When the Jewish people entered the land, they were to assemble at two mountains for a new acceptance of the Torah, but the command to do so is found already in this week’s parsha. Twelve commandments were to be enumerated, and the people would acknowledge publicly that blessings await those who observe them and curses will befall those who spurn them. Each command discusses a specific act with the exception of the final one. It states: “cursed is the one who will not uphold the words of this Torah, to perform them; and all the people shall say, ‘Amen’ .” The commentators ask, what does this seemingly vague command involve? The Ramban brings a Yerushalmi that answers this question. “Rav Assi says in the name of Rebbi Tanchum Bar Chiya, one who learnt, taught, guarded and performed, but, who had the power to strengthen the Torah and did not, is considered ‘accursed.’… Even someone who was a complete tzaddik in his actions but did not strengthen the Torah in the face of those who do not keep it - he is considered ‘cursed’ .
The Chofetz Chaim zt”l wrote an entire Sefer, ’Chomas Hadas’, which was dedicated to urging people to do more to strengthen the Torah against the increasing tide away from Torah that threatened the very future of Torah observance. In his hakdama, ‘Chizuk Hadas’ he enumerates four separate chiyuvim that every Jew is obligated by the Torah to strive to increase observance amongst our fellow Jews . The fourth is based on this Yerushalmi; the Chofetz Chaim argues strongly that this obligation applies to any Jew who has the power to influence others. If a person does so, then he receives the blessings that were said on Har Gerizim and if he does not, chas v’shalom, then he will suffer the curses of Har Eival. He points out how awesome this idea is: The Leviim turned to six hundred thousand people who stood on the two mountains and blessed the people who would keep these commands and everyone present answered ‘amen’. Consequently, anyone who tries to uphold the Torah is blessed by the Kohanim, Leviim and six hundred thousand people, Hashem’s haskamah. And the opposite is true for anyone who does not try to keep this command. He writes that when a person does not try to save the Torah, “that the [heavenly] hashpaa to the whole world is reduced.”
My Rebbi, Rav Yitzchak Berkovits Shlita notes that by looking at some of the other sins enumerated in the curses we can begin to get a clearer idea of the seriousness of the failure to uphold the Torah. Amongst the other curses are; one who makes a graven image, one who degrades his parents, one who commits grave immorality, and one who strikes his fellow in private. There would be an inclination to think that failure to uphold the Torah is not such a terrible sin but we see from here that one who fails to uphold the Torah is placed in the same category as one who commits such terrible aveiros as the other sins mentioned in the curses at Har Eival. And the opposite is also true; a person who even tries to influence others to increase their observance is greatly praised by the Torah.
The Yerushalmi brings an example from Tanach of a person who epitomised the desire to mekayem the command of this passuk. Yoshiyahu Hamelech was brought up in a generation that had no knowledge of Torah to the extent that he had never seen a Sefer Torah. When he was a mere child one of the Kohanim, Chilkiah, found a Sefer Torah in the Temple courtyard, it was rolled to the passuk, “cursed is the one who will not uphold the words of this Torah..” When Yoshiyahu heard this he rent his clothes and said, “alei lehakim”, ‘it is my responsibility to uphold the Torah’ . He proceeded to do so and successfully reintroduced Torah learning and observance to the forlorn people. The Netsiv zt“l discusses the actions of Yoshiyahu in the context of his own time. There was already a great flow of people leaving Torah for other ideologies and there seems to have been a difference of opinion as to how the remaining Torah true Jews should react to this. Some people believed that the best course of action was to hide away and focus on their own personal avodas Hashem. The Netsiv wrote a teshuva in which he strongly disagreed with this approach. He believed that this was not the time to focus on one’s own ruchnius whilst the rest of the world was being spiritually destroyed . One of his proofs for his attitude is the story of Yoshiyahu. The passuk says that after Yoshiyahu found the Sefer Torah, he said to the Kohanim and Leviim, “… now go and serve Hashem your G-d and his people, Israel. ’ In what way did he mean for them to serve Hashem and his people? The Netsiv explains, that up till that time, the only people who had maintained their spiritual level were the Kohanim and Leviim and that they had retreated into their own world to avoid the perils of their surroundings. They had devoted themselves to their own spiritual development and relationship with Hashem but had neglected the rest of the people. Yoshiyahu now urged them to change their behaviour and to spread Torah to those who had lost their connection to it. He said that by serving the people in bringing them closer to Torah they would be simultaneously serving Hashem because that was his ratson at this time.
The Netsiv argues that just as in Yoshiyahu’s time there was a great need for the observant Jews to uphold the Torah, the same was true in his time, where people were leaving Torah in droves. If the Netsiv’s era could be compared to that of Yoshiyahu, then, all the more so the case is true in our time. There has never been a situation where so many Jews are so distant from any form of Torah than now. A survey was taken in 1990 of the state of observance in USA; here are some of its results . In 1950 the intermarriage rate in USA was 6%, by 1990 it was 52% and rising. 2 million Jews do not identify themselves as Jews. 2 million self-identified Jews have no Jewish connection whatsoever. For every wedding between two Jews, two intermarriages take place. 625,000 US Jews are now practising other religions. 11% of US Jews go to shul! Every day, dozens of intermarriages take place, which means that in the time that it takes to read this article, some Jews were lost forever! What would the Netsiv say if he were alive today? In Elul we all try to do a cheshbon hanefesh of our shemiras hamitzvos. We learn from this week’s parsha that an essential part of that cheshbon is that each person should ask himself, ‘am I doing enough to uphold the Torah?’ We all may have good excuses as to why we have not done a great deal in this area, but, the Chofetz Chaim asks, would these reasons stand up in court? He says, “at the end of one’s life, when his soul comes in front of Hashem’s throne of glory, and he asks to be honoured [for his mitzvos] in the heavenly Assembly, what will he say if they ask him, ‘why didn’t you care about My honour; in front of your very eyes, people desecrated My honour and that of My Torah.?! ”
The Chofetz Chaim, in his own life, demonstrated his fear of being judged for not doing enough to strengthen Torah observance on many occasions. When a community had weakened in its observance he would stand on the bimah in their shul and describe how he would be summoned to judgement after his death and he would be asked, “Yisroel Meir! You were there at the time. Why didn’t you rebuke the people? At times he would ask the congregation to sign their names to a document saying that he had fulfilled his obligation and rebuked them . On another occasion, during a three week stay in Riga he convinced 300 shopkeepers to close their stores on Shabbos . Another time, upon hearing from Jewish soldiers that on Pesach they had eaten chometz, he immediately set out to write Machane Yisroel which quickly spread among the Jewish soldiers. He founded and raised money for a Kosher Kitchen Fund, and he personally tried to come in contact with soldiers to influence them. A group of soldiers used to pass through Radun every summer. The Chofetz Chaim invited them to a banquet in his home, received them with fatherly love, and gave them a drasho to encourage their Torah observance .
The Chofetz Chaim constantly emphasised that there are many ways in which a person can strive to uphold the Torah, whether it be by giving drashos in front of large audiences, establishing places of learning, or befriending those that are distant from Torah. Each person is blessed with unique abilities to help bring others closer to Torah. At present, there are kiruv organisations that are providing many avenue through which people can increase their involvement in kiruv, even on a part-time basis. They offer classes in kiruv training, opportunities to learn one-on-one with a secular chavrusa, and many other options. With the yom hadin fast approaching may we all be able to learn from Yoshiyahu and say that we genuinely tried to uphold the Torah.
(If you would like to hear more specific details of what you can do to uphold the Torah and whom to contact, then you can contact me on email: Gefen123@smile.net.il Or call me on: 992 4050; 052 761 9935.)