Parashios Nitzavim – Vayeilech

In parashas Netzavim, the Torah says (Devarim 30:15-19): “See, I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil. … Choose life, so that you and your descendants may live.” The Maggid notes that the Torah does not say “choose life and good,” but rather simply “choose life.” He explains that the Torah is telling us to be cautious about praying for material benefits: we should pray simply for life, rather than approaching Hashem with a detailed list of requests. We should not pray long and hard for worldly endowments such as wealth and honor, because these endowments may not be truly good for us. Praying simply for life is a safe strategy, for life itself is always to our benefit.
When praying for material blessing, the Maggid suggests that we frame our requests broadly. Further, as the siddur puts it, we should ask Hashem to “fulfill our requests for good.” That is, we should ask Hashem to give us the things we are requesting only if He finds them truly appropriate for us and to our benefit. This is one of the lessons the Torah is teaching us in the passage we quoted. We should choose life, but with respect to good we should leave the choice in the hands of the One Who truly knows and can discern.
On the other hand, when praying for spiritual endowments, we can pour out our hearts without restraint, for spiritual endowments are always beneficial. The Torah tells us which character traits and modes of behavior are good and which are bad, and we can freely pray to Hashem to help us attain the good. In this vein, Dovid HaMelech entreats (Tehillim 25:4): “O Hashem, let me know Your ways; teach me Your paths.” Indeed, most of the entreaties in Tehillim are for spiritual aid.
Yirmiyahu teaches (Eichah 3:25): “Hashem is good to those who hope in Him, to the soul that seeks Him.” When a person asks for material blessings, Hashem will sometimes – exercising His supreme capacity to determine what is truly good – deny the request. But when a person wholeheartedly seeks to draw close to Hashem, and asks Hashem for tools that will help him do so, Hashem will always grant the request.
During the Ten Days of Repentance, we pray: “Remember us for life, O King Who desires life, and inscribe us in the Book of Life – for Your sake, O Living God.” In a homiletical reading of this plea, latter-day baalei mussar such as Rav Chaim Friedlander (Sifsei Chaim) teach that when we ask Hashem for life, we should be asking Him to grant us a life that is “for Your sake” – a life centered around seeking Hashem and serving Him. The Maggid tells us that if we approach Hashem with this stance, He will respond with boundless favor.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

1 Comment

  1. North Jerusalem Maggid of Dubno Project » Blog Archive » Parashas Nitzavim:

    […] and good as He had initially? The Maggid offers a number of answers. We presented one of them in a previous parashah piece; here we present another. Man is endowed, the Maggid notes, with a unique power that neither the […]

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