As we approach Rosh Hashanah, there is perhaps no better parshah to read than Parshas Nitzavim as it discusses the concept of Teshuvah, repentance, which is the main theme of this time of year. We may take it for granted, but if you think about it, Teshuvah is an amazing concept.
First, when we consider the fact that we owe everything we have in this world to Hashem, the fact that we sin (be it intentionally or unintentionally) is an incredible display of chutzpa. When you put it in perspective, the idea that Hashem forgives us for anything is amazing by itself. Furthermore, not only does He forgive us, but depending on the sin, we can have the sin completely wiped clean, as if it never existed! Imagine something happens to you that you are extremely embarrassed about, eventually it will drop off of everyone’s mind and that will be the end. Still, everyone remembers it happened and every once in a while someone will bring it up and have a good laugh. How much would you pay for that event to never have happened? Well, when Hashem grants us mechilah, forgiveness, for our sins, that is exactly what happens! Teshuvah is certainly something we must learn to appreciate more.
In the fourth aliyah of this week’s parshah, the pasuk reads, “רְאֵה נָתַתִּי לְפָנֶיךָ הַיּוֹם אֶת הַחַיִּים וְאֶת הַטּוֹב וְאֶת הַמָּוֶת וְאֶת הָרָע” “Behold, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil” (Devarim 30:16). Here, Hashem is warning Bnei Yisrael to keep the Torah. He tells them that keeping the Torah grants you life along with all sorts of good things while not keeping the Torah results in the opposite. Interestingly, in Parshas Re’eh, a similar warning was given. “רְאֵה אָנֹכִי נֹתֵן לִפְנֵיכֶם הַיּוֹם בְּרָכָה וּקְלָלָה” “Behold, today I place before you a blessing and a curse” (26:11). This pasuk is also referring to Bnei Yisrael keeping the Torah; with the Torah comes a blessing and with the opposite comes a curse.
There is a very clear difference in the pasuk between these two warnings that begs the following question, how come in Parshas Re’eh Hashem does not fully explain to Bnei Yisrael that the consequences of keeping the Torah is not just good and bad (a blessing and a curse), but also is connected to life itself? Why only here in Parshas Nitzavim is this idea fully explained?
An answer was told over to me in the name of the Meshech Chochma (I have not been able to find it inside to this point). As we mentioned earlier, Parshas Nitzavim introduces the concept of Teshuvah to Bnei Yisrael. Back in Parshas Re’eh, before any explanation of Teshuvah was made, Hashem only told them that the keeping the Torah was connected to good and bad, but not to life and death. Only after explaining how Teshuvah works could Hashem tell them that keeping the Torah would be what would help them actually survive.
The reason for arranging it this way was simple. It was an accepted fact at that time that at some point in history, Bnei Yisrael would eventually sin. If Hashem had told them that their physical survival was dependant on keeping the Torah, then without the knowledge of teshuvah, Bnei Yisrael would have had the mindset that one strike and you’re out! Your life hangs on the act of just one sin! Even though Hashem still made their physical well-being dependant on keeping the Torah, it is nowhere near the pressure of having your life hang in the balance! However, after relating over the idea of teshuvah and that repentance was possible, Hashem could then tell the nation that their physical survival was dependant on them keeping the Torah as well since they now knew that there was a way out.
We are now less than a week away from Rosh Hashanah, and after that, the Aseres Yimei Teshuvah and Yom Kippur. While we work on doing Teshuvah, let’s take a moment to remember what a great gift it is from Hashem that we even have the opportunity to do such a thing. It should motivate us to want to repent harder than ever.
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