Parashas Nitzavim – Vayeilech

In this week’s parashah, Hashem tells us that if we repent and return to Him, He will bless us. The Maggid expounds at length on this theme. For presentation here, I have selected from his discussion two related ideas.
The ten days of repentance include two special haftaros of repentance: the haftarah read on the afternoon of Tzom Gedaliah (as well as on other fast days) and the haftarah of Shabbos Shuvah. The first of these, from sefer Yeshayah, opens as follows (Yeshayah 55:6-7):
Seek Hashem when He can be found; call upon Him when He is near. Let the wicked man abandon his way and the crooked man his thoughts. Let him return to Hashem and He will show him mercy – to our God, for He is abundantly forgiving.
Elsewhere, Yeshayah declares in Hashem’s Name (Yeshayah 50:2): “Why is it that I have come and there is no one present? That I have called out and there is no one who answers? Is My hand too limited to bring redemption? Do I lack the power to save? Behold, through My admonishment I dry the sea; I make the rivers into a desert.” Thus, Hashem laments that He is ready to extend aid, but no one comes to ask Him for it. On the other hand, we often feel that when we pray to Hashem, He does not answer. As Dovid HaMelech puts it (Tehillim 22:3): “O My God! I call out by day, but You do not answer – and by night, but there is no respite for me.” How can we explain this apparent paradox?
The Maggid offers an answer based on the following passage (Yirmiyah 15:5-6): “For who will show pity on you, O Yerushalayim? … You abandoned Me, says Hashem – you have gone behind.” He explains this passage as follows. When a person wants to make a request of another person, the first thing he must do is present himself before the other person. If he places himself behind the other person, turns his back to him, and starts speaking into empty space, he obviously cannot expect the other person to answer, even if he goes on speaking day and night. Similarly, if we want Hashem to answer us, we must direct ourselves toward Him. But, instead, we often detach ourselves from Him and go our own way – we cast Hashem behind our backs (Melachim Aleph 14:9). Even when we recite our prayers, our minds are on our own agenda. The first step in prayer is, in Amos’s words (Amos 4:13): “Prepare to meet your God, O Yisrael.” Hashem is nearby, waiting for us to approach Him. If we truly direct ourselves toward Him, He is ready to fulfill our requests. If we return to Him, He is ready to bless us.
The Maggid presents a similar idea regarding the atonement process of Yom Kippur. Hashem gave us Yom Kippur as a means for purifying our souls from the corroding effects of sin. Yet we find that we go through Yom Kippur year after year, and remain corroded. Why? The Midrash speaks of this phenomenon, saying (Eichah Rabbah Pesichasa 11):
Had you merited, you would have encountered the verse (Vayikra 15:30): “For on this day He shall atone for you to purify you.” Now that you have not merited, you encounter the verse (Eichah 1:9): “Her filth was on her hems. She did not pay regard to her end.”
The Maggid explains this Midrash as follows. A doctor may have effective medicine for a patient’s illness, but if the patient continues eating unhealthy foods and engaging in other unhealthy habits, the medicine will not work. Similarly, in order for the spiritual cure of Yom Kippur to take effect, we must first prepare by shaking off bad behavior patterns. If we do not do so – if we do not pay regard to the sorry shape we were in when the past year came to its end – then Yom Kippur will not help, and the filth will remain. But if we prepare properly, Yom Kippur will do its work, and we will be purified.
Taking the Maggid’s discussion a step further, I will suggest an added link between the above two ideas. The verse about Yom Kippur that the Midrash quotes concludes by saying: “Before Hashem, you shall be purified.” We can read the verse as saying that if we shake off our negative thought and behavior patterns, let go of the agendas we have set for ourselves, and place ourselves before Hashem – directing ourselves toward Him – then we will be purified.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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