Past Weekly Shabbat Message
Jewish Heritage
Rabbi Dovid Saks
(Torah Portion Vayailech) Fly Ball

One of the most famous quotes of a presidential inaugural address is that of John F. Kennedy’s charge: “And so my fellow Americans, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country.”

In this week’s Parsha, Moshe, before his death, gives a subtle but profoundly different charge to the Jewish people. It can be summed up as follows, “My fellow Jews, ‘Ask what Torah and Judaism can do for you, - and ask what you can do for Torah, Judaism and your fellow man.”

Moshe acknowledged that certain observances may seem overwhelming and he encouraged and related to the people, “You all have a built in ability to fulfill all that G-d commands – all you need is the heart and desire to want to, and you will achieve and succeed.”

This week we read two portions of the Torah, which are called, Netzavim and Vayailech. The translation of these two words means, “Standing and Moving Forth.”

I think there is fundamental idea and message behind these words.

Tennis and baseball are two popular sports. They differ from each other in many ways. I’d like to focus on one apparent difference. In tennis, the ball is in constant motion being immediately returned to the other side of the court without a moment’s hesitation. In baseball the players try to catch the ball in their mitts. When there is a runner on base and the batter at the plate hits a fly ball, the runner has to wait until the ball is caught and only then does he have the option to advance to the next base.

When one comes to seek out the meaning and significance of our Torah and Mitzvos, Moshe tells us to be Nitzvaim – standing; waiting to absorb the message and meaning of Torah and Judaism by taking the time to stand still to ‘catch’ the message. If, like in tennis, one quickly responds, without first soaking in the point or significance of the message he will not have the opportunity to achieve inspiring and enduring results.

When one stands and thinks about Judaism, Torah, and its miraculous endurance throughout history then he can be a Vayailech - he can Move Forward and grow, elevating himself and furthering his appreciation of the special gift of Torah that G-d endowed and entrusted to each of us.

I recently came across a timely lesson from the keen perspective of a great ethicist, Rabbi Simcha Zissel Brodie – also known as the Alter of Kelm.

“We don’t get anything for free in this world other than – life itself. Anyone honest with himself knows how unworthy he is for the all blessings he receives in his life. How should one perceive all the benefits we receive? For after all, this world is like a luxury hotel where the living is great and amenities abound, however we should expect a huge bill when we check out.”

The Alter explains, “There is one fellow who enjoys the hotel’s delights without paying – that is the waiter. The waiter who devoted to serving others, always smiling and at the beck and call of the guests, can take a break, and can go into the kitchen and enjoy a delicious steak and no one cares and he is not charged.”

The Alter would urge his students, “Be a waiter – devote your life to serving and caring for other people, do whatever has to be done – and at the end, you won’t be hit with a huge bill!”

“Ask what Torah and Judaism can do for you, - and ask what you can do for Torah, Judaism and your fellow man!”

Wishing you a blessed, uplifting and peaceful Shabbos!

Rabbi Dovid and Malki Saks and family