Thought of the Week: Rosh HaShannah - 5784

Rosh Hashanah D’var Torah 

Ch. 30, v. 15: “R’ei nosati l’fo’necho ha’yom es hachaim v’es hatov v’es hamo’ves v’es hora” – See that I have placed before you today the life and the good and the death and the bad – 1) Rashi explains that these choices come in tandem. If you do that which is good you will have life and if you do the opposite, you will receive the resultant negative.

If so, why doesn’t the verse mention TOV before CHAIM, and so on, since CHAIM is the result of choosing TOV? The Kli Yokor answers that “tov” ahead of “chaim” would indicate to us that we behave properly to merit receiving life. However, it is preferable to have “chaim” so that we have the opportunity to do good. This is substantiated by nearby verses, “l’ahavoh es Hashem Elokecho …… v’choyiso v’roviso” (v. 16), and “l’maan tichyeh atoh v’zar’echo l’ahavoh es Hashem” (v. 19,20).

2) The Ibn Ezra explains these four terms differently. “Chaim” is a long life and “tov” is wealth and health. The next two terms are the opposite.

3) All four terms refer to the Torah. For the person who studies Torah and behaves properly it is life and good, while for the person who studies it and remains a “rosho” it is both death and bad, as per the verse in Yechezkel 20, “V’gam ani nosati lohem chukim lo tovim umishpotim lo yichyu bohem.”

4) Life refers to everlasting good, while good is the benefit we receive on this ephemeral world. Similarly, death refers to everlasting bad, while bad refers to the short-lived suffering on this world. (Sforno)

5) Life refers to fulfilling a mitzvoh “lishmoh,” with the proper intentions. Good refers to fulfilling a mitzvoh “shelo lishmoh.” Death refers to responding to the evil inclination when it paints a picture of the sin as something positive. This is worse than bad, which refers to the evil inclination telling it as it is, but still pushing one to sin.

6) Life means doing mitzvos, and good is the ensuing reward. Death means transgressing the Torah’s commands, and bad is the ensuing punishment. (Malbim)

7) These four terms are strategies to combat the evil inclination. Life and good mean connecting to Torah and mitzvos, and thus pushing away the evil inclination. Death and bad mean using the strategy of fearing punishment if one would transgress. The verse ends that one should rather choose the former group.

This is the explanation of the Gemara Brochos 5 as well, which offers different manners through which one should combat the evil inclination. It starts off with suggesting that one delve into Torah study, and only if that is insufficient, he should take to heart that he will eventually die. The end of our verse is also well understood. By pursuing good behaviour to combat the evil inclination, one amasses merits that will stand in his descendants’ good stead. (Ponim Yofos)

May we all merit a year of life and goodness.

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