“Today” versus “Now”
The Torah uses the word “today” frequently, especially in the Book of Devarim-Deuteronomy which contains 64 references to the word “today” (whereas all the other four books of Moses combined contain only 48 references).
In the Shema, for example, we find, “And these words which I command you today shall be upon your heart.”
Why is the word “today” so important?
We find a parallel term used in the Torah, “now,” which our Sages teach us alludes to the Mitzvah of Teshuva (repentance or return). When the Torah wants to impress upon us the urgency in doing Teshuvah, it adds the word “now” so that we don’t delay! Don’t make resolutions just for the future; change now!
Similarly, when the Rebbe adopted the phrase “We Want Moshiach Now,” taken from lyrics of a children’s camp song, the understanding was that we cannot afford any delay in Moshiach’s coming. The Final Redemption, ushered in by Moshiach, is not a luxury. Many of us are hurting and we need healing now! Common decency and empathy demand that we do everything in our power to alleviate the pain of others without delay.
But why does the Torah employ the word “today” so frequently? If the Torah simply meant to imply immediacy it could have stated “now.”
Another question can be asked about the syntax of the word “today” in this week’s parsha. Moses tells the people: “But you who cling to G-d, your G-d, you are all alive today.” Here the word “today” is inserted at the end of the verse. By contrast, the opening verse of the parsha Nitzavim reverses the syntax: “You are standing today, all of you, before G-d your G-d…” Shouldn’t the Torah in this week’s parsha have stated: “But you who cling to G-d your G-d, today, you are all alive?” Why place today at the end of the verse, especially considering the fact that the people were obviously alive that day?
Three Meanings of “Hayom-Today”
The word in Hebrew for “today” is hayom. This word, while accurately translated as today, also has other translation nuances.
Rashi explains that hayom also means “as clear as the day.” Day is a metaphor for clarity, as opposed to the darkness of the night which symbolizes confusion and chaos.
Our Sages also point to another aspect of night and day. They are also metaphors for the time of exile and Redemption, respectively. Exile is darkness and confusion, exemplified by the evil, genocidal nation Amalek who we are commanded to never forget. Amalek is also identified as an internal force that sows doubt in our lives, demoralizes us and undermines all the good that we do. Amalek, whose name’s numerical value is equivalent to the word safek-doubt, is the symbol of what is so wrong with exile.
While Moshiach will take care of waging war against those who wish to physically destroy the Jewish people, our focus must be to combat our internal Amaleks.
We can now see that both translations of hayom (clarity and Redemption) are synonymous, for the world will experience total clarity in the era of Redemption.
Hayom as a Prerequisite for Moshiach
We can now understand why the Book of Deuteronomy in particular has disproportionate references to the word hayom-today. This book is Moses’ soliloquy to prepare the Jewish people for their entry into the Land of Israel. By extension, it must be understood that Moses was also preparing future generations for their entry into the Land of Israel with Moshiach.
Moses, therefore, exhorted the people to be aware of the importance of clarity in their lives. Do not allow yourselves to be demoralized by doubts. Endeavor to seek clarity and confidence. When we know who we are, where we are going and understand our mission in life that insight is the greatest source of life and happiness.
The Method to Acquire Clarity
How do we find light and clarity in an era of darkness and confusion?
The verse cited at the beginning: “But you who cling to G-d, your G-d, you are all alive today” provides the answer.
What does it mean to “cling” to G-d? How can a mortal being attach itself to a non-corporeal G-d?
This question has been asked by our Sages and they have answered:
“By clinging to Torah scholars it is as if one has attached himself to G-d.”
A Torah scholar, in this context, does not mean a person who is merely academically advanced in the teachings of Torah. It refers to people whose lives have been inspired and dominated by the teachings of Torah.
A story is told of a follower of the Alter Rebbe [Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of the Chabad movement] who boasted to the Rebbe how much Torah he had learned. The Alter Rebbe responded with a play on words, using the Yiddish word gilerent [which can mean either learned or taught], “You tell me how much Torah you have gilerent [learned] but you did not tell me how much the Torah has taught you.”
If we had to find someone who fits the description of the ultimate Torah scholar we would, of course, refer to the Rebbe. As we are no longer able to learn from him physically, we are indeed fortunate that hundreds of volumes of his teachings have been published, with dozens of volumes in English and other languages. These works are beacons of light and provide the basis for clarity in our lives.
While Torah, in general, is a source of light, the inner spiritual and mystical teachings of Torah shine even greater light into our lives.
Thus, when Moses tells the people that those who cling to G-d are alive today, the word “today” follows the word alive. He meant that their lives are lives of “today”; lives of light, clarity and happiness, not simply the absence of death. Clinging to G-d provides us with much more than just existence.
Leadership with Clarity
By contrast, when Moses addresses the people as they stand before G-d, he follows the word “standing” with the word hayom-today to characterize the manner in which they stand.
The word for standing in that context is nitzvaim, which has the connotation of the power exhibited by a king. Moses was telling the people that they are endowed by G-d with tremendous power and influence, but this is not conventional power but rather the power connected with hayom-today. There is power associated with darkness and evil. A leader who seeks power to dominate others is a leader who is with the captive of his dark side. Very often that dark side is nurtured by insecurity and the opposite of hayom. These leaders are not in touch with their Divine soul and therefore have no direction in life. They therefore have to feign confidence.
Moses, in his address to us as we stand on the threshold of entering the Promised Land—then and now—tells us to cling to G-d and that our lives will be filled with light and happiness. Moses also tells us that we must recognize that our strength as leaders must be informed by “today,” by the light and clarity that comes from Torah.