet everyone must set personal limits and
stay away from them. In this way he will always be in a
situation of thinking and weighing matters, and he will not
fall into the slumber of habit.
In this way he reminds himself continuously that there is
heart and feeling behind the routine matters he does. If a
person acts with continuous foresight in the range of what is
permissible, and does not act simply out of habit then, even
with regard to the prohibited he will reach this level. He
will keep mitzvos with heart and thought, with inner content,
and not as a routine affair.
The story is told that a Jew approached Maran HaChazon Ish
ztvk'l one morning and told him that he was traveling
to Jerusalem. Maran the Chazon Ish asked him what was the
purpose of his trip, and he answered that he just felt like
going to the Kosel. Maran the Chazon Ish said, "We were
taught that we do not do whatever we feel like doing."
We have forgotten this in our generation. People do whatever
they want to do. It's not written anywhere that it is
prohibited? Then they do it.
This is not the path of the Torah. The fact that you want to
do something is no reason that you should do it. A man has to
control his desires and accustom himself not to do everything
he wants. "Sanctify yourself in what is permitted to you" is
not an obligation by Torah law, for if it were, the matter
would no longer be permitted. The Torah demands that even
when a matter is permitted we need to limit ourselves.
There is a famous Chassidic story about two rebbes who met by
a roadside inn. One was traveling in a carriage attached to
four strong horses, as was appropriate to his status. The
other traveled in a rickety carriage with only one weak
horse. The first Rebbe asked the other: "How is it possible
to travel like that?" The second one answered that the trip
does indeed take longer, but in the end he reaches his
"But what do you do if your carriage gets stuck in the mud?"
asked the first Rebbe. "I have four sturdy horses, so I can
pull myself out, but how do you get out of the mud?"
The second Rebbe answered: "I have only one weak horse, so I
simply do not go into the mud."
The problem is that we live in an atmosphere where we think
we have four sturdy horses, when in truth we barely have one
weak and pathetic horse.
Therefore, we must not go into the mud of complacency. We
must be constantly vigilant and not allow ourselves to sink
into the timtum haleiv of doing mitzvos by rote. The
parshas hashovua teaches us that sinking into the
dream that "peace will be with me" is the most difficult
illness of all, the greatest danger, a danger that leads to
the destruction of the best parts of Yiddishkeit. The
punishment for it is: "brimstone and salt, a conflagration of
the entire Land," G-d forbid.
We must bring ourselves to a situation on erev Rosh Hashonoh
where we are, "atem nitzovim, you are standing," which
means to stop the frenzied race of life, and to stand,
contemplate, and make a spiritual accounting. We must examine
what needs to be rectified, and especially to cease living in
the way of habit. We need to think, open the heart, feel and
sense things. We must try and achieve an inner connection
with Torah and mitzvos, for this is the only way to merit all
the blessings that are written in this Book of the Torah.
(Written from the notes of one in attendance.)
HaRav Moshe Goldstein is the rosh yeshivas, Yeshivas
Shaarei Yosher in Har Nof, Jerusalem.