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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Nitzavim-Vayelech

Parshat Nitzavim-Vayelech

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter    Print Version

Parashat Nitzavim-Vayelech
25th of Elul, 5777 | September 16, 2017

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Mr. Charlie Harary
Lean Back, Let Go

It was my second year as a lawyer. Over the course of getting familiar with life in Corporate America, I had learned that the way it works is rather simple. Partners in a law firm are not merely perceived as more established and higher-paid lawyers; they in fact hold themselves to be part of a distinct and elite class. As a young guy having just entered that world, I understood that when they speak, you not only listen, but take notes.

It was thus particularly nerve-racking when I entered my office one day and the secretary looked at me with a white, blank stare. “I was told that so-and-so wants to see you as soon as you arrive.” I knew the name. He was a very important litigation partner in the firm. I felt as if I was in school and had just heard over the loudspeaker, “Charlie Harary, please report to the office.” That same feeling of fear and uncertainty overwhelmed me, but with even greater intensity.

But on I went, inching forward to the partner’s office. After I knocked on the door and was called in, he looked up at me and said, “Please close the door.” That was exactly what I needed to hear at the moment. I gulped. “Can I ask you a personal question? Something we can keep between the two of us…” “Absolutely,” I said. “Okay, good.” And with that, he began.

“My sister and brother-in-law are religious, Orthodox Jews like you. A few weeks ago, I was at their home for a barbeque, when all of a sudden, my brother-in-law got up and was about to walk out the door. ‘Where are you going?’ I asked. ‘Going to pray,’ he said simply. ‘Going to pray? It’s not the High Holidays.’ But, after thinking about it for a moment, it caught my interest. ‘Do you mind if I come?’ I asked. And so, off I went.

“We arrived at the synagogue for the afternoon service and were met by around twenty-five other men. The prayers took around fifteen minutes, after which I thought we would head back home. Not exactly. ‘The rabbi is going to speak now,’ my brother-in-law told me. I was pleasantly surprised and amazed. Here I would get to participate in both the afternoon prayers and a sermon.

“The rabbi went on to speak about the importance of Rosh Hashanah, and how it is the day upon which our entire next year is decided. Everything is determined, from the biggest of events down to the finest of details. It is a time of introspection and repentance, improvement and redirection. Throughout the rabbi’s talk, all I could think about was, ‘The High Holidays are about this? I thought that you just show up to the synagogue and say hello to G-d. I had no idea that so much was decided on this day. I am so unprepared!’

“The rabbi then took a seat. ‘Okay,’ I said, ‘are we done?’ ‘There’s another service now,’ my brother-in-law replied. I couldn’t believe it. A service, a sermon and then another service, all on a regular Sunday afternoon.

“When I later returned home that night, I couldn’t fall asleep. I had never known that over the course of forty-eight hours once a year, G-d determines my entire future year. But then I said to myself, ‘I’m an incredible litigator! I can handle this. I know what I’ll do…’ The next day, I sat down and wrote out my closing argument of exactly what I planned on telling G-d over Rosh Hashanah. I would propose the most compelling argument as to why I deserved another year of life. ‘I’ll put it in my prayer book,’ I told myself, ‘and when the rest of the congregation is saying sorry for their sins, I’ll pull out my argument and convince G-d! I’ll cash in right there and then for another year of life!’

“The following day, I approached my secretary and asked if she could find a Jewish book store. ‘There’s one called Eichlers down the street,’ she told me after some research. I asked if she could buy me an Orthodox English prayer book for Rosh Hashanah.

“When she returned, I immediately began skimming through the book from cover to cover, looking for where I could insert my piece of paper. I figured that at that point during the prayers, when everyone was confessing and telling G-d that they were sorry for all their misdeeds, I would slip in my paper and be good to go. I’m a lawyer, after all, and know how to argue a winning case.

“I went through the prayer book maybe five times, but not once did I see any mention of confessing or saying sorry. I was puzzled and didn’t know what to make of it.

“So Charlie,” he said now looking at me with a sincere and intriguing stare. “I know you’re an Orthodox Jew and wear a head covering. Maybe you can help me. How can there possibly be a day of judgment when there is no option for the defendant to defend himself? On what basis does the judge administer justice if you cannot even say you’re sorry?”

Good question. Really good question. At the moment, I didn’t know what to answer him. All I could say was, “That’s an excellent question,” and head out of the office to begin searching for an answer.

Now let’s think about it. For forty-eight hours, we stand before Hashem in judgement. Yet what is our judgment based upon? What determines if we are granted a good year? If we do not admit to our wrongdoings and confess on Rosh Hashanah, what is the day of judgment really about? Jewish law and practice even goes so far as to have us avoid mentioning anything about sin and even eating nuts, which shares the same gematria (numerical value) as the word cheit, sin. Sin and Rosh Hashanah are almost antonyms. How are we to make sense of the fact that we stay far away from talking about our past misdeeds and making amends on the Day of Judgment?

But that’s not all. The one place in Tanach where reference is made to Rosh Hashanah is in the book of Ezra-Nechemia. After the Jews returned from Bavel following the destruction of the first Beis Hamikdash and subsequent seventy-year exile, the nation gathered together as Ezra read portions of the Torah. The nation, though, soon became afraid, after realizing that the day was Rosh Hashanah and they had been lax in their mitzvah observance. But Ezra reassured them that such mourning and crying should be turned into rejoicing and celebration. “Do not mourn and do not weep… go eat rich foods and drink sweet beverages, and send portions to those who have nothing prepared… for the enjoyment of Hashem is your strength” (Nechemia 8:10).

This only calls for more confusion as to what Rosh Hashanah is about. On a day of judgment, we are not only instructed not to recall our past faults and failings, but told to rejoice and enjoy ourselves? What in fact, you ought to be wondering by now, is Rosh Hashanah all about? This was ultimately the question the litigation partner was asking. No less than a penetrating question which speaks to the very core and essence of Rosh Hashanah. But what would we answer him and ourselves as well?

Let’s take a deep breath.

You ready?

The answer is one word: HaMelech, the King. Put very simply, Rosh Hashanah is the one day when we stop worrying about ourselves. That is the ultimate challenge. Hashem puts us in a room and says, “Your whole life in on the line, but you can’t worry about yourself.” Now I know what you’re thinking. It seems odd and contrary to any logic. But that is the truth. The way we earn a favorable judgment is by once and for all realizing who is really in charge of our life. Me or G-d? Everything is on the line, but that is precisely when you tell yourself, “It’s not about me and my life.”

What is your life about? Is it about receiving from G-d or giving to Him? It is that simple. At the core of all that you stand for, ask yourself, do I live for G-d? Is it about me recognizing and performing His will or asking that He give me everything I want so I can enjoy myself? If a Jew stands on the Day of Judgement and coronates the King, he has taken the perfect step towards being granted a favorable verdict. And that is because life was just turned around from being about “me,” to being about Him.

Why don’t we say “I am sorry” on Rosh Hashanah? Because the first word in that phrase is “I.” It is about me and my life. The ultimate secret to Rosh Hashanah, though, is realizing that we are given life when we cede control of our life. When we tell G-d, “I know You are in charge and I trust You,” we are in the best place possible for a good judgment.

And what is the proof in the pudding? What does Hashem do to direct our focus on this day? “Go home and eat.” Eat? Yes, exactly that. On the day when we should feel frightened because everything is being determined, Hashem tells us, “Go eat, celebrate and send gifts to one another…” It is precisely this behavior and attitude which demonstrates that we are not overly worried and that we trust Hashem and know that He will take care of us. We are confident that He will favor us because we know that He is in control. If we can spend the Day of Judgement with this feeling, we are doing exactly what we need.

Ever since my kids were young, I played this little game with them on the monkey bars. When they would turn five or six, I would have them climb half way up the monkey bars in the jungle gym and tell them to fall back into my arms. They would have to trust me that I would catch them. And for everyone’s sake, I always kept my eyes wide open to make sure they safely landed in my arms.

Typically, the first time they lean back and are about to let go, they look at me and say, “Daddy, are you going to catch me? Are you sure?” “Yeah!” I emphatically say. Only then do they close their eyes and let go, falling into my arms.

By the time they’ve done this a few times, it becomes a fight as to which kid gets to climb up and fall back into my arms. With a wide smile and outstretched arms, they fall back comfortably and confidently, knowing with close to certainty that I will catch them.

One time, I wasn’t paying attention and my five-year-old began leaning back. You know what I did? I dove.

What father will not try to catch a kid that is falling into his arms? On Rosh Hashanah, we have a choice. We stand before Hashem and close our eyes and fall back into His arms. And no matter what we have done and where we are, what father will not stretch out his arms to catch a falling kid? When we place our lives in Hashem’s hands and acknowledge that He is in control of the world and will take care of us, what will He do? When we place such faith in Him, He will certainly catch us, because what father will not catch his child, and even dive if necessary.

So what’s the secret formula? Close your eyes, open your arms wide, let out a big smile, lean back and let go. And when you do so, you can be guaranteed that your Father in Heaven will catch you.

Rabbi Eliezer Krohn
Little in Size, One of a Kind

It was a few years ago that Chana Malka Geldzahler was driving from Lakewood, New Jersey to New York and noticed that her gas tank was close to empty. Getting off at Exit 127 on the Garden State Parkway, she pulled into a gas station. The gas attendant, whose name was Vinney, proceeded to pump gas into her car and wash the windshield.

As Chana Malka noticed Vinney, she soon realized that he was quite short. And indeed, Vinney was around three-and-a-half feet tall. As Vinney continued his work, he all of a sudden stopped short and began to stare. Chana Malka could only wonder what had caught his attention.

Chana Malka looked at Vinney, as if to ask if everything was okay. Vinney pointed to the picture sitting in the car, which had been placed there because Chana Malka was moving to her new house that day. “What’s this about?” Vinney asked. “That’s my father,” replied Chana Malka, “Rabbi Eliezer Geldzahler.” “He’s your father!” exclaimed Vinney. “I’ve been looking all over for him for two years! He would always come here and talk to me.” Chana Malka was both surprised and touched to hear this.

“My father unfortunately passed away recently,” Chana Malka told Vinney. That was enough to bring tears to Vinney’s eyes. “Day after day and week after week, people drive through here and ask for gas. Within a few minutes, they are gone and drive away. Some of them also look at me weirdly because I look different.

“But your father was special. Every time he would come here, he would get out of the car and talk to me. He kept me company and made me feel important. He called me a little giant man, which made me feel very good.

“On one occasion, he told me, ‘Vinney, you are my inspiration! I’m now on my way to the school where I teach, Ohr Yisroel, and I am going to tell my students all about you. You have all the reason to stay in bed in the morning and not come to work. But you choose to come here every day nevertheless. You overcome your challenge and make the most of your life. I am going to tell my students that if you can do it, they can too!”

Vinney turned to Chana Malka and with the greatest sincerity said, “Your father was the first person to ever make me feel tall.”
The Geldzahler family knew that their father was a caring and compassionate person, but hearing of these encounters showed a new dimension into the sensitivity he felt for others.

And in fact, after my father, Rabbi Paysach Krohn, published this story in his book, In the Splendor of the Maggid, he visited Vinney, gave him a free, inscribed copy of the book and showed him the page number where his story appeared. One can only imagine the smile Vinney had on his face when he learned that his story and his inspiration would now be brought to an audience worldwide.

That is how you make someone feel valued and validated, and even if they are someone little in size, someone who is one of a kind.

A Short Message From
Mrs. Shira Smiles

With the advent of modern technology, many important life lessons can be gleaned from their mode of function. Let’s take, for example, the GPS. In particular, four insightful guidelines can be learned:

As you comfortably get seated in your car, before driving off, you input your destination. As we wake up each morning, we must consider our destination point. Where are we going and what would we like to accomplish?

The address of your destination must be specific, or else you may end up far off from where you anticipate. Our goals must be concrete and realistic; not too off the mark. Otherwise, there is little chance we will ever make it there.

What happens if you make a mistake and miss a turn or exit? The GPS will reroute you. No human being is perfect. We all make mistakes, and that is part of life. Yet, we must never become deterred from picking ourselves up and optimistically moving forward towards a brighter future.

The GPS informs you of the fastest and best route to take in order to reach your destination. If we wish to attain our goals, it only behooves us to map out how we would like to achieve them. What is the most reasonable route to take? If we have a plan, we’re one step ahead of the game.

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