When the Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, used to hear thunder he would ask “What does Father want?”
“And it will be when all these things come upon you – the blessing and the curse – that I have placed before you, then you will take it to your heart among all the nations where Hashem, your G-d, has dispersed you.” [Devarim 30:1]
I think that perhaps the most appropriate reaction to this occasion is the words of Parshat Nitzavim.
The pasukim [verses] talk about a person who fails to react to “all these curses”. It speaks of one who — upon hearing the words of the previously presented curses – blesses himself in his heart saying: “Peace will be with me, for I walk along as my heart sees fit.” [Devarim 29:18] G-d will not be willing to forgive the person who does not react to the curse he has witnessed [Devarim 29:19].
In any year, Parshat Nitzavim always has a profound impact, as the last parsha before Rosh HaShannah. In the context in which we stand following the horrific events of the past week, it is only necessary to read the verses.
“And you will return to Hashem your G-d and hearken to His voice.” [Devarim 30:2]. The first step of repentance is to hearken to His voice (v’sha-mata b’kolo). Perhaps this is not to be interpreted as we normally would, to listen to His voice and fulfill His commandments. “You shall hearken to His voice” means that when the Almighty speaks to us we need to pay attention.
When Hashem speaks through natural occurrence or through historical events, we must attune our ears, lift up our antenna, and receive His message. This is the first step in Teshuva [repentance].
The Talmud says that thunder was only created in order to straighten out the crookedness and perversions in a person’s heart. [Berachot 59a] When a person hears a clap of thunder and flinches, the experience may give him pause. When the Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, used to hear thunder he would ask “What does Father want?” (Vos vill der Tata?)
If the Chofetz Chaim was alive today and he saw and heard what happened recently especially in Texas and Florida, what would he do? If he even saw the Voice of Hashem in a clap of thunder, what would he say to the events of this last week? Vos vill der Tata? What does Father want?!
There is a strange passage in Tractate Avodah Zarah [18a]: Rabbi Chanina ben Teradion asked Rabbi Yosi ben Kisma “Am I destined to go to Olam Haba [the World to Come]?” Rabbi Yosi ben Kisma responded, “Did you ever do anything special?” [This, mind you, is the same Rabbi Chanina ben Teradion who publicly taught Torah against the edict of the Roman Government forbidding Torah study.] Rabbi Chanina ben Teradion responded: “I once had Purim money (for my personal Purim meal) that got mixed up with money I set aside for charity. I then gave the entire sum away to poor people.” Rabbi Yosi ben Kisma responded, “If that is the case, may my portion in the World to Come be as great as your portion. You are certainly destined to go to Olam HaBah!”
What does this Gemara mean? I once saw a unique interpretation. Rabbi Chanina ben Teradion saw in this incident that the Almighty was trying to tell him something. The Master of the Universe was sending him a message. The message was that really this money (that he had set aside for his Purim meal) should be given to charity. Rabbi Chanina ben Teradion was so sensitive and so open and receptive to Heavenly messages that in that small, almost trivial incident he recognized that “the Almighty is trying to tell me something.” Rabbi Yosi said, “If that is the case — if in such a small little incident you see and you hear the Hand of G-d, I can be confident that you are destined for the World to come. It is obvious that you go through life in such a way that when G-d merely taps you on the shoulder you hear it and you get the message.
It is about hearing such messages that the Torah states in this week’s parsha “And you shall hear His Voice” (v’sha-mata b’kolo).
“And with a great shofar blast He shall blow and with a small silent voice He shall be heard” [Yomim Noraim liturgy]. Do we ever stop to consider the paradox of the contrast in this pasuk from our High Holiday prayers? If He blows with a great shofar blast, why is it then only a small little voice that we hear? If the shofar blast is so powerful that even the angels tremble from it, then when it reaches us, why is it only perceived as a small silent voice (kol demama daka)?
This is the nature of people. The Almighty could give out the loudest blast possible. It could be a disastrous event, but we only hear the small silent voice. People can react in all sorts of ways, but are they hearing the Voice of Hashem? Are they asking the one simple question: What does Father want?
We hear all sorts of suggestions as to what our reaction must be .Some suggest it has to be a strengthening of the honor of the synagogue and the honor of prayer. Others suggest an increased diligence in avoiding monetary improprieties. Still others suggest it must be restraint in expenses when it comes to Semachot. One hears a variety of suggestions.
I say one thing. DO SOMETHING. We cannot let an event like this go by and not do SOMETHING. Every generation has an event that is seared into the collective memory of that generation. The two natural disasters that have hit the United States in under a month, with a third on its way. Hurricane’s Irma, Harvey and Jose will collectively be remembered as the worst natual disasters the world has ever seen bundled together. The results of over 400 Billion dollars worth of damage in the United States alone, not counting the Virign Islands, or Puerto Rico. It was a cataclysmic event.
If Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, would be alive to hear thunder he would ask “What does Father want?”
Obtained from Rabbi Yissocher Frand
Moshe said, “I am 120 years old this day; I can no more go out and come in, and G-d has said to me, You shall not go over this Jordan’” The Rabbi of Gur said that by his 120th birthday, Moshe had reached the ultimate in spirituality and holiness that a human being can attain. The only possibility for Moshe to have achieved additional spiritual growth would have been in Israel, but inasmuch as he was denied entrance thereto, he could not progress any further.
To Moshe, a life without possibility of growth was not worth living and when he realized that the Divine decree restricting him from entering the Holy Land was irrevocable, he willingly accepted death. To Moshe, living meant growing. Moshe is referred to as Rabbeinu, our teacher, who taught us not only by his pronouncements, but also by the way he lived and died. Unlike Moshe, who reached the ultimate heights possible for a human being, we all have abundant room to expand our growth. We must heed Moshe’s lesson and always strive to grow, for growing is true living.
By Rabbi Abraham Twerski
Saving a Life
כי ד’ אלקיך הוא ההלך עמך
For Hashem, your G-d, goes with you (Devarim 31:6)
As a family once decided to take a vacation in Teveria, the wife and two daughters made their way down to the Kineret for a swim while the husband traveled to the gravesite of R’ Meir Baal HaNeis. While the girls continued to enjoy themselves swimming in the water, the older daughter began drifting off a bit too far and being unable to competently swim, started to drown. It was then that the mother, frantic and herself also incapable of swimming, began hearing her daughter yell for help.
Running to the highway, the mother began flagging down oncoming cars in a plea of desperation. After much effort, a luxurious car pulled over to the side and out walked a well-dressed man. “My child is drowning! Please, can you help?” the mother cried. Without hesitating, the man removed his coat and ran into the water, his wife screaming in the background, “Remember, you just had a heart attack!” Jumping into the water, after a short while, the man located the girl and brought her ashore.
Letting out a sigh of relief, the mother looked at her daughter, grateful that she survived. But then she looked again and gasped. Laying before her was not her older daughter, but younger daughter. Her younger daughter must have swum into the water to help her older sister. “I still have another daughter in the water!” the mother screamed back at the man. Diving back in, the man looked around asking, “Where is she?” “Over there,” cried the mother as she pointed to the water. Finally spotting the girl, he began dragging her to the shore.
By now, a number of people had gathered around nervously watching the man in the water. As the man continued holding the girl, he soon was met by a throng of bystanders yelling, “Her head is still in the water! Lift her head out!” Realizing that the girl’s head was still submerged in the water, he immediately lifted it up and placed her body on the sand. Within moments, a medic rushed over and started performing CPR, after which an ambulance crew arrived to take her pulse. But, unfortunately, they did not seem too optimistic. “Her head was in the water too long,” they said. Rushing her to the hospital, the doctors as well returned with sullen faces. “There doesn’t seem to be too much hope.”
While the family began fervently and anxiously praying for the girl’s recovery, she was administered an MRI. After its completion, the doctor walked in with the results. “I don’t believe it,” he said, “but your daughter has regular brain activity; she is perfectly healthy.” Two days later, the girl was released from the hospital. “We never saw anything like this before,” the doctors said. “With her head underwater for quite a while, she couldn’t breathe and should have suffered major brain damage.” But, to everyone’s relief, she miraculously pulled through.
A few days later, the family arranged a seudat hodaah (meal of thanks) thanking Hashem for the miracle. Looking to invite the man who saved the two girls, they called the hospital thinking that perhaps he had called to find out how the girl was doing. And sure enough, he had done so. Receiving his phone number, the family contacted him and invited him to the meal. He was an attorney from a non-observant kibbutz who had never experienced any close connection to Yiddishkeit his entire life. Yet, it seemed that he had something on his mind which he wished to tell the family. Asking that he share his story with the family, he went on to relate the following:
“Just before this incident, I had been recovering from a heart attack. My wife and I were traveling up north for a vacation when we saw a woman frantically waving down cars in the street. My wife told me to keep on driving as it didn’t seem that there was any major problem, but I stopped to help. I used to be an Olympic swimmer, but after becoming ill, I hadn’t swum in years. Just last week, though, as part of my recovering therapy, I had decided to swim laps in the hotel I was staying at. My wife at the time mentioned that it was dangerous for me to swim, but I replied that for some reason I felt like I needed to do this. Now, I know what I meant when I said that. If I hadn’t practiced my swimming then, I don’t think I would have been in shape to save your daughters.
“So I jumped in. Coming back with your first daughter, you then told me that your other daughter was still in the water. I then dived back in again. But this time, as I neared the shore, it was brought to my attention that I had kept her head underwater. Unable to deal with what I had done, I came back crying to my wife. “I killed the girl!” “What do you mean?” asked my wife. “I didn’t pull her head out of the water! It’s all my fault that she’s now dead.” I didn’t know what to do with myself.
“And so, sometime after the incident, I decided to drive back next to the water and climb to the nearby mountaintop. When I finally made it up there, I began to talk to Hashem. “Ribono Shel Olam, never in my life have I prayed. I grew up in a kibbutz and ridiculed at the idea of prayer. This is the first time in my life that I am doing so. If this girl dies, I will never be able to live with myself again. Please consider as if I had prayed my whole life, and combine all those prayers to save this girl.” After finishing my prayers, I proceeded to drive to the hospital and check up on the girl.
“And as soon as I arrived, I was updated with the news. Your daughter had woken up an hour ago and was doing much better. She would survive and soon return to her full health.
“The moment I heard that, I couldn’t believe my ears. She had awoken during the very few moments I silently stood in prayer on the mountaintop. At the exact time I had turned to Hashem in heartfelt tefillah, she came to her senses.”
Instead of giving up and despairing, this man took his broken heart and poured it out to Hashem in prayer. It was a tefillah he had never uttered before in his life, and it wrought a miracle. Even at a moment we think all hope is lost, nothing is ever lost. Never are we to give up when trying circumstances confront us. Our words emanating from the heart directly reach Hashem, and hold the potency of effectuating miracles.
By Rabbi Fischel Schachter
parashat nitzavim/vayelech Moshe speaks to the People of Israel, and he says some very important things for us to learn from:
Jewish Unity Everyone is standing together, the great scholars with the woodcutters and water-drawers. This teaches us that every single person is important in G‑d’s eyes, and everyone has a vital role to play. It also shows us the importance of unity–the Jewish people are one and must be always united.
The Future Redemption If the Children of Israel sin, the G‑d will punish them and their land will become dry and barren and stop producing its beautiful fruit. The Jews will have to suffer in exile. But a time will come when they will realize how wrong they’ve been and will turn back to G‑d, and then he will bring them back to the land. This will bring in a new, special time when everyone will want to do only good and the whole world will become a good place–there won’t be any evil. This is called the time of Moshiach, the future redemption.
We Can Do It! Sometimes it seems as if the Torah is very hard, and there are so many things we must do, and so many that we may not do, that it feels like the keeping the Torah is like crossing a great big ocean–almost too hard to be done. But G‑d told us keep the Torah because we really can. Because if we try, the Torah is not across the ocean, rather “the Torah is very close to you” and it’s possible for us to do it right. And it’s not just possible–it may even be easy! (In middle of all the mitzvot we’ve been learning these past few weeks, that’s some much needed encouragement.)
It’s Our Choice The world is made up of good and bad, and the Torah tells us what is the good path to follow. But we must make the choice to do good. It’s our choice what we want to do with our lives–and every moment of our day. And when we think about it, of course we will want to do only the best. So make the right choice–choose good.
Vayelech – And He Went… The Parshah of Vayelech tells us about the last day of Moshe’ life. He is exactly 120 years old (because he passed away on the same day that he was born–the 7th of Adar) and he knows that he will not be able to go into the land of Israel. He passes on the leadership to Joshuah and then finishes writing a Torah scroll that he gives to the Levites to put in the Ark.
Moshe tells them that they will read from this Torah once every seven years on the festival of Sukkot. This will be in the year of Hakhel, the year following Shemittah, when all the Jews–men, women and children–gather together in the Holy Temple and the king reads from the Torah.
The Parshah ends with telling us that although there will be times when the Jews will turn away from G‑d, and G‑d will have to hide Himself from them, they or their children will always come back and the Torah will never really be forgotten.