Pearls of Rashi: Parshas Nitzovim-Vayelech

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This week’s Torah portion, Nitzovim-Vayelech, begins by telling us that Moshe Rabbeinu gathered the entire Jewish nation into Hashem’s presence. He did so to bring them into His covenant[1]. The Torah specifies that this includes every Jew. “The leaders of your tribes, your elders, and your officers. Every Jewish man, (including) your young children, your women, and the convert who is within your camp, both your woodcutters and your water drawers[2].”

Rashi cites the words “both your woodcutters and your water drawers” and explains as follows. “This teaches us that Kena’anim (Canaanites) came to convert in the days of Moshe …and he made them woodcutters and water drawers for the Jews.”

The Alter Rebbe explains this on a deeper level[3], as it relates to our Divine service. Our verse specifies woodcutters. The Hebrew word for “wood” is “eitz – עץ,” which is related to the Hebrew for counsel, “eitzah – עצה.” He interpreted “woodcutters” to mean that one must cut, i.e., remove from his mind the “many thoughts (counsels) that are in the heart of man[4].” Furthermore, he explained that “water drawers” refers to draining the water that “causes all sorts of enjoyment to grow[5]” from ourselves.

The Alter Rebbe is teaching us that when serving Hashem, one may not look for “shortcuts.” After all, it is not easy to expend all of one’s energy on the study of the Torah and the performance of Mitzvos. Taking “the easy way out” is only the “counsel” of the Evil Inclination. Furthermore, one may be led astray by physical desires. Therefore, we must “drain” ourselves of these desires.

Rashi’s comments add a dimension to this teaching. It does not only apply to the time that one spends serving the Almighty while studying Torah or praying. It applies equally to the time one is involved in his business, including eating, drinking, and taking care of all of one’s physical needs. One may think that at such times it is acceptable to be concerned with the “many thoughts that are in the heart of man.”

This is why Rashi teaches us “that Kena’anim (Canaanites) came … in the days of Moshe.” We find throughout the Tanach that the word “Kena’anim – Canaanites” has the meaning of merchants[6]. Rashi is teaching us that even when one is performing his mundane tasks, he is engaged in his everyday needs, he must still beware of the “many thoughts that are in the heart of man.” He must never give in to the urge to follow his desires.

May we all have a good, sweet year both in spiritual and physical matters. Have a good Shabbos!

Rabbi Shmuel Mendelsohn

Adapted from Likkutei Sichos Volume 14, Page 117

מוקדש לזכות כ”ק אדמו”ר נשיא דורנו מליובאוויטש

חיילי “צבאות השם” חיים ועדן עודד שיחיו מאריס
נדפס ע”י הוריהם
הרה”ת ר’ מנחם מענדל וזוגתו מרת חי’ מושקא שיחיו מאריס

[1]. See Rashi at the beginning of our Parshah, Devorim 29:9.

[2]. Our Parshah, Devorim 29:9-10.

[3]. See Hayom Yom, Page 89.

[4]. Mishlei (Proverbs) 19:21.

[5] See Tanya Chapter 1.

[6]. See Hoshea 12:8, among other sources.

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