Why Are the Final Parshiyos So Short?

Atem nitzavim hayom (Devarim 29:9)

The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 16b) teaches that three books are opened on Rosh Hashanah: one for the completely righteous, one for the totally wicked and one for those in the middle. Those who are found to be totally good are immediately written and sealed for life. Those who are completely evil are immediately written and sealed for death. The judgment of those in between is suspended until Yom Kippur, at which point they are written for life if they are found meritorious and for death if they are not.

Based on this Gemara, it comes out that people who are completely righteous will have their final judgments sealed after 30 days of repentance in the month of Elul, while others are not sealed until after 40 days, on Yom Kippur. However, the mystics teach that there are some whose judgment is not complete until Hoshana Rabbah, which is 52 days from the beginning of Elul, and there is a final group whose fate is not sealed until Zos Chanukah (the eighth and final day of Chanukah), which is after 122 days.

In the weekly parashah emails that he used to send out, my dear cousin Shaya Gross, z”l, cites, ybl”c,  Harav Ephraim Wachsman, who brilliantly suggests that these four different time periods are alluded to in the Torah portions that are read during this time of the year.

This Shabbos we read Parashas Nitzavim, which has 40 verses and alludes to those whose judgment is finalized on Yom Kippur. Next week we read Parashas Vayeilech, which contains 30 verses and alludes to the completely righteous who are sealed in the book of life immediately on Rosh Hashanah. In two weeks we will read Parashas Haazinu, which is comprised of 52 verses, symbolizing the group whose judgment is completed on Hoshana Rabbah.

Finally, adding up the total number of verses in these three portions yields 122, which represents the final group whose verdict remains unsealed for 122 days. This final group, whose judgment is finalized on Zos Chanukah, is also alluded to by the very first word of the following Torah portion, which begins V’zos  (habrachah).

We should all be fortunate to use the remaining time until Rosh Hashanah to repent wholeheartedly and, in that merit, we should be written and sealed at the earliest possible time — on Rosh Hashanah — for a year of spiritual growth, success, happiness and good health.

Q: Moshe began his speech to Bnei Yisrael (29:9–10) by emphasizing that all of them were present, even the geirim. Since one of the essential components of conversion is circumcision, how were they able to accept converts in the desert, where the Jews themselves were unable to circumcise their newborns because the climate made it too dangerous and risky to perform circumcision (Rashi, 33:9)?

Q: Moshe told the people (30:12) that the Torah is not in Heaven. The Gemara in Bava Metzia (59b) understands this to mean that after the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, it is up to the Sages to decide matters of Jewish law, which are no longer within the jurisdiction of Hashem. In numerous places the Gemara records episodes in which a bas kol — Heavenly voice — descends to inform the Sages with which opinion in a dispute Hashem sides. Why is it referred to as a bas kol — literally, the daughter of a sound, and not as a ben kol — the son of a sound, or simply as the sound itself?

A: Harav Pinchas Horowitz answers that the likelihood of danger resulting from circumcision in the Midbar was small. Although the Jewish people refrained from circumcising themselves because the Torah commands us not to place ourselves into potential peril even to perform a mitzvah, the non-Jews who were coming to convert were permitted to endanger themselves for the purpose of converting.

Harav Chaim Kanievsky suggests that if a potential convert is unable to circumcise himself due to danger to his health, he need not do so and can still convert by immersing himself in a mikveh and accepting the mitzvos upon himself. Several additional answers are offered in M’rafsin Igri. Rashi writes (33:9) that Shevet Levi circumcised their children who were born in the Midbar. The Midrash explains that because they didn’t take part in chet ha’egel, they weren’t endangered by doing so. Since the prospective converts didn’t take part in this sin, they were also able to circumcise themselves safely.

An additional possibility is that the Canaanites were already circumcised, as was practiced by many non-Jewish nations, in which case they were only required to draw a drop of blood for the purpose of their conversions, which didn’t present the same danger as a full-fledged circumcision. Finally, it is possible that these Canaanites came to convert before chet ha’egel, at which time even the Jews were able to circumcise themselves.

A: Tosafos writes that the voice that is heard is not the original voice that emanated from the Heavens, but rather an echo that results from it. Therefore, it is appropriate to refer to it as a bas kol, meaning an offspring that results from the initial voice. Alternatively, Tosefos Yom Tov suggests that when the Jewish people were on a high enough spiritual level, Hashem communicated with us through prophecy that was specifically and directly addressed to an individual prophet.

After this period ended, Hashem communicated with us through a lower form, in which a voice emanating from the Heavens made His Will known to whomever was present to hear it. Because this is a lesser level of prophecy, it is referred to as a derivative of the original voice. This also explains why it is called a bas kol and not a ben kol, as the feminine term connotes the fact that the level of prophecy has weakened.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.