• Northeast Kollel

Nitzavim: Heaven and Earth - Who Gave Them the Podium?

By Rabbi Yonah Burr


העדתי בכם היום את השמים ואת הארץ החיים והמות נתתי לפניך הברכה והקללה ובחרת בחיים למען תחיה אתה וזרעך

I call the heavens and the earth today to bear witness against you; I have placed life and death before you, blessing and curse; and you shall choose life, so that you will live, you and your offspring.


Rashi explains that the heavens and the earth ‘testify’ against us homiletically;

Says Hashem to the Jewish People, “gaze at the heavens that I have created to serve you- have they ever changed their way? Did the sun ever not rise in the east and shine? Look at the earth that I have created for you-did you ever plant and it did not grow? Did you ever plant wheat and grow barley? If the heavens and the earth which receive neither punishment nor reward, do not change from their path, you, who are subject to reward and punishment, certainly should not deviate from the right path.”


At first glance, this statement is perplexing; how can we be compared to the heavens and the earth? Of course they never deviate from their proper course; why, they don’t have a choice! They don’t have bechirah, nor do they have the struggles that we mortals have. Human beings, on the other hand, do have a choice; we have the struggles and frailties, and we are prone to making the wrong choices and going off course.


There is a similar quote in Meseches Eiruvin 100b. “says Rav Yochanan, “even if the Torah would not have been given, we would still be able to learn modesty from a cat, not to steal from the ant, chastity from the dove and proper etiquette from the rooster”


The commentaries explain that the fact that even animals instinctively behave a certain way, shows us that these qualities are inherent in the creation; if even an ant will not steal from another ant, if even a cat exhibits proper hygiene and modesty, surely these qualities are instinctive and should come naturally. All we have to do is preserve what is already there.


The same is true regarding heeding the word of Hashem; when Hashem issues a command, it is embedded in the very creation. The statement ‘let there be light’, created an eternal order; the sun will always rise and never deviate from its path, for the word of Hashem is law.


The same must be true for us; the mitzvos of the Torah are instinctive; naturally, we want to follow the ways of Hashem. it is only our lack of clarity that sometimes gets in the way. We have the potential to rise above the temptations and restore ourselves to our natural state of following the word of Hashem.


And indeed, if we try, Hashem promises to help; “Hashem will purify your heart and the hearts of your children, to love Hashem with all your heart and soul”.


Rosh Hashana is an opportune time for us to reflect and reconnect; to tap into our innate potential and bring out our natural strengths! Have a wonderful Shabbos!