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Nitzavim-Vayeilech 5766-2006

“The Torah’s Not-So-Secret Formula for Peace”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

It is rather remarkable how often the weekly Torah portion contains a textual reference that seems to allude to a significant contemporary event. Especially since the popularization of the so-called “Bible Codes,” many amateur Bible explorers spend hours by their computers looking for embedded secrets in the Torah texts, such as the reputed warning concerning the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin.

This week’s double parashiot, Nitzavim and Vayeilech, contain many references that are of extraordinary contemporary relevance. Particularly striking are the contents of chapter 30, concerning the repentance of the Jewish people and their ultimate redemption.

You’d think that after these many millennia of so much hatred directed at the Jews, the enemies of our statistically insignificant people would tire of picking on us. And yet, we see that, if anything, the hatred toward the descendants of the ancient Israelites has only increased, and attempts to eliminate us have become even more shameless and virulent.

Back in the ’60s, Tom Lehrer popularized a song entitled National Brotherhood Week that cogently summed up the problem of the Jews. The lyrics read as follows:

Oh, the white folks hate the black folks,
And the black folks hate the white folks.
To hate all but the right folks,
Is an old established rule.

Oh, the poor folks hate the rich folks,
And the rich folks hate the poor folks.
All of my folks hate all of your folks,
It’s American as apple pie.
Oh, the Protestants hate the Catholics,
And the Catholics hate the Protestants,
And the Hindus hate the Moslems,
And everybody hates the Jews.

Would that these words were simply an amusing set of lyrics. Unfortunately, Lehrer’s conclusion is only too true, “Everybody hates the Jews!”

In the ominous reproof of the Jewish people, found in parashat Kee Tavo, G-d predicts that horrible diseases and events will visit the Jews if they depart from G-d’s ways and His Torah.

The heavens above your heads will become copper; and the land beneath you will be iron (Deuteronomy 28:23). G-d will cause you to be struck down before your enemies, on one road you will go out against them, but on seven roads will you flee before them; you will be regarded as a horror by all the kingdoms of the earth. Your corpses will be food for every bird of the sky and animal of the earth, and nothing will frighten them (Deuteronomy 28:25-26).

As if the previous curses were not enough, they are followed by the prediction of exile:

G-d will scatter you among all the nations from one end of the earth to the other end of the earth, and there you will serve other gods whom you did not know, you or your fathers, of wood and stone (Deuteronomy 28:64). Your life will hang in doubt, and you will be in terror night and day, and you will never have confidence in your life (Deuteronomy 28:66).

Unfortunately, these curses have been visited upon the Jewish people only too frequently. Those familiar with Jewish history are left shaken each time these verses are read.

Fortunately, we find that not all is bleak. In parashat Nitzavim, Deuteronomy 30:1, we read of the predicted redemption:

“V’ha’yah kee ya’vo’ooh ah’leh’chah kol had’va’rim ha’ay’leh, ha’bracha v’hak’la’lah, ah’sher nah’ta’tee l’fah’neh’cha, va’hah’shay’vo’tah el l’vah’veh’cha b’chol ha’goyim ah’sher hee’dee’cha’chah Hashem Eh’lo’keh’cha sha’ma,”

It will be, that when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse that I have placed before you, then you will take it to your heart among all the nations where the Lord, your G-d, has dispersed you. And you will return to the Lord, your G-d, and listen to His voice, according to everything that I command you today, you and your children, with all your heart and all your soul.

Then the Lord, your G-d, will bring back your captives and have mercy upon you, and He will gather you in from all the nations to which the Lord, your G-d, has scattered you. Even if your dispersed will be at the far ends of heaven, from there the Lord, your G-d, will gather you and from there He will take you.

The Torah then predicts that G-d will restore His people to the land of their fathers, the land of Israel, and make them more numerous than their ancestors. He will circumcise the people’s hearts and the hearts of their children to love G-d, so that they may live.

This is the optimistic and uplifting message that, throughout the millennia, has given the Jewish people the strength to endure, despite the many horrors and hardships.

The Talmud states (Brachot, 5a) that when evil strikes an individual, “Y’fash’paysh b’mah’asav,” that person must check his deeds. The Talmud does not suggest that you check another person’s deeds, but that you check your own deeds. While it is improper, indeed cruel, to suggest that tragedy struck your neighbor because he didn’t study enough Torah or because he didn’t keep a kosher enough home, it is certainly appropriate for each person to ask themselves when tragedy strikes, what could I have done better? What did I miss in my efforts to be good? What more could I have done to bring redemption to the world?

The thirty-four day war that Israel recently fought against the Arab terrorist enemies should give us pause to check our deeds, to see, perhaps, what we’ve missed.

Looking back upon 3,300 years of Jewish history, we are forced to acknowledge an empirical truth that can not be denied. There has never been a period of peace for the Jewish people without a concomitant return to G-d! This doesn’t mean that Jews should not have a strong army to protect their country. This does not imply that Judaism advocates pacifism. To the contrary, our Talmud (Sanhedrin, 72a) states that one who comes to kill another may be preempted, and that the would-be victim has the right to kill his attacker. And yet, to prepare for war without preparing for teshuva is futile.

Clearly, the wonderful blessings of redemption that G-d promises in chapter 30 are contingent upon the people’s return to G-d.

Let us resolve to make the new year 5767 different. Let us not only commit to do better than we did last year, to become closer to the Al-mighty than we have been–indeed, let us do even more. Let each one of us reach out to our brothers and sisters to help them along, help them share in the joys of Judaism, to study with them, and celebrate with them.

As the prophet Jeremiah says (31:16): “V’yaish tik’vah l’ach’ree’taych,” there is hope for your future–but only if we mobilize our full resources to bring G-d’s word to the world, and thus bring peace and joy to humanity.

May you be blessed.