Parshat Nitzavim

By Yehudis Golshevsky

I’ve always felt that one of the most uplifting elements of these parashiyos — and there are many — is the promise that, after all is said and done, we are definitely going to do teshuvah as a People. “All these things” — blessings and curses — will befall us, but afterward we’ll be restored to Hashem, He will bring us back to Eretz Yisrael and provide for us beautifully. And then, “Hashem, your G-d, will circumcise your heart and the hearts of your children to love Hashem, your G-d, with all your heart and soul, in order that you may live.” What is this “circumcised heart”? The Ramban explains there that this is a reflection of the Divine promise, “One who seeks to purify himself is helped [from above]” (Shabbos 104). The circumcised heart no longer feels the desire to do wrong — it has had its husk cut away from it, and all that remains is the fullness of the desire to serve G-d. This is the promise that our Creator makes to us; after you’ve gone through everything that you need to experience, personally and collectively, you will be free from the inclination to do evil.

Rav Yaakov of Lissa draws our attention to another nuance, rooted in a teaching of Rabbeinu Yonah. The circumcised heart receives assistance from Above to accomplish the teshuvah that it cannot manage on its own. Sometimes, we lack the understanding of what we need to repair, of what we need to do to make the repair, or the means to carry it out. Our yearning, however, draws down heavenly assistance — we don’t circumcise our own hearts, it’s done for us. It’s a gift. (Tzror HaMor, loc cit)

One of the well-known acronyms of Elul is found in this verse: “Es levavcha v’es levav… Your heart, and the hearts [of your children]…” Rebbe Nachman of Breslov taught that this is a secret of teshuvah — when parents repent deeply of their own sin, it helps to uproot the same sin from the heart of their offspring. We can’t change other people, we cannot make choices for our children, but because our souls are bound up together with theirs, when we make a change in ourselves, it can have the power to reach them. (Likutei Maharan I:141) And if not them, then their children.

I wish you a beautiful, sweet new year, filled with blessings both spiritual and material, good health, and joy. May your final Shabbos of 5782 be uplifting, delightful, and filled with good, and may it be a sign of wonderful things to come.

Gut Shabbos! Shanah tovah! A gut, gebentsched yohr!


Parshat Ki Tavo

Uplifting Creation

By Rav Micha Golshevsky

This parshah begins with the mitzvah to bring the first fruits to Yerushalayim and recite some special verses of thanks to Hashem.

The Heichal Habrochah explains that the first fruits are the product of long and painstaking effort, and they embody the task of sanctifying the mundane endeavors of this world. To do that properly, we have to be deeply aware that no two actions are the same, no two moments are the same. For every day is completely new and fresh, and new light and connection to Hashem is waiting to be discovered every day. The mitzvos of today are completely different from tomorrow’s mitzvos. No tefillah is exactly like another. But it is almost impossible to achieve this level of awareness without the Beis Hamikdash. Certain individuals do achieve such levels, and the Sages said about such people: “Whoever has holy awareness, it is as if the Beis Hamikdash was built in his days.”

Once, when Rav Tzvi Hirsch of Ziditchov was a young man, he spent the whole day doing business with non-Jews. When his day was through, he went to daven Minchah, and prayed with tremendous exuberance. It almost seemed as though his every limb was on fire, and anyone could see that he was full of a great longing for his Creator. Praying with such devotion usually takes a lot of preparation, so his older brother thought that perhaps his fervor was less than genuine.

He asked his younger brother after the prayers, “Where did you get such a davening from without spending any time preparing?

Rav Tzvi answered, “When you go out to the field, or a little village, and there is no Jew for miles around… If you can maintain holy thoughts, you raise up all the holy sparks in the stones, the trees, the animals, in everything growing and living in the whole area. What could be a greater preparation for davening than that?”




Parshat Ki Tetzei

The Inner Battle

By Yael Dworkin

The Zohar Hakadosh relates the following story:

A group of wise men were out walking when they happened to meet on the way a group of strong military men. The wise men asked the soldiers where they were coming back from. The soldiers answered: “From fighting in the great war!”. The wise men laughed, saying: “The real war you must fight has not yet begun! The real war awaits each of us at home, within our own selves…”

The parsha opens with the following instruction:

“If you go out to war over your enemies, and the Lord, your God, will deliver him into your hands, and you take his captives; and you see among the captives a beautiful woman and you desire her, you may take [her] for yourself as a wife.” (Devorim 21:10-11)

Concerning the beautiful woman, Rashi comments:

“… Scripture [in permitting this marriage] is speaking only against the evil inclination [ which drives him to desire her]. For if the Holy One, blessed is He, would not permit her to him, he would take her illicitly… “

From Rashi’s commentary, we come to understand, that “the going out to war” that the parsha is speaking about is the going out to the only real war that truly exists, namely- the war against one’s own egotism and selfish desires. This parsha comes out quite deliberately in the month of Elul- when the order of the day is to take stock of our year’s spiritual advancements and failings. It comes to fortify us with the proper wisdom and strength necessary to be able to overcome our evil inclination. Rabbi Ashlag ztz”l formulated an easy understanding of what the yetzer hara is. ‘Yetzer’ translates as ‘inclination’, and ‘Hara’ translates as ‘the bad one’. Rav Ashlag breaks it down for us even more by teaching that the word ‘ra’, meaning bad, is an acronym of 2 words: Ratzon Atzmi- the will to serve oneself, i.e.: egotism.

The parsha’s opening words: “If you go out to war against your enemies” is also hinting to us regarding the spiritual nature of reality. Scripture does not say here: “when fighting a war against your enemies”. This would imply a physical war in a physical plain. But the Torah here, with its deliberate choice of words of Ki Tetzeh (when you shall go out) seems to put an emphasis on the ‘going out’ part- implying that there is a war to fight as soon as we ‘go out’. That is, as soon as the neshama leaves its supernal source above to come into this world- it is forced into a battle. The lower-level self that is attached to the body wants comfort and ease, while the person’s neshama, a part of G-d above, is on a shlichus to do what is right in the eyes of HaShem, despite the cost to one’s itches and desires that want to be satisfied.

It is important to always keep in mind “from whence we have come and to where we are going” (Pirkei Avos 3). We are primarily holy neshamas that want to do what is right in the eyes of HaShem- just as a branch ought to resemble the roots from which it issued forth from. Just as a branch is meant to be an actualized potential that was latent within its roots- so too our G-dly self wants to be manifested more in the details of our lives.

“Ki Tezteh lmilchama al oyvecha”- “when you go out to war over your enemies”. Every choice we make is preceded by a kind of a battle- are we going to do that which is comfortable, from a place of self-serving interest and egotism, or are we going to choose to do that which is correct according to Torah, even though it may mean giving up something of a personal desire for it. Understanding reality from this vantage point and perspective will, Gd willing, give us the strength and the wisdom to know better what to want, going forward, as we approach Rosh Hashanah.

Rosh Hashanah is a time for renewal of our commitment to HaShem- to crowning Him as King over all our desires. May we merit to ‘go out’ into the new year with the strength and resolve that will serve to establish the victories our neshama wants to see in all its spiritual aspirations- Amen!

Good Shabbos


“כִּי תֵצֵא לַמִּלְחָמָה עַל אֹיְבֶיךָ“, הפותחות את הפרשה, בעצם מרמזות לנו על הטבע הרוחני של המציאות. הכתוב היה יכול לומר, ‘כי תלחם באויבך’, אלא שהדגש הוא על היציאה. חז”ל אמרו, מדובר על יציאת הנשמה אל העולם הזה. הנשמה יוצאת ממקורה העליון אל העולם הזה כדי לבצע את השליחות שהטיל עליה בורא עולם. חשוב להבין מאין אנחנו יוצאים ולאן אנחנו באים, “דע מאיין באת, ולאיין אתה הולך” (אבות ג’), כדי להבין באיזה שדה קרב מדובר, מהו מקום המלחמה ומה טבעה.


Parshat Shoftim

By Rav Micha Golshevsky

Internalizing Emunah

This parsha we find that one who accidentally killed a fellow Jew must flee to a city of refuge. The six cities of refuge that were designated by Moshe allude to the six words of the first verse of shema. The forty-two  cities that were given to the Levi’im also acted as a city of refuge. These cities allude to the forty-two words of the next part of shema beginning with v’ahavta.

Rav Nosson of Breslov explains that the main mitzvah of kriyas Shema is to have true faith that everything we are going through is because Hashem wills it to be so. He is the one who is running this world from moment to moment. We draw this emunah upon ourselves from day to day when we read the Shema. As we say in the Shema itself, “And these words that I command you this day…”—“They should be new to you every day, as if you had just received the Torah.” We can feel this newness because, in reality, the Torah is given to us anew every single day.

This Emunah expressed in Shema acts as a spiritual city of refuge for all our difficulties by reminding us to keep Hashem in our minds and hearts throughout every second of the day. We renew this yearning each day as if it’s the first time—it is fresh and new for us—and we increase this focus daily. We remember that Hashem causes deliverance to sprout forth all the time—He is “matzmiach yeshuah.” Every new day brings an increase of holiness which is revealed into the world. As Rebbe Nachman said, the world is always getting “shener und shener”—better and better. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be difficulties, but that there is a plan and the closer we are to the redemption the more holiness is revealed.

Good Shabbos

Parshat Re’eh

By Yehudis Golshevsky

In our parshah, we learn of the issur bamot, the prohibition against making private altars for personal sacrifices once the central focus of Divine service is established in “the place that Hashem, your G-d, will choose”–Yerushalayim. Until we came to our “portion and rest” in the Land, and according to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, this meant until the building of the first Beis Hamikdash, that private altars were permitted even during the time of the Mishkan in Shiloh.

I was thinking about this relationship between private avodah and the centralization of service in Yerushalayim, and the tensions between the two. While some of our sages maintained that the bamot reinforced the tendency to syncretism and idolatry within the Jewish people, the Netziv touched upon a point that can easily get lost. The place of private Divine service and the availability of offering sacrifices spontaneously, through devotional impulse, is a powerful outlet for love of G-d. That private expression is a force that can’t be discounted within us. The text emphasizes that even Shlomo HaMelech frequently brought offerings on a private altar prior to his building of the Mikdash, and this is not any sort of slight to him–quite the contrary.

Of course, after the contstruction of the Beis Hamikdash, that devotional door was closed and the use of illegitimate bamot later on did become entangled with the people’s involvement with avodah zarah. But if we return to the idea of the Netziv, that private offerings are a means of enhancing, or an expression of a powerful love of G-d, then what is exchanged for that once the bamot are prohibited?

The Beis Hamikdash is the focal point of avodah that transcends the personal. Even though the personal is encompassed within it, the private devotional experience is subsumed inside something greater than any individual could hope to come to on their own.
In Yerushalayim, all of our personal Divine service became encompassed within a totality. Instead of being individual cells, so to speak, living our own individual spiritual lives spread throughout Eretz Yisrael, the Beis Hamikdash drew us all together into a synergistic avodah of a full body, in thriving and organic relationship with all of its individual cell parts. This is what we received in exchange for the loss of the bamot, which did have a place in avodah for us, some say for hundreds of years.

I was thinking how this parallels the private place of Shabbos and the mitzvah of Shemittah, which is explored toward the end of the parshah. Shabbos is a kind of private affair. Shemittah is all of us together. May we all, together, grow in our private space of avodah, while holding strong to the sense of ourselves as part of a single, organic whole, serving G-d with all that we have and are.
Good Shabbos!

Parshat Eikev

The Heart Is Awake

By Rav Micha Golshevsky

In this parsha we find that one should always cleave to Hashem. The Shem M’Shmuel explains how one can always cleave to Hashem. “”In spiritual terms, completion of one’s heart is known as his nachalah, literally inheritance in Eretz Yisrael. Our sages say that one’s portion in the land is eternal. This means always without interruption. This is impossible for the intellect. A human being always has times when he is more focused and times when his intellect is occluded. We find this repeated many times in the Talmud. When a sage said something difficult his companion sometimes says, ‘I think he said that when he was napping.’ Clearly even the greatest people, towering intellects, go through alternating cycles of what the mekubalim, kabbalists call expanded consciousness and constricted consciousness.

“But the heart is different. One can—and should—always direct his heart to Hashem, filled with yearning for closeness to the Source. We see this from the verse in Shir Hashirim: ‘I sleep, but my heart is awake.’

“This is the meaning of the verse in Shema brought in our parshah: ‘When you lie down in your house, and when you go on the road, when you sit and when you rise.’ The Ramban explains this to refer to dveikus, remembering and cleaving one’s heart to Hashem and always filling his emotions with his great love for the Creator. Even when one speaks to his fellow, his heart should be filled with love for Hashem.”

The Ba’al Shem Tov gave an inspiring description of a genuine tzaddik. “The main completion of a tzaddik is his continual dveikus on high. During every instant he must be bound to his Source. Each word intoned will preserve his dveikus, not diminish it. Even when a tzaddik must speak about mundane matters, he will do so with his heart focused on high.

“It is especially difficult to hold on to the dveikus when one must think about acting in this world. Even planning out how to do a mitzvah can easily interrupt the flow of dveikus since one must immerse himself in the world of action. One must be very vigilant to hold onto the dveikus while involved with these matters, as much as possible. He must act with great alacrity in this.”

Good Shabbos