Nitzavim/Vayelech 5773 – Tail to Lions

You are all standing this day before Hashem, your G-d… your woodcutters and your water drawers. (Devarim 29:9-10)

Rashi points out that the beginning of this week’s parsha mentions the groups of people in order of importance. The list ends with woodcutters and water drawers. As Rashi states, these were Canaanites who tried to convert to Judaism cunningly. They pretended they were of a different nation, but Moshe was not tricked. Since they were not allowed to be accepted as Jews, they were made into woodcutters and water carriers. We see something very interesting from here… the Canaanites wanted to become Jews even though they were not allowed. Why?

The mishna in the 3rd chapter of Pirkei Avos states it is better to be a tail to lions than a head of foxes. I think the best way to explain this mishna is to discuss a hockey goaltender named Steve Janaszak. Most people have probably never heard of Steve Janaszak. He was the back-up goalie for the 1980 US Men’s Olympic Hockey team – also known as the Miracle on Ice team. As we know, the Americans upset the Soviet hockey team and then defeated Finland to win a gold medal with great players like Mike Eruzione, Neal Broten, Mark Johnson, Jack O’Callahan, and Jim Craig. It is known as one of the greatest sports moments of all time and Steve Janaszak was on that team. The interesting thing about Janaszak, though, is that he never even played a single second during the Olympics. Jim Craig was the starting goalie and did such an excellent job that the coach, Herb Brooks, never played the back-up goaltender. But if go into Steve Janaszak’s house, you will see a gold medal. In 2002, when the Miracle on Ice team was invited to light the Olympic Torch for the Salt Lake City Games, Steve Janaszak was one of the people on the stage. Although he did not do anything to help the team, he was considered part of the team. He was the tail to lions… he didn’t win games, but because he connected himself with a winning team, he was rewarded.

The Canaanites wanted to become Jews because they saw we are the winning team. They would do anything to be one of us, even if they needed to be the tails to lions. This is something important for us to remember: the Jews are the winners. We are a great nation with great people.

So, a person might wonder why I am writing this the week before Rosh HaShana. The reason is because this is something important for us to remember to be able to do tshuvah. The halacha states that right before Rosh HaShana, a person should take a haircut and shave. On Rosh HaShana, a person should wear nice clothing. The reason is because a person should trust Hashem will give him a good judgment.

During this time of year, many people are frightened and become depressed thinking about the multitude of sins they committed. A person might think, “I did this last year and I’m still the same. I didn’t change at all. So why should I do this again? What’s the use? I’m the tail of an animal!” This might be true, but a person should remember that even if he is like the tail of an animal, he is the tail of a lion. He is part of the Jews. Just like Steve Janaszak put on his uniform every day during the 1980 Olympics and prepared to play, we need to do tshuvah during this time of the year. And just like Janaszak was rewarded, we will also be rewarded.

Kasiva V’Chasima Tova
May we all be blessed with a Good New Year!

Good Shabbos!
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to see previous Divrei Simcha on the Parsha, please go to OR > Torah Study

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