"ראש חדש ... ביום ... הבא עלינו לטובה"
Rosh Chodesh ... will be on ... which comes to us for good.” (Siddur)

QUESTION: It is customary to bless the coming month on the last Shabbat of the preceding month. Why do we not bless the month of Tishrei on the last Shabbat of Elul?

ANSWER: The Maggid of Mezritch said in the name of his Rebbe, the Ba’al Shem Tov, that Hashem Himself blesses the month of Tishrei and this gives us strength to bless the other eleven months of the year.

(היום יום כ"ה אלול ועי' לקוטי שיחות ח"ד ע' 1139, הערה 3)

* * *

Rosh Chodesh Tishrei falls on Rosh Hashanah, which is the day when Hashem judges Klal Yisrael. It is against our interest that Satan know when Rosh Hashanah occurs, and by not publicly blessing Rosh Chodesh Tishrei, we hope to keep it secret so that Satan will not know when to come before the Heavenly tribunal to speak evil against the Jews.

For this reason, Rosh Hashanah is referred to as the “hidden” festival, as the pasuk states: “Tiku bachodesh shofar — Blow the shofar on the new moon — bakeseh leyom chageinu — on the covered up [‘bakeseh’ — related to ‘kisui,’ ‘covering’] i.e. hidden day — which was appointed for our festival” (Psalms 81:4).


"אתם נצבים היום"
“You are standing today.” (29:9)

QUESTION: It is customary on Motza’ei Shabbat Parshat Nitzavim to begin reciting Selichot. (In the event that there is no opportunity to recite four Selichot before Rosh Hashanah, we begin a week earlier.)

Is there a hint for this in the Torah?

ANSWER: The words “Atem nitzavim hayom” — “You are standing today” (אתם נצבים היום) — have the numerical value of 694, which is the same as that of the words "לעמוד לסליחות" — “To rise for Selichot.”

(מטה משה ח"ה סי' תשע"ט)

"והוא יהיה לך לאלקים"
“And that He be a G‑d to you.” (29:12)

QUESTION: Rashi quotes a Midrash about Parshat Nitzavim following Parshat Ki Tavo: “When the Jewish people heard the one hundred curses less two, they turned pale and exclaimed, ‘How will we be able to survive?’ Moshe comforted them by declaring, ‘Atem nitzavim hayom’ — ‘You are still existing today, regardless of the many wrongdoings which you have already committed.’ ”

Why does the Midrash say “one hundred less two,” instead of simply saying “ninety eight”?

ANSWER: Parshat Ki Tavo contains ninety eight curses which are spelled out clearly and an additional two curses which are not explicit, but are included in the pasuk, “Even any illness and any blow that is not written in this Book of the Torah, G‑d will bring upon you, until you are destroyed” (28:61).

Upon hearing the ninety eight explicit curses, the Jews were not so frightened, thinking, “We will find a way to combat them.” However, when the last two were stated in a vague manner, the people, not knowing their nature, could not anticipate a cure for them. These two curses frightened the people.

(כלי יקר)

"כי את אשר ישנו פה עמנו עמד היום...ואת אשר איננו פה עמנו היום"
“But with whoever is here, standing with us today...and with whoever is not here with us today.” (29:14)

QUESTION: Since it says asher yeshno poh” — “whoever is here” — the word “imanu” — “with us” — seems to be redundant?

ANSWER: When Mr. Cohen arrived in Shul one morning, Rabbi Kirsch greeted him warmly. When the minyan had reached Ashrei, Rabbi Kirsch approached Mr. Cohen and shook his head with a welcoming nod. This repeated itself again when the people were reciting “Ahavat Olam.” After davening Mr. Cohen asked the Rabbi, “You greeted me when I came into Shul; why did you greet me twice more during davening?”

The Rabbi replied, “I did not see you since you left Shul last night after Ma’ariv. Therefore, when I saw you in the morning I greeted you. Before Ashrei, and also before Shema, I noticed that your mind had wandered elsewhere. Consequently, when I recognized that you, together with your thoughts, were back in Shul, I greeted you each time welcoming you back.”

In his parting message to Klal Yisrael, Moshe tells the people that he is addressing both those who are “yeshno poh” — “present here” — i.e. together with us in body and spirit, as well as those who are“imanu omeid hayom” — physically standing with us — although their minds have wandered off.

"והיה בשמעו את דברי האלה הזאת והתברך בלבבו לאמר שלום יהיה לו כי בשררות לבי אלך...לא יאבה ה' סלח לו"
“And it will be that when he hears the words of this curse, he will bless himself in his heart, saying, “Peace will be with me, though I walk as my heart sees fit...Hashem will not be willing to forgive him.” (29:18-19)

QUESTION: The word “bilevavo” — “in his heart” — and “libi” — “my heart” — seem extra. It could have said, “He will bless himself saying...Though I walk as I see fit”?

ANSWER: A frequently heard comment of non-observant Jews is, “I am a Jew at heart.” They excuse themselves from putting on tefillin, observing Shabbat, etc., with these words. In the pasuk, the Torah is now talking about a curse, G‑d forbid, for the lack of observance, and therefore says of those who excuse themselves “vehitbarech bilevavo —blessing themselves with a “good heart” — and claiming “besherirut libi eileich” “[It will be sufficient if] I go with good thoughts in my heart” — that “Hashem will not be willing to forgive him — this approach to Torah and mitzvot is unacceptable.

(כתב סופר)

* * *

The Torah consists of six hundred and thirteen mitzvot, representing the six hundred and thirteen human body parts. The mitzvot are distributed among the various body parts; some are performed with the hand, others with the foot, and the mind, etc. A wise man once said that a reason why there are so many heart ailments in our times is because there are too many “cardiac Jews” — people who put the entire weight of their Jewishness on their heart and thus overburden it.

"הנסתרת לה' אלקינו והנגלת לנו ולבנינו עד עולם לעשות את כל דברי התורה הזאת"
“The hidden are for G‑d, our G‑d, but the revealed are for us and our children forever, to carry out all the words of this Torah.” (29:28)

QUESTION: What are “the hidden things” and what are “the revealed things”?

ANSWER: Throughout history Jewry has eagerly awaited the ultimate redemption through Mashiach. Our sages (Sanhedrin 98a) have identified two times for his coming. One is “be’itah” — the preordained time by Hashem at the beginning of creation, and the second is “achishenah” — a hastened revelation before the destined time. If the Jews are deserving, Hashem will hasten Mashiach’s arrival. If they are not, G‑d forbid, the redemption will come “in its time.”

The designated time of the coming of Mashiach is hidden and only known to Hashem. However, we do know that if we repent sincerely then we will immediately be redeemed, as scripture says “Hayom, im bekolo tishma’u” — “Today, if you will hearken to His voice” (Psalms 95:7).

In the previous pasuk, Moshe tells the people that “Hashem removed them from upon their soil with anger, with wrath, and with great fury, and He cast them to another land, as this very day!” In an attempt to comfort them and uplift their spirits, Moshe now assures them that this situation will not go on forever. Hashem will definitely send Mashiach and take us out of galut — exile — regardless if we deserve it or not. However, when this will take place is “hanistarot” — “hidden” — “laHashem Elokeinu” — “[and is] known only to Hashem.” However, “haniglot lanu ulevaneinu ad olam” — “what is revealed to us and to our children forever” — is that “[if we] carry out all the words of this Torah,” the redemption will take place speedily.

(כתב סופר)

"והיה כי יבאו עליך כל הדברים האלה הברכה והקללה אשר נתתי לפניך"
“It will come that when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse that I have presented before you.” (30:1)

QUESTION: The word “vehayah” — “it will be” — usually denotes simchah — happiness and joy. How does that accord with “vehakelallah” — “and the curse” — that may, G‑d forbid, “come upon you?”

ANSWER: The Gemara (Berachot 54a) says that one is obligated to bless Hashem when something bad occurs to him just as he blesses Hashem for something good. Our sages explain this to mean that just as one receives good tidings with simchah — “joy” — seemingly bad tidings are also a Divine act and must be accepted with happiness (ibid. 60b). Consequently, the word “vehayah” which denotes joy, is appropriate in this pasuk and is attainable when one bears in mind that “asher natati lefanecha” — “that I — Hashem — am the one who has presented it before you.”

(אור החיים)

* * *

Rabbi Zusha of Anipoli was a disciple of Rabbi DovBer of Mezritz (the Mezritcher Maggid). The fact that illness and utter poverty were Rabbi Zusha’s lot did not in the least diminish his piety, humility, and love of Hashem for which he was renowned. A story is told of Rabbi Schmelke of Nikolsburg, who once approached Rabbi DovBer of Mezritch and asked him how it was possible to follow the injunction of our sages to “Make a blessing upon hearing bad news just as one would make a blessing upon hearing good news.” Rabbi DovBer told Rabbi Shmelke to go to Rabbi Zusha, and he would answer his question.

Rabbi Shmelke went to Rabbi Zusha, upon whom poverty and illness had left their physical marks. When Rabbi Shmelke posed his question to him, Rabbi Zusha was surprised. He replied, “You should have asked someone who has actually experienced misfortunes, G‑d forbid. Thank G‑d, I have only had good things happen to me throughout my life.”

The answer to Rabbi Schmelke’s question was that someone should rejoice in his lot to the point that he is not even aware of harsh events. This symbolized Rabbi Zusha’s life.

(ספורי חסידים)

"והיה כי יבאו עליך כל הדברים האלה הברכה והקללה...והשבת אל לבבך"
“It will be that when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse...then you will take it to your heart.” (30:1)

QUESTION: The Torah’s intention is that by, G‑d forbid, experiencing the curse, a severe form of punishment, ultimately the people will do teshuvah. If so, why is“haberachah” — “the blessing” — mentioned?

ANSWER: One who was blessed with riches and suddenly becomes impoverished is more despondent than a person who was born into a poor family and grew up in poverty. The Torah is declaring that not only will there be a curse, but it will take place after one enjoyed a period of blessing. A downfall of such magnitude would definitely awaken the person to teshuvah.

(פון אונזער אלטען אוצר בשם העקידה)

"ושבת עד ה' אלקיך"
“And you shall return unto G‑d, your G‑d.” (30:2)

QUESTION: What is the essence of teshuvah?

ANSWER: Rabbi Shalom DovBer Schneerson, the fifth Rebbe of Lubavitch, explained that the word teshuvah (תשובה) is comprised of five Hebrew letters, each letter a path and a method in the avodah — service — of teshuvah.

"ת" is for "תמים תהי' עם ה' אלקיך" — “Be sincere with the Eternal your G‑d” (Devarim 18:13). This represents the service of teshuvah that comes through sincerity and wholeness of heart — “earnestness.”

"ש" is for "שויתי ה' לנגדי תמיד" — “I have set G‑d before me always” (Psalms 16:8). This form of teshuvah results from one’s constant awareness that the world, and all that is in it, is constantly brought into being by Hashem.

"ו" is for "ואהבת לרעך כמוך" — “Love your fellow as yourself” (Vayikra 19:18). Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad Chassidut, taught that this love is a means to “Love G‑d, your G‑d” (Devarim 6:5). This service of teshuvah stems from goodness of heart.

"ב" is for "בכל דרכך דעהו" — “In all your ways, know Him” (Proverbs 3:6). This form of the service of teshuvah comes from one’s perceiving that all that happens to him and around him is hashgacha peratit — individual Divine Providence.

"ה" is for "הצנע לכת עם ה' אלקיך" — “Walk discreetly with your G‑d” (Micah 6:8). One must take care not to be conspicuous or act ostentatiously. It is said, “Man should always be artful in piety” (Berachot 17a). The artfulness lies in seeing that his piety not be noticed at all.

(היום יום ג' - ח' תשרי)

"אם יהיה נדחך בקצה השמים משם יקבצך ה' אלקיך ומשם יקחך"
“If your dispersed will be at the ends of the heaven, from there G‑d, your G‑d, will gather you in and from there He will take you.” (30:4)

QUESTION: Since people do not live in heaven, should not the pasuk have stated, “If your dispersed will be at the ends of the earth?”

ANSWER: Shamayim — heaven — denotes spiritual matters, while aretz — earth — refers to the mundane and material. The term “biketzeih” — “at the ends” — comes from the word “ketzat” — “a little bit.”

Since every Jew has certainly done some good and therefore has some merits in Heaven, Moshe told the Jewish people: “Im yiheyeh nidachacha — In the event that some of you may be dispersed — you need not worry because as long as you are holding onto ketzeih hashamayim — a little bit of spirituality — this will serve as the string through which Hashem will take hold of you and bring you back to Him and the Jewish people.”

(שמעתי מדודי הרב ברוך הכהן ז"ל כהן מח"ס קול תודה)

* * *

Many people have questioned the wisdom of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s mitzvah campaigns: “Why bother putting tefillin on a mechalel ShabbatShabbat desecrator — why go through the effort of putting a mezuzah on a home where kashrut is not observed?”

In light of the abovementioned, his efforts can be well understood. The Rebbe has unlimited love for Klal Yisrael, and he wants every Jew to perform at least one mitzvah through which Hashem will take hold of him and bring him back into the fold of Judaism.