028 – Torah Portion of the Week – Nitzavim – Vayeilech – As Long as There is Hope There is Fear – Rosh Hashanah, A powerful parable about the Power Behind the Throne, A Great Story about Rav Meir Chodosh and Peace in Your Home – More on Giving Your Wife Attention
The Torah Podcast Transcript
028 The Torah Podcast – As Long As There Is Hope There Is Fear – Rosh Hashana
Torah Portion of the Week – Netzavim-Vayeilech
We know that on Rosh Hashana we’re supposed to have mixed feelings. Why? There’s a Yerushalmi that explains the Day of Judgment like this. “And who is a great nation with righteous statutes and judgment? Usually when a man knows that he has a court case, he wears black garments. He lets his hair grow because he does not know in whose favor the verdict will be. However, Yisrael does not act like this on the eve of their Day of Judgment. They wear white garments, and they cut their hair. And they eat and drink and are happy, because they know that God performs miracles for them.” We see according to this Yerushalmi, you’re supposed to be very positive on Erev Rosh Hashana. You’re supposed to assume that you’re going to get a good judgment, and therefore we go with a positive attitude which is not true in the world before a person has a major judgment where one is scared.
On the other hand, we know that Rabbeinu Yona in Shaarei Teshuva explains just the opposite that the mood for the Day of Judgment should be like this – a person should tremble with fear with the awareness that he’s scrutinized from above. His entire life for the entire year is going to be decreed.” He says, “Even if we went in front of a human King, a person would be filled with anxiety. And he would try to find ways and means to stop the harsh verdict. He’d be completely preoccupied; he wouldn’t be able to concentrate, with extreme tension. So, all the more so when we go to be judged before the King of Kings, we should be scared, petrified. We see with Chazal itself, within the Torah itself, two contradictory views. On one side we’re supposed to be positive and happy, and assume that everything’s going to be okay. On the other hand, we see we’re supposed to be petrified. Which one is it? How do we hold both those feelings together? That’s one question.
The other question is, we seem to have a contradiction in the possukim, in the verses here in Parshas Vayelech, this week’s Parsha. It says like this. Hashem is telling Moshe Rabbeinu that he’s about to pass away. Verse 15, 16 says, “Behold you will lie with your forefathers, but these people will rise up and stray after the Gods of that which is foreign to the land, whither they go to be among them, and will forsake Me, and break My covenant which I have made with them. Then My anger will flare up against it on this day…” he was talking about the Jewish people, “and I will forsake them. I will conceal my face from them, and they will become pray. And many evils and distresses will encounter them, and they will say on this day, ‘Is it not because God is not in our midst, that these evils have encountered me?’ But I will surely have concealed My face, and on that day because of the evil that they did, for they have turned to other Gods.” You see, on one side in the middle of the verse right before they said they admitted that, “It must be because God is not with us, He’s not amongst us. That’s why these bad things are happening to us.” But the next verse says, “I will surely conceal my face on that day.” God continues like He doesn’t even listen to them, and He says, “I’m going to conceal my face.” You see they have a thought of teshuva, they have a thought that God’s not with us, and that’s why this is happening to us. But God doesn’t react, He does the opposite. He’s going to hide His face even more. What’s going on here? You would assume that if they admitted God was with them, therefore God would come close to them.
There’s a third question – there’s a very strange possuk in Tehillim that says, “Ki imcha haselicha leman tevarei,” for with You there is forgiveness, that you should be feared.” The possuk says that since God has forgiveness, that’s the reason why we fear Him. What’s going on here? If somebody has forgiveness you don’t fear him. If we are happy on Rosh Hashana, why are we afraid?
Rav Miller from Gateshead brings a Michtav MeEliyahu to answer these questions. The Michtav MeEliyahu says, “A person only feels anxiety when he knows there is a way out of the misfortune he’s enduring. Once there’s no chance of an escape, the fear diminishes.” You’ve got to hear this! “As long as a person has hope, he still has fear. But once the hope goes away, the fear drops down.” He gives an example. Why isn’t everybody petrified of death? That’s because people know at the end of 120 years, they die. They’ve accepted the fact. There’s nothing you can do about it. But if for example, there were some people who could live forever, and some people that wouldn’t, they would be apprehensive. “How am I going to live forever?” They’d always be worried, “How can I do it? What can I do about it?” They would have fear. They would have more fear of death. Since death is inevitable, the fear drops down. He gives another example – soldiers going into battle, and as they’re coming from the back and they hear the battle, they hear the front lines. As they’re further away from the front lines they have more fear. When they actually get to the front line they realize, “This is it. I’m going to have to fight face to face with the enemy.” At that point the fear drops, because the person accepts the reality. He doesn’t have any hope of running away, or getting out of the battle. This is the battle, he has to fight.
The same thing here, the Jews have the fear of God because they have the hope in God. On one side, we wear white, w e cut our hair, and we eat and we drink on Rosh Hashana because we know that God is going to help us, and God wants only our good. But that hagufa, that itself, gives us the fear, because since we know that God is giving us a chance to do the right thing, so the responsibility falls back on us. In other words, it’s the hope itself that creates the fear. So, of course we have contradictory feelings. The responsibility is in our hands. If we feel there’s nothing we can do to change the verdict, so we’re stuck. The fear will drop. We’ll no longer have fear, but we’ll no longer have hope. But since we know that God loves us and there is something we can do to change the verdict, so the fear comes back. And this is what the possuk in Tehillim means, “Ki imcha haselicha leman tevarei,”for with You there is forgiveness that You may be feared. Since we know that God does forgive and He does given another chance, that’s going to create the fear for us to be better people, to grow, to do the right thing, because God is giving us another chance. This is what Rashi brings down at the beginning of the Parsha of Netzavim it says, “You are standing here this day.” Why is that? Rashi explains, “Why is it put that you’re standing here this day, right after all the curses from the Parsha before?” Rashi explains because when Yisrael heard the 98 curses in addition to the 49 that are contained in Toras Cohanim, their faces turned pale and they exclaimed, “Who could withstand these?” Therefore, Moshe began to console them. “You are standing here this day. Many times you provoked Hakadosh Baruch Hu, and you got Him angry. But He didn’t put an end to you, He kept you going. You are here this day, you see?” Even after God says that there’s all the curses and all the din and all the judgment and all the harshness of not following in His ways, God is with us. He says, “Listen, I’ll give you another chance. As long as you’re alive, there’s another chance. There’s another year. Rosh Hashana is coming. Pick yourselves up. Clean yourselves up. Do better.”
The Shiri Daas explains that when a person goes to court and there’s a jury, there’s nothing he can do. But if he goes in front of Hakadosh Baruch Hu, the Master of the Universe, He says if he does teshuva so he could change the verdict. There’s a relationship there. He brings the Bereishis Rabba that says like this. “Fortunate is he who is elevated above his transgressions. Happy is the man who rises higher than his sin, rather the one who’s sin is higher than him.” In other words, the happiness comes on this day that even though you’ve sinned but you’re above the sin. You can do teshuva, God is giving you another chance. He’s giving you another year. He’s giving you another judgment. A person should be inspired before Rosh Hashana. He should be happy, God’s giving me a chance. OK, it’s hard work, I’ve got to get my act together. But I have another chance. A person should God-forbid not be mityayesh, despondent and depressed, then he’s out of the circle completely. “What could I do, there’s nothing I could do.” What do you mean? It’s Rosh Hashana. God’s judging you now, there’s something you could do. There’s a chance for a better judgment, for a better year, for a better life.
This can also explain the verse that we explained in this week’s Parsha that said, “The Jewish people were sad because God is not in our midst.” That sounds like they’re saying that they’re admitting that the reason why they’re having all these problems is because God’s not with them. But then the next possuk says, “I will surely hide my face.” The Sfas Emes wants to explain, “No. That’s not what they’re saying. When they said the verse, ‘Surely these evils have befallen us because God is not in our midst,’ they’re saying completely and totally, God’s not with us. God no longer has a relationship with us. At that point, God hides His face because if a person denies the existence of some spark of Godliness within his soul, if he denies that then he doesn’t have that. At that point he’s out of the picture. And it’s true – God will judge him, because the guy’s given up. He says, “There’s nothing I can do. God’s not with me. God’s not inside of me. I have no connection to God. I’m a sinner, and it’s finished.” God-forbid a person should do such a thing. That’s what the possuk says, “And God will surely hide His face.” Surely God is going to be angry with that person. But the possuk in Yeheskel says, “I do not want the death of the wicked, but his repentance on his way that he may live.” God doesn’t want to hurt anybody, or kill anybody. The whole world is only created for our goodness, for our good, to give us a chance to grow. We came into this world to grow, to become spiritual, to come closer to God. And God’s giving us a chance. Every year, every Rosh Hashana He gives us another chance. We should be excited, and that’s why we dress in white and we eat, and we have simanim, traditional foods, all on the positive side.
And our gufXX, that’s what creates the fear of God. That’s why the Gemara explains in another possuk in this week’s Parsha which is, “For the matter is near to you in your mouth, in your heart, to do it.” The Gemara explains, “When is it near to you? When it’s in your mouth, in your heart to accomplish it.” When is the Torah close, when is God close? When you feel yes, I have a chance.” At that point, the Torah is close and God is close. But if you feel you don’t have any chance, so God’s far away. Either way, you decide on Rosh Hashana whether God’s close or whether God’s far, you’re right because it’s dependent on you. We should go into Rosh Hashana with a positive attitude like it says in the Bereishis Rabba, “Fortunate is he who is elevated above his transgressions. He is higher than his sins.” We have to be above our sins and come back to God with a full heart. And if we do that, we’ll have a positive judgment because we come in positive.
A Powerful Parable
I want to bring a parable from the Chofetz Chaim that’s shayach, that’s applicable, to Rosh Hashana, on making Hashem the King. He has a parable like this – the power behind the throne. He said, “If a person has ever been to a railroad station, he knows that before the train’s about to go off, there’s a whistle that goes off. That’s the first whistle. And then after a little while, there’s a second whistle, and there’s a third whistle and then the train leaves. You’re not on the train by the third whistle, then it’s going to leave without you. Ordinary, simple people don’t think too much. They assume that the conductor, this guy who blows the whistle, is the most important person on the train. He is the one who decides when the train stops, when it goes, where it’s going. He’s making all the decisions. But people who think about it a little more, they understand that it’s not really true. He’s really just an employee. He doesn’t even rank among the officials of the train. He’s not involved with the people who own the train, the government who’s running the train, the railway system. This guy’s just a worker. There’s many, many layers of bureaucracy that decide when the train leaves, where it goes, how it’s going to work – many, many layers.” That was the moshul, parable.
The nimshal, conclusion is – the regulation of this world. People think that this world also runs like that. They see a King for example. They see he’s very important. They say, “Well, he must run the whole place.” But it could be that really there’s somebody over him. For example, in Europe you had these Dukes, but the Dukes were really underneath the King. And then you have the King, who might just be a King of a certain area. Then you have the super King and you have the Monarch, and you had people who ran huge areas of land. But there were many, many layers of bureaucracy. You don’t assume that all the power is with this one person. But even the greatest King is still just a human being, and really God is the one who put him in that position. He says, “He sets the Kings on the throne, and he rules and grants them power.” But it’s God who is running the universe. He is making the daylight, He is making the night time. And He holds the hearts of Kings and rulers. He is the one influencing that King to do what he thinks he wants to do. Even the greatest King is only the servant of God.” This Rosh Hashana we should make God the King. He is the Master in the universe. He’s the one that’s doing everything.
Great Stories – Rav Meir Chodosh
I want to speak about Rav Meir Chodosh who was the mashgiach of Chevron. It says like this – he believed that, “Rebuking someone in anger makes the rebuked party feel the need to defend himself which pushes him automatically into an attitude of resistance.” So, he would never give rebuke through anger. “The more sharply you speak, the greater the resistance will be. The rebuked party will dig in his heels, and maintain his position. Then how will the student be able to correct his erroneous ways?” He was the mashgiach, he was trying to help students. He has to rebuke them, he has to put them on the right path but he has to do it in a subtle, loving way. The mashgiach would explain, “It says, ‘Do not rebuke a leitz, do not rebuke a clown, least he hate you.’” He says, “What is a leitz? He is a person who will hate you after you rebuke him. As long as there exists the possibility he will hate you, he remains in the category of a leitz and it is forbidden to rebuke him. If you want to give rebuke to somebody, if he’s going to hate you afterwards you can’t rebuke him, because it’s forbidden.” In general, he would seek different ways to get his message across to the student, without taking on the air of scolding.
Sometimes he would let his thoughts emerge in a talk when he was speaking to the whole group, without naming anybody specifically or mentioning the particular incidence where the thing occurred. A talmud said, “At first it would only seem that he was directing his words at me. What he said fits so well with all my problems and my feelings. I was certain he meant me, until I heard from friends that they felt the same way. Then I understood he had the ability to enter into the students’ hearts and say things meant for each and every one of them. In each talk, the student would feel as if the words were directed specifically towards him.”
Peace in Your Home
I want to continue with the subject of giving attention to your wife. Rav Nachman Diament continues like this. He says, “What about a guy who was a farmer? There was a guy who was a farmer…” this was a true story. “He was a farmer and he had problems in his home. What was the problem? When the season would come, the farming season, he was completely a totally different person. You couldn’t talk to him. He didn’t talk to his wife, his kids. You couldn’t ask him for anything. He was totally unavailable, because during those two or three months is when he made his money for the entire year. But his wife couldn’t take it. She said, ‘I can’t hear the words, the month Sivan, the month Tammuz. I don’t want to hear about it. It makes me crazy. I dread this season like death.’ So, the Rav spoke to the farmer. He says, ‘Why don’t you in the middle of the season while you’re working, just spend five minutes, go into a store and buy your wife some presents and bring it to her to show her that you love her.’ The farmer said, ‘No way. During this season I cannot think about anything else. I’m completely occupied with my business.’ He says, ‘Listen, I’ve got a better idea. Buy something now when it’s not the season. Hide it in your closet and during the season give it to your wife.’ He said the man liked the idea, and he gave the present to his wife during the season. The wife called up the Rav, she said, ‘There’s been a revolution here. My husband brought me earrings during the season. For 18 years he wasn’t part of the world at this time, and now he showed me that he loves me, even during the season.’”
He brings down the Chazon Ish that we spoke about last week. The basis for everything has already been written in the Torah. The possuk in Bereishis says, “And your desire will be for your husband.” We know that by Chava. The woman yearns for her husband, and her desire is to feel that I’m in his mind and he’s thinking about me. He says, “Some men also feel they need some attention.” He says to them, “Aino Hinam, it’s true you need attention. But if you need a kilogram of attention per week, your wife needs 17 tons per week, because that’s the nature of a woman.”
One time a wife complained to him and said, “My husband only loves me when he needs me.” He spoke to the husband and the husband says, “What can I do? Sometimes I’m involved in things, I’m busy. Not every second can I give attention to my wife.” He explained that giving attention doesn’t actually have to mean sitting and talking to her, or buying her presents. It could just be the way you look at her. He explains, one time he watched a mother part from her son who was in prison. He was being taken away, it was a visit and at the end he was being taken away by a police car with the sealed windows. They couldn’t talk to each other. He said, “In those mother’s eyes was more attention than the son could possibly want. There’s many ways to communicate warmth. It doesn’t just have to be through talking.” He says, “It’s the same thing when you have orchim, when you have guests in your house. If you’re warm towards the guests and you’re showing them attention through your warmth, so they’ll be happy. But you could be cold to them and give them all the food and everything, and drink that they want, but they’ll never come back.”
The possuk in Mishlei says, “As water reflects a face back to a face, so is a man’s heart reflected back to another.” People can feel your warmth. Your wife can feel your warmth. She can feel she’s getting attention just by being around you. But on the other hand he says, “I’ve been asked a question like this. My wife wants compliments and emotional support, but that’s just not me. I can’t do it. I can’t give compliments. I can’t empathize. I’m just not made that way, what should I do?” So, what did he say? “Stay single. Don’t get married. You can’t do that. You cannot be married. You need to realize that you’re not ready to put in the effort, you will never have love.” Give your wife the love she needs.
That’s it for this week’s podcast, please share it with your friends and please leave comments. You should have a great year, Shana Tova u’Metukah, a great sweet year.