You Shall be Only Above

by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – September 11, 2012

The Torah section of Nitzavim is dedicated to Moses’ exhortation to the children of Israel to adhere to G-d’s Word as set forth in the Torah.  He relates all the good that shall come their way “When you listen to the Voice of the L-rd, your G-d, to observe His commandments and His decrees that are written in this Book of the Torah” (Devarim 30:10).  Moses also warns of the consequences of not adhering to G-d’s Word.  This serves as an extension of the prior Torah section of Ki Tavo, where Moses admonishes the people that he led through the desert 40 years as they stand at the boundary of the Promised Land ready to enter.  In his admonition, Moses spells out the dire consequences the people of Israel will face if they do not abide by G-d’s laws and precepts presented to them at Mount Sinai and amplified upon throughout the Torah.

Before his admonition, however, Moses expresses the blessings that G-d’s chosen people will receive if they heed His word.  Amongst these blessings, we read: “And the L-rd shall place you as a head and not as a tail; you shall be only above and you shall not be below – if you hearken to the commandments of the L-rd your G-d that I command you today to observe and to perform” (Devarim 28:13).  On this verse, R. Avraham Pam offers an intriguing insight (Sholom Smith, A Vort from Rav Pam, pp. 229-230) that can serve as a guide to assist us in “staying on track” in this ever-important task of adhering to G-d’s Word as laid out in the Torah section of Nitzavim.

In commenting on the aforementioned verse, R. Pam notes that in order to successfully follow G-d’s precepts, one must have higher aspirations in life: “You shall be only above and you shall not be below.”  One’s mind must be engrossed in the spiritual rather than base physical and material drives of earthly existence.

To achieve the above, R. Pam points out, a Jew must realize that he is a head and not a tail.  The tail follows the body, whereas the head directs the body.  A principle impediment to spiritual growth is the chasing of fads and fashions around us.  R. Pam wonders:  Must every silly thing be adopted and copied?  Must one possess every electronic gadget?  Must one blindly chase every passing trend or currently popular craze, despite knowing that after six months they will be relegated to the trash heaps of history?  All the “must haves” that people chase give only temporary satisfaction until the next “must haves” come out on the market, creating a new irresistible urge that must be quenched.

For those whose lives are not guided by the Torah, R. Pam points out, life is a constantly changing scene leaving one perennially searching for something more or something different.  The need to acquire different things is aimed at filling the void that people feel in their lives.  However, one whose life is filled with spirituality, whose values are eternal rather than temporal, lives on a completely different plane.  Such an individual has a sense of fulfillment, satisfaction and inner happiness.  Such an individual can experience the blessings of “G-d shall open for you His storehouse of goodness” (Devarim 28:12) for he realizes our Sages’ axiom, “There is no good other than Torah” (Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 5a).

May all of us realize the true importance of being only “above” and not “below,” an important ingredient in true happiness in our lives, and may we, thereby, always stay attuned “to the Voice of the L-rd, your G-d, to observe His commandments and His decrees that are written in this Book of the Torah”.