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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Vayelech

Parshat Vayelech

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Parashat Vayelech                                                                           Print Version
7th of Tishrei, 5780 | October 5, 2019

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Avi Wiesenfeld
Flashing Lights

I remember once noticing a red light appear on the dashboard of my car. Bothered by it, I headed over to one of the local mechanics and asked for them to take a look at it. “Can you do me a favor?” I asked. “Could you switch off this flashing red light for me; it’s bothering me when I drive.”

The mechanic took one look at me and said, “You’re making a mistake. The purpose of that red light is to warn you that there is a problem inside the car. If you ignore the light or simply try to turn it off, the problem will only get bigger.” It was a clear message. The red light is not an undesirable feature; to the contrary, it is a beneficial asset which the car manufacturers made the car with.

When it comes to the Aseres Yemei Teshuva, Days of Repentance, and Yom Kippur, there are lights that flash. The Shofar is sounded, which arouses us to teshuva, and we recite Avinu Malkeinu and introspect our lives over the past year. The warning lights are signaled and remind us to take stock of our days and make an accounting of our lives. Yet, often, these days overwhelm us, and we would almost wish for their intensity to stop. We quietly look ahead to when they will pass, and the easygoing and relaxed routines will resume.

Yet, in reality, these days are a wonderful gift Hashem has given us. They are an opportunity which grant us something so precious and valuable. We can erase our sins and become new people. The red lights are our reminders to turn inward and take advantage of what we can do, and not let these days pass and leave us no further than we were when they began.

The Gemara (Yoma 85b) states, “R’ Akiva says, ‘How fortunate are you, the Children of Israel! Before Whom are you purified and Who purifies you? Before your Father in Heaven.” How much joy ought we to feel on the day of Yom Kippur when we undergo this spiritual cleansing and transformation?

Imagine there was a book which was written about your life, from the beginning when you were first born until today. Everything was included in this book. Everything. No thought, feeling or action was left out. All of this information was documented and outlined in a book and it was currently being printed down the street. Thousands and thousands of copies were being printed, placed in crates and readied to be shipped off on boats and planes and distributed worldwide. The front cover was nothing less than a blown-up picture of you.

As you realize how your reputation and destiny is about to be enormously impacted by this mass publication, what would you do and how much would you pay to burn those thousands of copies before they are read? If you can pull it off, no one will find out a thing, and all the embarrassment and errors that would come to light would be avoided. To do this, you would of course go to extraordinary lengths.

Every one of us have this opportunity come Yom Kippur. There is a book in Heaven which records every moment of our lives, and we have the chance to erase anything and everything we have done which we would rather not be there. What do you have to give to achieve that? It isn’t much. Sit on Yom Kippur in shul and do teshuva (repentance). That is a small price to pay compared to the man who must do so much more to burn the thousands of books which are about to be distributed around the world.

The joy of Yom Kippur tends to fade into the background and that which occupies forefront and center is the trepidation and solemnity of coming before Hashem. While it certainly is an awesome day, it in truth is the most joyous day of the year. Imagine you could wipe out your criminal record or clear all your financial debts and no longer be stressed and uneasy about everything that comes with such dues? You would call together your family and friends and celebrate. That is the day of Yom Kippur.

The Gemara (Megillah), in discussing the multiple times each week when the Torah is communally read (e.g. Monday, Thursday, Shabbos morning and Shabbos afternoon), wonders as to where each new reading should begin. Should we start from where we ended off with the previous reading, such as with the second Aliyah on Thursday after reading the first Aliyah on Monday, and start on Shabbos morning with the third Aliyah after ending with the second on Thursday? Or, alternatively, should each new reading start again with the beginning of the Parsha? The Gemara concludes by ruling that we begin each new reading from the beginning.

The Baalei Mussar explain that the lesson to be learned from the way we structure our reading is that of returning to our pristine self. We can always, so to speak, go back to where we were and start anew. We can always attain a new clean slate, and this opportunity is made wide open for us on Yom Kippur. Yes, it is true that we fall, but we can fall forward, pick ourselves up and be already on our way as newly developed and grown people. Failing and falling is human and understood by Hashem. All that He wishes for us is that we pick ourselves up.

The Gemara (Bava Kama) discusses the scenario of two people walking with jugs, whereupon one person trips and falls to the ground. The other person walking behind him, not noticing that his friend has fallen in front, trips over his friend and smashes the jug he is carrying. The Gemara discusses who is obligated to pay for the broken jug. Is it the first person who was on the ground or the second who tripped over the first person?

The Gemara rules that it is the first person who must pay, because he should have gotten up and he didn’t. The Baalei Mussar derive another important lesson from here. While a person may have stumbled and tripped in life, that is less of a problem than not getting up. Everyone fails and falls; it is the wise who will learn the lesson and pick themselves up. Teshuva is about getting up when you have fallen down and deciding to move forward.

Yom Kippur hands us this opportunity to pick ourselves up. It is a day which comes around only once a year, and it is one whose every moment is so very precious.

Rabbi Yaniv Meirov
How to Earn a Favorable Judgment

What can you do to accrue immense merit and earn a favorable judgment? Rav Yisroel Salanter once shared the following story which contains the answer.

Berel had a splitting headache, the likes of which he had never experienced before. He felt that it would likely help him were he to spend a few minutes relaxing at the nearby coffee shop with a warm cup of coffee and a freshly baked danish. Berel didn’t generally like eating out, but given how he felt, he saw no other option.

He walked over to the local hotel which housed the coffee shop, took a seat and asked the waiter for a cup of coffee. The waiter replied that he could certainly prepare him coffee, but it would cost $99.99. Berel couldn’t believe his ears. “What did you say?” he asked. “That’s impossible!” “Sir, you’re in a very high-end and expensive hotel here; you pay for not only the cup of coffee, but the luxury of sitting here. If you’d like a cup of coffee, then it’s going to cost exactly that –$99.99.” “Okay, okay,” said Berel. “How about I take it to go and you give me fifty percent off?” But the waiter wouldn’t budge. “Sir, these are our prices and rules. It’s either you pay for the full amount or nothing.”

By this point, Berel was no longer interested in a cup of coffee. How much are the danishes here?” “The danishes are $150.” “150?” exclaimed Berel. “Are you serious? $150 for a piece of cake!” “Sir, those are our prices.” Berel’s headache was only getting worse, and whatever it was now, it was still certainly better than throwing away hundreds of dollars for just a morsel of food.

As Berel began walking away, he noticed a number of waiters standing off to the side drinking cups of coffee and holding plates full of danishes. Perturbed, Berel made his way over. “Excuse me sir, but please explain. How is it that all of you waiters are so freely drinking coffee and eating danishes that are so expensive? If you are so wealthy, then why are you working as a waiter? And if, in the contrary, you are not so wealthy, then how are you able to afford all this coffee and cake?”

The waiter, without hesitating, replied, “Let me tell you how we do it. We work for the boss. When you work for the boss and take care of his guests, then all of these supremely expensive cups of coffee and cake are free. We can take whatever we want, whenever we want.”

As we enter the new year, we have an opportunity ahead of us. If we choose to take upon ourselves to work for the boss, for Hashem, then He will in kind shower us with limitless blessing. When we sign ourselves up to become His ambassadors and enroll ourselves as part of his employee team, then He gives us much to benefit from in our life, well above and beyond all expectations. Hashem grants us pleasure in this world and provides us with profound blessing because they help us further our work for Him and His children. All we must do is sign up and tell Him we are ready to become individuals who are ready to work on behalf of the Jewish people, and do our utmost to look after His children.

This is as well why taking upon ourselves to inspire, teach and give of our time and effort to our Jewish communities is a powerful way of earning a favorable judgment on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. When we attach and align ourselves to the mission of the Jewish people at large, we become subsumed within their umbrella and become an inextricable and vital part of their system. Our judgement is then no longer merely a verdict in relation to us as a yachid, a single, lone individual, but rather in relation to a tzibbur, an entire nation. If Hashem would choose to grant us a difficult year, it would thereby affect hundreds of other people. Hashem therefore measures and calculates our judgment with even more sensitivity and care, for it involves a multitude.

This then is a supremely powerful segula which we can take upon ourselves. Ask yourself: what can I do to help the Jewish people? What can I do to benefit my community? The answer to this shifts your judgment to an entirely new plateau and serves as a wonderful merit for you earning a happy, healthy and prosperous new year.

Rabbi Paysach Krohn
Signing Off the Book

A number of years ago, I spent a weekend in Boca Raton, Florida and heard the following remarkable story from Rabbi Phillip Moskowitz.

A cousin of his had grown up irreligious and gone to secular schools, although he possessed a rudimentary knowledge of what Shabbat, Kashrut and Jewish practice involved. Nonetheless, his upbringing lent itself to little religious affiliation, and once he had graduated high school, he entered the Israeli army and continued remaining irreligious.

Given the immense pressure of the army, once he had finished, he decided to take some time off and tour Mumbai, India. Yet the more time he spent out of Israel, the less religious he became. Sooner than later, he had dropped everything and was completely out of touch from any and every vestige of Jewish life.

Once night, as he sat in a bar in Mumbai with his friends, he heard a strange, bellowing sound. He recognized it faintly, though he couldn’t put his finger on what it was. Waiting just seconds more, he heard it again. And then it clicked. It was the sound of the Shofar.

He immediately made his way outside the bar and waited to hear the sound again. He couldn’t make out from where it had come just seconds ago. But then again, from down the block, the reverberating sound of the Shofar went off. Shaken, he immediately headed back to his apartment and began making phone calls. What was going on? Why was he hearing the Shofar being blown? Upon inquiry, he learned that the prior day was none other than Yom Kippur, and the sounds of the Shofar had been blown by the rabbi of a small shul just down the street, indicating the end of the holiday.

He couldn’t believe it. He had forgotten that it was Yom Kippur. True, he had just about zero connection to Judaism, but Yom Kippur was Yom Kippur. The holiest day of the year had just gone by, and he hadn’t had a clue. With a heavy heart full of remorse over how far he had drifted from his family roots of Judaism, he began tearing up. He had become so unaffiliated as a Jew that it pained him to realize where he was and what he was doing with his life.

Deciding that it was time for a change, he began packing his bags, and booked a ticket to Israel. The next morning, he left Mumbai, returned to Israel and expressed interest in learning about Judaism.

His family could not believe that such a sudden and drastic shift could have occurred, though nothing deterred him from progressing forward in his studies. For the next several years, he spent his days learning Torah and creating a new, religious life for himself. He eventually married and began raising a religious family. Everything had changed from that one night when he heard the sound of the Shofar and it had literally awakened him to turning his life around.

As Rabbi Moskowitz related this powerful story to me, he added that it had provided him with new insight into the words recited as part of U’nesaneh Tokef, during the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur prayers. We say, “Hashem opens the Book of Memories [of each individual], and it reads by itself, and the hand of every person signs off [all that has been recorded] …”

Why does it say that the hand of every person will sign off on what has transpired for each individual? Shouldn’t it only be the person whose life is in question that signs off? “Now I know the answer,” explained Rabbi Moskowitz.

The person who blew that Shofar, which my cousin ended up hearing, will likely never know how that one small act impacted another Jew in such a life-changing, powerful way. And equally so, my cousin will likely never get to know which rabbi blew that Shofar.

However, at the end of a person’s life, this information will come to light. Hashem will summon the rabbi who unknowingly inspired my cousin and request of him to sign the book which recorded my cousin’s life. And why will that be so? Because he had an influence on him. Each person will be asked to sign the books of the people they have influenced, and similarly, they will have their own books signed by those who have inspired them. That is the meaning of “The hand of every person will sign off all that has been recorded [for that individual].”

What is the lesson we are to learn? We are to get close to people we can impact and inspire, and likewise, surround ourselves with people who can impact and inspire us. In this way, we will have a hand in leveraging the spiritual growth of our fellow Jews and ourselves included, and signing off on all that comes to fruition from that initial spurt and spark of inspiration.

A Short Message From
Rabbi Gavriel Friedman

These days we find ourselves within are known as the Yamim Noraim, typically translated as the “Days of Awe.” They are days which inspire and awaken. Yet, one key shift in perspective which will ensure that we walk out of these days and feel prepared to embark on the new year with concrete changes is taking on realistic improvements. Telling ourselves that we will make colossal changes to our lives means little, for as we all know, nothing will end up staying with us a month later. How though can we make any real changes to our lives? Keep it simple and small.

In this sense, I like to refer to these days of the Yamim Noraim as the Awesome Days. Aside from the literal meaning – that these are amazing, inspirational days – there is another hidden message: the way we can create real improvements in our life is by keeping it Awe-some. Don’t try to change everything about your life, but change some part of your life. Keep it to something small and simple. In contrast, those individuals who try to fill up these days with monumental improvements will likely wind up feeling Awe-ful.

So there you have it. Don’t make yourself full with tons of changes, because that will make you feel awful. Rather, find some aspect of your life that is simple and make the changes there. That will ensure that these days are truly Awe-some Days.

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