Torah thought forFriday 27 Elul 5782 September 23 2022

Parashat Nitzavim - Torah-Study Shakes the Yetzer Hara (Evil Inclination) Off Our Scent

(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)

This Shabbat we shall read, “Today you are all standing before Hashem your G-d” (Devarim 29:9). This Parashah is always read prior to Rosh Hashanah, the day that Hashem will judge the entire world both as a whole and the individuals within it. As we say in Mussaf of Rosh Hashanah, “And on it, it is said of every province which will come to the sword and which one to shalom, which will succumb to hunger and which will find plenty. And all creations are regarded on this day; remembered for life, or for death ” [Vayikra Rabbah 29:1].

Our chachamim explained the passuk “You are standing today” to indicate that if person wishes to feel that he is standing, meaning that he is standing confidently unfazed by the Day of Judgement, then he must feel as he is “before Hashem your G-d”. If a person will educate himself to always feel as if he is standing to attention before Hashem, within the realm of, “I have set Hashem before me always” (Tehillim 16:8), he is assured that he won’t sin. As our chachamim said in Avot (2:1), “Contemplate three things and you will avoid sin, know what is Above you: a watchful eye, a listening ear and all your actions are written in a book.”

Part of the process of a person feeling that they are standing before Hashem is through setting aside time for studying Torah and musar (ethical behaviour) in the Batei Midrashim and Batei Kenneisiyot. As the Talmud states (Kiddushin 30b), “If you encounter this ugly fellow (yetzer hara), drag him to the Bet HaMidrash”. Meaning that a person who finds it difficult to cope on a daily basis with his desires, for it has already been stated that, “…for the inclination of man’s heart is evil from his youth”, “Every impulse of his innermost thought was only for evil, all day long” (Bereishit 8:21 and 6:5), then he must go to the Bet HaMidrash to study Torah and mussar, in order to stand firmly against the yetzer hara who drags him in downwards.

At the end of Shir HaShirim (8:14) it states, “Flee, my Beloved, from our common exile and be like a gazelle or a young hart in Your swiftness to redeem, and rest Your Presence among us on the fragrant Mount Moriah, site of Your Temple”. We must figure out why the comparison to a gazelle or a young hart and what is unique about the fragrant Mount Moriah?

To understand this we must preface that in days gone by nobles and counts would go hunting wild animals in the forests. They rode cavalier horses with a hunting dog which had a heightened sense of smell, running ahead of them to reveal where there were wild animals to pursue them and capture them. On one of these hunts the hunting dog sensed the smell of a dear in the area. It immediately began to run after it whilst the minister sat on his horse pursing the dear in the direction of the hunting dog.

The dear sensed the danger and began to flee. But the hunting dog with its’ sensitive ability to smell did not weaken and it chased the dear wherever its’ sense of smell took it, with the minister at their heels. When the dear saw that he had no chance, he immediately turned into a corner where prized smelling roses grew and hid there between the roses. Then something unbelievable happened, the hunting dog stopped and lost the dear’s location. This was because the moment that the dear entered the roses, the aroma of the roses disguised the dear’s scent. The hunting dog lost the dear and so its’ life was saved.

The analogy is as follows. The yetzer hara is analogous to the hunting dog and the person is analogous to the dear. The yetzer hara pursues the person to incite him to sin and does not let him go. However, if a person enters the Bet HaMidrash and studies Torah, this is like the dear amongst the roses and the aroma of the roses causes the enemy to lose his prey. Likewise, Torah-study causes the yetzer hara to lose the opportunity to incite the person to sin and so the person is saved from him. This is the meaning of the passuk that Shlomoh HaMelech said in Shir HaShirim, “Flee, my Beloved, from our common exile (this refers to the person who wishes to escape from the yetzer hara) and be like a gazelle or a young hart in Your swiftness to redeem, and rest Your Presence among us on the fragrant Mount Moriah, site of Your Temple,” likewise the person who enters the Bet HaMidrash and studies Torah will be saved from the yetzer hara like that dear who entered the aroma and was saved from his enemy.

As we great the New Year we should accept upon ourselves to strengthen the feeling that every moment we are standing before Hashem. That the fear of Heaven over us be at least like the that fear we have of people. We should make every effort to spend more of our valuable time in the Bet HaMidrash and may we merit to a good, blessed year, “may He bless all of us together with a complete blessing” Amen.

Shabbat Shalom!

Recent Parasha

"תנא דבי אליהו כל השונה הלכות בכל יום מובטח לו שהוא בן העולם הבא"

נידה ע"ג א'