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ושבת עד ד' אלקיך

And you will return unto Hashem. (30:2)

Teshuvah means return. One returns to his source, his beginning, from where it all began, so that he can start over again and repair what requires restoration. This is not consistent with the objective of society, which focuses on the future, ignoring the past. What happened, happened. Forget about it. Move on. What society ignores is the dross which envelopes us. Unless we expunge it, it accompanies us wherever we go. Focus on “Why? “Where? How did it all start?” A pathologist searches for the sources, the etiology. Teshuvah is a pathology, searching for the beginning, “Why? How? Where did…

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החיים והמות נתתי לפניך הברכה והקללה ובחרת בחיים

I have placed life and death before you, blessing and curse; and you shall choose life. (30:19)

One would think that choosing life is a decision that requires little to no mental effort. Why would the Torah exhort us to choose life? This question has inspired much commentary. Obviously, the meaning of “life” in Torah-speak is different than the mundane, physical existence to which many have become accustomed. Furthermore, as Horav Moshe Feinstein, zl, observes, the Torah implores us to choose life, so that our children will live. The message is clear: the decision we make for ourselves affects our families. What our children will be in twenty years, their demeanor – moral, ethical and spiritual –…

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כי המצוה הזאת אשר אנכי מצוך... לא נפלאת היה ממך ולא רחוקה היא... כי קרוב אליך הדבר מאד בפיך ובלבבך לעשותו

For this commandment that I command you today – it is not hidden from and it is not distant… rather, the matter is very near to you – in your mouth and in your heart – to perform it. (30: 11,14)

This mitzvah? To which mitzvah is the Torah referring? What mitzvah might we think is distant, inaccessible to the average person? Rashi implies that the Torah refers to the mitzvah of limud haTorah, Torah study. Many people err in thinking that Torah erudition is beyond them – almost impossible to master. While it is true that Torah knowledge has no limit, nonetheless, through constant diligent study, one can achieve a high degree of Torah scholarship. Torah is Divinely authored, thus making it impossible for the human mind to grasp its profundities without Divine intervention. When Hashem sees that a Jew…

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כי קרוב אליך הדבר

Rather, the matter is very near to you. (30:14)

Veritably, the term “near” (to you) is relative. One could be standing on top of something, but, if he is unaware of it, the item remains elusive. It could be under him, but, in his mind, it is across the ocean. If one does not know where to look, distance plays no role. I remember during the sixties when many spiritually lost people went searching for religious meaning and spirituality in the mountains of Tibet. They, of course, returned empty-handed, because they did not know what to look for. Had they had an understanding of the meaning of Judaism, they…

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כי הוא חייך ואורך ימיך

For He is your life and length of your days. (30:20)

Torah is our life, without which we are unable to survive. In a famous dialogue between Papus ben Yehudah and Rabbi Akiva (Berachos 61a), the Tanna expressed this idea. It was during the period when the ruling pagan government forbade Torah study. Their decree, which – if ignored – was punishable by death, did not seem to matter to Rabbi Akiva, who maintained his normal routine of studying and teaching Torah. When Papus ben Yehudah questioned his actions, Rabbi Akiva compared it to the wily fox who saw fish swimming quickly from place to place. He asked them from whom…

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אתם נצבים היום כלכם לפני ד' אלקיכם

You are standing today, all of you, before Hashem, your G-d. (29:9)

We are standing motionless before Hashem. This does not seem right, because it is the time of the year when anxiety and tremors should accompany the chill creeping up our collective spines. Rosh Hashanah, accompanied by its ominous reminder that the future we hope for might, chas v’shalom, Heaven-forbid, be nothing more than hope, is quickly bearing down upon us. Is this a time simply to be “standing”? Regrettably, there are instances when the debit column of our spiritual spreadsheet is overwhelming. The credit column is embarrassing, paling in comparison with its counterpart. “We should be crying out,” declares Horav…

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והשבת אל לבבך... ושבת עד ד' אלקיך

And you will ponder in your heart… and you shall return unto Hashem your G-d. (30:1,2)

When things do not seem to go your way, you see more curse than blessing — and begin to become anxious. You finally start believing that Heaven might just be conveying a message to you – and you begin to think. Sforno explains the thought process and what should be coursing through your mind: “When you carefully examine and consider the conflicting aspects (of your concepts and actions) and call them all to mind, so as to distinguish truth from falsehood, then you will recognize (realize) how far you have distanced yourself from Hashem in your opinions and behavior which…

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ראה נתתי לפניך היום את החיים ואת הטוב ואת המות ואת הרע... ובחרת בחיים

See – that I have placed before you today the life and the good, and the death and the evil… and you shall choose life. (30:15,19)

Some of us think that once one is born into a frum, observant family and educated in a fine Torah-oriented and conducive environment, it is smooth sailing from there. Well – it is not. The choices exist on a daily –almost constant – basis, and one’s commitment must be made anew – everyday. So says Horav Moshe Feinstein, zl, in his commentary to the above pasuk: “Hayom – today – each and every day of our lives, the yetzer hora, evil-inclination, attempts to lure us with his guile. Just because he was not successful ‘yesterday,’ it does not prevent him…

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והיה בשמעו את דברי האלה הזאת והתברך בלבבו לאמר שלום יהיה לי כי בשררת לבי אלך... לא יאבה ד' סלח לו

And it will be that when he hears the words of this imprecation, he will bless himself in his heart, saying, “Peace will be with me, though I walk as my heart sees fit…” Hashem will not be willing to forgive him. (29:18, 19)

We hear it all of the time, “It is not me… True, bad things do happen, but – to others – not to me.” We have convinced ourselves that we are immune from punishment; disasters happen to others; tragedies are events that we read about – but they do not happen to us. It is almost as if we have sprayed ourselves with Teflon, preventing anything bad from happening directly to us. Ibn Ezra offers a rationale for this delusion: “Peace will be with me, though I walk as my heart sees fit.” I will live in the merit of…

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ואמרו כל הגוים... וישלכם אל ארץ אחרת כיום הזה

And all the nations will say… and He cast them to another land, as this very day! (29:23,27)

Horav Chaim Shaul Kaufman, zl, Rosh Yeshivas Tiferes Yaakov (London) gleans from this statement the stark difference between the attitude of the gentile during a period of Heavenly concealment and the Jewish perspective on adversity. The gentile “believes” in G-d (according to his limited understanding of this term). When a moment of hester panim, Divine concealment, occurs in his life, he feels that G-d has forsaken him, cast him off (perhaps even deservedly) to the point that, whatever adversity and challenge he confronts, it will not provide a lesson for him from which he can learn and change. Whatever happens…

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