A. A Covenant with Hashem. On the day he was to die, Moshe assembled every man, woman and child of Israel to bring them into a Covenant with Hashem. The Covenant confirmed that they are Hashem’s chosen people, and applied not only to those present, but to all future Jewish generations.
B. Curses. A warning was issued to anyone who contemplated rejecting Hashem in the belief that the curses mentioned earlier wouldn’t apply to him. Such conduct would arouse Hashem’s anger, and the individual would be blotted out from the earth. If the public sinned, the land would be destroyed; when later generations wondered about the cause of this destruction, they would be told that it was the result of the abandonment of Hashem and His ways.
C. Return to Hashem. After the Jews have experienced Hashem’s blessing and curse and returned to His fold, Hashem will gather them from dispersion and return them to Israel. Then, the curse would be transferred to their enemies who had persecuted and oppressed them (while the Jews, provided that they accepted Hashem’s commandments fully, would then experience the blessings of prosperity and happiness).
D. The Choice Between Life and Death. Thus, the people should realize that the choice between life and death — between good and evil — is placed before them. The heaven and earth are eternal witnesses to this offer. If the Jews choose to cling to Hashem, they’ll thrive; otherwise, they’ll perish.
II. Divrei Torah
A. Living Each Week (R’ Avraham Twerski) One Day At A Time.
“You are standing this day, all of you, before G-d . . . to enter the convenant which G-d makes with you this day . . . that He may establish you this day unto Himself.” Three times Moshe stresses “this day” – why? In his final words to the Jews, Moshe urges them to follow the commandments of the Torah, telling them that they would rewarded for doing so (and conversely punished if they deviate from G-d’s Word). However, there are moments of temptation when even the promise of reward or threat of punishment are insufficient to control one’s behavior. Moshe teaches them that the key to success is “this day” – adapting to a lifestyle of taking it one day at a time. By concentrating only on this day and avoiding worrying about the future or the past, we can easily follow the Torah’s commandments.
B. Growth Through Torah (Rabbi Zelig Pliskin)
1. The Greater Your Desire To Obtain Torah Knowledge, The Easier It Will Be To Overcome Difficulties. “[The Torah] is not in heaven that you should say who shall go up for us to heaven and bring it down to us that we may hear it and do it? Nor it is beyond the sea that you should say who shall go over the sea for us and bring it to us that we may hear it and do it?” The Talmud states on this verse that if the Torah were in heaven, we would be required to climb and reach it. And, if the Torah was across the ocean, we would have to travel and reach it. The Torah is so crucial to our existence that even if it were extremely difficult to acquire, we must make every effort to acquire it. The more we appreciate the value of Torah, the more we will overcome any obstacles that might prevent us from its study.
2. A Deep Commitment To Change Immediately Changes Us. “The matter is very close to you in your mouth and heart to do it.” R’ Chaim Shmuelavitz commented that no matter how far away we are, if we are committed to becoming a better person we will be to make an immediate transformation of ourselves. When we make a verbal commitment to G-d and ourselves to become a different person, our very words put us into a different place than we were before.
C. Soul of the Torah (Victor Cohen)
1. Unity/Individuality. “You are standing today, all of you before Hashem your G-d.” The Lubavitcher Rebbe, z’tl noted that the Parsha begins with Jews standing together before Hashem as an entity – “all of you” – and then details the different groups and types of people. Though the Jews are one unit, each Jew makes a unique and irreplaceable contribution. Each Jew has his/her mission which unites the entire Jewish people. The unity of the Jewish people is created not by everyone being the same, but by each being him/herself and fulfilling the directives of Hashem.
2. The Mother’s Role. “Your small children, your women”. The Sassover noted that the Torah teaches us that it is the obligation of mothers to train their children to be on the right path of life.
3. An Eternal Legacy. “That you may live.” The Tarigraner explained that this means that although we leave this world, if we have decent and honest children, we have not died. (Noam Maggidim).
4. Tell It From the Torah. Our Feelings Will Follow. “For it is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart to do.” The mouth is mentioned before the heart because sometimes it is harder to get our hearts involved – we must first take action. This is why we don’t necessarily feel like we are getting into something, we must not give up. Eventually, our feelings will follow.
D. Something To Say (R’ Dovid Goldwasser).
Each Of Us Is A Divine Messenger. “For this commandment, it not hidden from you . . . “. As noted above, if the Torah was in heaven, we would be required to pursue it. The Shem MiShmuel wondered how we can go up to heaven to study Torah. Further, he asks, how can a mortal person affect what happens in heaven? He answers that each of us is a messenger of G-d, put on this world to fulfill the mitzvos. A messenger possesses in some measure the traits and attributes of the sender. Therefore, our spiritual power and the good we do it have results that reach to the very heavens.
E. Torah Gems (Aharon Yaakov Greenberg)
1. To Be As Moshe. “You stand this day.” The Rambam writes that each of us can be as Moshe, and this is not dependent on our lineage or wealth. Rather, it depends solely on our desire to serve G-d. Thus Moshe said, “You stand this day” – all of you, both great and small, are worth of this. (Divrei Sha’ul)
2. The Power of Repentance. “You shall return to the L-rd your G-d.” The Baal Shem Tov noted that if a place is pitch black and one enters it with a candle, the darkness disappears. By the same token, if a person repents, even if he sinned before and sullied his soul, he becomes a new creature. If you return, you will reach all the way “to the L-rd your G-d.”
F. Lil’Mode U’lilamed (Rabbi Mordechai Katz)
1. All stand as equals before Hashem. “You are standing this day, all of you, before Hashem your G-d, your leaders, your tribes, your Elders, and your officers, all the men of Israel. Your little ones, your wives, your stranger that is in your camp, from the cutter of your wood to the drawer of your water.” This passage underscores that all members of Israel stood together as equals before Hashem. This is dramatic proof that to Hashem each individual, no matter what his station in life, has the same potential for spiritual greatness. Each person can, in his own way, rise to the summit of holiness. No one should consider himself too insignificant to be a partner in the Covenant between the Jews and Hashem. On Rosh Hashonah, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev rose to blow the shofar. As he was about to began, he stopped, removed the shofar from his lips and put it down. As the delay continued, the people grew restless, for they couldn’t understand why the Rabbi delayed. “My friends,” said the Rabbi, “in the rear of the shul sits a Jew who was kidnaped as a young child, brought up by a gentile family and drafted into the army. When he was 40 years old, he was finally freed and allowed to return to his people. This man had not been inside a shul since he was a child, until he joined us today. He couldn’t possibly remember the prayers he heard so long ago. Yet, he was so overcome with emotion at his return to the House of Hashem. He yearned to join in the expressions of devotion to Hashem. And so I saw him speaking the only remnants of Hebrew that he recalled from his youth — the letters of the Alef Beis. But he said them with such feeling that they rose straight to heaven. I therefore paused so that his letters will have time to reach Hashem, who will Himself form them into the words of our prayers. Now, we can begin the blowing of the shofar.”
2. Searching for the treasure within yourself. “For this commandment which I command you today is not hidden from you, nor is it far off .” With this passage, the Torah reminds us that the secret of life lies not in unreachable treasure, but directly in the Torah which is accessible to all.
3. Teshuvah (repentance). Moshe informed the Jews that even if they abandoned the Torah and were plagued with calamities, they could still regain Hashem’s favor if they repented. To do so, they had to declare that their sinful ways are wrong and actively change them. Teshuvah, the returning to Hashem’s fold, is not a simple matter. It often requires a lengthy and difficult process, complete with frustrations and backslidings. It sometimes takes place in stages; success in improving one aspect of our behavior gives us the impetus to proceed further. One should never become so frustrated by the lack of progress that he gives up the battle for Teshuvah entirely. As long as one is alive, there is still time for repentance. As our Sages say, “repent one day before your death.” A man once asked a Rabbi, “How do I do this? How do I know when I will die?” “That is exactly the point,” replied the Rabbi. “No one knows when he or she will die; thus, one should start doing Teshuvah immediately.”
G. Growth Through Torah (Rabbi Zelig Pliskin)
When you utilize all life situations for growth, you will experience joy. “And it will be when all of these things come to you, the blessing and the curse which I have given before you, and you shall take it to your heart.” Rabbi Yonoson Eybesheutz explained that every life situation — good and bad — has its unique test of our character, and can be utilized for growth or can lead to new faults. Everything is dependent on how we use or misuse the good fortune or tests which Hashem sends us. Therefore, the Torah tells us to take it to “our heart”; that is, it is up to us how we will respond to the various ups-and-downs of life (i.e., whether we use such events as an opportunity for self-improvement and growth). One who does so is able to feel joy whether Hashem sends him/her a blessing or a curse. As the Ohr HaChayim states, “since all occurrences are encounters with Hashem for our ultimate benefit,” we should react with joy to all life events.
H. Majesty of Man (Rabbi A. Henach Leibowitz).
Introspection — confronting ourselves. “And it shall come to pass . . . and you shall call to mind among all the nations where G-d has driven you.” Hashem tells the Jews of a time when they will be exiled and there, in the land of exile, “shall call to mind . . . “. The S’forno explains that this “calling to mind” is not simply a reminiscence of past events, but a deep introspection into one’s subconsciousness. This reflection is necessary to determine the motivation for every act — good or bad. This is the essence of “teshuvah” — sincere introspection followed by a honest comparison of one’s acts and deeds with the Torah’s absolute standards of right and wrong. How can we find our true motivations? Though we each have a complicated psychological code to decipher, the Torah assures us that we are each capable of breaking our personal code. Hashem created each of us with an unique power of self-analysis; this great potential heightens our responsibility to scrutinize all of our actions and motivations and correct them. It is precisely this “open-eyed” confrontation with ourselves that the S’forno describes as the essence of teshuvah. Though it is difficult, it is not beyond us, particularly during this special time preceding Rosh Hashonah.
I. Peninim on the Torah (Rabbi A.L. Scheinbaum).
“Vidduy” (Confession of Sins). “And you shall return to Hashem your G-d”. The Rambam states that the Torah is describing the foundation and essence of teshuvah, the first and most important (as well as most difficult) part of which is “Vidduy” (confession of sins). HaRav Simpson Raphael Hirsh notes that the Vidduy is not simply a confession of one’s sins to Hashem, but is also a confession of sins to ourselves. Hashem doesn’t need an avowal from us for He knows us throughly; we need this unreserved confession. Without personally facing our own ego, we can never truly improve. Confession is difficult, for within each of us is an “advocate” ready to justify and minimize our shortcomings and veil our self-image. Thus, the first step is our personal confrontation with the sins we confess in the Vidduy.
J. Love Thy Neighbor (Rabbi Zelig Pliskin).
Unity gives strength. “You are standing this day, all you before the L-rd, your heads, your tribes, your Elders and your officers, every man of Israel.” The Midrash comments on this verse — when are the Jews “standing”? When they are together.” Even a child can break a single reed; but a bundle of reeds can’t be easily broken.
K. Kol Dodi on the Torah (Rabbi David Feinstein).
A covenant with all Jews. “And not with you alone do I make this Covenant, but with those who are standing with us today before Hashem, and with those who are not with us today.” Rashi comments that this refers to future generations. This raises 2 questions: (a) how could the children present, who under halachah can’t be bound, have entered into the Covenant?; and (b) how could someone at that time bind unborn generations to the Covenant? The answer to the first question is that the soul of a child is mature from birth and fully capable of entering into a bond; it was those souls which Moshe brought into the Covenant. Similarly, while the future generations were not physically present, the genetic bases that would later produce them were present in that generation of Jews.
L. Reflections on the Sedra (Rabbi Zalman Posner).
The accessibility of the Torah. “For this commandment is not hidden from you, nor is it far off. It is not in the heaven, neither is it beyond the sea. For it is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to do it.” Our reverence for the Torah, while obviously essential, can cause it to lose it immediacy to each of us individually. It may become something lofty for theologians, a formidable body of laws for the Talmudist, a rigorous way of life for the pious. The ordinary person? He can have nothing to do with the Torah. Moshe tells his people to beware of this false modesty. If you want to study and understand and practice Torah, you can. It is not an abstraction without meaning in your life, nor is it a mystery to all but the select few. It is not in the heaven, but right here on earth teaching us how to live at home, in business and at play. The Torah is close to you “to do it,” Moshe insists. Of course the Torah presents a challenge, but not an insuperable obstacle. There is a choice every person has, Moshe goes on to say in the next verses, but “choose life.” It is all in the hands of man himself.
M. Living Each Week (Rabbi Abraham Twerski)
1. Spirituality requires progress. “You are standing this day, all of you, before G-d: your heads, your tribes, your elders . . . your little ones, your wives . . . from the hewer of wood to the drawer of water.” In the ethical Torah writings it is often stated that angels are referred to as omdim (standing), whereas people are referred to as holchim (progressing). By this it is meant that angels are stationary, because they can never improve themselves. Angels do not have the capacity to become “better angels”. Human beings, by contrast, have great potential for self-improvement, and should always be making progress in perfecting themselves. The Book of Devarim is essentially one of chastisement, and here Moshe tells the Israelites, “Look how lax you are. You are all standing in a stationary position before G-d, instead of progressing. Everyone seems to have found a niche in which he or she feels comfortable, and no one is making an effort to elevate him/herself beyond the level of spirituality which has already been achieved.” We must push ourselves to not be content with anything less than the maximum level of spirituality attainable.
2. Perpetual teshuvah. “And you will return to G-d . . . And you will return and hearken to the voice of G-d.” Having said that as a result of the chastisement the Israelites will repent, why does the Torah repeat the statement? Teshuvah (repentance) is contingent upon the recognition that one has done something wrong. Improvement of one’s character defects can occur only if he has identified the defects. As we begin teshuvah, our perception of our defects may be limited, but as we begin to remove those defects which obscure our perception, our sensitivities improve, and we then discover defects of which we had been oblivious. As these are connected, our sensitivities become more acute, and we can perceive more things which need correction, and this becomes an ongoing process. This is why the Torah repeats the mitzvah of teshuvah. Having begun to do teshuvah, one becomes aware of things that require teshuvah, things to which one had previously become oblivious. Teshuvah is spiritual growth, and growth should be perpetual.
3. Within everyone’s means. “For this commandment which I command you this day is not too wondrous for you nor is it far beyond you… But the word is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.” The Torah will its many mitzvos might appear so difficult to observe that some people might say, “what’s the use of trying? I cannot possibly comply with all the requirements of the Torah.” “Not so,” says Moshe. “Observing the mitzvos is well within your means. Not only is it possible, but it is even much simpler than you think. All you have to do is make the decision and commit yourself to do so, and the rest will follow quite easily.” Even the greatest levels of spirituality are well within everyone’s reach. One needs only to make a sincere decision that this is what one wishes to achieve.