<I>Nitzavim-Vayelech</I>: Follow the Leader

These two parshiot complement and contrast.

Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Hirsch,

Aryeh Hirsch
Aryeh Hirsch
Moshe Rabbeinu gathers the Jewish nation and tells them of the Almighty's promise of Israel's continued survival, from "your leaders of tribes to your elders, police and every Israeli person: child, women, convert; from woodcutter to water-carrier. " (Devarim 29:9-10) Later, in Chapter 31, Moshe hands over the leadership to Joshua.

The Lubavicher Rebbe comments that these two parshiot complement and contrast: the very word Nitzavim implies the stability and continued survival provided by the nation; and Vayelech Moshe, the leader goes, raises the issue of growth and expansion provided by the leader. I would therefore like to discuss how the nation functions as a harmonized
The wood-cutters have harmonized with the kings.
whole, and how leaders influence that whole; especially, historically, how the wood-cutters have harmonized with the kings.

Rabbi Eliyahu Mali, in Orot MiTziyon, writes of the incidents in the Book of Kings in which King Yehoshafat of Judea cooperated with the evil kings of Israel, Achav and, later, with Achav's son Yehoram (Kings II 3, 13), as well as with Achazia (Chronicles II 2 verses 20, 35). Rabbi Mali asks how a tzaddik (righteous one) like Yehoshafat could have joined forces with King Achav, a murderer and idolater. His answer follows four lines of reasoning:

1) When the tzaddik, the righteous one, is the dominating partner, it is allowed. This is seen in the prophet's vision (Ezekiel 37:19), in which the branches of Yosef and Yehuda unite, but that of Yehuda is alav, "on top." Thus, Rabbi Avaraham Yitzchak Kook wrote that if the rasha (evil one) "possessed some good aspect, and the tzaddik intended to relate only to that good aspect of the rasha, then if the tzaddik can dominate the relationship, it will succeed." (Orot HaKodesh, part 3, p.333) The good man can influence the bad one.

2) When the numbers are in favor of the good ones. Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook mentioned this reason, based on the Rambam (Hilchot Deot chap. 6, Halacha 1). Cooperation is prohibited when an individual or small group might learn from a community of evil ones (reshaim).

3) It is allowed when the object is to fulfill a mitzvah. Thus, we see in our parsha that for the mitzvah of Hakhel, all Jews gathered in Jerusalem. Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook also mentions the mitzvot of aliyah l'regel, arba minim and ketoret, in which "bad" elements join with the good ones. This was the main heter (permitting factor) for both Rabbis Kook, and others who followed them, to allow cooperation with the non-religious in the mitzvah of Yishuv Ha'Aretz, nation-building in the land of Israel. This includes, Rabbi Mali noted, political activities like voting and forming coalition governments.

4) Our reshaim are simply not in the same league as murderous idolators like Achav, but have a law of tinok shenishba, merely following their unfortunate upbringing (Hilchot Mamrim, chap.3, Halachot 2-3).

Rabbi Yitzchak Weinberg, the Talner Rebbe, discusses Moshe Rabbeinu's appointment of Joshua as leader of the Jewish people, using it as a starting point for a discussion of Jewish leadership throughout history. Chazal compared Moshe to the sun and Joshua to the moon. The Rebbe mentions the Kli Yakar's (Bamidbar 11:27-29) explanation of this: in the incident of Eldad and Meidad, Joshua wanted these two nevi'im to stop
Chazal compared Moshe to the sun and Joshua to the moon.
prophesizing. But Moshe Rabbeinu refused to shut them up. This is similar to the famous midrash about the creation of the world, in which the moon insisted that it could not share rule of the heavens with the sun (the result was that God gave in to the moon's logic, and made the sun the dominant ruler of the heavens). All this echoes Rashi's words in our parsha (Devarim 31:7):

"The Almighty told Joshua, 'The leadership now is not to be like Moshe's leadership. You, Joshua, must take this people into the Land of Israel even if it must be by force, even if you must take a stick and beat them over the head; there is to be only one leader for the generation, and not two leaders for the generation.'"

The Rebbe sees in this Moshe-Joshua dichotomy as a forerunner of the contrasting leadership styles of King Saul and King David. Saul, a descendant of Josef (as was Joshua) had a tough, uncompromising personality; he was tough with himself, in his manner of worshiping the Almighty, and tough on others. And, as usual, God dealt with him as he dealt with the world - uncompromisingly. That is why the Gemara (Yuma 22b) says that "Saul sinned once, and that was his end, but David sinned twice and was forgiven." Just as we see that Saul was makpid, punctilious, about the smallest slight to his rule (his pursuit of David, his wiping out the priestly city of Nov), so God dealt with Saul when he sinned, and he lost his kingdom. This aspect of judgment is termed by the Zohar dina kashya, hard and uncompromising. Amazingly, notes the Rebbe, the Rama MiPano, in his Gilgulei Neshamot, notes that the kapdan, uncompromising, Shammai (Hillel's contemporary) was a gilgul of the soul of King Saul, and that Joshua's soul was rooted in that of Josef.

Compare this to King David, who heard the curses of Shimi ben Gera (Samuel II, 16:10) and did not punish him, allowing him to live (and Mordechai, of Purim fame, descended from him). David bowed his head and accepted Divine judgment with love and submission. Therefore, it is said of King David, author of Psalms, that he "taught the way of teshuvah." (Moed Katan 16b; see Psalms 51:15) This, the Zohar calls the way of dina rafya, soft judgment.

All this is, not coincidentally, read before Rosh Hashanah, Yom HaDin, the day of judgment of the King of Kings. Rabbi Matis Weinberg (Frameworks, "Rosh Hashanah")
We... have days of harsh judgment and days of soft.
notes that we too have days of harsh judgment and days of soft; they are represented by the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the day of dina kashya, and the second day of Rosh Hashanah, the day of soft judgment. They are also symbolized by our two ways of blowing the teru'a note of the shofar. Because of our doubt as to the true sound, we blow both a teru'a and a shevarim, representing hard and soft judgment. Finally, these two faces of din are represented by the contrasting personalities of Father Yitzchak and Mother Rivka.

As we enter the period of Selichot and Yomim Noraim, may our prayers be answered by soft din, may our national period of hard din be ended, and may we be granted the leadership we deserve, in a shanah tovah.