Shabbat Parashat Nitzavim Vayeilech| 5764
From the works of Hagaon Harav Shaul Yisraeli zt”l - “Only to Fear” - An Address for the Month of Elul - From “Derashot Layamim Hanoraim,” pg. 10
“What does Hashem your G-d ask from you but to fear …’ (Devarim 10:12). Is fear such a small thing? Yes, in regard to Moshe it was a small thing”(Megilla 25a).
The purpose of Torah is to bring us to fear Hashem, as the pasuk says, “The day you stood … at Horeb … I had them hear my words so that they should learn to fear Me” (Devarim 4:10). So too, the king is to read from the Torah in order to fear Hashem. So is it a simple thing or is it the ultimate goal?
“Hashem created man straight, and they sought many calculations (cheshbonot)” (Kohelet 7:29). The calculations are indeed a retreat from the nature of man and represent a distortion of his spirituality. On the other hand, Chazal encourage making a cheshbon (Bava Batra 78b). How do we reconcile these sources? The path between man and the Divine is, by its essence, straight, as a pure spirit yearns for the Divine and recognizes the elements of the Divine within and around him. However, once the path becomes twisted, one can no longer take the straight line to get to the destination. Rather he must devise twisted routes in order to get to the same destination. So one who was created to go straight without calculations is forced to seek calculations to deal with his deteriorated state. He must examine the path he is on and learn to recognize and compensate for its crookedness.
For a soul in its elevated state fear is a small thing. The big thing is to get to that state. One has to study and learn in order to reach that fear. When Hashem gave the Torah at Horeb (Sinai), the awesome miracles that occurred prepared the Jewish souls to fear Hashem properly. However, there was a need to ensure continuity, as the pasuk says, “If only their hearts could be like that all of the days” (Devarim 5:26). The sin of the Golden Calf ruined the path and in order to remedy it, Moshe was commanded, “p’sal lecha” (Shemot 34:1). The stones for the second set of tablets had to be quarried by man, with blood and sweat, concentration, dedication, and unending calculations. This was not only a one-time historical event but represents the spiritual struggle for future generations to reach the state of Divine fear, going back to man’s state when he was straight.
“Quarry for yourself … and I will write upon them” (ibid.). After all of the human endeavor, it is still necessary for Hashem to write upon the raw material we prepare. Man is capable only of opening a hole “like the eye of a needle.” The rest depends on Divine Assistance. The purpose of Torah study is, on one plane, to attain fear of Hashem, but above the simple fear of Hashem is wisdom, as “the beginning of wisdom is fear of Hashem” (Tehillim 111:10).
Behind us is an entire year of distortions and distancing ourselves from Hashem, of erecting calves and bowing down to them. Elul is a time to make a calculation and an appraisal, to straighten the path, to quarry new tablets in order to ultimately merit a new writing. “Hashem, create for me a pure heart.” We cannot create our own pure heart; that is a new creation ex nihilo. But to truly yearn for a pure heart is within our capability. Let our work be focused on bringing this request out from our hearts with intense feeling.
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