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Parshas Nitzavim/Vayeilech - Finding Inner Strength During Challenging Times                   21 Elul 5780

09/10/20 11:07:18


All of us have  challenges and encounters throughout our lifetimes,  more often than not on a daily basis. I am not sure if what I am about to write is considered TMI (too much information) or if this is something that many people share but will never admit to. Every morning I encounter what I call “the sock conundrum”. The sock drawer is, by definition,  a mine field; you never know what will come out. To begin with, there are all different kinds: dress socks, sweat socks, casual socks, thick socks, socks that are ankle length, mid -calf, and more. The bigger task is pulling out a pair that match.  Even grouped in the same category, i.e.  dress socks, I have some that are a bit below the knee and others go higher. To me, one of the most annoying parts of getting my attire all lined up is being off kilter when seemingly little things are not even or equal.  It throws my day completely off. But it does not end there. Inevitably, holes begin to appear either at the toe or the heel. It’s amazing! These holes mysteriously appear overnight. It is like a budding flower! When does this happen?  My final sock question is why is it that the same pair of socks typically will have only one sock develop a hole and not the other. I wear them at the exact same time for the same duration so how does this happen So, I need to match up the holy and unholy socks… until this phenomenon plays itself out again.

I came up with three ways to avoid the morning stress of the sock conundrum. The first is to organize the sock drawer on a regular weekly basis, and through attrition remove the socks with holes and be a shadchan (a matchmaker) for the rest. Second idea,  like many Californians, is just to never wear socks again. Somehow, the first way is not practical, and the second is not appropriate for me. The last idea I had, albeit improbable, came to mind a few days ago on Labor Day. One of the traditions we had in my house/family growing up was to watch the Jerry Lewis Telethon which raised money for the MDA – the Muscular Dystrophy Association. For half a century Jerry Lewis raised millions of dollars for this cause (although it did have its controversies later). The telethon was cut in 2014. Jerry Lewis, who died in 2017, was an entertainer who had a quirky personality and interesting habits. His life started with humble beginnings as a boy from a poor family. Maybe I should consider copying one of the things he was famous for… he never wore the same socks twice. They say Jerry never forgot his early years, his poverty, and the holes in his socks. Thumbing his nose at the past, Jerry promised himself he would never wear the same pair of socks more than once. He just wore a pair and then throw the socks out. Once again, I am not sure how practical or affordable that may be for me.

The Rabbis teach us that a person can learn something from everyone or anything, and Jerry Lewis is no exception. How many people in the world, even if they are wealthy and can afford to wear a brand-new pair of socks, would do so? The psychological effects that stemmed from his childhood left an indelible impression upon him. The only way he could drive that sense of feeling out of his system was to come up with a plan never to have to face that same situation again. Often there are situations that we face that we need to overcome. We face the impossible and find ways that defy the odds to accomplish them. There is a hint to this notion in the Torah. The availability of the Torah is such that Hashem mandated and proscribed that it [the Torah] is not too mysterious or remote from you.

In this week’s Parshios Nitzavim/Vayeilech the Torah states in Devarim 30:12 "לא בשמים היא,  לאמר מי יעלה לנו השמימה ויקחה לנו, וישמענו אתה ונעשנה"  “It is not in heaven, so that you should say, ‘who shall go up to heaven and bring it to us so that we can hear it and keep it?”

There is a story told about Reb Zalman of Volozhin in the sefer called Toldos Adam. One time Reb Zalman needed a specific sefer/book that was being stored in a chest under a bookcase stacked with books. This made it almost impossible to retrieve that book because it was nearly impossible to move the bookcase that was on top of the chest.. Initially, he reasoned that since it was so difficult to remove the bookcase which prevented him from getting the book from the chest, he felt exempt from even trying. But he was reminded of the Gemara Eiruvin 55a that explains the verse quoted earlier how the Torah is not in heaven. The intent of the passuk is not that if the Torah really were in heaven, we would be exempt from learning it because we cannot get to it. Rather, the intent is that we would be obligated to get a ladder and ascend to heaven to get it, despite the fact we know that even with a ladder one cannot get to heaven. The lesson is if a person wants to reach the Torah, he would be able to reach it with a ladder. At that moment Reb Zalman felt an inner strength, approached the bookcase, and removed the heavy objects so he was able to retrieve the book he needed. Similarly, Yaakov Avinu, lifting the rock from the well with supernatural strength, was driven by his desire to honor his mother. Yaakov demonstrated his honor to his mother, as the passuk mentions, by lifting the rock אחי אמו three times to draw water for the flock of Lavan, his mother’s brother.

We are facing extraordinary challenges during these times. We have struggled in a proper way to serve Hashem, whether it be through davening, learning, or performing general Mitzvos. But things will change in the next few weeks with the arrival of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. We now prepare to rise to another level that we need and have not felt for the past six months. The Yamim Noraim are powerful and awesome days. They infuse us with a surge of desire and passion. There is really nothing that can stand in our way to break out of the conundrum of the times we are living through. It is up to each of us to reach beyond ourselves and stretch to attain our goals, to have Emunah/faith that Hashem will help and guide us. Through this determination, commitment, and focus we can gain a fresh new Torah every day.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Wed, September 30 2020 12 Tishrei 5781