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20 Ellul 5766 - September 13, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Opinion & Comment
In Your Mouth and in Your Heart

by HaRav Moshe Shmuel Shapira zt"l, Rosh Yeshivas Be'er Yaakov

A Hope that Is Close at Hand

In just a few days, the great day will arrive when we all stand in judgment before Hashem. The sages of the generations discovered that one of the ways of obtaining acquittal in this trial is through acceptance.

The posuk (Devorim 30:11) says, "For it is very close to you, in your heart and in your mouth, to do it."

According to either of the ways in which this posuk is explained — whether it refers to Torah (as we find in the gemora [Eruvin 54]), or to teshuvoh (as the medrash and the Ramban and Seforno explain) — the question is asked, if "it" is so near, where is it?

The answer lies in the posuk's words: "in your heart and in your mouth." Fulfilling Torah and doing teshuvoh require the involvement of a person's heart. If we open our hearts the tiniest amount, Hashem promises to open them much, much wider and to fill them with love and fear of Him and with His Torah. However, a wide gulf still separates our awareness of all this from actually making that tiny opening.

Call of the Shofar

The Rambam (Hilchos Teshuvoh 3:4) writes, "Even though blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashonoh is decreed by the Torah, it [also] contains a message, as if to say, `Slumberers, awake from your sleep! Those who are dormant, rouse yourselves from your dormancy! Examine your deeds, do teshuvoh and remember your Creator! Those who forget the truth amid passing vanities, who spend their whole year immersed in worthlessness and emptiness that will neither help them nor save them, look to your souls, mend your ways and your practices! Let each one of you leave his evil path and his improper thoughts!' "

The Rambam tells us that the mitzvoh of shofar comes to awaken sleepers, to arouse slumberers and to remind those who are immersed in worthlessness not to forget the truth. Some are simply asleep. Others are dormant, sleeping more deeply. Then there are others who spend their entire year sunk in emptiness and vanity. The shofar comes to arouse us and to tell us: "Pay attention to your souls!"

When people slumber, they are oblivious to their Creator and to all spiritual life. All year round they are busy with the intervening physical matter and they take no notice of the concerns of the soul.

The word used by the Rambam to denote the degree of immersion of those whose year is spent in worthlessness, is shogeh. This term implies continual occupation and mental involvement in something, to the exclusion of everything else. The focus of this person's thoughts is the entirety of his occupation. (Another instance of such a level of involvement can be found in Hilchos Teshuvoh 10:6 where the Rambam writes that love of Hashem does not become fixed in a person's heart, "until he thinks about it all the time, ad sheyishgeh boh tomid, as is proper, and until he leaves everything in the world besides it, as He commands, `with all your heart and with all your soul'...")

This is our level of involvement with the emptiness and worthlessness of the world. We leave the life of the soul entirely and occupy ourselves with emptiness. The Mesillas Yeshorim writes, "How can we escape worldly vanity, which puts it out of our hearts?" The shofar comes to awaken us and tell us, "Remember your Creator and look to your souls!"

Remember Your Souls!

The way to remember Hashem then, is to look to our souls. The Ibn Ezra writes, "If a person does not know his own soul, how can he know his G-d?"

We each have a clean, pure soul, adorned with every elevation and every trait mentioned in the Torah, perfect understanding, willing traits, full of splendor and beauty . . . but it is forgotten! The shofar comes to remind us to look to our souls and thereby remember our Creator.

Just by looking briefly, even without the necessary contemplation, one can leave a bad path and cease improper thoughts. This is the meaning of the posuk "for it is very close to you . . . ": One look at our soul will remind us of our Creator and that is sufficient to leave the bad path. (See what Rabbenu Yonah writes in Sha'arei Teshuvoh at the beginning of Sha'ar 2.)

The Rambam is imparting a novel idea here. The thoughts of teshuvoh which the shofar arouses within us on Rosh Hashonoh, do not spring from remorse at our having sinned, but rather from remorse at our having forgotten the spiritual life of our souls and over the immersion in emptiness which resulted. Our teshuvoh is inspired by this arousal and by our taking heed of our souls. This purifies our hearts and lays a healthy foundation for our serving Hashem without which, indeed, it is impossible to serve Him.

Without the purity of heart which is the result of awareness of the soul's needs, one will spend the entire year immersed in emptiness, oblivious to the work which the soul ought to be doing, and oblivious to the Creator Himself (which is itself a very serious sin, as is clear from the Rambam).

The posuk's assurance that, "it is very close to you, in your heart and in your mouth, to do it," refers to a single glance at the soul, with the resultant recollection of the Creator.

A Moment's Attention

In Tanna Devei Eliyohu, the story is related of how Eliyohu Hanovi met someone who mocked and laughed at him. The man was not choliloh irreligious. He was observant but an ignoramus.

Eliyohu Hanovi asked him, "How will you defend this conduct when you are brought to judgment?" The ignoramus answered that Heaven had not granted him the mental abilities necessary for learning.

Eliyohu asked him what his occupation was and he replied that he was a fisherman. "And who taught you how to make fish nets?" Eliyohu asked him.

"For that, I was given sense," the ignoramus replied.

"For that you were given sense," said Eliyohu, "but not for the Torah, about which it says, `in your heart and in your mouth to do it'?"

The man immediately raised his voice in weeping and Eliyohu told him, "There are many who answer like you did, but their deeds prove them wrong."

Here was an ignoramus, who could mock a prophet on account of his Torah scholarship and say that he had no use for Torah since he lacked the intellectual tools necessary for its study, imagining that this argument would rebuff any claims that Heaven may have on him for his ignorance. However, after paying attention for a single moment he grasped the truth about his situation and dissolved in tears. The message penetrated, because "it is very close to you."

A heart that spends the year immersed in emptiness produces all sorts of answers and excuses for itself — but with a moment's attention, its owner will find that all his excuses are self-contradictory, and he will immediately take heed of his duty in this world.

A Permanent Change

What is needed is some way of ensuring that the awareness of the Creator to which the posuk promises us that we are so close, will have some permanent effect.

The posuk continues, "for it is very close to you, in your mouth and in your hearts to do it." The Targum Yonoson renders the words, "in your hearts to do it" as, "purify your hearts to do them" [the mitzvos]. This refers to the purification of one's heart from whatever else the spirit is immersed in and the redirection of one's attention to the path of good. Since "it is very close to you," since wellsprings of purity will flow from a pure heart and since it is Hashem Himself who is purifying us, we will truly serve Him and not forget Him.

The way to receive this purity is through the acceptance that accompanies repentance. The posuk says, "and you shall return to Hashem . . . and listen to His voice. The Targum Yonoson renders these words as, "if you accept," meaning that our return to Hashem consists of undertaking to hearken to His voice.

This is also the essence of Malchuyos, as is clear from the parable of the king whose subjects asked him to enact decrees over them. The king's reply was, "First accept my rule, then I will enact decrees." By accepting Hashem's rule, we thus attain purity of heart and we merit being the subjects of favorable decrees from Hakodosh Boruch Hu.

The Power of Acceptance

At the end of parshas Nitzovim the posuk says, "And if your heart turns away." Rashi explains that "this is `the evil,'" which was mentioned earlier (in posuk 15), as being one of the options before bnei Yisroel.

The Targum Yonoson however renders these words, "and if your hearts entertain thoughts and you do not accept." According to this, the failure to accept the yoke of Hashem's rule, where this is the consequence of an earlier thought process, is in itself evil (even if it has not yet found expression in evil deeds). A heart that is vacant, without acceptance, is something evil. The person who possesses such a heart is called beliya'al, meaning, without any yoke of authority over him.

It should be realized that the power which is contained in acceptance is the only means by which one can be elevated. This is how our teachers, the great sages of each generation, grew and developed.

Amongst those who come to learn in yeshivos too, one sees that after a short period of time, in a wondrous way, certain individuals have made tremendous progress, greater than that of their peers, becoming the `one in a thousand' [out of those who embark on Torah study at a young age] to attain the distinction of determining halochoh.

The only reason for this is the fact that such a student learns because he has accepted the yoke of Hashem's rule upon himself and has undertaken to serve Him and to thereby grow. His thoughts are wholly occupied with Torah, with the toil over understanding it and knowing it, and with the acceptance of the yeshiva's schedule for learning Torah and mussar and for prayer. This is the course to follow for success.

Upholding the Kingdom

The judgment of Rosh Hashonoh concerns a person's actions and standing. Not only his actions are scrutinized, explains Rav Chaim of Volozhin zy'a, but his standing, his station in life, is also examined. The responsibility borne by the manager of the king's stables is hardly the same as that borne by the army general, upon whose shoulders rests the responsibility for the safety of the entire kingdom. A small mistake made by the latter can place the whole country in danger.

Bnei Torah are Hashem's army, as the Rambam writes at the end of Hilchos Shmittoh Veyovel. The maintenance of Hashem's Kingdom in this world is dependant upon bnei Torah. Each and every individual must be aware of this. He must feel that the upkeep of this Kingdom is up to him and must accept the yoke of Hashem's rule upon himself.

Happy is he who accepts this yoke. He thereby becomes "a chariot for the Shechinoh,' one of the bearers of Hashem's Presence in the world and he merits growing into the "one in a thousand" who attains the proficiency to determine halochoh.

In this merit may we all be written down and sealed for a year of life and peace, for a good and sweet year for ourselves and for all Yisroel, and may this also be the will of our Father in Heaven.

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