VEZOS HABRACHA - SIMCHAS TORAH By Yehonasan Gefen
The Torah concludes with a stirring eulogy for Moshe Rabbeinu, ending with praise for, “the strong hand and awesome power that Moshe performed before the eyes of all Israel.” The Medrash, cited by Rashi, explains that the phrase, “before the eyes of all Israel” refers to Moshe’s decision to break the luchos that he had just received, in front of all the Jewish people. Why, of all Moshe Rabbeinu’s great deeds, does the Torah choose to single this one out at its finale as perhaps the greatest of them all? The Ateres Mordechai offers a profound insight to answer this question. Moshe had invested great effort over many years in bringing the Jewish people out of slavery in Mitzrayim to the point of Matan Torah, and now he had just spent forty days without food or drink fending off the angels and securing the Luchos for the Jewish people. When he returned from the mountain and saw the people worshipping the Golden Calf he realized that they were not on the level to receive the Luchos and that he must destroy them. However, imagine what a nisayon it must have been to forsake all that effort and energy that he had invested to get to this moment. He surely could have rationalized that although they did not deserve the Luchos now, perhaps things would change soon and it wasn’t necessary to destroy them right away. But Moshe did not do so, he showed great integrity and intellectual honesty to break the luchos purely because that was the correct course of action.
Very often in life, we are placed in similar situations to that of Moshe Rabbeinu - we invest time or energy into something and then we are faced with the possibility that we have made a mistake and need to start again or that there has been a new turn of events that makes our original stand obsolete. There is a great temptation in such instances to dig our heels in and stand by our initial plan against our better judgment. It is very hard to admit that we are wrong or need to start again after putting in so much effort into something. And perhaps the most difficult aspect of knocking down what we have already built is that we are showing that we have made a mistake - it is extremely difficult for people to admit that their opinions, lifestyle or attitude is wrong. Indeed, one of the main factors that prevents non-religious people from changing their lifestyle is that to do so would mean admitting that all of their life up till this point was based on a mistake.
Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz zt”l brings an example from Tanach of how a person can become so set in his ways that he cannot change even when placed under the greatest pressure. After the destruction of Yericho, Yehoshua placed a curse on anyone who would rebuild it. In the time of Achav, a man named Chiel decided to defy the curse and rebuild Yericho. When he laid the first brick, his first-born died, and as he continued building his sons continued dying one by one until when he completed the city his youngest son also passed away. How can a person be so foolish to continue in a path that causes his misery?! Rav Shmueleviz answers that he was so convinced in the rightness of his actions that he could not admit that he was wrong and he preferred to bury all his sons over admitting that he was wrong!
In contrast the Gemara shows an example of the greatness involved in admitting one’s mistakes. The Tanna Shimon HaAmsoni used to explain every word ‘es’ in the Torah as providing an secondary meaning to the object mentioned. For example, in the mitzvo of honoring parents, there is an ‘es’ from which he derived the inclusion of older siblings, and consequently a person must honour his elder sibling as well as his parents. However, when he came to the passuk, “Es Hashem Elokecha tira” he was unable to find a secondary recipient of the fear that we must feel for Hashem. His talmidim asked him, “what will come of all the instances where you have explained the word ’es’”? He replied, “just as I have been rewarded for expounding them, so shall I rewarded now for abandoning them.” Then Rabbi Akiva came and taught that the ’es’ in the passuk teaches us that a person must feat G-d and also talmidei chachamim. The Alter of Kelm notes the greatness of the tanna Shimon who did not hesitate to abandon the theory that he had held and developed throughout his life when he felt that he could no longer justify it. Moreover, he taught his talmidim a priceless lesson - that his abandoning of his theory which was done in a moment was as great as all the investigating and explaining he had done all his life!
This lesson is strongly connected to the day of Simchas Torah with which Vezos Habracha always coincides. We end the Torah and then immediately restart it again, reading the opening passukm of Bereishis. This alludes to us that even though we have completed the whole Torah, we should not feel that we do not need to repeat it again. We can relearn it and develop new insights, sometimes even contradicting our present understanding and we should not feel embarrassed to acknowledge that we were wrong. This does not only apply to pshatim on the Gemara but also to our outlook on life - if we see that a part of our outlook on life seems to not fully fit with Torah hashkafa than must be willing to honestly assess how we can change it.
Rav Frand suggests that this idea is also alluded to in the marriage ceremony. The custom is that the chassan breaks a glass, and most commentators explain that this is a remembrance of the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. However, he notes that one commentator connects this custom to the breaking of the Luchos. Why do we need to be reminded of that event during a wedding? He answers that perhaps it is to teach the new couple that in order for their marriage to work, a they must strive to emulate Moshe Rabbeinu’s actions in breaking the luchos. In order for a marriage to work, both husband and wife must be willing to act with great honesty and admit their mistakes rather than stand on their pride. Both need to be prepared to let go of their preconceived notions and prejudices and strive for truth. These are not easy demands, but if we see that Moshe was ready to break the most valuable thing in the world because it was the right thing to do, then we too can surely be prepared to make changes when it is clearly the ratson Hashem.