“Is the shofar ever sounded in a city and the people not tremble?” asks the prophet (Amos 3:6). It has already been almost an entire month that we have been hearing the morning blasts of the shofar, as it encourages us to awaken from our spiritual slumber. However we have still not stirred ourselves to repentance before the day of judgment!
True, repentance is one of the most difficult mitzvot for anyone to perform. It is hard to wake up one morning and decide that, starting from this day forward, we will change our lives, that we will improve our conduct, begin to perform mitzvot and good deeds, and constantly study Torah. Yet when we look at this week’s parsha, the last parsha of the year, from the very first verse we are assured that there are many ways to repent and come closer to Hashem.
The parsha begins with the words, “You are standing today, all of you, before the L-RD your G-d, the heads of your tribes, your elders, and your officers – all the men of Israel” (Deuteronomy 29:9). This teaches us the power of unity. When all Jews stand united before Hashem, it becomes easier for each individual to come closer to Him, meaning it becomes easier to repent. If one person falls, there is always another to help him get up and back to his previous state, for no accuser can defeat the power of unity.
Just to what extent should unity go? The Sages explain the verse, “Ephraim is attached to idols. Let him be” (Hosea 4:17) as meaning that when the Children of Israel are united, they are like a bundle of reeds that cannot be broken. What can this be compared to? It is like a group of people who are standing together and holding each other’s hands, forming a single block. An outsider trying to break this chain will never succeed, for everyone is standing together as one.
The same applies to repentance. When a person tries to repent on his own, individually, it will be very difficult for him. Alone, he is like a small tree on a vast plain. However when everyone is united and mutual love exits among them, repentance becomes easier. It is not without reason that before performing each mitzvah we recite, “In a perfect union in the name of all Israel,” words taken from the leshem yichud prayer. When we approach repentance in the name of all Israel – in harmony with the entire Jewish people – it becomes easer to return to Hashem.
Nevertheless, a person may still think: “Just who do I think I am? What importance do I have? What value do I possess? What worth do my deeds have? Perhaps the tzaddikim of the generation can come closer to Hashem, but I’m insignificant. I’m worthless! How could I ever elevate myself like them and come closer to G-d?”
There are two responses that we can give to such doubts. The first is found at the very start of our parsha, in which we find the interpretive principle of klal uprat uklal (a generalization followed by a specification and again by a generalization). The verse begins with, “You are standing today, all of you,” a generalization. This is followed by, “the heads of your tribes, your elders, and your officers,” a specification. Finally there is, “all the men of Israel,” which is another generalization. The saintly Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev said that when the entire Jewish people conduct themselves as one of these specific examples, such as “the heads of your tribes” – when they act righteously – then the tzaddikim can elevate the entire Jewish people, even the simplest, and truly bring them closer to Hashem. Furthermore, a tzaddik is able to show each Jew how tremendously important he is and just how much G-d loves him. All this occurs when a person is united with his fellow Jews, when he is sensitive to the other’s needs, and when he tries to help and support them.
The second response to such doubts can be found in the next verse, which states: “Your small children, your women and your stranger…from the hewer of your wood to the drawer of your water” (Deuteronomy 29:10). What importance do wood choppers and water drawers have? Why does the Torah mention them?
The chassid Reb Monia Mosenson, a diamond merchant, was once with his Rebbe, Rabbi Shalom Dov Ber of Lubavitch. At one point Reb Monia expressed his bewilderment at the Rebbe’s veneration of simple Jews: “Why does the Rebbe devote so much of his precious time to them?” he asked. The Rebbe replied, “Did you bring any diamonds with you to sell at the fair?” When the chassid replied that he had, the Rebbe asked to see them. The chassid therefore opened his bag and showed the Rebbe his sparkling diamonds. The chassid pointed to one diamond in particular and said, “This one has really special qualities.” The Rebbe replied, “I don’t see anything special about it.” The chassid then exclaimed, “Rebbe, to properly evaluate diamonds such as these, you have to be a diamond expert!” At that point the Rebbe shot back, “Listen to what you just said! So it is with simple Jews – you also have to be an expert of their qualities in order to appreciate them!”
This means that even a woodchopper or water drawer is important to Hashem. Each individual is valuable to the Master of the universe. This means that a person should never think, “Just who do I think I am? How important could I be to G-d?” No, absolutely not! Each person is important to G-d and everyone can come closer to Him, for every individual possesses special qualities. True, some are covered with dust – the dust of sin, the mask of materiality – yet when we remove that dust each person can shine like a diamond. Everyone can sparkle like a precious stone in the crown of the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.
Thus we learn three great principles regarding how to return to Hashem and truly get closer to Him: Unity among the Jewish people, connecting ourselves to the tzaddikim of the generation (who are capable of elevating every Jew), and above all by not losing hope or dwelling on our perceived unimportance. We should instead proudly follow Hashem’s ways in life. If we follow these three principles, we will truly be able to reach the day of judgment in a state of spiritual purity and cleanliness. We will have defenders on our side to ask for a good year filled with material and spiritual blessings. Amen, may it be so!