Friday, September 22, 2006

Rosh Hashana

ברוך אתה ד' אלקינו מלך העולם שהחיינו וקימנו והגיענו לזמן הזה

Rav Pinchos Goldwasser writes a beautiful and inspiring thought in his book Kadosh V’Nora Sh’mo on the Yomim Nora’im. As a person goes through the year, on each of the holidays, he recites the she’hechiyanu blessing thanking Hashem for keeping him alive and sustaining him until that time. Nevertheless, as he progresses through the year and recites the blessing with tremendous gratitude and enthusiasm on Sukkos, Chanuka, Purim, Pesach, and Shavuos, he nevertheless has no way of shaking the doubt that he may not survive that year. The fact that he has survived to enjoy yet another Yom Tov mandates a blessing expressing his appreciation, yet it still provides no guarantee that he was sealed last Yom Kippur in the book of life. We know all too well of tragic stories of people dying just before Rosh Hashana, at which time it becomes clarified that they were inscribed in the book of death, just that they were given more time to enjoy their final year than many others.

The moment at which it becomes retroactively revealed that a person’s repentance last year was accepted and he merited to live another year is the night of Rosh Hashana. As the solemnity appropriate for the Day of Judgment descends upon a person with the onset of Rosh Hashana, he may take inspiration from the simultaneous recognition that it is precisely the arrival of this awesome day which signals that he succeeded last year in the repentance upon which he about to embark once again. As a person returns home from the synagogue and raises his cup to make Kiddush, it behooves him to reflect upon the mercies Hashem showed in granting him another year of life. This recognition should fill him with an unbelievable feeling of gratitude, and in the credit that he properly expresses his appreciation during the recital of the she’hechiyanu blessing, he should merit to do so once again next Rosh Hashana!


ובחדש השביעי באחד לחדש מקרא קדש יהיה לכם כל מלאכת עבדה לא תעשו

יום תרועה יהיה לכם (במדבר 29:1)

The Gemora in Rosh Hashana (16b) states that blowing the shofar has the tremendous effect of confusing and silencing the accusing angel in Heaven. Nevertheless, the Gemora in Rosh Hashana (29b) rules that when Rosh Hashana falls on Shabbos, one may not blow the shofar. The Gemora explains that this enactment was made due to a fear that a Jew may be unfamiliar with the proper way to blow the shofar. In order to learn how to do so, he may carry it to the house of the Rabbi, in the process violating the prohibition against carrying in the public domain on Shabbos. Although this would indeed be a tragedy, it is still difficult to understand why Chazal saw fit to deny tens of thousands of people this invaluable and irreplaceable merit simply because one Jew may carry it – unintentionally, and for the sake of performing a mitzvah – to a Rabbi in order to learn how to blow it?

Rav Yitzchok Blazer explains that the impending arrival of Rosh Hashana is heralded by the blowing of the shofar each morning beginning during the month of Elul. Certainly when Rosh Hashana itself comes everybody will come to the synagogue, anxiously awaiting the 100 blasts which are sounded. When the normal time for the blowing of the shofar arrives but no sounds are heard, people will become curious about the omission. Upon asking, they will be told that it is because of the aforementioned fear of another Jew accidentally carrying it outside on Shabbos. The questioner will press on, wondering why so many people must lose out over such an improbable fear, one which would seem to be greatly outweighed by the guaranteed downside of Jews across the world being unable to hear the shofar blasts.

However, from the fact that Chazal nevertheless made their decree, we see that they understood that indeed, the possibility that one Jew may inadvertently carry the shofar outside – even for the sake of a mitzvah – is so incredibly detrimental that they saw no choice but to forbid the blowing of the shofar for everybody. Upon understanding this, the questioner will be left with a new appreciation of the severity of even an accidental sin and all the more so an intentional one. This new recognition will inspire him to a newfound resolve to repent his sins in a manner which even the sound of the mighty shofar couldn’t have accomplished!


ותדר נדר ותאמר ד' צבקות אם ראה תראה בעני אמתך וזכרתני ולא תשכח את אמתך ונתתה לאמתך זרע אנשים ונתתיו לד' כל ימי חייו (הפטרה יום א' – שמואל א 1:11)

The Rav of a synagogue once went to visit Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach shortly before Rosh Hashana. Rav Shlomo Zalman asked him whether he had any congregants in difficult financial situations, to which the Rav sadly replied in the affirmative. Rav Shlomo Zalman then asked the Rav whether there were any wealthy members of the synagogue, to which he again responded in the affirmative. Rav Shlomo Zalman continued, asking whether any of the down-on-their-luck congregants were as poor as the poorest beggars in Jerusalem or whether any of the rich congregants was worth more than a billion dollars. The Rav, becoming confused, answered in the negative on both counts.

Rav Shlomo Zalman smiled and asked what would a member of the Forbes 500 think if he were seated on Rosh Hashana next to the poorest of the vagabonds and overheard him praying to become so wealthy in the coming year that that on the following Rosh Hashana the billionaire will be working for him? The Rav, falling into the trap, replied that a person who makes such ridiculous requests would be viewed as crazy. Rav Shlomo Zalman disagreed strongly. On any other day of the year, such a far-fetched request would indeed be considered grossly inappropriate. On Rosh Hashana, however, the entire universe is being recreated, and with nothing set in stone, the sky is the limit for our prayers.

As proof, Rav Shlomo Zalman noted that the Medrash (Yalkut Shimoni Bereishis 78) states that Chana was barred for 19 years and 6 months prior to the birth of Shmuel. Although she surely beseeched Hashem daily to grant her a child, on Rosh Hashana she prayed for a special child: זרע אנשים. Although this literally refers to a male child, the Gemora in Berachos (31b) understands it as a plea for a child who would be considered equal to Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon HaKohen combined.

This would be quite a tall order even for a woman who had no difficulty conceiving, but for a woman who had suffered the anguish of being childless for almost 20 years, such a request seems absurd. Any other woman who had been barren for so long would be ecstatic just to conceive a healthy child, yet Chana understood that on Rosh Hashana the only barriers to what we may ask for are self-imposed ones. She asked for a son who would lead the generation, and after 2 decades of suffering merited to give birth to the great Shmuel HaNavi. Such is the phenomenal power of Rosh Hashana for one who appreciates it and prays accordingly – may we all merit to do so this year!


המכבה את הנר מפני שהוא מתירא מפני גוים מפני לסטים מפני רוח רעה ואם בשביל החולה שיישן פטור כחס על הנר כחס על השמן כחס על הפתילה חייב (משנה שבת ב:ה)

The Mishnah in Shabbos discusses when and whether it is Biblically prohibited to extinguish a burning candle on Shabbos. If he does so because he is afraid of non-Jews or robbers, or for medicinal purposes or so that a sick person may sleep, it is Biblically permitted. If, however, he extinguishes the flame because he wishes to preserve the candle, the oil, or the wick, it is forbidden. However, the Mishnah uses a peculiar expression when discussing the latter case. It discusses a person who puts out the fire because it is as if he wants to save the candle, oil, or wick. Why does it refer to him as somebody who seemingly wishes to save money and not as one who is actually doing so?

The Vilna Gaon answers by noting that the Gemora in Beitzah (16a) states that a person’s entire income for the year is determined on Rosh Hashana. However, the Gemora adds that the money one spends for the honor of Shabbos or Yom Tov or for the education of his sons is an exception to this rule, as they are considered to be in a separate category and whatever additional money a person spends for these purposes will be added to his preordained annual salary. Therefore, one who extinguishes the candle on Shabbos in an attempt to save money by sparing the candle, the oil, or the wick, is in reality saving nothing. Had he allowed it to burn fully for the sake of Shabbos, the additional cost thereby incurred would have been repaid to him. The Mishnah therefore stresses that one who puts out the flame on Shabbos is only attempting to save money, as in reality the expenses of Shabbos are part of a separate calculation and he ultimately will have no additional funds to show for his sin!


Rosh Hashana Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) The period beginning with Rosh Hashana and concluding on Yom Kippur is traditionally referred to as Aseres Y’mei Teshuva – the 10 days of repentance. In what way are the two days of Rosh Hashana considered days of teshuva, as there is no mention of confessing or repenting our sins throughout the entire Rosh Hashana machzor (prayer book)? (Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro in Zahav MiSh’va, Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel in Even Meira)

2) Where is there any hint in the Torah to the fact that Rosh Hashana is the Day of Judgment?

3) Is Rosh Hashana a time for joy and happiness? On the one hand, Rosh Hashana is legally considered a festive day, on which one dresses his finest and eats enjoyable meals. On the other hand, the tone of the day is serious, and Hallel isn’t recited due to the fear and trembling which accompany the knowledge that the books of the living and dead are open on this day. What is the true nature of this holiday? (Alter of Kelm quoted in Darkei Mussar, Mishnah Berurah 584:1)

4) The Gemora in Rosh Hashana (16b) states that three books are opened on Rosh Hashana: the books of the completely righteous, the totally wicked, and those in the middle. Those who are found to be totally righteous are immediately written and sealed for life, those who are completely evil are immediately written and sealed for death, and the judgment of those who are in the middle 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. Why is a book opened on Rosh Hashana for those in the middle if nothing is ever written in it, as the people who belong there aren’t written anywhere until Yom Kippur, at which point they are written in one of the other two books? (P’nei Yehoshua Rosh Hashana 16b, Rif in Ein Yaakov Rosh Hashana, Sichos Mussar 5732:1)

5) Although we celebrate two days of Rosh Hashana due to the doubt which used to exist regarding the date when the months were sanctified based on the testimony of witnesses, Hashem clearly knows which of the days is correct. Does He still judge us on both days, and if so, in what way is the judgment of the 2nd day different than that of the 1st day? (Michtav M’Eliyahu)

6) Although one is forbidden to blow the shofar when Rosh Hashana falls on Shabbos, if he did so regardless, does he fulfill the mitzvah of blowing the shofar? (Rav Akiva Eiger in Drush V’Chiddush 8, Shu”t Avnei Nezer Yoreh Deah 141, Shu”t Roshei Besomim 144, K’tzei HaMateh 588, Kava D’Kashisa 99, Chochmas Shlomo and Toras Chaim on Shulchan Aruch 588, Shu”t Maharshag 1:36, Shu”t Har Tzvi 2:88, Piskei Teshuvos 588:1)

7) In the beginning of the section of the prayers discussing the holiness of the day, we beseech Hashem ובכן תן פחדך על כל מעשיך ואימתך על כל מה שבראת – please place the Your fear upon all of Your works and Your dread on all that You have created. Since it is preferable to serve Hashem out of love, why don’t we ask Hashem to instill His love in all of His creations?

8) In the emotionally moving prayer known as ונתנה תוקף (let us relate the power of this day), we dramatically recount all of the decisions which will be made on Rosh Hashana, including who will be impoverished and who will become rich. How can this ruling be made on Rosh Hashana when the Gemora in Niddah (16b) states that at the moment of conception, Hashem decides whether this person will be rich or poor?

9) In the “Avinu Malkeinu” prayers, one of the lines asks Hashem to inscribe us in the ספר הזכויות – the book of merits. What is the intention of this request, as Hashem will give us reward for the good deeds that we did even if we don’t pray for it, and He certainly won’t write down mitzvos which we haven’t actually done simply because we petition him to do so? (Rav Doniel Movshovitz of Kelm as quoted in Matnas Chaim by Rav Mattisyahu Solomon)


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כתיבה וחתימה טובה!!

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