April 16, 2024
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Parshat Nitzavim-Vayelech

This week’s haftarah, the final one of the sheva d’nechemta, the seven haftarot of consolation, does not only close the post-Tisha B’Av period of consolation, repairing our relationship with God and, thereby, preparing us for teshuva, it also responds to the predicted destruction of our land that is detailed in this week’s parsha of Nitzavim. For, while the Torah warns of a complete devastation of the land that would leave it completely desolate, the haftarah foresees a time whe,n “uleartzech lo yeameir od shemama—your land will no longer be considered ‘desolate.’”

Likewise—as pointed out by Rav Yehuda Shaviv—our parsha describes the time of return with the words, “Veshav Hashem Elokecha,” which our rabbis (Megillah 29.) understand as stating that God would suffer in galut with His nation and therefore will not simply bring them back to the land but will come back with them (“veshav”) from the exile. That very thought is also echoed in the closing words of the haftarah when the prophet exclaims: “Bechol tzaratam lo tzar—He (Hashem) has suffered with them.”

The essential message of this reading, however, is the joy that will be felt by Israel upon her redemption from galut and the reestablishment of the loving relationship she had with God. “Sos tasis baShem—we will rejoice in God,” as do a bride and groom rejoice in their relationship (note that one of the seven brachot recited under the chuppah begins with the words, “Sos tasis—you will rejoice when your children return to their land”). The geulah will include the establishment of Zion as a light of justice to the nations and the promise that Yerushalayim would be protected by God, Who will punish her oppressors. As the haftarah read before Tisha B’Av describes Zion as a city that had forsaken justice and righteousness, this reading—some seven weeks later—takes us back full circle to the sinless time when God shed His light and His favor upon the nation.

The message of return and repair is a crucial one for this—the Shabbat before the Yamim Noraim—because, as we focus upon returning to Hashem, we should always remember that God is a loving Father, who yearns to bring us nearer to Him and to—once more—establish the close and devoted relationship that we had with Him in the past. This idea is precisely the very request we make of God on Tisha B’Av, at the end of Megillat Eicha: “… chadesh yameinu kekedem—renew our days as those we once had in the past.”

Take note too, that each Yom Kippur service introduces the vidui with a tefillah that describes our relationship to Hashem. It begins by stating, “Anu amecha—we are Your nation and You are our God”—and continues defining our connection to God as servants to Master, as sheep to Shepherd, as vineyard to Keeper, etc.—no less than 12 (!) descriptions of our love for and dependence upon our merciful God. But none of these depicts this relationship more truthfully than the phrase: “Anu banecha veAta Avinu—We are Your children and You are our Heavenly Father!”

And so, during these coming Yamim Noraim, it is important to remember that, although we are pleading with “Malkeinu—our King,” who judges us; foremost in our minds must be that He is Avinu—our loving Father, it is He, Who, thankfully, is judging us.

And, perhaps, that is why, throughout the Aseret Yemei Teshuva, we conclude every (non-Shabbat) Shacharit and Mincha (and on Yom Kippur, Maariv and Neilah as well) by repeating the very same two words 30 (!) times: “Avinu Malkeinu”—just to make sure we never forget who our Father is.


Rabbi Neil Winkler is the rabbi emeritus of the Young Israel of Fort Lee, and now lives in Israel.

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