S.A.L.T. - Friday
The Torah in Parashat Nitzavim foresees the time when, after Benei Yisrael had been exiled from their land on account of their breach of their covenant with God, they will repent, whereupon God would bring them back to their homeland. Moshe promises that God will then assist the people to complete the process of repentance: “The Lord your God will ‘circumcise’ your heart and the heart of your offspring, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul…” (30:6). Targum Onkelos interprets the metaphor of the “circumcision” of the people’s hearts to mean that God will “remove the foolishness of your heart.” Just as circumcision entails the removal of the foreskin from the male organ, God assures us that once we initiate the process of repentance, He will remove the “foolishness” in our hearts that leads us to act wrongly.
Interestingly, the promise is that God will “circumcise” not only the people’s hearts, but also the hearts of their offspring (“ve-et levav zar’ekha”). Netziv, in Ha’ameik Davar, explains that Moshe added these words to allay the people’s concerns that their descendants would be unworthy of God’s special assistance. They might have assumed that only they would deserve to have their hearts molded by God. Moshe therefore emphasized that even the later generations, who would not maintain the original generation’s level of piety, would be granted God’s assistance once they initiate the process of teshuva.
Rav Nissan Zweibel, in his Palgei Mayim (vol. 2, p. 39), adds a different insight into the mention of the people’s offspring in this verse. He brings a number of sources – including a passage in the Ramban’s commentary here in Parashat Nitzavim (29:17) – establishing that a person’s misdeeds have an effect on his offspring, even generations later. Sin has a certain corrosive impact that, to one extent or another, influences future descendants. Therefore, when God promises to assist us in our efforts to repent, He assures us also that He will assist our offspring, who are impacted by our wrongdoing. Just as He will help us cleanse our souls from the negative effects of our transgressions, He will likewise step in to neutralize the negative effects that these sins could have upon our progeny.
When we come before God and beg for forgiveness, we ask not only for atonement, that our personal guilt will be erased, but also that the adverse impact of our actions will be reversed. We acknowledge that our wrongdoing not only leaves us liable to punishment, but also, on one level or another, negatively affects our surroundings. We must aspire to bring blessing to the world, to be a source of blessing and goodness, to leave a positive and meaningful impact on mankind. When we sin, we have the diametric opposite effect, as we introduce more impurity and negative forces into the world. Our process of repentance must therefore include a heartfelt plea that God erase the harmful impact of our misconduct, that He reverse the negative effects of our actions, so that we can realize our aspirations of bringing only blessing to the rest of humanity.
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