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Shiurim & Adult Education
THOUGHTS ON SHABBAT SHUVA PARASHAT HA'AZINU BY RABBI WILKINSON
Only a few days ago we observed the Fast of Gedalyah; a fast that can so easily be misunderstood but which can be viewed as an inspirational
statement about human potential. A similar message can be drawn from the parasha, Ha’azinu, which is often read on Shabbos Shuvah, a time when we try and find ways to improve ourselves, our tefillos and achieve a complete
teshuvah. The message comes from the Ohr HaChaim who presents an interesting comment on the pasuk “Like gentle raindrops upon the vegetation and like pelting raindrops upon the blades of grass.”
The Ohr HaChaim quotes a Midrash Shochar Tov which describes the judgement a person will face after concluding his life on this earth. If one learned Chumash, they will be asked by the Heavenly Court to explain why they did not study Mishnah. If they learned Mishnah, they will be asked why they did not study Gemara. If they learned Gemara they will
be asked why they failed to learn even more difficult parts of Torah. Even if they completed the entire Torah She’Ba’al Peh (Oral Law), they will be asked why they did not delve into the hidden portions of the Torah – the Kabbalah. Even one who mastered this will be asked why they did not study ‘ma’aseh markavah’ (The Account of the Chariot), the most esoteric portion of Kabbalah, which deals with the composition of Hashem’s Heavenly Throne.
The Midrash teaches an important lesson: Hashem does not demand impossible things from people. A person who, with their intellectual capacity, studied only Chumash will not be punished for failing
to study Kabbalah. They will be asked to explain why they could not attain the next level of study (Mishnayos) as that was within their reach. If one
learned Mishnayos, why could they not strive to achieve the next level; Gemara? The Ohr HaChaim deduces this approach to the Midrash from the
pasuk above. Hashem created different types of raindrops to help various types of plant life to grow.
Vegetation and herbage require a soft, gentle drizzle, while drenching rain enables the grass to thrive. Drizzle will not suffice for grass; heavy downpours will harm vegetation. So, too, is it with the lifegiving
“waters of Torah”. Each person is endowed with a specific level of intellectual capability with which they must strive to attain their unique “portion of the Torah”. The accomplishments that can be anticipated from a prodigy are not expected from the average person. Each person is expected to live up to his own potential.
Ohr HaChaim notes that this concept carries both lenient and stringent implications. The leniency is that a person is not required to attain heights that are beyond their reach. On the other hand, if a person is endowed with great potential, they are expected to accomplish great things. You cannot be
satisfied even with prodigious attainments if they fall below your vast capabilities. The accomplishments that for one would be a great achievement may be, for another, a dereliction of duty.
In Pirkei Avos we are taught: Akavia ben Mahalalel said, ”Consider three things and you will not fall into the grip of sin: Know from where you come and to where you will ultimately go and before Whom you will have to give a ‘din v’cheshbon’ a judgement and reckoning.” The Vilna Gaon explains the difference between din (judgement) and cheshbon (reckoning): din is a
judgement for one’s actions, while cheshbon refers to a reckoning of the good that could have been accomplished at the same time that the sin was
committed. A person who speaks loshon hora about their neighbour, for example, will be judged and will face punishment for their words but that is not the full extent of their sin. At the time that they were speaking loshon hora, they could have been learning Torah, or speaking kind words about their neighbour. The loss of the mitzvos that they could have achieved at that same time will now be counted against them. This point is illustrated in a pasuk in Ha’azinu itself. Hashem’s last command to Moshe was to climb
Mount Nevo and “die on the mountain where you will ascend”. This was a punishment for the sin of the Waters of Strife when, instead of speaking to the rock (that was supposed to supply K’lal Yisroel with drinking water), Moshe hit it. The pasuk in Ha’azinu describes this act as consisting of two distinct sins: because you trespassed against Me… and because you did not sanctify Me among the Children of Israel. Moshe violated the command of Hashem to speak to the rock. At the same time, the potential for a great Kiddush Hashem was lost. For these infractions, Moshe was forbidden to enter the Promised Land.
These thoughts of the Ohr HaChaim and Vilna Goan can inspire us to improve our Avodas Hashem (Divine Service) during this teshuvah period. We should not feel overwhelmed by the task at hand. We should strive to make small, incremental, improvements. We should rise to the challenge by going up the ladder one rung at a time, then we will be able to attain what might otherwise seem to be an impossible goal. With just a short time remaining until Yom Kippur we should make every effort to utilize this special period and achieve a teshuvah sheleima.
May it be Hashem’s will that we as a community, together with the entire House of Israel, be written Shabbat Shalom