Moshe Rabbeinu spends his final days reviewing and reinforcing the ideas and perspectives necessary to allow the nation of Israel to become a successful, powerful and strong people. He reminds them to avoid the temptations of idolatry and immorality and to remain true to the tenets of our Torah and relationship with God. Moshe also dispensed a healthy dose of chizuk (positive reinforcement).
“For you are a holy people to the Lord, your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a treasured people for Him, out of all the nations that are upon the earth.” (Devorim 14:2)
God loves us. Not only when we behave or follow His dictates, He loves us all the time. Moshe tells us that failure is inevitable, but he also reminds us that God’s love and commitment to us is constant. God does punish and there are repercussions for our negative or sinful behaviors, but the Divine love is always present (even if at times it cannot be felt). It is this message which gives us the strength to rebuild in the aftermath of communal and national failure. God forgives, and God loves. Why? Because we are the chosen treasure of our Father Above.
Rashi (Rav Shlomo Yitzchaki 1040-1105) advances a simple yet profound insight:
For you are a holy people: Your holiness stems from your forefathers, and, moreover, “the Lord has chosen you.” – [Sifrei]
Moshe is not simply telling us we are holy, he is explaining that our holiness is innate. Our personal holiness doesn’t only stem from what we do or the choices we make, it is the result of who we are. We are the children of Avraham and Sarah, Yitzchak and Rivka, Yaakov, Rachel and Leah. We are the descendants of Moshe Rabbeinu and Dovid HaMelech. Holiness is contained in our very life-blood and embedded in our DNA. Moshe Rabbeinu was teaching us that no matter how profoundly we fail or how far we fall, we are still holy. No matter how many times we sin or how many bad choices we make, we are still holy. But how can this be? Haven’t we divested ourselves of our personal holiness? “For you are a holy people, your holiness stems from your forefathers.” There is earned, personal holiness and conferred, national holiness. Earned holiness is the result of our good deeds and positive accomplishments. It is attained through positive actions, but it can be lost through negative or sinful behavior. Conferred holiness is the result of who we are as the Jewish Nation. We are part of a people that is endowed with an irrevocable holiness. Conferred holiness cannot be lost or even compromised. No matter what we do, no matter how badly we mess up, we are still holy. This was the ultimate chizuk and message of hope Moshe was giving to his beloved flock. My dear children, you are holy and will always be holy. Even when you fail, you are holy. Even when you fall, you are holy. It is this holiness that God sees in you and it is this holiness with which create the unbreakable bond of love between your Creator and you.”
This Shabbos marks the beginning of the month of Elul. This last month of the year provides us the opportunity for reflection and introspection. It is during these upcoming days that we ponder our accomplishments and failures of the past year and think about what we want to accomplish and who we want to be in the year to come. All too often we feel overwhelmingly saddened by our failures and shortcomings. At times we feel frustrated as the things we resolved to fix this past year are still in a state of disrepair. It is during this sacred, last month of the year that we must remember we are holy. No matter how many failures we encounter or how far we may have fallen, we are still holy. We can squander our personal holiness but are always blanketed by our conferred national holiness. Where there is holiness, there is hope and where there is hope, there are untold possibilities.
A new series on Parsha, Rabbi Silber shares some of the basic highlights from the weekly torah portion.
Re’eh anochi noseyn lifneychem ha’yom beracha u’klalah – Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse (Devorim 11:26).
Moshe informed the people of the incredible event that will soon unfold. The entire people will stand by the mountains of Grizim and Eval and affirm their commitment to God and the Torah through the acceptance of a series of blessings and curses. It is this covenantal event that will pave their way for entry into the Land of Israel.
But why did Moshe use the word, ha’yom, today? Moshe could have simply said, “Behold, I set before you a blessing and a curse.” Furthermore, the blessings and curses are not stated in this week’s Parsha. What lesson was Moshe trying to convey with the inclusion of the word ha’yom?
This week, we will celebrate Rosh Chodesh Elul, the arrival of the Hebrew month of Elul; a month designated for introspection, self-evaluation and contemplation. It is during the month of Elul that we begin to prepare ourselves for the upcoming Yimei HaDin (Days of Judgment) of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It is during this month that we are reminded of the promises and commitments we made to ourselves and to God almost a year ago. Some of these promises have been fulfilled and others still remain outstanding. We each have so much to do, so much to accomplish before the year ends. But is there something specific we should work on? What should we focus on during this special month of preparation?
To gain some insight into this question we must look back at last week’s Parsha. In Parshas Eiykev Moshe said,
“And now, O Israel, what does the Lord, your God, demand of you? Only to fear the Lord, your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, and to worship the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul, to keep the commandments of the Lord and His statutes, which I command you this day, for your good (Devorim 10:12-13).”
Essentially, Moshe says to the people – you have the deal of the century! Look at all that God does for you – and all He asks in return is that you love, obey, follow and walk in His ways. Moshe is describing the totality of our spiritual responsibilities and makes it sound like an easy task. The Talmud (Berachos 33b) explains, “V’chi yirah milsa zutrasa hi? In l’gabey Moshe milsa zutrasa hi – Is reverence of God a small matter? Yes, for Moshe it was a small matter.” How are we to understand this enigmatic statement? It is very nice that for Moshe love, reverence and obedience to God are “small matters” but for us they are not. Furthermore, Moshe is not talking to himself – he is talking to the people, the same people he has led for the last 40 years. Moshe knows and understands our struggles and difficulties; he knows that maintaining a relationship with God is an ongoing challenge for us – so why make it seem so simple, when it’s not?
To appreciate the words of Moshe, we must examine one additional verse. Moshe says to the Jewish people,
“V’atem ha’diveykim ba’Hashem Elokeychem chaim kulchem ha’yom – But you who cleave to the Lord your God are alive, all of you, this day (Devorim 4:4).”
The Chasam Sofer (Rav Moshe Sofer, 1762-1839) comments that at first glance the last word in the verse, ha’yom, today, appears extraneous. Moshe could have conveyed the same message without this word – why was it included?
Rav Sofer explains that we each live with expectations. There are things that God expects of us, there are expectations that others have of us and there are the expectations we have of ourselves. Often, we feel overwhelmed by all the expectations placed on our shoulders. How will I ever become the kind of person whom God and others will be proud of? How do I become the kind of person whom I will be happy to see in the mirror? Will I ever measure up?
To these questions, the Chasam Sofer gives a simple answer – live life one day at a time.
This was the message Moshe was conveying to the children of Israel. V’atem ha’diveykim ba’Hashem Elokeychem – you, the children of Israel, who are attempting to cling to God and live up to the expectations He has of you,how can you accomplish this? – Chaim kulchem – put the entirety of your life force, abilities and talents, ha’yom – into living today.
The way to lead a successful and meaningful life is by maximizing each and every day. Put your entire chaim, your abilities and strengths into maximizing ha’yom.
Now we can understand the enigmatic passage of the Talmud mentioned above. Moshe didn’t wake up one morning and decide that he was going to be the greatest prophet the Jewish people would ever have. He didn’t decide that he was going to be the transmitter of Torah and mouthpiece of God. Moshe lived with a simple directive – maximize the day. And when you maximize your days, they combine to form meaningful weeks, which combine to form holy months, which combine to form fulfilling years.
Moshe was telling his flock, “It is true, God asks a lot from us but He is not looking for long-term guarantees about what we will or won’t do – He is looking for the milsa zutrasa, the small thing, the one day, He is looking for chaim kulchem ha’yom, for each of us to put our energies into maximizing the day.”
And it is this very lesson that Moshe reinforces in the beginning of this week’s Parsha. Re’eh anochi noseyn lifneychem ha’yom – see I have given before you; God has placed before you the blessing of ha’yom, today. You have a choice to make – will it be beracha, blessing or klalah, curse? Will you use your ha’yom, to grow, to help others, to become a better person? Or will you use your day for negative purposes which will produce klalah for yourself and those around you. This is the decision we must make every single day.
This is one of the most important messages for the month of Elul. For many of us there were things we wanted to do and accomplish this past year but didn’t. There were goals and milestones we wanted to reach but for some reason or another we just never managed to make it happen. This is the month to maximize our days. This is the month to remind ourselves that if used correctly one day of life can be restorative, rejuvenating, cathartic and transformative. This is the month in which we prepare to ask God for another year of life and bolster that request by showing that we can make the most of every day. This is the month in which we commit ourselves to maximizing each and every day. By creating beracha from each day we will quickly realize that we have the ability to meet our goals, cross our finish lines and become the kind of people we know we can be.
This is the month in which we instill within ourselves the important message that true life-greatness lies not in how you live your years, but rather, in how you live your days.
Rabbi Silber shares an idea from the Kotzker Rebbe that is echoed by R’ S. R. Hirch. K’lal Yisroel has a collective mission to serve the Ribono Shel Olam and stand as an ohr la’goyim, light unto the nations. However, as individuals we all have our own approach and unique way of connecting to the Torah and the Ribono Shel Olam. The torah is teaching us this ever important lesson in this week’s parsha. Re’eh -we each have our own approach within the framework of torah [even as]…nosein lif’neichem hayom – this gift was given to you collectively as a national imperative to carry out. The torah is a prism through which we carry out our mission, each of us reflecting our own wavelength of light into this world. The collective accomplishment is an array of beautiful colors that brings the greatest joy to our Father in heaven.