Welcome to our Shabbos Table!
We hope you enjoy this selection of short divrei Torah, presented to family and guests at our Shabbos table as a springboard for discussion. Each one is followed by a question. The responses shared at our table are enlightening, entertaining, and always thought-provoking.
Please share them at your own Shabbos table, and send us your most interesting responses. A selection of the best will be posted on the website, and eventually, included in a book. To respond, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Parshas Nitzavim/ No More Excuses
“For this commandment that I command you today is not beyond you, nor is it far away.” (Devarim
What exactly is “this commandment”? Though some commentaries apply our pasuk to every commandment, Ramban takes a contextual approach, identifying the mitzvah in question as that of teshuvah.
People often make excuses why they can’t improve: If only I had a prophet or sage to guide me, as Seforno paraphrases this mentality. If only I’d been raised better; if only I had a more supportive environment…
Here the Torah tells us in no uncertain terms that there are no excuses. Repentance is definitely doable, and if we don’t take advantage of this precious Divine gift, we have only ourselves to blame. That’s the message of the following Talmudic story (Avodah Zarah 17a):
Rabbi Elazar ben Dordaya once set out to sin with a woman of ill-repute, who promptly declared him incapable of teshuvah. Crushed, he begged the hills and mountains to intercede on his behalf, but they refused. So did heaven and earth, and the sun, moon, and stars. At last he exclaimed, “This matter depends solely on me!” With that, he placed his head between his knees and wept aloud until he died. A heavenly voice then declared: “Rabbi Elazar ben Dordai is destined for eternal life!” [i.e., his repentance was accepted]. Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi wept and said: “Some acquire eternal life over many years, and some in one moment.” He also said: “Not only are penitents accepted, but they’re even called ‘Rabbi’!”
If we simply take responsibility, as Rabbi Elazar ben Dordaya did, we’ll find that teshuvah is well within our reach. As our parashah continues just a few pesukim later, “this thing is very close to you, in your mouth and heart, so you can do it” (ibid. 30:14).
Question for Discussion
What’s an excuse you typically make for neglecting a given mitzvah? Responses
Moriya, our twelve-year-old daughter:
I recently switched schools, and my new workload is much heavier. Homework can easily take three hours, so rather than breaking for supper, I eat as I work. I’m so busy, I don’t even get up to get a bentcher, so I say the berachah acharonah by heart. Yet I do my homework at the dining room table, and the bentchers are kept in a drawer just four feet away! If we can rationalize being too busy to get up to get a bentcher that’s right there, we can rationalize anything.
Yehudah from England, a second-year student at Aish HaTorah in Yerushalayim:
I regularly won’t start things, since I tell myself, “Why bother starting something you won’t finish?” For example, why bother going to minyan for a few days if I won’t continue? Why start learning new things or taking on new mitzvos?
I pointed out the following, which spoke for itself:
In the summer of 2001, 30,000 Boy Scouts came together in Virginia for the national Boy Scout Jamboree. Many Jews attend this quadrennial event, and this year scoutmaster Mike Paretsky ordered kosher food for them.
Another Jewish scoutmaster caught a glimpse of the kosher provisions. He had never eaten a kosher meal in his life, yet when he saw the special meals, something stirred. He and his troop were eating pork-this and bacon-that for breakfast, lunch, and supper, and suddenly this man decided he was sick of the treife stuff. He wanted kosher food. Paretsky gladly offered him a meal, but that wasn’t enough. He decided to keep kosher the entire jamboree!
Paretsky agreed to accommodate the neophyte, but a skeptic approached him. “Mike,” he said, “why are you wasting kosher food on this fellow? He’s not going to eat kosher after this is over, and he observes absolutely nothing!?”
Mike answered with an amazing story about the Chafetz Chaim:
When Russian soldiers marched into the town of Radin, its Jewish residents prepared kosher meals for the Jews in the czar’s army. Yet the locals’ kindness seemed to be thrown in their faces as they saw the Jewish troops devour the food and then line up for the treife rations.
When the Radiners complained to the Chafetz Chaim and asked whether to stop providing kosher food, he reflected with an insight that must be passed on to generations:
“Every mitzvah a Jew does – every good deed and every bit of kosher food he eats – isn’t a fleeting act. It’s an eternity. No matter what precedes or ensues, we must cherish a Jew’s every proper action.” (Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky, “The Search for Blessings”)
Zaki from Brooklyn, another second-year student at Aish HaTorah:
When I reach something difficult in my learning, I tend to push it off until the next day. I tell myself that it’s better to wait and look at it with fresh, rested eyes. Sometimes that’s true, but every time the going gets tough, I shouldn’t automatically call it quits.
Parshas Vayelech/ Hide and Seek
“And My fury will rage against them on that day, and I will abandon them and hide My face from
them…” (Devarim 31:17).
Toward the end of Moshe Rabbeinu’s life, Hashem informed him that Bnei Yisrael would subsequently abandon their G-d for other deities. Measure for measure, Hashem would then abandon His people, resorting to hester panim, a concealment of His face.
Of course, Hashem doesn’t actually have a face. So what exactly does this anthromorphism mean?
Rashi explains that Hashem is basically saying: “It will be as if I don’t see their distress.” In other words, Divine intervention will cease, for if one doesn’t see, he can’t possibly intervene (Sifsei Chachamim).
Conversely, when Hashem does “see,” He can’t help but intervene. As the Or HaChaim writes, Hashem will “have” to turn a blind eye to Bnei Yisrael’s suffering, because if He were to witness it, His mercy would overpower His wrath and He would take away their pain. Only His withdrawal makes the continuation of the pasuk possible: “and many evils and troubles will befall them.”
Likewise, as the verse continues, Klal Yisrael will conclude, “Is it not because our G-d is no longer among us that these evils have befallen us?” For if Hashem were among them, He wouldn’t allow them to suffer.
Cause and Effect
Bnei Yisrael will realize that Hashem has withdrawn in order for them to bear the consequences of their sins. That’s how we’re supposed to view what happens to us – as a springboard to introspection and teshuvah.
Unfortunately, some people draw the opposite conclusion: that their suffering has nothing to do with Hashem and is completely random. Hashem then warns, “I will doubly hide (haster astir) My face” (ibid. 31:18). I’ll allow them to be punished, but they won’t even realize they’re being punished. They won’t see the cause and effect (Ta’am VeDa’as, ibid.).
What Teens Need Most
When Hashem withdraws, it’s for our own good. He hides in order for us to seek Him, to repent. But when we withdraw, ignoring issues in our lives, they only get worse.
For example, some parents disregard the problems their adolescents face, but this hands-off approach may scar kids for life.
Once seen as a time for parents to step back, adolescence is increasingly viewed as an opportunity to stay tuned in and emotionally connected. As teenagers navigate the stormiest years in their development, they need coaching, support, good examples, and most of all understanding. Parents can help foster sound decision-making, thinking through pros and cons and considering other viewpoints.
By remaining warm and supportive, parents may actually influence their teen’s brain development. HYPERLINK “http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1878929313000650″A 2014 study
found that sixteen-year-olds who experienced parental affection and approval at age twelve showed brain changes linked to lower rates of sadness and anxiety and greater self-control. (“What Teens Need Most,” Wall Street Journal, August 9, 2016, HYPERLINK “http://www.wsj.com/articles/what-teens-need-most-from-their-parents- 1470765906″http://www.wsj.com/articles/what-teens-need-most-from-their-parents-1470765906)
As parents, let us learn from our own Father and show our children we care.
Question for Discussion
Some difficulties are so daunting that it’s tempting to ignore them, but that strategy rarely pays off in the long run.When have you found that avoiding an issue only made it worse?