Nitzavim Vayelech 5777

RABBI YECHIEL ROZEN

ושבת עד ד’ אלוקיך ושמעת בקולו (דברים ל:ב)
ומל ד’ אלוקיך את לבבך ואת לבב זרעך לאהבה את ד’ אלוקיך
בכל לבבך ובכל נפשך וגו’ (שם ו)

And you will return to Hashem, your G-d, and listen to his voice (Devarim 30:2)
Hashem, your G-d, will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, to love
Hashem, your G-d, with all your heart and with all your soul (Devarim 30:6)

In Shaarei Teshuva, Rabbeinu Yonah writes that Teshuva is one of the great kindnesses from Hashem. It is like an elixir of life. It is a Jew’s chance to renew his bond with Hashem, to discard his previous shortcomings, and to cast off the Aveiros and bad ways that dragged him down. Through Teshuva, we can look forward and move on to become what we really want to be, and to live wonderful, fulfilling lives.
Rabbeinu Yonah learns from the above Pesukim that even one who is unable to attain true love of Hashem of his own accord need not worry. If he only tries to do whatever Teshuva he can, Hashem will carry him the rest of the way, until he achieves the pinnacle of his creation – to love Hashem with heart and soul.
A well-known saying of Chazal notes that a Mitzvah is credited to the one who completes it. This is learned from the bones of Yosef Hatzadik. Even though Moshe Rabbeinu toiled superhumanly to take Yosef’s bones out of Mitzrayim, the Bnei Yisrael are credited with taking out his bones, since it is they who completed the Mitzvah by burying the bones in Eretz Yisrael.
In regards to the Mitzvah of Teshuva, it is interesting to note that in a certain sense, this is not the case. Our Mesorah is replete with Ma’amrei Chazal teaching and revealing how, with regard to Teshuva, a person simply does what he can. By taking even a slight step in the direction of Hashem, he merits Divine help to climb to the loftiest heights, as depicted in the aforementioned Rabbeinu Yonah. One of these most famous sayings is “פתחו לי פתח כחודו של מחט ואני אפתח לך פתח כחודו של אולם” , Hakadosh Baruch Hu requests that we make just a small opening and then He will enable us in the greatest way.
There is, however, one area in which the individual is perhaps considered the doer. The true Teshuva lies in this very area and is the source of all the ensuing Madreigos, levels. This is the work of directing our Ratzon, our desire to return.
The Sfas Emes (Lekutim), in a letter to a friend, writes strongly and clearly about our part in Avodas Hashem. What exactly is this “חודו של מחט”?
He writes that we must know that there is nothing a person does or thinks, be it good or bad, that is not Hashem’s will. Even thoughts of Teshuva that occasionally enter one’s heart and mind are a gift from Hashem. So, then, what does a person do? A person’s primary Avoda is in his Ratzon. He needs to direct his desire to cling to Hashem and follow in His ways. Then Hashem helps him to walk in the path of the righteous. With just a little effort, Hashem enables him to accomplish great Mitzvos. This is the חודו של מחט, the small effort driven by his desire to serve Hashem.
With this understanding, the Sfas Emes explains the Pasuk of מה ד’ אלוקיך שואל מעמך כי אם ליראה את ד’ וגו’ (דברים י:יב), “all Hashem asks from us is that we should truly want to serve Him, to love Him, and fear Him” (Devarim 10:12). If we do that, then Hashem does all the rest and helps us get there.

In this sense, we are the ones performing the complete Mitzvah of Teshuva. Even though we merit tremendous help from Hashem in correcting our ways and becoming better, the root of it is in our desire. Our Aveiros result from wanting worldly pleasures and pursuits. We mistakenly think that this is true life.
Turning our true desire to Hashem is the Teshuva that we can and must do. Then Hashem will help us achieve closeness to Him. This is how a person can be Zoche to do Teshuva Shleima and merit Birchas Hashem for a כתיבה וחתימה טובה.


RABBI BENZION MORGENSTERN

There was once a king who ruled a vast empire. A son was his only child. The prince was, of course, spoiled and mischievous, lacking all discipline and unsuccessful in any endeavor. Even so, the king still loved him, his heir and only child.
The king’s advisors finally advised that he send the boy to be apprenticed to a tradesman. Perhaps that would reform him. Alas for the king, he realized he must take their hard advice, and reduce his son to a commoner’s life.
So, the king gave his son a sleeping potion one evening. He bundled the prince into a royal carriage and carried him to a faraway city. Upon arrival at the city, he found the house he sought, marked as the residence of a master tailor, the finest in his guild.
The tailor opened the door to the knock. He fell prostrate before the visage of his sovereign. From that position, the tailor asked why he merited a royal visit.
The king answered simply, “I want you to teach my son to be a tailor.”
The tailor, flabbergasted, blurted out, “Who ever heard of a prince becoming a tailor?”
The king patiently explained his predicament. The tailor could do no more than agree to take in the prince as his apprentice, but an apprentice, and nothing more.
The king inquired about the master tailor’s fee. One thousand rubles for a year of apprenticeship was his response. It was to be paid in thirds after the completion of each period of the year. A progress report would accompany each invoice. And so, the king duly charged the master tailor with the care of the recumbent prince, and returned that night to the cares of his kingdom.
When the prince woke up, the tailor immediately informed him that he had to work like all the other boys. The prince responded, “I’m a prince and I don’t work!” The tailor informed him, “You were a prince. Now you’re in my house and if you want to eat, you have to work like everyone else.” The prince refused to work the entire day and went to sleep hungry. The next morning, he understood that he was subject to the king’s command, and had no choice but to work alongside the other apprentices.
Four months passed by and the king received a letter from the tailor. He opened it with trepidation. To his delight, he read that his son was highly successful at his tasks. He gladly paid the first three-hundred thirty-three ruble fee.
A second term passed. The king received another letter, even better than the first. His son the prince was finally succeeding at something. He could hardly contain his delight.
Soon the year end drew near. The king eagerly awaited the expected letter informing him that the prince has succeeded in his trade and was ready to return to his royal life. The letter never arrived. One, two, three months passed with no word from the master tailor. Finally, the king could contain himself no longer and set off to see the tailor.
The king asked why he had not received a third letter.
The tailor responded, “Your son will never be a tailor. I’ve taught many types of boys to master this trade. I have never met anyone so ill fitted to this trade. The prince cannot master threading the needle. He bends the needle, breaks the thread or pricks his fingers. He simply cannot thread a needle.”
“Excuse me,” said the astonished king, “didn’t you report to me that he excelled in the first two terms? What did you teach him during those two-thirds of the year?”
The tailor explained, “My master, the king, let me explain to you the way I teach all my students. A tailor needs to sit in his seat for many hours a day. So, I first teach all my students the Yomim Noraim songs so they can sit for long hours, and your son learned them very well. The second four months, I teach my students how to rip and cut different fabrics. Your son worked skillfully, which was duly reported to Your Majesty. The final term teaches use of the needle and thread. Here, your son grasped nothing of the subject.”
The king responded, “Did I send my son to learn songs? He already knew, good and well, how to sing. Was my goal that he should know how to rip? He already ripped plenty of carpets and curtains back in the palace! What purpose are those things if he didn’t learn how to become a tailor?!”
Singing the Rosh Hashana songs and cutting the apple are not the essence of Rosh Hashana, explained the Dubno Maggid. If one does not make any progress over Rosh Hashana, or accept upon himself even some modest growth for the new year, what are the singing and cutting worth?