Rabbi Zvi Sobolofsky
Reaching our Destination
Closeness to Hashem is a primary theme of the upcoming Aseres Yemei Teshuva. The navi Yeshayahu describes a time when Hashem is especially close and Chazal have the tradition that this is referring specifically to this time of the year. In Parshas Nitzavim Moshe beseeches the Jewish people not to view "this mitzvah" as being far away but rather it is very near to us. According to the Ramban "this mitzva" is teshuva and thus these pesukim are especially appropriate to read right before Aseres Yemei Teshuva.
How does one attain closeness to Hashem? When a person is distant from a geographic location he desires to reach he must travel on the road that will take him there. Similarly, there is a road to travel to reach Hashem. In addition, just as there are impediments that prevent one from reaching a physical destination, so too there are factors that prevent one from achieving spiritual goals.
In Sefer Melachim we learn that Yeravam, the king of the northern kingdom, was concerned that his position would be weakened if the Jews under his rule would travel to Yerushalayim which was located in the southern kingdom. He therefore implemented a two pronged system to prevent the people from being influenced by Yerushalayim: he set up physical roadblocks to turn back those who wished to travel to Yerushalayim and he also set up an idolatrous temple that would serve as an alternative for those seeking the religious experience of visiting the Beis Hamikdash.
When traveling on a physical journey there are two things that can prevent us from reaching our destination: there are "roadblocks", such as traffic or construction which we often encounter on today's roads, and there is also the possibility of getting lost. A wrong turn can take us miles in the wrong direction.
As we travel on a spiritual journey we are faced with similar challenges. First, there are "roadblocks" of different types on the way. When we feel we are not accomplishing our goals we often want to turn around and go back; frustrated by the "traffic and construction" we question whether we will ever reach our desired destination. Second, there are also wrong turns - thinking we are heading to "Yerushalayim" we may end up in a very different place. One small detour can lead us in the opposite direction from the one we want to reach.
When traveling today many of us avail ourselves of technology that addresses these two potential obstacles on our course. We are no longer as concerned about traffic since Waze weaves us around the most difficult traffic jams and also gives such precise directions that we no longer fear making a wrong turn and getting lost for miles. Even if we miss a turn, we are immediately rerouted to enable us to reach our correct destination.
As we travel down the road of spirituality there is a time-tested system that will enable us to reach our final destination and avoid any roadblocks or wrong turns: closeness to Hashem. The mitzvah we read about in Parshas Nitzvaim which is described as being so close to us and was understood by the Ramban to refer to teshuva is understood by Rashi to refer to Talmud Torah. These two views are not contradictory, but rather complimentary. Teshuva to attain the desired closeness to Hashem can only come through Torah. Studying Torah will prevent us from getting stuck in the obstacles along the way or getting lost.
Especially at this time of the year let us be certain we are traveling in the right direction and not getting delayed by obstacles along the way. Let us listen carefully to the directions the Torah gives us as we are guided to our destination. Only the Torah will enable us to reach our desired goal of closeness to Hashem. May we all merit attaining that closeness during the days ahead and may we remain inspired to maintain that closeness throughout our lives.