Rabbi Yaakov Neuberger
Rabbi Yaakov Neuburger

Temptations and Triumphs; The Parsha of Private Moments

It seems like it was a great feel-good event for the Jewish people. Though the curses are boldly recorded, the blessings, on the other hand, are softly referenced, waiting for Rashi to make sure we do not miss them. While there would be some who sadly were terribly censured, would not the vast majority earn the blessings of the Leviim and Kohanim as they looked up to us from their station in between the mountains? Here is how it seems to have sounded:

"Blessed be you who did not fashion an idol. Blessed be you who did not curse your father or your mother. Blessed be you who did not stealthily and illegally move the fence between you and your neighbor...who did not willfully give bad advice...who did not commit various forms of incest... who did not twist the judgments of the orphans and the widows..."

Would we not do quite well? Maybe we would not earn the blessing for those who never speak ill of others or the brocho for those who observe the entirety of Torah. Yet nine of eleven seems QED. Could it be that easy to earn His blessings?

Not at all; don't count your blessings yet! The prolific Yerushalmi sage, Harav Moshe Shternbuch, explains why the blessings are only detailed through the explicit censures and otherwise cannot be found. He suggests that this presentation teaches us that the blessings and curses addressed only polar opposites and no one else. Just as the curses censured those who struggled and failed, so too the Leviim blessed only those who were tempted and triumphed. That means that these blessings were reserved for the one who was overcome with a powerful persuasive force and compelling reason to serve idolatry, or to take advantage of a vulnerable relative, or to cowardly steal away one's neighbors backyard. Only that Jew who nevertheless summoned the inner strength like Yosef of old in the home of Potifar will enjoy the blessings of Har Gerizim.

Allow me to complete the picture with the observation of another personality from Yerushalayim, the venerable maggid, Harav Mordecahi Druk zt"l. Whereas it is clear that some of the blessings are clearly reserved for the mitzvos that are observed privately, Rav Druck believes that the entire parsha only projects a curse on those who fail in the privacy of their own homes and a blessing on similar triumphs. In other words, special blessing is reserved for the quiet struggle, unnoticed by the public eye, gaining no strength from disapproving friends and not expecting the praise of anyone watching.

Putting it all together, the Leviim at the foot of Har Grizim blessed that genuine Jew and that genuine Jewishness that knows temptation and perseverance, draws singularly on inner strength, and relishes the triumph that he will share with Hashem alone.

This leaves us with an impressive parsha for our Ellul preparations. Davening, shiurim, selichos, shofar, parlor meetings, kumsitzen and seuda shlishis are all crucial for our preparation for yomim noraim and are powerful moments for our spiritual growth. However, teshuva, as described by Rambam, is the private moments that one experiences with Hashem. It is introspection and self-assessment. It is as Rambam says, "bifnei Hashem". It is for the most part uncelebrated by fellow Jew and gets no public validation.

But it soars to the top of Har Gerizim and receives magnificent blessings.

More divrei Torah and shiurim from Rabbi Neuburger

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