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Netzavim–Vayelech: Torah Sweetens our Lives

כי קרוב אליך הדבר מאד בפיך ובלבבך לעשותו

“Because this Thing is very close to you, in you mouth, and in your heart, to do it.”

What is the significance of the words “in your mouth and in your heart”? The Torah is telling us that fulfilling the mitzvos is not difficult; the verse could have said simply, “it is close to you to be done.” Why does the verse emphasize the mouth and the heart?

Towards the end of this parsha, the Torah says, “For [the Torah] is your life and the length of your days.” What is the meaning of the double reference to long life?

The Rebbe R’ Bunim of Parshischah explains: Sometimes a person who is ill is required to take a bitter medicine in order to regain his health. Although the pill has a bad taste, the person takes it willingly, knowing that his life depends on it.

The possuk is telling us that the Torah prolongs our days. We may think that it is like a bitter medicine – difficult and bad-tasting, but necessary for survival. The verse is telling us otherwise. “The Torah is your life!” It is sweet like honey, besides being “the length of your days.” The double-reference indicates that not only does the Torah prolong our days, but it sweetens our existence and makes our lives worth living.

This is the meaning of the verse: “Because this Thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart…” The Torah is sweet to the taste – the mouth, and it fills our hearts with joy. The heart is the most pivotal organ; so too, the Torah is what pumps life into our veins. Not only are the mitzvos close to us and easy to perform, but they also sweeten our lives and lengthen our days.

When a person performs the mitzvos, he should not perform them by rote, but with proper thought and feeling. He should speak about them with passion and put his heart into the mitzvos; it should be with his mouth and heart, not merely a physical function of his hands. When a person performs the mitzvos with his entire being, the Torah becomes “his life and the length of his days.” His life becomes sweet; every moment of his existence is pure joy!


ד' אלקיך הוא עובר לפניך הוא ישמיד את הגוים האלה מלפניך וירשתם

“Hashem your G-d passes in front of you; He will destroy these nations before you and you will inherit them.” (Devarim 31:3)

We know that Hashem’s presence fills the entire world. Hashem is everywhere! What is the meaning of the words “Hashem passes in front of you”? Isn’t Hashem everywhere? Aren’t we reminded to behave as if we are constantly in front of Hashem’s presence?

The Gemara tells us that Hashem says: “I created the yetzer hara and I created the Torah as its tavlin - an antidote to the yetzer hara.” The Torah enables us to combat and overcome our evil inclination.

Interestingly, the word tavlin is also used in reference to Shabbos. The Gemara relates how Reb Yehoshua ben Chananya served a Roman officer some Shabbos food. When the officer took the recipe, his chef was unable to imitate the distinct flavor of the dish. Reb Yehoshua revealed to the officer: “We have a special tavlin – spice, called Shabbos.” (i.e. the holiness of Shabbos gives the food a special flavor, which cannot be duplicated during the week.)

So we see that Shabbos is also referred to as tavlin, which could mean that Shabbos is also an antidote to the yetzer hara. How so? Shabbos is a time of repentance. On this lofty, joyous day, Jews everywhere become close to Hashem and repent out of love – which is the highest form of tshuva.

When a person repents out of love of Hashem (as opposed to out of fear of retribution), not only are his sins forgiven but they are actually counted as mitzvos! This is the meaning of the words that Hashem is over al pesha – he passes over the sins. He doesn’t just discount the sins, but He actually turns them over into mitzvos.

The yetzer hara collects the sins of the Jewish people in order to prosecute them, but then comes Shabbos and the Jewish people repent out of love of Hashem. Their sins are turned into mitzvos, and the yetzer hara is left without any evidence.

Tzaddikim have said that the Shabbos before Rosh Hashana destroys the prosecuting evidence. Shabbos is an effective tavlin – antidote of the Satan.

This is the meaning of the verse: “Hashem Elokim” – the Name Hashem signifies Divine mercy, and the Name Elokim signifies Divine judgment. Hashem is full of mercy, but sometimes judgment is unavoidable. In those instances, He “passes before you.” He will pass the sins into mitzvos, in the merit of Shabbos, and then “he will destroy the nations” – a reference to the prosecuting angels who speak against the Jewish people. “And you will inherit them” - not only will they remain quiet, but you will inherit their entire stock of sins, which will be turned into mitzvos!

May we indeed merit a favorable judgment on Rosh Hashana and be inscribed for a sweet new year.

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