Rabbi Yaacov Haber's
drasha was given at the Saranac Synagogue in Buffalo on Shabbat Ki Tavo, 5748 (1988), and
transcribed from memory by Jeffery Zucker.
The entire series has been published in a book
titled "Reachings" and can be ordered by
Comments and questions are always welcome.
Towards the end of this week's parsha,
Moses says to the children of Israel: "You have seen all that the L-rd did before
your eyes in the land of Egypt to Pharaoh and to all his servants and all his land; the
great trials which your eyes saw, the signs and those great wonders; but the L-rd did not
give you a heart to know, eyes to see, and ears to hear, until today" (Deut. 29:3).
This seems rather strange --after all, the the Israelites had experienced the parting of
the Red Sea, and the giving of the Torah, to name but two of the more impressive
miracles --how is it that they could only appreciate these things now, forty years later?
Rashi gives an explanation: No man appreciates fully his teacher's wisdom before forty
years. So only now, finally, after the Israelites have learned Torah for forty years from
Moses, are they in a position to understand it properly. Hence from now on G-d will be
strict with them regarding their Torah observance.
Indeed, in Pirke Avos we read: "At forty years one reaches understanding"
(5:24). Tosfos (in Sotah) actually interprets this as meaning: after forty years of
education. Some of us would be very old by then! And most of us do feel that we have some
kind of a grip on what is going on. So how can we explain these passages?
To get some insight into this, let us consider the prayer ("Ahava raba") we
recite every morning just before the Shema. It says, in part: "Our Father, merciful
Father, thou who art ever compassionate, have pity on us and inspire us to understand and
discern, to perceive, learn and teach, to observe, do and fulfill gladly all the teachings
of thy Torah. Enlighten our eyes in thy Torah; attach our heart to thy commandments; unite
our heart to love and reverence thy name, so that we may never be put to shame"
What is the point of the second sentence above? Why is it not redundant? The commentators
explain: The first sentence implies merely an intellectual acceptance of Torah, while the
second implies a deeper, emotional acceptance as well. It implies internalizing the Torah
so that, for example, our eyes see things, and our heart feels things, from a Torah
viewpoint. Such a viewpoint will become, in fact, our gut reaction.
At this time of the year, we are concerned about how we will fare on the Day of
But I think the situation here is often misrepresented. Many people imagine being judged
in Heaven on a kind of point system, or imagine a scale, weighing their good deeds against
their bad, which will finally be tipped one way or the other.
I believe that this is the wrong idea.
My firm belief -- and there seems to be support for this idea in the writings of Reb Chaim
Volozhin --is that we will be judged on one thing, and one thing only --what kind of
person are we? The point is that the kind of person that we ultimately are depends on how
strongly we have observed the mitzvos. It is like the situation of an athlete --the more
conscientiously he has trained, the more likely he is to win his race. Ultimately, the
kind of athlete he is depends on his whole history of training (or skipping training!). So
it is with us. The kind of person we are depends on our whole history of internalizing the
Torah and mitzvos.
This could also be a way of understanding the statement in today's parsha, in which dire
things are predicted for the Jews "because you did not serve the L-rd your G-d with
joyfulness and with gladness of heart" (Deut. 28: 47). The important thing is not
simply to serve G-d, but to serve Him gladly, which we can only do to the extent that we
have internalized the Torah. Only then will we have "a heart to know, eyes to see,
and ears to hear".
Rabbi Yaacov Haber
Rabbi Haber is the OU's National Director of Jewish
Education and the spiritual leader of the OU's Pardes
"A tree of life for those who embrace
Send comments to Rabbi Haber at firstname.lastname@example.org
Rabbi Yaacov Haber