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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Nitzavim

Parshat Nitzavim

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Parashat Nitzavim                                                                                                      Print Version
27 Elul, 5782 | September 24, 2022

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Mr. Charlie Harary
Be the Shofar

As we enter the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment, the day when the whole world stands before God, it's amazing that the rabbis tell us that the thing that is the most powerful, if you will, is blowing the Shofar. That moment when God, so to speak, gets up off His Throne of Judgment and moves to His Throne of Mercy is when we blow the Shofar.

Why is this so? The Talmud tells us that it is because it reminds God of the Binding of Isaac. Avraham is commanded to bring Yitzchak up as a sacrifice. That's a hard thing to do, to sacrifice your own child. At that point, he wasn't a child, though; he was a middle aged man. But Avraham did it anyways. And at that moment when he was about to sacrifice Yitzchak, God stopped him. But God never forgot it. And we remember that moment every single year, and it serves as a merit for me and for you.

But I have a question.

If we delve into the story and are asked to find the symbol from the story of the binding of Isaac, what symbol would you choose? Avraham is about to kill Yitzchak and the Angel of Hashem stops him. After that, you can imagine what would transpire. Avraham and Yitzchak hug. The credits come up, the music changes, and everything is fine.

But then Avraham then sees a ram and offers the ram as a sacrifice. And the ram serves in place of Yitzchak.

The ram is where we get the show from, from where the symbol of Rosh Hashanah derives. Now, if you're picking a symbol, would you pick the ram, the Shofar? It's not even in the story. When the ram shows up, Yitzchak is already safe. There's no drama in the ram. There's no drama in the Shofar. The drama took place beforehand when Yitzchak almost died. If you need a symbol to remind God and remind us about what Avraham did in almost killing his son, we’d likely pick a rope, a knife or a beam.

Can you imagine if we’d reenact the Binding of Yitzchak in shul every year? The rabbi grabs a man from shul, puts him down on a pile of beams, ties his arm, takes out a machete, and everyone roars, “What are you doing?” That would certainly remind us of the Binding of Yitzchak. But that’s not what we do. So what’s the story behind the Shofar?

In the world of Jewish concepts, we have two different principles. One principle is called din. Din is law and order. The rules. God commands us to do things and we're supposed to follow them. Sometimes we understand them and sometimes we don’t. Rosh Hashanah is a day of law. And God looks at the world and says, “Yes, follow the rules.” And the truth is, we may not be. And even the things that we forget, the things that we don't know about or we don't understand, even though we do understand treating our family well, giving charity, being nice to people, we may not be doing that as much as we could. Few people can look up and say, “I'm good with the rules. I got it all right.”

On the Day of Judgment, we pull a trick. It's a great trick. God sets us up to pull the trick. We don't deal with din, with law. There is another concept called chesed, which is above law. Chesed is kindness, it's giving, it's beyond. You don't have to do it. When you give someone charity, you don't have to do it. When you go beyond for somebody, you do a kind thing for somebody, when you sacrifice yourself for them, when you go beyond what's expected of you, you get into the world of chesed.

The symbol. Think about it. God commanded Abraham to sacrifice, and it was a tough command. It was a command that didn't make sense. Still, the command was the law, and Avraham followed it. When later God said, “You don’t need to do it … You passed,” Avraham could have went straight on his way. It’s akin to a student who says, at the end of a school year, “It's over. I'm out of here. I'm done with the semester.” But Avraham didn’t do that. He said to himself, “I'm not just about taking tests. This is a relationship. I want to give You, Hashem, something.” But what more could Avraham Avinu give God?

The ram he took after Yitzchak was his way of going beyond the law. It was his entrance into the world of chesed. The Shofar symbolizes the moment when Avraham went beyond what was expected. And on Rosh Hashanah, we blow it to remind ourselves and God of that. We remind ourselves to be like Avraham. To go beyond. To act in a way that is more than we think we're even capable of. To do something that we don't think we can do, but we should do. To call somebody and repair a relationship when it wasn't even our fault in the first place that it broke down.

When we prepare for Rosh Hashanah, we realize that the greatest way to deal with judgment is to go above judgment. To show God that I don't stop at what's expected. I don't stop at the law. I go beyond the law. I want to be more. I want to be connected. I want a real relationship with You. I'm willing to go past my perceived limitations and push myself out of my comfort zone for You. When we do that, we don't just hear the Shofar. We become the Shofar. And God hears that call and says, “When you're coming out for Me, I'm coming out for you.” And God, so to speak, gets up from His seat of judgment.

As we prepare for Rosh Hashanah, you want to really prepare? Think past yourself. Give, forgive. Push past the limits. Show God that you want to be like the Shofar so He can ultimately bring the world the mercy, the good and the blessing that it needs.

Rebbetzin Chaya Sora Gertzulin
Shofar Tales

There is a hushed silence in the shul as the Baal Tokeah rises to sound the blasts of the shofar. The congregation listens attentively to the brachahLishmoah kol shofar – Who has commanded us to hear the sound of the shofar.” Together, everyone responds, “Amein!

Tekiah, Shevarim, Teruah”, the shofar cries out to all of us, reaching the depths of our neshamos. Some of us close their eyes, others bury their faces in their machzorim, but all are in deep concentration and prayer, reflecting on the past year, and praying for a better year ahead. Even young children stand in place, their little faces filled with wonder and awe.

The shofar speaks to all of us, no matter our age, no matter our life standing. Upon hearing the shofar, our heart trembles, our neshamah is awakened. A piercing sound that shocks us into spiritual elevation. The shofar’s cry is like that of a child to his father, “Tatty, Daddy…HELP!”

The word shofar is related to shipur, to improve, to beautify. We blow a ram’s horn to signify man’s mission to take the “animal”, the physical component within us, and raise it to greater spiritual heights.  As we recite in the Shacharis of Rosh HaShanah, “Shapru ma’aseichem…, Beautify your deeds and let the covenant (between man and HaShem) not be annulled.”

The Torah tells us “Yom Teruah yihiyeh lachem, It shall be for you a day of shofar sounding. (Bamidbar 29:1) The shofar has three distinct sounds, Tekiah, Shevarim, Teruah. So why is “Teruah” singled out as one of the names of the holiday?

Rashi and other Torah commentators teach us that the root of the word Teruah is rei’us, meaning friendship. Rosh HaShanah is a time for us strengthen our commitment and connection to HaShem, and to our fellow man.

The Talmud tells us that the shofar must have a bent shape. This signifies an important lesson in relationships. At times, for the sake of shalom, we have to bend, to compromise, to give a little. To show understanding and compassion and let it go. The shofar also relates to our connection to HaShem. How important it is to bend our will and live a Torah life.

This week’s parshah opens with Moshe sharing a message with all of B’nei Yisroel. “Atem nitzavim hayom…, You are standing here today…” (Devarim 29:9). The more commonly used word for standing is “omdim”. Why the term “nitzavim”? What is the message?

There are many explanations by Torah commentators as to why the term nitzavim is used. The word nitzavim is related to the word matzeivah, a monument, a stone that stands strong. A stone that lives on, that weathers the storms of generations.  Perhaps we can understand this to symbolize that even in the most trying of times, we are nitzavim. We stand strong, armed with our Torah.

My mother, the Rebbetzin a”h, often spoke about her Holocaust experiences. She was just a young girl, but remembered her Rosh HaShanah in Bergen-Belsen.

A shofar and machzor were miraculously smuggled into the camp. My Zeide, HaRav Avraham HaLevi zt”l was chosen to blow the shofar. As Zeide blew, a group of young boys gathered. It didn’t take long for the German Nazi guards to come running and beat them mercilessly. But even then, the boys cried out “lishmoah kol shofar, to hear the sound of the shofar.”

The strength of a people; the power of a shofar.

Years later, my mother was speaking in the town of Neve Aliza, in the Shomron. Being that it was close to Rosh HaShanah, she shared the story of the shofar of Bergen-Belsen.

After the lecture, a woman in the audience jumped up and excitedly said that she had a postscript to share. She too, was in Bergen-Belsen. After my Zeide blew the shofar for one group, it was passed on to the neighboring camp where her father blew the shofar.  The miracle continued, and her father was able to hide the shofar until they were liberated, when he blew it once again.

Today, the shofar remains in Neve Aliza. No matter the circumstances, a yiddishe neshamah longs to hear the cry of the shofar. Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh Meisels, zt”l, who was the Chief Rabbi of Veitzen, Hungary, miraculously obtained a shofar in the Auschwitz concentration camp. At the risk of his life, he went from block to block to sound the shofar for the prisoners.

In his memoirs, Rabbi Meisels writes:

“The voices and cries that broke out from the men upon hearing the shofar still ring in my ears. Especially the quivering voice of the makreh (the person who calls out the various sounds), R’ Yehoshua Fleischman of Debrecen, as he cried out, “Tekiah, Shevarim, Tekiah”. I then experienced the Holy Sheloh’s interpretation of the shofar sounds. Tekiah – long and straight, that which was once straight became Shevarim – a broken sound. So many of our community became broken. And then, the final Tekiah – a straight, smooth sound, our hopes and prayers that we merit a speedy redemption.”

As we listen to the shofar this Rosh Hashanah, we should internalize the words of Rabbi Meisels. The shofar is also a cry of hope.

I have my Rosh HaShanah memories. Every year, my father, HaRav Meshulem ben HaRav Osher Anshil HaLevi zt”l, would look around the shul to see who was missing. After davening, he would visit the “absentees” and blow shofar for them. After my father’s passing, we received a beautiful note from Mindy, a college student. She wrote how one Rosh HaShanah she was sick at home with pneumonia. The Rabbi surprised her with a visit and blew shofar. A memory that stayed with her. The memory of a rabbi who cared enough about a sick ten-year-old girl. A memory that kept her close to her Judaism during her college years.

The power of rei’us, of friendship and kindness. The power of the shofar’s call.

In just a few days it will be Rosh HaShanah. Let’s prepare our neshamos for the Day of Judgment. As Moshe said “Atem nitzavim hayom…”, let’s be cognizant that we all stand before HaShem hayom, today and every day. Make a commitment, as our ancestors did before us, a commitment to HaShem, to our Torah, to our people. A commitment to ourselves that the coming year will be one of spiritual growth.

May we all merit to soon hear the shofar of redemption. As we recite on Rosh HaShanah in the Musaf prayer. “Bayom hahu, yitokah b’shofar gadol, On that day a great shofar will be blown.” The shofar heralding the arrival of Moshiach. (Isaiah 27:13)

Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein zt"l
Open Your Letter

One of the main judgment points of Rosh Hashanah relates to hakaras hatov, recognizing the good that Hashem has done for us. The question to ask ourselves is if we appreciated all that Hashem granted us. Do we recognize all the goodness and blessing we experienced throughout the past year?

To instill this quality of gratitude into our lives as we enter Rosh Hashanah, let me share with you a beautiful custom that some families have. If every family would take this on, the feelings of goodwill and appreciation created in every Jewish home would be profound.

Before Rosh Hashanah, each family member writes a letter to their other family members, expressing their heartfelt gratitude to them. Write about anything that comes from your heart. Then, before the onset of Yom Tov, place it underneath each other’s plate at the table. Children write to parents, parents write to children, and sisters and brothers to one another. Extend it as far as it feel right. Grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, friends, neighbors. Imagine sitting at your table and seeing everyone opening envelopes and giving way to a smile, as they feel the appreciation of one other.

If you express and experience this degree of hakaras hatov within your family, then you can be sure it will carry over to your relationship with Hashem. You will well up with feelings of appreciation for everything Hashem has given you. And that, unto itself, serves as an impetus for Hashem to grant you a healthy year ahead.

Even if you don’t have a great relationship with one of your family members, do your utmost to find something. Hakaras hatov means that you look for someone positive amidst everything else.

It's an incredible way to enter the new year. Try it. You’ll be glad you did.

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