1. This Shabbos Nitzavim-Vayeilech contains a number of different elements. It is Shabbos, a holy day. Furthermore, the holiness of Shabbos is unique, higher than other levels of holiness. Generally, the word Kadosh is used to mean holy. The commentaries explain that Kadosh means separated. Hence, the very fact that a differentiation has to be made implies a relationship with other entities. Shabbos is called Kodash, a higher level of holiness that has no ties to the lower levels.
Furthermore, Shabbos derives strength from the previous week, as can be understood from our sages’ statement: “Whoever works on Erev Shabbos will eat on Shabbos.” It also draws down blessings for the days of the week to come, as the Zohar declares: “From it all days are blessed.” This Shabbos precedes, and hence blesses, the day of Rosh Hashanah. This connection elevates all the matters of Shabbos to a higher level.
Also, on this Shabbos, the portions of Nitzavim and Vayeilech are read. Parshas Nitzavim is always read on the Shabbos before Rosh Hashanah. In some years, Parshas Vayeilech is also read the same week and in some years not. It is self-understood that in a year such as the present, in which Parshas Vayeilech is added, the addition of these many verses in Torah lifts up the level of holiness.
Also, the Haftorah read on this Shabbos, “Sos Osis,” is unique . It is always read on the Shabbos before Rosh Hashanah, concluding the seven Haftorahs of consolation.
In addition, there is an added quality that results from the fact that this is the seventh year, a year that is “a Shabbos unto G-d.” This quality effects the nature of the entire year, adding a Shabbos-like influence to even the weekdays. The entire Shemittah year is more elevated than other years. This is particularly true of the last Shabbos of the year. It has a higher quality than the Shabbos preceding Rosh Hashanah in other years.
Furthermore, the seventh year serves as a preparation for the year to come, which is a year of Hakhel. The entire year is included within the days of Rosh Hashanah; this Shabbos blesses those days and, hence, is connected to the celebration of the Hakhel. Hakhel is a matter of general importance. It calls for the collection of the entire Jewish people: “the men, women, and children, and the strangers in your midst, so that they hear and learn, and fear the L-rd your G-d and observe and perform all the words of this law” (Devarim 31:12). Its effects will continue “all the days which you live on the earth.”
Also, the coming year is a leap year. The Talmud calls a leap year “a perfect year,” implying that the additional month has an effect on the entire year as a whole.
Faced with all these different aspects, it is difficult to decide with which subject to begin. This problem can be resolved by following the directive: “Open with a word of the King.” The concept “the King” is related to the Baal Shem Tov. The crown (Keser in Hebrew) is fundamentally important to the king. (For this reason, when, as the Megillah relates, Haman suggested that Achashverosh give his crown, horse, and garment to the man he desired to honor, the mention of the crown incited his anger.) The spiritual realm Keser is related to the Baal Shem Tov as the Previous Rebbe explained: The Baal Shem is the inner aspects of Keser, the Maggid the external, the Alter Rebbe the realm of Chochmah, etc. Hence, “the word of the king” should be a saying of the Baal Shem Tov.
There is a saying of the Baal Shem Tov, publicized by the Alter Rebbe, directly connected with this Shabbos. It states: “The seventh month, which is the first of the month of the year, is blessed by the Holy One blessed be He, Himself... With this strength Israel blesses the months eleven times during the year... [That blessing is contained in the Torah reading.] It is written: ‘You are standing this day.’ The expression ‘this day’ refers to Rosh Hashanah, the day of judgment, as the Targum renders the phrase, land behold on the day’ — ‘the day of great judgment.’ On that day ‘you are standing’... i.e. victorious in judgment... On the Shabbos before Rosh Hashanah, the last Shabbos of the month of Elul, the portion of ‘Atem Nitzavim — you are standing’ is read. This is the blessing of G-d, on the Shabbos that blesses the seventh month, which is full, and fills all Israel, with abundant good throughout the entire year.” This saying raises a question: On the surface, the term, “the day of great judgment”’ is not a positive one. Why is Rosh Hashanah referred to in this manner?
The question can be resolved based on a Talmudic concept: Generally, the authenticity of a Shtar (a legal document) need not be verified. However if one party questions its authenticity, an investigation is made. If after this investigation, the court verifies the Shtar, it has greater power than a normal Shtar. It can never be questioned again.
This concept can be understood in terms of the world at large. The creation of the world came about because G-d “desires kindness.” Before man was created, the concept of his service did not exist. The Medrash declares that when G-d created man the angels protested, asking: “What is man’s nature (questioning, as it were, the authenticity of G-d’s creation)?” G-d answered them: “I have created Torah... and I have created Teshuvah, through which man will reach atonement.”
Similarly, in regard to Rosh Hashanah, it is the day on which the angels and the heavenly court “question the authenticity” of man. However, through the service of Teshuvah, which elevates the entire creation, Israel stands victorious in judgment and excludes the possibility of future probes.
The eternal nature of the Mitzvah of Teshuvah can be understood from the Alter Rebbe’s statement that “Mitzvos create an eternal unity above.” In the case of Teshuvah, that unity is also reflected on the physical plane. A Baal Teshuvah is one who has committed a sin and then changed his nature to the point that he obliterates its effects. Teshuvah implies a return to, and the establishment of a bond with, the essence of the soul, a level that has no connection with evil. Hence, Teshuvah will have a lasting effect.
Thus, we can understand the positive value in the fact that Rosh Hashanah is the “day of great judgment” and that the Jews prevail in that judgment. Through the service of Teshuvah, the Jews reach a state where “their authenticity” can never be questioned, and they bring about an inscription for a good and sweet year with open and revealed good in all matters including children, wealth, and sustenance, a year which includes the ultimate blessing, the true and complete redemption, led by Mashiach speedily in our days.
2. It was previously mentioned that this year the portions Nitzavim and Vayeilech are read together. On the surface, they represent two directly opposite postures. Nitzavim means “standing” and in particular, the adopting of a strong, upright, unchanging stance. In his commentary on the verse (16:27) “Dasan and Aviram went out Nitzavim,’” Rashi interprets, “with an upright stance.” Likewise, the book of Melachim (1,22:48) uses the expression, “Nitzav Melech.” Melech, meaning king, represents the ultimate strength, as our sages declared, “The king’s word uproots mountains.”
In contrast, Vayeilech means “and he went.” Going is the direct opposite of Nitzavim. It represents change and progress. The true meaning of progress is to leave one’s previous position entirely. Nevertheless, on this Shabbos, they are read together and considered as one Parsha.
This seeming contradiction can be resolved as follows: Both the approach of Nitzavim (firmness) and Vayeilech (progress) are necessary in the service of G-d. This concept is expressed at the very beginning of the Shulchan Aruch. Its first statement is: “Yehudah ben Taima declares: Be bold as a leopard, light as an eagle, swift as a deer, and strong as a lion to carry out the will of your Father in Heaven.” “Bold as a leopard” and “strong as a lion” represent the approach of Nitzavim, while “light as an eagle,” and “swift as a deer” bring out those of Vayeilech.
Even though it is seemingly difficult for one person to carry out these two opposite kinds of service, such a combination is possible in the service of G-d. The Sifri writes that generally it is impossible to have “love in the place of fear, or fear in the place of love.” However, it is a Mitzvah to both love and fear G-d. Similarly, both the types of service mentioned above are within the grasp of the same individual. Nevertheless, because of the difficulty involved they are generally carried out at different times. (For that reason, during many years Nitzavim and Vayeilech are read on two different weeks.) However, the ultimate level of service of G-d is to be able to combine the two together. This is possible because one is totally given over to the service of G-d. Chassidus explains that when a slave is totally committed to his master, his master’s powers become his own. Similarly, in a Jew’s service of G-d; at this level of commitment the powers of his master, G-d, become his. It is within G-d’s potential to combine two opposites. Hence, that potential is reflected within the individual and he is able to combine these two opposite kinds of service into one.
This concept can be explained in terms of the explanation of the differences of opinion between R. Akiva and R. Yishmael concerning the Jewish people’s response to the ten commandments. R. Yishmael maintained that the Jews answered yes to the positive commandments and no to the negative commandments. R. Akiva maintained that they answered yes to all the commandments, implying a commitment to follow G-d’s will no matter what is entailed. R. Yishmael approaches the Torah from the perspective of man; hence, a positive command demands a yes, a negative one, a no. R. Akiva’s opinion represents a state of ultimate commitment to G-d. Hence, all forms of service are equal. The fulfillment of a negative commandment also has a positive intent: the service of G-d.
Similarly, a combination of two opposite kinds of service is demanded by Chassidus. On one hand, as the Previous Rebbe declared, the way to establish a connection to a Rebbe is to learn the Torah he learns. On the other hand, the Rebbeim have always stressed the command, “Go out”: go to a Jew who does not know about Yiddishkeit or does not know about Chassidus. Torah and Chassidus must spread into seventy languages in the effort to reach out to every Jew, and their teachings must be adapted in a manner that will be understood by every Jew.
Obviously, when one is involved in the world and fighting against its insensitivity, one’s personal state changes. However, it is through involving oneself in the world that one becomes the Rebbe’s Shliach (emissary) and as our sages said, “A Shliach is considered as the individual himself.” Thus, the strength of Nitzavim and the progress of Vayeilech are combined into one form of service.
Practically speaking: this involves efforts in the Mivtzoim: Ahavas Yisrael, Chinuch, Torah, Tefillin, Mezuzah, Tzedakah, Bayis Maley Seforim — Yavneh V’Chochamehah, Nairos Shabbos Kodesh, Kashrus, and Taharas HaMishpachah, the correction of the law of Mihu Yehudi, the formation of Collels — for elderly men, for women, and for youth, — and also the provision of holiday needs for those who lack them. Everyone must feel as if the Previous Rebbe is speaking these words directly to him. Thus, we will enter this new year with joy, confident that he will be victorious in judgment and then go great Mashiach who will lead us to the true and complete redemption with joy and happiness.
3. Pirkei Avos concludes with the Mishnah: “All that the Holy One, blessed be He, created in His world, He created solely for His glory.” This statement is connected with this Shabbos, for today, the 25th of Elul, is the day on which the world was created. On this day, the heavens, the earth and all their hosts were created ex nihilio. The Mishnah raises a number of questions: Why does it use the expression, “in His world”: what does the addition of the word “His” add? The continuation of the Mishnah also raises a question. The Mishnah uses the verses, “All that is called by My Name indeed it is for My glory that I have created it, formed it, and made it;” and “the L-rd shall reign forever and ever.” The Medrash Shmuel comments that it is possible that one might argue that in the spiritual worlds the Mishnah’s statement is easily understandable, but in the world where the forces of evil and each individual’s Yetzer Horah have power, one might think that it was not “created for His glory.” Therefore, the Mishnah states: “The L-rd shall reign forever and ever” using the future tense, implying that in the Messianic age, it will be revealed that even in this world that everything was created for His glory. It is difficult to understand how G-d could wait hundreds and thousands of years until His intention is fulfilled.
The questions can be resolved as follows: Everything that exists must be used for the sake of G-d. However, this concept is openly revealed only “in His world,” the, world of Briyah (a spiritual realm where the first stages of creation are revealed). At that level, the majority of the world is good. The Mishnah continues, citing the verse, “All that is called by My Name...” That verse alludes to the realms of Yetzirah and Asiyah, implying that though the concept is revealed openly only in the world of Briyah, from there it is drawn down into the world of Yetzirah and Asiyah. The final verse, “The L-rd shall reign forever and ever” shows that eventually it will be revealed in this world as well. Furthermore, since “G-d’s word is considered as deed,” it is possible to appreciate how, at present, even in this world all that G-d created is “solely for His glory.” This concept is reinforced by our sages’ statement, “The Satan and Peninah acted for the sake of heaven.” Their spiritual source is good. We do not readily see this merely because that source is not revealed through its manifestation in the world. Similarly, the snake in its spiritual source represents a high level, as alluded to in the verse, “And he shall look at the copper snake and live.” Yet as it descended into the world, it became the instigator of Adam’s sin. However, the intent of the creation is to reveal how even within the context of this world, “everything is created for G-d’s glory.”
In this context, we can see the connection of this Mishnah to Rosh Hashanah. Before Rosh Hashanah, the life-force for creation returns to its original source. It is drawn down through the service of the Jews. In the process of descent, it goes through the intermediate stage of the world of Briyah, the world in which it is revealed that all was created “solely for His glory.”
- (Back to text) The Talmud explains that all the sacrifices of Yom Kippur were performed by the high priest. If Yom Kippur fell on Shabbos, the Musaf offering was also brought by him. Even though its own degree of holiness did not necessitate that the high priest conduct its slaughter, the holiness of Yom Kippur had an effect on it and lifted it to a higher level. Similarly, the fact that this Shabbos “blesses” Rosh Hashanah adds a higher dimension to all of its aspects.
- (Back to text) Hence, there is a greater connection with Rosh Hashanah through the Haftorah Sos Osis than through the Torah reading of Parshas Nitzavim. Parshas Nitzavim. can be separated from Rosh Hashanah by the reading of Parshas Vayeilech. However, even when Parshas Vayeilech is read, no addition is made to the Haftorah.
- (Back to text) This concept can be explained as follows: Rosh Hashanah means the head of the year. Just as the head contains within it the entire body, so too, Rosh Hashanah includes within itself all the days of the year. Hence, Rosh Hashanah has a particular connection to Hakhel, since the latter is a general concept, affecting the every aspect of the year.
- (Back to text) The fortitude of a king is manifest in his crown. The crown (Keser in Hebrew) has its parallel in the spiritual realms. The realm of Keser represents the ultimate strength. In contrast, the realm of Chochmah and Binah (wisdom and understanding) represent G-d’s intellectual powers. In the human realm, a decision made on the basis of intellect can be changed. Similarly, in the spiritual realms, Chochmah and Binah are “weak” when compared to Keser. In the personal realm, the attribute of Keser is manifest in “the pintele Yid,” the essence of the Jewish soul. This quality is present, unchanging, in the heart of every Jew. Due to its influence, even the most frivolous Jew will not transgress G-d’s will, when put to a test.
- (Back to text) The concept of Vayeilech as beginning a radical change can be seen in this Torah passage itself. Rashi comments that at this time “... the tradition and the fountains of wisdom became closed for him (Moshe).” The most important aspects of Moshe’s life were Torah and wisdom. Thus the closing of the traditions and the fountains of wisdom represented a break from his pattern of life.
(This concept of the “closing of the tradition” must be understood in a positive light. The seventh of Adar, the day of Moshe’s passing, was also his 120th birthday. That milestone was reached only by four of Torah’s greats: Moshe, R. Yochanan ben Zakkai, Hillel and R. Akiva. How is it possible that on this day “the traditions and foundations of wisdom were closed for him?” This question can be resolved in terms of the explanation given by Chassidus on the concept of Moshe’s being “slow of speech and slow of tongue.” Chassidus comments that Moshe’s level was so high that it was difficult for him to express his thoughts in speech. Similarly, on the seventh of Adar, he reached a level on which he perceived “the tradition and the fountains of wisdom” as they are “closed,” above all human perception. [On the seventh of Adar, after “the tradition and fountains of wisdom were closed for him,” Moshe transmitted to the Jewish people the song Haazinu, as well as the Mitzvos of Hakhel and the writing of a Sefer Torah. It follows that the source of these teachings isn’t the level of “closed;” but rather a level that could be given over.])
- (Back to text) The Mishnah uses the expression “swift as a deer” rather than “swift as a horse.” A horse is not as fast as a deer. A man can ride a horse (and even cause him to increase his speed) while a deer runs too swiftly for any rider.
- (Back to text) In this context, we can understand the statement of the Talmud: “One who sits and does not commit a transgression is considered as if he fulfilled a Mitzvah.” Seemingly, he is not doing anything, yet in this case, his inaction is itself an act of fulfillment of G-d’s will.
- (Back to text) A Jew who does not know about Chassidus is in a sorry state. The same applies, to a greater degree, to one who doesn’t know about Yiddishkeit.
- (Back to text) A similar concept can be seen in the war between the Jews and Amalek. Moshe told Yehoshua to “Choose men and go out and fight Amalek” (Shmos 17:9). Yet, even when in war with Amalek, the Jews still had a connection with Moshe and with G-d. The Torah explains (17:11) that “when Moshe raised his hands, Israel was victorious and when he lowered his hands Amalek was victorious.” The Mishnah (Rosh Hashanah 29a) explains, “Did the hands of Moshe wage war? Actually, the verse comes to tell you that throughout the time that Israel looked upward and subjugated their hearts to their Father in Heaven, they were victorious; when not, they fell.”
- (Back to text) The sixth Perek of Pirkei Avos is read before Rosh Hashanah and Shavuos, thus emphasizing the connection between the two. This connection is further expressed by Rav Saadia Goan’s explanation that the blowing of the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah is to recall the blowing of the Shofar at Mt. Sinai. The Berditchever elaborated on this concept with the following parable: Once a king lost his way while he was hunting. He had no way to return to the palace. One of his subjects recognized him and led him back to the palace. The king rewarded him with a position. Eventually, he rose in the palace ranks. However, he joined in a plot against the king’s life. He was caught and sentenced to death. Before the sentence was carried out, the king granted him one wish. He asked the king to dress in the same clothes that he had worn on the day that he had found him in the forest. The subject did the same. When the king did so, his mercies were aroused and he forgave the subject. The clothes in the parable refer to the call of the Shofar. By blowing the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah, we recall the blowing of the Shofar at Mt. Sinai when the Jews recognized G-d as King of the world.