Parshas Nitzavim - Rosh Hashanah (5776)
In Moses' final communication to the Jewish People before his death, he relates to them their destiny concerning what would take place in the distant future, at a time-period called the "End of Days". In Deuteronomy (30:1-2), Moses tells the people the following amazing prophecy:
"It will be that when all these things come upon you - the blessing and the curse that I have presented before you - then you will take it to your heart among all the nations where your G-d has dispersed you; and you will return unto G-d, and listen to His voice, according to everything that I command you today, you and your children, with all your heart and all your soul."
Rabbi Ezriel Tauber, in his remarkable book Days are Coming: Rising to the Challenge of History’s Most Crucial Time, explains the meaning of this verse:
“In essence, this verse tell us that after all the good tidings and all the bad tidings which were prophesied in the previous chapters of the Torah, come to pass; namely: after the blessing of the glory days of Kings David and Solomon and after the curse of the destruction of the Temple; and even after the blessing of the great spiritual-intellectual accomplishments in the lands of exile such as Babylon, Spain and Europe as well as after the curse of the worst of the persecutions, the Inquisition, and the Holocaust – after everything, a wave of teshuvah will sweep through the descendants of Israel. The wave of teshuvah will cause them to return to their very hearts, i.e. to the things which are most dear to them, which they had not been turning toward prior to that… (And) even people will not necessarily be able to express it, they will very much feel it in their hearts. They will feel a curiosity about and longing for Torah.”
The Torah (in verses 11-14 ibid.) continues to tell us just how the fulfillment of this prophecy will come about: "For this commandment that I command you today - it is not hidden from you and it is not distant. It is not in heaven ... nor is it across the sea ... Rather, the matter is very near to you - in your mouth and in your heart - to perform it."
The Sforno explains that the "commandment" referred to in this verse is the mitzvah of teshuvah, of returning to our roots."It is not to hidden from you" - that you will need prophets to exhort you to do it ... "and it is not distant" - that you can only do it with the help of those few, not easily accessible, great sages of the generation ... "Rather, the matter is very near to you ... etc."
So, here we have it, folks! The Torah (which, by all archaeologists' accounts, was written at least 2400 years ago, and, according to our tradition, was given by G-d at Mt. Sinai 3327 years ago!) is going out on a limb here with an amazing prophecy. The Jewish people are going to go through the best of times and the worst of times, and, after all that, while they are still "among all the nations", they will experience a spiritual reawakening which will manifest itself in a curiosity and yearning for their roots, culminating in a widespread "return" to the ways of their ancestors, them and their children, with all their heart and soul. And this "return" will be brought about, not from some outside inspiration such as a miracle or a great prophet, but from something deep inside their own hearts.
Now, we must ask ourselves - has this prophecy materialized or not?
THE BA'AL TESHUVAH MOVEMENT
The truth is, that we have seen this prophecy borne out with our own eyes. Again to quote Rabbi Tauber in his eye-opening book Days are Coming: Rising to the Challenge of History’s Most Crucial Time:
“Twenty years ago (the book was published in 1991 -dz), an objective observer had to conclude that the traditional Torah outlook on life was virtually dead. Assimilation, intermarriage, and ambivalence toward religious values seemed deeply ingrained in the modern Jewish psyche. However, something happened. A movement began. A trickle at first. Nevertheless, a significant number of Jews began following their yearnings to find out about their heritage, the Torah and its ways. This renewed yearning and return (which has since become known as the "Ba'al Teshuvah Movement" - ba'al teshuvah meaning "one who returns"-dz) did not occur among the types of Jews where you might expect it to occur. Rather, children raised in the most alienated homes - whether in homes of the wealthy, materialistic west, or in the actively atheistic, left-wing homes of Russia and secular Israel - began returning. And that is what the verse predicts: Where will this return occur? From "among all the nations" From America, from Russia, etc.”
All around the world, more and more Jews are experiencing a feeling of renewed interest in, and curiosity about, Judaism and the ethical and spiritual lifestyle that it has to offer. And this phenomenon of mass yearning and searching for our Jewish roots, this curiosity to learn more about the age-old traditions that our ancestors lived for and died by, is virtually unparalleled in history of our people.
The amazing thing is that this "movement" has not been sparked by any miraculous event, inspirational leader, or national tragedy. Rather, as the Torah predicted with uncanny accuracy, Jews from all walks of life, and from all parts of the world, have somehow been inspired on their own to investigate their roots and to start to return to a more Jewish life.
What is the underlying inspiration that has caused many a secular Jew to search for his roots and to make sometimes significant changes in his life? And what can we learn from this "movement of return" in terms of our own spiritual growth, especially now as Rosh Hashanah, the time of year when we reexamine our lives and the goals we would like to achieve, is almost upon us?
TAKE IT TO HEART
I believe the secret behind this most interesting phenomenon is no secret at all. The Torah itself, in the above verse, tells us what it is that will cause Jews in our times to rethink their lives and start a journey back to G-d and the Torah. “It will be that when all these things come upon you ... then you will take it to your heart ..." The Torah is telling us that we will look back at all that has transpired to our people over the centuries and millennia, and we’ll take it to heart! And when we take these lessons to heart, big changes will occur.
In recent times, Jews all around the world have been opening their eyes and "taking to their hearts" all that has happened to us as a nation over the last 3000 years. And they have been asking themselves all kinds of questions - questions that we should ask of ourselves as well. Questions like: Why have we Jews, who are a small nation with an even smaller homeland (about the size of New Jersey!), always been the focus and the preoccupation of much of world history? How is it that, in spite of all the persecutions and holocausts that our people have suffered over the millennia, we are still here, and stronger than ever? Why is it, that of all the millions of our ancestors who did not survive the persecution of the last 2000 years, we Jews were "chosen" to be the survivors? Why us? What are we really here for?
And if there seems to be some kind of miraculous, Divine protection that has kept our nation around for so many thousands of years, when all other ancient civilizations have long since vanished from the face of the earth, where are we headed to from here? Is there a "master plan" for our people and for the world? And if there is a plan, where do I fit in? And am I being a bit too complacent in my choice of lifestyle? Maybe there is something more that I ought to be doing as part of the plan that is meant for me as a Jew?
These are just a few of the many questions that Jews who take their lives seriously have been asking themselves in recent times, and which have brought many a Jew to reexamine his/her lifestyle to see if it "fits in" with the new insights he has gained after taking these lessons to heart.
As Rosh Hashanah approaches, let us, too, ‘take to heart’ and take some time to think about the "bigger picture" of our Jewish history and ask ourselves some serious questions, and, if need be, rethink the choices we have made as to how we lead our lives, and see if we can make our lives even more meaningful and fulfilling.
[Sources: Days are Coming: Rising to the Challenge of History’s Most Crucial Time by Rabbi Ezriel Tauber and Yaakov Astor, Shalheves Publishers]
HAVE A SWEET NEW YEAR!