Category Archives: Parshas Vayelech

Parshas Nitzavim-Vayelech: Do You Want To Be Like THAT GUY On The Train!

Parshas Nitzavim-Vayelech

Do You Want To Be Like THAT GUY On The Train!

“You stand this day all of you before Hashem; your captains of your tribes, your elders, and your officers, with all the men of Yisroel.” (Devarim 29:9)

How would you feel if you would have been the man on the train, the innkeeper, or the rabbi in the following stories?

The great mussar luminary, Rabbi Yisrael Salanter zt”l was traveling by train from Salant to Vilna. He was sitting in a smoking car holding a lit cigar. [This was before it was known that smoking is harmful to your health.] A young passenger approached him and started yelling about the smoke. Although it was his right to smoke, as it was a smoking car, Rav Yisrael immediately put out the cigar and opened the window to let the smoke out. The same fellow shouted again at the rabbi, telling him to shut the window as it was now getting too cold. Upon arriving in Vilna, the young man noticed the hundreds of people waiting to greet a famous rabbi who was on the train. When he realized that the great rabbi was the man that he had been very rude to, he became very distraught and profusely begged Rabbi Yisroel for forgiveness.

The Brisker Rav, Rav Yehoshua Ber Soloveitchik zt”l, was once caught in a blinding snowstorm. He and his wagon driver realized that they would have to find a place to stay overnight as the roads were becoming impassable. It was late at night when they arrived at an inn. After banging on the door for a while, the sleepy innkeeper finally opened his window and said that the inn was closed. The wagon driver called out and said that it was freezing outside and that the roads were becoming impassable. Grudgingly, the innkeeper came downstairs and opened the door. The innkeeper was not interested in tending to them, but he told them that they could stay in a side room. The room was cold, but it was much better than being outside in the frigid cold. The Rav and his driver settled in for the night. About a half hour later, more travelers were banging on the door of the inn. One of the travelers called up that the rebbe was downstairs, together with some of his followers. The innkeeper saw that there were about twenty travelers outside. That meant good business. He ran to open the door and greet the guests. He invited them in and brought them drinks and refreshments. Soon, they were all warm. The rebbe went to wash his hands and passed the side room where the other two travelers were shivering in the cold. The rebbe noticed them and recognized the great Torah luminary, the Brisker Rav. He brought the Brisker Rav into the dining room where the other chassidim were sitting. When the innkeeper returned to the dining room with more food, the rebbe castigated him for putting the gadol hador, the great Torah leader of that generation, in that frigid room and without giving him any refreshments to warm him up. The innkeeper had not recognized the Brisker Rav and immediately begged for forgiveness. He said, “I am sorry, I did not realize who you were.” … The Brisker Rav forgave him and taught him a very important lesson. ‘You are begging my pardon because I am the Brisker Rav. That is not why you should be asking forgiveness. You should be asking forgiveness because it was wrong of you to behave like that to any Jew that may have come to your inn. No one should be left in the cold.” (Around the Maggid’s Table by Rabbi Paysach Krohn)

Rabbi Yechezkel Abramsky zt”l was one of the Torah leaders of his generation. One day, as he was taking a walk, he noticed a five-year-old girl crying. He stopped what he was doing [which was most likely learning], went over to the girl and asked her why she was crying. She said that she was crying because her friend made fun of her dress. Rabbi Abramsky asked her for her name. She said that it was Shoshana. Rabbi Abramsky told her to tell her friend that the rabbi said her name was beautiful, and her dress was beautiful. The young girl ran back to her friends with a big smile on her face. (More Maggid Stories for Children by Chaviva Krohn Pfeiffer)

The first pasuk in our Parsha says that you are all standing before Hashem referring to the nesiim, the leaders of the twelve shevatim, tribes, together with all the people. The Yalkut Shimoni says this pasuk teaches us that even though the nesiim and other officers were leaders over the people, and the people had to listen to them, in the eyes of Hashem all the Jews were equal.

The Alshich zt”l says a similar point. In the beginning of Parshas Matos (Bamidbar 30:2) Moshe first told a particular commandment to the nesiim before teaching it to the rest of the Jewish nation. Rashi explains that Moshe did this to honor the nesiim. The same procedure was followed with the teaching of the Ten Commandments. First Moshe taught the laws to Aharon, then to Aharon’s sons and then to the nesiim. Only afterwards did Moshe teach the laws to the rest of the Jewish nation. (Shmos 34: 31-32. see Rashi there). In our Parsha, the pasuk says, “You stand this day all of you before Hashem; your captains of your tribes, your elders, and your officers, with all the men of Yisroel.” (Devarim 29:9). The Alshich questions why Moshe changed the pattern and said the current message to the entire Jewish nation, at one time. The Alshich says that the words of the pasuk itself answer the question. Previously, when Moshe taught the people, he honored the nesiim by teaching them first, before the rest of the nation came to him. Here, all the people were already standing together before Hashem to make a covenant with Hashem. Once everyone, the nesiim, the officers, the elders, … and the water carriers were all standing before Hashem, there was no distinction between “greater” and “lesser” people. Once they were all standing before Hashem, there was no way for a human to determine which person was greater in the eyes of Hashem or which person deserved more honor. Someone whom the people feel is deserving of honor and prestige may actually be considered lesser than a simple Jew, in the eyes of Hashem. Hashem has a different equation than we do, to determine who is a more honored person.

According to the Alshich we cannot discern who is greater in the eyes of Hashem. How would we feel if the person whom we had treated disrespectfully, suddenly became our boss? How would we feel if, after 120 years, we go to Heaven and see that someone whom we had treated disrespectfully, is highly respected in Heaven?

Obviously, we should treat everyone with respect, as everyone is created in the image of Hashem.

An added motivation to do so may be the realization that the person whom we disrespect may be among the most respected up high. We don’t want to be like the man on the train or the innkeeper who found out

    that the people to whom they acted rudely were well-known and highly respected people.

We should try to be like the rabbi who treated everyone, even a five-year-old girl, with respect.


Parshas Vayelech: I Am Certain that You Can Do It!

Parshas Vayelech

I Am Certain that You Can Do It!


“Moshe went and spoke these things to all Israel. He said to them…“ (Devarim 31:1-2)

One day, as a small child, Thomas Edison came home from school and gave a paper to his mother. He said to her “Mom, my teacher gave this paper to me and told me only you are to read it. What does it say?” Her eyes welled with tears as she read the letter out loud to her child … “Your son is a genius. This school is too small for him and doesn’t have good enough teachers to train him. Please teach him yourself.” Many years after Edison’s mother had died, he became one of the greatest inventors of the century. One day he was going through a closet, and he found the folded letter that his old teacher wrote his Mother that day. He opened it … The message written on the letter was “Your son is mentally deficient. We cannot let him attend our school anymore. He is expelled.” Edison became emotional reading it and then wrote in his diary:

“Thomas A. Edison was a mentally deficient child whose mother turned him into the genius of the Century.”

A positive word of encouragement can help change anyone’s destiny. (Did Thomas Edison’s Mother Lie About a Letter Expelling Him from School? byAlex Kasprak)

The Talmud (Yoma 86A) quotes Rabbi Levi who said, “Great is repentance, as it reaches the Heavenly throne, as it is stated: ‘Return, Israel, to the Lord your G-D’”(Hosea 14:2). This implies that repentance literally reaches Hashem.

In last week’s Parsha, Moshe gathered the entire Jewish People before Hashem, to bring them into a covenant with Hashem. The Torah (Devarim 29:12) says that if the Jews will remain faithful to Hashem, they will be Hashem’s “people” and Hashem will be “their G-D”. If the Jews falter and serve other gods, the punishment will be severe. However, when the Jews will repent and return to Hashem, Hashem will welcome them with open arms and shower them with much good.

In this week’s Parsha, the Torah (Devarim 31:1-2) begins, “Moshe went and spoke these things to all Israel. He said to them…“ The Kli Yakar asks two questions. The pasuk says that Moshe went. Where did he go? Then the pasuk says that “he spoke”. However, the pasuk does not tell us what he said. What did he say?  The Kli Yakar says that the word “vayedaber”, that he “spoke” is a tougher way of talking. On his last day of life, Moshe gave the Jews mussar. Moshe spoke “words of teshuva”, telling the Jews to repent and come closer to Hashem. “Moshe went”, says the Kli Yakar, to every single tent, to every Jewish home, to tell and exhort them to do teshuva. In the previous parsha, Moshe had already told the Jewish People as a whole, about the importance of teshuva. Yet, Moshe felt it was so important, that he repeated the message to each individual family. [I am not aware of any sin that the Jews had done. Therefore, I assume that the discussion about teshuva refers to a future point in time]

The Ibn Ezra has a different explanation of what the Torah means by the words, “Moshe went”. The Ibn Ezra says that Moshe went to every shevet, tribe, to inform them that he was about to die and that they should not be afraid of what the future portended.

The last day of Moshe’s life was a very busy one. The consummate leader, he didn’t spend the time to take care of his own needs. He wrote 13 sifrei Torah (Midrash Rabba). One was placed in the Aron, in the Mishkan. The other 12 were given to each of the 12 shevatim, ensuring that each tribe would have its own sefer Torah as a guide to follow the proper path in life.

Look at the love and sensitivity that Moshe showed to his people. He knew that he would soon die, and he was busy writing the sifrei Torah. Yet, according to the Ibn Ezra, he stopped to think about others and their feelings. How will the Jewish People feel after I die? They may be afraid about what will happen after their leader dies. Let me console them. Moshe took the time to go to each shevet to comfort them.

According to the Kli Yakar, Moshe went even further. He didn’t just go to each shevet to speak with them. He actually took the time to speak to every individual family. Imagine how valued they felt, getting such personal attention by the greatest leader in history, and only hours before his demise.

We learn from Moshe Rabbeinu’s actions the importance of showing sensitivity to others.

The Torah further shows us the importance of showing concern for others. Yehoshua was going to take-over the reins of leadership from Moshe. Numerous times, Yehoshua was encouraged to be “strong and courageous”. Moshe called Yehoshua in front of all Israel and said,”Be strong & courageous” (Devarim 31:7). And [Hashem] charged Yehoshua son of Nun: “Be strong and resolute (Devarim 31:23). Twice more in the next few psukim, Hashem again tells Yehoshua, “Be strong and resolute”.  After Moshe died, Hashem told Yehoshua, “Be strong and resolute” (Yehoshua 1:6).  

The Chidushei HaRim. (as quoted in Talelei Oros by Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rubin) questions why it was necessary to encourage Yehoshua so many times with the words “Be strong and resolute”. Yehoshua had already proven that he was a capable leader when he led the battle against Amalek.  The Torah had also testified that Yehoshua was “filled with wisdom”. The Chidushei HaRim says that this teaches us an important lesson. No matter how capable a person may be, he can always benefit from words of reassurance and encouragement. Even one as great as Yehoshua could benefit from it.

If even someone as great as Yehoshua could benefit from words of encouragement, how much more so we can also benefit from it. Let’s take this lesson to heart and give words of encouragement to our friends, our acquaintances, our students, our families, and especially to our spouses. Our words will not cost us anything. The benefits will be endless, for others as well as for ourselves.