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Netzavim-Vayeilach: The Power of Shabbos

ושבת עד ה' אלקיך ושמעת בקולו ככל אשר אני מצוך היום אתה ובניך בכל לבבך ובכל נפשך.

“And you will return to Hashem your G-d and listen to His voice, according to all that I command you today, you and your children, with all your heart and soul.” (Devarim 30:2)

Why does Moshe Rabbeinu say that we must listen to Hashem according to what he commands “today”? After all, the Torah was given to the Jewish people many years before this day, and all of the mitzvos have already been commanded then. So what does “today” mean in this context?

It is also interesting to note that in the verses of Shema it says that we should love Hashem “with all your heart, with all your soul and with all of your possessions.” Why does this verse only say that we shall serve Hashem with heart and soul, without mentioning possessions?

This verse can be interpreted homiletically to convey an important message about tshuva and the opportunity of Elul and Rosh Hashanah.

This Shabbos is the last Shabbos of the year. The coming week will be Rosh Hashanah, when Hashem will be judging all of us. The Three Books are open; the righteous are inscribed in the Book of Life, the wicked in the Book of Death, and those who are not completely righteous or wicked are left hanging in the balance until Yom Kippur. Which person can say about himself that he is a tzaddik who will surely be inscribed for life? We are all overcome with fear about the outcome of the approaching judgment.

But this Shabbos is a very special opportunity which can positively impact our upcoming trial. Tzaddikim have said that if this Shabbos is utilized properly, it elevates all Shabbosim of the entire year. And since Shabbos is the core of the week – as the Gemara says that Sunday thru Tuesday are sustained by the previous Shabbos and Wednesday thru Friday are sustained by the coming Shabbos – all weekdays of the entire year are also elevated if we make the most of this Shabbos. So if this day is used to its fullest, then our deeds of the past year are rectified.

Not only the past becomes rectified, but the present also becomes elevated and the future as well, because we know that all ordinances of the coming week are determined on Shabbos. Since Rosh Hashanah will be this coming week, this Shabbos encapsulates everything that Rosh Hashanah brings, which means that this Shabbos holds the key to everything that will transpire during the coming year.

During this Shabbos, each person has the opportunity to go back to his source. The holy Zohar writes that before Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai passed away he said “I am for my Beloved and His love is upon me” (Shir Hashirim 7:11), and he explained: “All my life I was connected to Hashem.” This means that Rabbi Shimon was constantly attached to his Creator; he wasn’t righteous one day and then regressed the next day, but he never let go of Hashem even for a minute.

Unfortunately, the yetzer hara’s main tactic is to break a person’s attachment to Hashem. “Today he tells him to do “kach” - this, and tomorrow he tells him to do that.” (Shabbos 105b) He persuades the person to do a certain thing, which isn’t even so bad, but it is still a victory for the yetzer hara because the person listened to him. As soon as the person listens to the yetzer hara – even if what he did isn’t actually so wrong – the yetzer hara has broken the constant connection between the person and Hashem. He has taken the kesher – connection, and transformed it to sheker – falsehood. It is then easier for the yetzer hara to convince the person to do something more severe the next day. We see from this that a person should be careful never to break his kesher with Hashem, because if he isn’t careful with minor things, there is no telling where the yetzer hara will lead him.

Shabbos is symbolic of truth, as the Gemara says that on Shabbos even a person who is ignorant of Torah won’t lie. Every person gets a neshama yeseira – an additional soul – on Shabbos, which strengthens his connection to the truth. On Shabbos a person has the ability to overcome the yetzer hara’s persuasion to do this or that (kach), thereby taking the sheker – falsehood, and changing it back to kesher – connection with Hashem.

The verse says: “And you will return to Hashem your G-d and listen to His voice, according to all that I command you today, you and your children, with all your heart and soul.” The letters of the words בקלו ככל אשר (His voice, according to all) can be rearranged to spell three different words: כך, בקשר, אלול – kach, kesher, Elul. If a person has followed the yetzer hara and done what he told him to (kach), thereby breaking the connection with Hashem (kesher), then he should reconnect by taking advantage of the month of Elul. Elul stands for the words “I am for my Beloved and my Beloved is for me.” This symbolizes the strong connection that we have with our Beloved Father. The Shabbos before Rosh Hashanah is especially constructive to reconnecting with Hashem.

The word “v’shavta” – and you will return, can be interpreted to mean “and you will keep Shabbos” properly, then you will reconnect with “Hashem your G-d and listen to His voice, according to all that I command you today.” The word “today” refers to the above-mentioned Gemara about the yetzer hara, who tells a person “today you shall do this.” The word today also refers to Shabbos, as in the verse “And Moshe said, ‘Eat it today, for today is Shabbos’.” (Shemos 16:25) If a person keeps Shabbos properly, then he can correct that which he did wrong by listening “today” to the yetzer hara.

This is why the verse does not mention serving Hashem with the person’s possessions, because it is referring to Shabbos, when we do not handle money. Instead, the verse tells us to listen to Hashem’s command “with all your heart.” The word levovcha – your heart, is translated by our sages in plural, to mean “with your hearts.” This is a reference to Shabbos, when we have the neshama yeseira, an additional soul. On Shabbos, we have more strength to overcome the yetzer hara and return to Hashem with our entire being. And this Shabbos especially, we can reconnect with Hashem and rectify our deeds of the past year.

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