Parashas Vayeilech / Yamim Noraim

This d’var Torah continues the theme of last year’s d’var Torah on parashas Vayeilech. The Maggid notes that the prayers we recite on the Yamim Noraim (High Holidays) include a range of requests. Some parts of the prayers involve a plea that Hashem establish His sovereignty over the world. Thus, on Rosh Hashanah we pray: “Our God and God of our forefathers, reign over the entire world in Your glory; be exalted over the entire earth in Your grandeur ….” And on both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we pray: “And so, Hashem our God, instill fear of You over all You have made … cause all creations to bow down in homage before You ….” Other parts of the prayers involve requests for physical needs: We ask Hashem to “remember us for life” and inscribe us in the “book of life, blessing, peace, and prosperity.”
The more spiritually lofty among us focus on the passages expressing requests of the first type, reciting these passages with a broken heart, pouring forth the words of supplication and weeping profusely over the fact that the glory of Hashem and His Torah are subdued. Many of us, however, focus on the passages expressing requests of the second type, with these passages being the ones that prompt an outpouring of the soul. In Megillas Eichah, Yirmiyahu laments over situations where our attention is riveted on physical needs. Describing such situations, he declares (Eichah 1:11): “All her people groan, seeking bread.” And further on (ibid. 2:11-12): “My eyes failed through tears, my innards churned, my liver spilled on the ground – over how the daughter of my people was broken, as young children and sucklings fainted in the city squares. To their mothers they said ‘Where is bread and wine?’ as they fainted as if dying in the city squares ….”
In the Unesaneh Tokef prayer that we recite on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we say: “Man comes from earth and ends as earth. With his soul he brings in his bread.” The Maggid interprets this passage, homiletically I would say, as a lament along similar lines. He expounds as follows. Both the body and the soul need sustenance during a person’s sojourn in this world. The ideal situation is one in which the body gains its sustenance mainly through physical labor such as working the land, while the soul gains its sustenance by toiling in Torah study and prayer. The soul should be only minimally involved in gaining sustenance for the body, for the only reason Hashem sent the soul into this world was to engage in spiritual pursuits. This ideal was realized when we were well-settled in Eretz Yisrael. But now circumstances are different. Most of us no longer gain our physical sustenance through the work of our bodies. Rather, we have to invest our hearts and minds in activities devoted to sustaining our bodies, such as business and similar pursuits. Our minds and hearts are immersed in such activities from morning to evening, and sometimes even into the night, leaving little or no room for spiritual pursuits.
The relationship between the body and the soul now is very odd. Usually when someone comes to a town as a temporary visitor, he does not put one of the townspeople to work. But with the body and the soul, this is exactly what is happening. The body is temporary – it comes from the earth and ends as earth – yet it puts the soul, the contemplative side of man, to work. The mind and heart toil to meet the body’s needs, and they are muddled by worldly worries.
This state of affairs is reflected in Yeshayah’s exhortation (Yeshayah 51:21): “Therefore, hear this now, O impoverished one, drunk, but not from wine.” Wine muddles a person. Poverty also muddles a person; the Gemara in Eruvin 41b says that poverty drives a person out of his mind. There is a key difference, however. When a person is drunk from wine, his faculties of thought are knocked completely out of commission. As Hoshea puts it (verse 4:11): “Wine and fresh wine take the heart captive.” It is different with poverty. A person who is consumed with the worries of poverty cannot speak straight, but he can hear and understand what someone else tells him. If he has gone astray, and someone rebukes him saying, “hear this – …,” he can listen to the rebuke and accept it. He can say, as Shlomo HaMelech puts it (Shir HaShirim 5:2): “I am asleep, but my heart is awake.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.