This Shabbat is very important for a few reasons. It is the last Shabbat of the year and, therefore, an excellent opportunity to correct any lacking in our Shabbat observance in the past year. It is also, the Shabbat preceding Rosh Hashanah. Our behavior on Rosh Hashanah - literally "the head of the year" - determines what will happen to us in the coming year, much as the head controls the body. When children love each other…it is impossible for their father to deny them…

The Zohar (parashat Beshalach) teaches that Shabbat is the vessel for blessings of the week that follows it. Therefore, how we maximize this coming Shabbat will have a qualitative impact on how we spend Rosh Hashanah, which will in turn have a positive affect for the entire new year, G‑d willing. It is of utmost importance to plan in advance for this Shabbat, making it as holy as possible, so that our behavior will be in tune with the day's potential.

Clear hints to the above may be found in the first verse of Netzavim, "You are standing today together all of you...." (Deut. 29:9) When the Jewish people are united, i.e. "together all of you", it is like when children love each other, and it is impossible for their father to deny them. The word "today" hints to Rosh Hashanah. On Rosh Hashanah we are judged by G‑d. If we stand together, the decree will be the best. No other possibility should be acceptable. Make every effort to practice "love of your fellow Jew" starting right now.

The Baal Shem Tov asks a question on a verse in Vayelech. "When all the blessings and curses described will happen to you, you will take it to your heart and do teshuva". (Deut. 30:1) It is reasonable to assume that when bad things happen, we will take stock of our actions and do teshuva. But why does the verse mention blessings also?

The Baal Shem Tov answers with an analogy of a villager who destroyed a statue of the king. Instead of punishing him with death for treason, the king gave him an influential position and consistently promoted him until he was one of the king's chief advisers. The more he was showered with good, the more the adviser saw the king's greatness and regretted what he had done as an unsophisticated villager; he now understood how he had been truly liable for punishment. This was precisely the king's intention. Instead of enduring one punishment, the elevated villager suffered a lifetime of regret, increasing more each time he was promoted. How could he have done such a thing to the king?

So it is with our verse. Sometimes when a person sins, G‑d punishes. But other times, even when deserving of punishment, G‑d will shower a person with kindness. How patient and kind of the Almighty to sustain us, even as we rebel against Him! The pain we feel should be even greater: "How could we do such a terrible thing to the Almighty!?" And when G‑d sees this regret that His subject is feeling, this is worth more to him than all of the punishments.

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul

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