The US Senator (and basketball player), Bill Bradley once said: Leadership is unlocking people's potential to become better." The role of a true leader is to encourage and give "chizzuk" to his or her followers to try to attain a level of fulfillment and success and move forward in an upward trajectory. Towards the end of Moshe's leadership, he implores Bnei Yisrael to recognize that although there are many mitzvot to follow, it is within the realm of possibility for each member to achieve what is expected of him or her. They have great potential to accomplish a great deal. Understanding Moshe's comments can be understood in a more general way or perhaps in a much more specific manner, addressing a particular challenge.
In the first of the two parshiyot we will read this week, Moshe commands Bnei Yisrael (in Parshat Netzavim), that they should not be distant from the people. In Perek ל, pasuk יא, Moshe says:
כִּי הַמִּצְוָה הַזֹּאת, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם--לֹא-נִפְלֵאת הִוא מִמְּךָ, וְלֹא רְחֹקָה הִוא
For this commandment which I command you today, it is not too hard for you, nor is it far off.
Moshe continues statements of encouragement to his people when he says in pasuk יד when he says:
כִּי-קָרוֹב אֵלֶיךָ הַדָּבָר, מְאֹד: בְּפִיךָ וּבִלְבָבְךָ, לַעֲשֹׂתוֹ
For this matter is very close to you , in your mouth, and in your heart, to achieve it.
While Chazal understand that these verses are speaking about learning, teaching and following the Torah in general, the Ramban, Nachmonides, explains Moshe's directive to be specifically speaking about Teshuva - the path to repentance. Moshe instructs the people that when they stumble and transgress, and, they will, that their potential for returning is possible. Now that Bnei Yisrael will be entering Eretz Yisrael, it is conceivable that the people have a deep concern that Moshe will not be there as a liason for them. Who will be their advocate? Based on the Ramban, Moshe is emphasizing to the people that when you feel that the process of repenting is not within your reach, when you consider that you are not capable of self-improvement, remember that it is possible for you. As far away as you might have distanced yourself or feel removed, you can always return and be successful. Moshe is giving his people coping mechanisms for survival as a part of a collective and in their personal relationship with Hashem.
This coming Motzai Shabbat, Ashkenazim will begin to recite Selichot. One of the opening phrases that we say at the beginning of the Selichot Prayer is:
לך ה' הצדקה ולנו בושת הפנים
For You, Hashem, are righteous and we are embarrassed.
How do we come before You, Hashem, and request mercy and forgiveness? We are not worthy. We have committed wrongdoings. Yet, as difficult as it is, we expend energy, put in the effort and try to improve and repair our relationship with Hashem. We follow Moshe's command and recognize that we are indeed able to reconnect with Hashem and come close despite the potential struggle.
During the month of Elul, our Rabbis quote from Shir haShirim (6:3) - HaMelech Basadeh - Hashem is in the field. Hashem has emerged and is coming close to us as well. Hashem is becoming more accessible. This serves as an important reminder that not only do we have to make it possible to redirect our hearts to Hashem. But, despite existential, emotional, physical and other struggles, Hashem would like a repaired relationship with us as well.
May the Ramban's understanding of these pesukim serve to give us strength and support as we near Rosh HaShana this coming week and recognize the beauty of the relationship we share with HaKadosh Baruch Hu. May it continue to reinforce our commitment to Hashem and our people and steer us to the upward path of shmirat haMitzvot, a love of God and humanity and respect for the world that we live in.
Wishing you us all a healthy, joyful and fulfilling new year.
כתיבה וחתימה טובה