1.

The Shirah which Moshe delivered on the last day of his life together with his faithful student and successor, Yehoshua, contains sharp words of admonishment and also encouraging words about the ultimate salvation that awaits the Jewish people.

On the pasuk “Zechor yemot olam — “Remember the days of old” (32:7), Rashi explains that “yemot olam” refers to the early generations of the world who caused anger before Hashem, and what He did to them.

The Kli Yakar (Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim of Luntshitz, 1550-1619) explains that the phrase “days of old” refers to the six days of Creation. Reflecting on it will prove that “Olam chesed yibaneh” — Hashem created the world solely out of His graciousness, for there was no one and nothing in the universe that He had to please or satisfy.

These two explanations are indeed worthy and do not need my approbation. However, it appears to me that the words “yemot olam” do not seem to fit easily with the interpretations. Since literally “yemot” means “days” and “olam” means “world,” it should have simply said “yamin shehayu lifneichem” — “the days that preceded you” — or “yemei Bereishit — “the days of the beginning”?

Permit me to share with you a novel interpretation on the words “yemot olam,” I once heard from my stepfather, Rabbi Eliyahu Moshe z”l Liss, It may not be exactly peshuto shel mikra — the simple meaning of the pasuk — but accordingly, Moshe was implying a very poignant message.

A week consists of seven days, and there are thirty days in a month. Since there are over 350 days in a year, in an average lifetime of seventy years a person has approximately 25,000 days. Taking this a step further, in a millennium there are 25 million days.

Usually a day is an insignificant entity and as the popular expression goes, “A day went and another day comes.” However, in the history of a people, there are certain days that stand out due to their special significance. These days may have made an overwhelming change on a people or on the world, either for the good or the opposite, and they will always be remembered .

For example, for the Jewish people the 15th of Nissan, when we left Egypt, or the 6th of Sivan, when we received the Torah, or the 9th of Av, which marks the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash, are not just ordinary days; rather they are days when our status changed. They are “yemot olam” — days that had an effect on our world. Moreover, they are “yemot olam” in another sense: days that mean the world to us. Closer to our times, for example, the day 9/11 is one of “yemot olam” — a day that changed and affected the world. The day of Gimmel Tammuz is also a “yemot olam” day that effected Chabad Chassidim and the Jewish community at large.

Individuals also sometimes experience a day which is “yemot olam,” a day which changes their world and which has a world of significance to the person. Whether due to happy or tragic events, these days are ones that should be remembered and reflected upon.

One such day is the Bar Mitzvah day. It is the day in your life, my dear Bar Mitzvah, of “yemot olam” — a day with a world of significance. On this day, suddenly overnight, you changed from a minor to an adult. No longer are you a little boy, but a full-fledged adult member of Klal Yisrael. No longer do you perform mitzvot merely due to chinuch — training or education — but now it is out of obligation. Your obligation is the same as the greatest and most prominent member of the Jewish community. From this day on you are counted in when a quorum of ten is needed for a minyan. You and the greatest Rabbi are counted as one.

Undoubtedly today, you have noble wishes, dreams and as­pirations that you would like to see yourself achieve. So I say to you, “Zechor yemot olam” — You must always remember this day which changed your world and which has a world of meaning to you. Reflect on it throughout your lifetime and work towards achieving the goals you resolved today for your future.


2.

In Parshat Ha’azinu, Moshe delivers a historical overview of sins of the Jewish people, including inexcusable ingratitude. He also says that because of this they deserved, G‑d forbid, to be destroyed, but in order to avoid desecration of His Name and through Hashem’s mercy, they were only exiled. Moshe concludes with describing the imminent redemption and describes how the enemies will be punished.

A line is this song is “Tzur yeledecha teshi vatishkach E‑l mecholelecha” — “You forgot the Rock Who gave birth to you, and your forgot the G‑d, Who brought you forth (from the womb)” (32:18).

This is a redundancy. Why does Moshe mention the Jews’ forgetting of Hashem twice?

The great Chassidic master Rabbi Menachem Mendel (1787-1859) of Kotzk said that among the many gifts Hashem has endowed man with is the power of shikchah — forgetfulness. Thus, when a person is, G‑d forbid, confronted with trials and tribulations, he is able to remove his mind from them, and go on with his life. A person can also forget unpleasant things that others did to him.

To better understand the profundity of Moshe words, the Dubno Maggid (Rabbi Yaakov Kranz — 1740-1804) gave the following parable:

There was once a person who owed money to many credi­tors. Unable to bear the pressure and demands for payments, which came from all sides, he consulted a friend who, inciden­tally, was also one of his creditors. The friend advised him, “From now on when anyone comes asking for payment, act insane, giggle and talk nonsensically, so that the creditor will think you have lost your mind and stop bothering you.” Once, when the friend himself came to demand payment, the debtor began to act demented, hoping to put him off. Angrily the credi­tor said to him. “Don’t try to pull that stunt on me. Remember, it was I who gave you this idea. Don’t use it against me!”

Moshe was saying to Klal Yisrael, “Tzur yeldecha — “The Rock Who gave birth to you” — [has instilled in you a gift, the power of] “teshi” — “to forget.” The problem is that “vatishkach Keil mecholelecha” — “you are using this power of forgetfulness to also forget Hashem, Who brought you forth and Who does so much for you.”

My dear Bar Mitzvah, forgetfulness can be a blessing or the reverse; it depends on whether it is used constructively or otherwise. Hashem cautions us to go about our daily affairs and use the gift of forgetting to forget the troubles of the past and be able to function without the encumbrance of past distresses. However, under no circumstances may it be used to, G‑d forbid, forget Hashem or our obligations of Torah learning and Mitzvah performance.

Hopefully, with the zechusim — merits — of your Torah and mitzvot added to those of Klal Yisrael, we will tilt the scale (see Ram­bam, Teshuva 3:4) and realize the closing words of the Ha’azinu song: “Harninu goyim amo, ki dam avadav yikom venakam yashiv l’tzarav v’chiper admato amo” — “The nations of the world will sing the praises of His people for He will avenge the blood of His servants; He will bring retribution upon his enemies, and He will appease His land and His people” (32:43) bimeheirah b’yameinu — speedily in our days — Amein.