1) It is interesting that before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur
we read the Torah portions of the tochecho (rebuke).
On a year that has two months of Adar (such as 5760) we read
parshas Nitzovim on the Shabbos before Rosh Hashanah
(of 5761), as we also do this year. In this parsha the
Torah tells about the entire Jewish Nation being wrathfully
exiled by Hashem.
On the previous Shabbos we read parshas Ki Sovo, which
includes the prophecy about the terrible desolation of Eretz
Yisroel after the churban and the bitter golus.
On the same Shabbos that we read Nitzovim we also read
parshas Vayeilech, which contains the frightening
forecast, "Then My anger shall be kindled against them on
that day and I will forsake them, and I will hide My face
from them, and they shall be devoured, and many evils and
troubles shall come upon them" (Devorim 31:17). On
Shabbos Shuvah, before Yom Kippur, we read parshas
Haazinu, that portrays this gloomy future.
In some years with only one Adar, when Nitzovim and
Vayeilech are separate, we read both the ninety-eight
curses of Ki Sovo before Rosh Hashanah and also
parshas Nitzovim. Parshas Vayeilech we read
before Yom Kippur on Shabbos Shuvah, and
Haazinu we read between Yom Kippur and Succos.
In a year with only one Adar when Nitzovim and
Vayeilech are combined but there is no Shabbos between
Yom Kippur and Succos (such as this year, 5759) we read
parshas Haazinu on Shabbos Shuvah, Nitzovim-
Vayeilech before Rosh Hashanah and Ki Sovo the
preceding Shabbos (this week).
2) The explanation for this sequence of readings is as
follows. The Torah in parshas Nitzovim explicitly
teaches us that analyzing Jewish history, both our periods of
glory and of shame, jolts a person and prompts him to repent
his sins thoroughly -- to do teshuvah sheleimah. Of
course, only studying our past after being aware that
everything was predestined by HaKodosh Boruch Hu can
bring such an effect.
This is in fact the wise advice of Moshe Rabbenu, from whose
mouth the Shechina spoke. He taught us how to arouse
ourselves to teshuvah: "And it shall come to pass,
when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the
curse which I have set before you, that you shall bethink
yourself among all the nations where Hashem your Elokim
has driven you, and you shall return unto Hashem your
Elokim and hearken to His voice according to all that
I command you this day, you and your children, with all your
heart and with all your soul . . ." (Devorim 30:1- 2).
This posuk simply promises us that by reflecting on
the fact that Am Yisroel's future had already been
exactly recorded by HaKodosh Boruch Hu at the time of
matan Torah (parshas Bechukosai) and at the plains of
Moav (parshas Ki Sovo, Nitzovim, Haazinu), one
can arouse himself to teshuvah. (See the commentary of
the Ramban on the Torah (Devorim 30:11), where he
infers from the posuk a Divine promise that the Jews
will repent in the future).
My dear friend HaRav S. Sokolovsky shlita has written
a book called Providence and Promise, showing how our
nation's history is fully written in the Torah. He cites, in
the Ramban's name, that the tochecho in parshas
Bechukosai refers to the destruction of the first Beis
Hamikdash, while the tochecho at the plains of
Moav in parshas Ki Sovo (until the end of
Haazinu) refers to the destruction of the second
Beis Hamikdash and apparently also to the long
golus and all the terrible events that came as a
result of the churban of the second Beis
I will record what a Holocaust survivor told
me that he personally saw and experienced.
The suffering, hunger and thirst in all concentration camps
and ghettos where the Nazis gathered the Jews, is a matter of
public knowledge. Many of them died from sheer hunger ("The
wasting of hunger and the devouring of the fiery bolt and
bitter destruction" [Devorim 32:24]).
One of the methods used to annihilate European Jewry was
forced labor while at the same time denying the workers basic
nourishment (they were often given just one slice of bread
and a cup of coffee daily), until they collapsed. My friend,
HaRav Yisroel Dovid Neivner shlita, a Holocaust
survivor who was imprisoned in a Nazi work camp, told me that
a certain talmid chochom and oveid Hashem
worked together with him, building roads. While he was
digging, the Torah scholar would justify his fate by
repeating the pesukim in Ki Sovo (28:47-48),
"Because you have not served Hashem your Elokim with
joy and with gladness of heart, by reason of the abundance of
all things, therefore you shall serve your enemy whom Hashem
shall send against you, in hunger, and in thirst, and in
nakedness (without proper clothing), and in want of all
things (without any shelter, without a bed to sleep on), and
he shall put a yoke of iron upon your neck until he has
destroyed you." (It is a fact that at the end of the war the
Nazis regretted their destroying a great potential source of
manpower that could have contributed immensely to their arms
industry. HaKodosh Boruch Hu apparently made them act
foolishly so that these pesukim and the rest of the
tochecho would be fulfilled.)
Later in Ki Sovo (v. 66-67) is written, "And your life
shall hang in doubt before you, and you shall fear night and
day, and shall have no assurance of your life. In the morning
you shall say: `Would it were evening!' and at evening you
shall say: `Would it were morning!' for the fear of your
heart which you shall fear, and for the sight of your eyes
which you shall see." All this was plainly fulfilled, as
those who were under Nazi rule tell us.
World War II started sixty years ago in Elul 5699 (Sept. 1,
1939), and already in Tishrei the Nazis began slaughtering
Polish Jewry. In three and a half years the Germans murdered
three million Jews living in Poland. They concentrated them
in the Warsaw Ghetto "in siege and in straits" (v. 55) and
"in hunger, and in thirst, and in nakedness, and in want of
all things." On the first day of Pesach 5703 (April 20, 1943)
the Nazis began burning down the Warsaw Ghetto with all who
were still alive there.
Just recently the reason why the Germans chose that specific
date to devastate the ghetto became known. Hitler's birthday,
yimach shemo, was on April 20, which fell that year,
5703, on the first day of Pesach. Heinrich Himmler, yimach
shemo, the commander in charge of Warsaw, wanted to send
a "gift" to the Fuhrer. He thought that there could be no
better birthday present than to let Hitler know that on that
day Poland became Judenrein. After killing all the
Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto he sent a telegram to Hitler
telling him of the good news. (This telegraph was among the
documents seized by the Allied forces after the war).
Such an occurrence was alluded to in verse 63: "And it shall
come to pass, that as Hashem rejoiced over you to do you
good, and to multiply you, so he (Rashi explains that,
cholila, one cannot say that Hashem rejoices over
Yisroel's destruction, but the posuk means that others
will rejoice over Yisroel's destruction) will rejoice over
you to cause you to perish and to destroy you."
Here in Eretz Yisroel after the war there were those who
criticized the Jews' allowing themselves to be led to the
slaughter like sheep. Sometimes an entire train would be
guarded by only a few Germans. Likewise in the camps a few
Nazis oversaw tens of thousands of Jews. Why did the Jews not
rise against their murderers?
The answer to this question is found in parshas Haazinu
(26-31). HaKodosh Boruch Hu wrote that it was
fitting that the enemy should destroy all the Jews, but He
will leave some over, so that the enemy would not be able to
claim that through their own power and not that of Hashem
they killed the Jews. Hashem says in the Torah that such a
claim is utter foolishness, since, "How could one chase a
thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight, except their
Rock had given them over" and put fear in their hearts? So it
was with the Nazis. Only the atheists who think that the hand
of the Nazis destroyed Am Yisroel and not Hashem could
ask such questions.
Parenthetically, during the Holocaust too, Hashem saved
whomever He wanted and the Nazis were incapable of hurting
such people. The Nazis pressured the Japanese immensely to
annihilate the talmidim of the Mirrer Yeshiva, and the
Japanese twice actually formulated plans to destroy them, but
they never put them into action. In the continuation of
Haazinu is written that whom Hashem wants to save, He
saves. Not the hand of the enemy brings evil; all are
sheluchim of HaKodosh Boruch Hu.
3) What did Moshe Rabbenu intend by his advice about how to
arouse oneself to teshuvah? What depth is hidden in
First, we see that HaKodosh Boruch Hu actually creates
history. A novi can prophesy about future happenings,
although he has no part in forming the future; but to
prophesy about two contradictory possibilities, diametric
opposites, as Hashem does in the Torah, is unique, and shows
that Hashem governs over the whole world and causes all
events to happen. Hashem promises the brocho, "to make
you high above all nations that He has made, in praise, and
in name, and in glory" (Devorim 26:19) as one
possibility, while the malediction "you shall come down lower
and lower" (Devorim 28:43) is the other. All is
dependent upon our behavior: when we fulfill Hashem's will,
no nation can harm us, but when we do not, we are given over
to a lowly nation.
The pesukim in Yeshaya (1:19-20), too, teach us
this: "If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the
good of the land. But if you refuse and rebel, you shall be
devoured with the sword, for the mouth of Hashem has spoken."
Since Hashem causes everything to exist and rules over
everything -- "For He spoke and it was, He commanded and it
stood" (Tehillim 33:9) -- it must inevitably be so. He
is the one who made, makes, and will make all happenings.
Knowledge that Hashem is the supreme power in the heavens
above and on the earth below, together with proper
contemplation about how the pesukim of the
tochecho have been fulfilled completely during our
history, alerts a person about Hashem's providence over this
world and causes him to arouse himself to teshuvah.
4) Reflecting on our past causes a person to recognize
Hashem's reality: He did, He does, and He will do all deeds.
Furthermore, such reflection also generates the recognition
that a person is rewarded for his good acts and punished for
his sins. "Your acts will either bring you near or distance
you" (Eduyos 5:7). A person should consider that sins
cause punishment and divine revenge. He should not forget the
horrible retribution wrought upon Am Yisroel through
the generations when the Jewish Nation did not fulfill His
wish, while on the other hand, "You make me to know the path
of life, in Your presence is fullness of love"
(Tehillim 16:11) during the periods that Yisroel did
Hashem's will. "And you, Shlomo, my son, know the Lord of
your father and serve Him with a whole heart with a willing
spirit, for Hashem searches all hearts and understands all
the imaginations of the thoughts. If you seek Him you will
find Him, but if you forsake Him He will abandon you forever"
(I Divrei Hayomim 28:9).
5) Upon reflecting deeper we will see even more clearly the
exactness of Divine Providence surrounding Klal
Yisroel. In Haazinu Hashem warns the Jewish Nation
about how bitter their lot will be if they forsake the Torah,
and what a glorious past they had. Let us note how Moshe
Rabbenu starts Haazinu, the parsha that reads
like a song and appears in the sefer Torah in double
columns and short lines.
The parsha opens with, "Give ear, you heavens, and I
will speak . . ." which is an introduction to the
Haazinu song, demanding that the heavens hear what is
said. The main message starts from, "The Rock, His work is
perfect, for all His ways are justice. Hashem is a Lord of
faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is He"
(Devorim 32:4). The Torah is telling us that this song
encompasses all that will happen to you later when you
abandon the Torah and what will happen to you when you first
enter Eretz Yisroel, observing the Torah and its mitzvos.
First we must be aware that anything that happens, either
good or bad, is justified, since HaKodosh Boruch Hu is
perfect (without any blemish and without any possibility of
criticizing Him), "for all His ways are justice." Also, the
goodness that He does to us is not for free but because He is
"a Lord of faithfulness" and gives everyone what he
Probably each of us has already read a book written by a
Holocaust survivor, in which are reported the suffering,
hunger, thirst, nakedness, lack of all basic needs, hard
work, diseases, beatings, tortures and murders they went
through during the five years under Nazi control. These books
are also full of the Divine Providence and miracles they
witnessed during that period until they were saved.
Haazinu teaches us that we should be aware that any
suffering, even the most minute, that we experienced during
that terrible time, and any modest divine grace that we
received, were always justified. Everything was exactly
weighed in Hashem's scale, since "His work is perfect" and
"just and upright is He."
End of Part I
HaRav Emanuel Toledano is a rosh yeshiva in
Yeshivas Sheiris Yosef in Beer Yaakov.