Monday, September 10, 2007

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 (34a) quotes various opinions regarding the sound the Torah intended when it instructed us to blow the shofar on Rosh Hashana. To perform the mitzvah according to all opinions, we are accustomed to blow three different sounds: tekiah, shevarim, and teruah.

The Shelah HaKadosh writes that although we sound the shofar according to each possible interpretation, there is nevertheless a specific order in which we arrange the sounds. When blowing them all together, we first blow the simple tekiah, then the three shevarim sounds, then the broken teruahs, and finally another unbroken tekiah. This order was specifically chosen to symbolize the concept of teshuvah. Shlomo HaMelech writes in Koheles (7:29) האלקים עשה את האדם ישר והמה בקשו חשבנות רבים – Hashem made man straight, but people sought out numerous complex calculations.

We begin by sounding an unbroken tekiah to symbolize the simple, straightforward manner in which Hashem initially created us. Unfortunately, as the verse prophesies, we inevitably complicate situations unnecessarily, as represented by the broken sounds of the shevarim. As if that weren’t sufficient, we fail to recognize the error of our ways until we have reached rock bottom, as suggested by the short crying sounds of the teruah. Sometimes, it is only after a person has reached the nadir that he is able to recognize how far he has fallen from his original heights. It is this realization that jolts and inspires him to full and proper repentance, allowing him to return to the straight tekiah, just as he was created!


כי אתה שומע קול שופר ומאזין תרועה ואין דומה לך (שופרות – מוסף)

Just before the conclusion of the Shofros section of the Mussaf prayers for Rosh Hashana, we praise Hashem כי אתה שומע קול שופר ומאזין תרועה ואין דומה לך – for You hear the sound of the shofar and listen closely to the teruah, and there is none like You. This line is difficult to understand for many reasons. Why do we change from discussing the shofar to mentioning one of the sounds it makes (teruah)? Secondly, why do we switch the verb used to refer to Hashem’s listening from שומע to מאזין? Finally, what is the unique praise which we offer Hashem – stating that there is none comparable to Him – for the simple act of listening to the shofar?

The Medrash Tanchuma (Ha’azinu 2) notes that while Moshe said האזינו to the Heavens and תשמע to the earth in our verse, a similar verse said by the prophet Yeshaya (1:2) switches the verbs. The Medrash explains that האזינו is applicable when addressing a subject that is close to the speaker, while תשמע is used when the listener is farther away. Because Moshe received the Torah, he was closer to the Heavens and spoke to them using the verb האזינו, while employing תשמע to address the more distant earth. Yeshaya was based on earth, so he reversed the verbs.

In the introduction to his commentary on Shulchan Aruch, the Pri Megadim writes that the shofar symbolizes the pure sound of the righteous, while the whimpering teruah represents the cry of the sinner who regrets his errant ways. One would assume that although Hashem will listen to both of them, He prefers to be closer to the pious man who never sinned. However, the Gemora in Berachos (34b) teaches that in the place where repentant sinners stand, even the most righteous tzaddikim are unable to stand.

With this introduction, the Pri Megadim brilliantly explains the prayer with which we began. Chazal specifically tailored their verb usage to indicate that while Hashem hears (שומע) the voice of the tzaddik, He listens from an even closer place to the cries of the ba’al teshuvah. It is for this willingness to draw closer to the ba’alei teshuvah than to even the most pious individuals that we laud Hashem and proclaim ואין דומה לך – there is none comparable to You!


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

At the beginning of each holiday, we recite the she’hechiyanu blessing, thanking Hashem for keeping us alive and sustaining us to reach this holiday. What is unique about the she’hechiyanu blessing that we say on Rosh Hashana?

Rav Pinchas Goldwasser writes that as a person goes through the year, on each of the holidays, he recites the she’hechiyanu blessing thanking Hashem. Nevertheless, as he progresses through the year and recites the blessing with tremendous gratitude and enthusiasm on Sukkos, Chanuka, Purim, Pesach, and Shavuos, he has no way of shaking the doubt that he may not survive that year.

The fact that he has survived to enjoy yet another holiday mandates a blessing expressing his appreciation, yet it still provides no guarantee that he was sealed last Yom Kippur in the book of life. Sadly, we have all heard 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.

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 tremendous 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!


וישלח אברהם את ידו ויקח את המאכלת לשחט את בנו (בראשית 22:10)

Chazal teach that when Yitzchok was bound on top of the Altar and Avrohom was poised to slaughter him, Yitzchok was so scared that his soul left him. Only a miracle brought him back to life. A little-known fact is that the Zohar HaKadosh teaches that Yitzchok was born with a female neshama which was incapable of reproducing. The soul which was returned to him was a new one, that of a male.

The Shelah HaKadosh derives from here a beautiful lesson. As he went to the Akeidah, Avrohom thought that he was about to sacrifice his only Jewish offspring and doom the future of the Jewish people. He was willing to do so to pass the test that Hashem gave him, but it seemed that he would have no Jewish descendants as a result. In reality, Hashem knew that without the Akeidah, Yitzchok would be incapable of bearing children. Rivkah wasn’t born until the time of the Akeidah because until that time, Yitzchok was incapable of having children with her. The exact episode which seemed destined to eradicate the future of the Jews was instead the precise mechanism which enabled their continuation.

Similarly, the Torah tells us (Bereishis 30:22) that אלקים remembered the barren Rochel, heard her prayers, and opened her womb. Rav Pam questions the usage of the name אלקים, which represents the Divine attribute of strict justice. Wouldn’t the name Hashem, which reflects His attribute of mercy, have been more appropriate? Rav Pam explains that Rochel was barren and according to the laws of nature should not have had any children. When she gave the simanim to her sister Leah to save her from humiliation, Rochel created such a tremendous merit for herself that Hashem’s sense of justice was compelled to change nature and reward her with a child which she otherwise would not have had.

Imagine, suggests Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel, how Rochel must have felt. On the day of her wedding that she had been anticipating for seven years, she learned that her father was replacing her with her older sister. In a moment of pure selflessness, she placed her sister’s consideration before her own. Even so, she was sure that her actions would doom her not to marry Yaakov and bear children from him.

In Heaven, the reality was a bit different. Had Rochel gone ahead and married Yaakov, as was her right to do, she would have had a beautiful marriage. Unbeknownst to her, she was barren and would never have had any children with him. It was specifically through the act which appeared to destroy her chances of having the children she so badly wanted that she generated the merit which would change her fate and that of the Jewish people. One never loses out from doing a mitzvah!


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

1) As Rosh Hashana is the day on which we are judged for our actions (Rosh Hashana 16a), why don’t we confess or repent our sins in an effort to avoid being punished for them? (Leket Reshimos of Rav Nosson Wachtfogel Yamim Noraim)

2) Although Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are legally classified as holidays, we nevertheless do not say Hallel on them. The Gemora in Rosh Hashana (32a) explains that it would be inappropriate to sing songs of praise at a time when Hashem is sitting in judgment. As the Mishnah in Rosh Hashana (16a) teaches that besides Rosh Hashana, the world is also judged on Pesach, Shavuos, and Sukkos, how are we permitted to say Hallel at those times? (Rav Shraga Feivel Frank quoted in K’Motzei Shalal Rav on Yamim Noraim pg. 119)

3) The Gemora in Rosh Hashana (34a) quotes various opinions regarding the sound the Torah intended when it instructed us to blow the shofar on Rosh Hashana. To avoid doubt and to perform the mitzvah according to all opinions, we are accustomed to blow three different sounds: tekiah, shevarim, and teruah. How was it possible for them to become confused about the proper sound of the shofar when they blew it every year? (Rosh on Rosh Hashana 4:10, Ran and Ritva Rosh Hashana 34a, Rambam Hilchos Shofar 3:2, Otzar HaGeonim 117)

4) Rosh Hashana fell on a Friday and somebody was unable to obtain a shofar the entire day. Late in the day, he accepted Shabbos upon himself. If a shofar subsequently becomes available and it is still before sundown, is he permitted to blow it even though he has already accepted Shabbos? (Taz Orach Chaim 600:2, Shu”t Igros Moshe Orach Chaim 4:99)

5) The Gemora in Rosh Hashana (11a) teaches that the previously barren Sorah, Rochel, and Chana all merited conceiving on Rosh Hashana. Rashi explains that they didn’t actually conceive on Rosh Hashana. Rather, on that day they were favorably remembered, and Hashem decreed that they would be able to conceive that year. Had they actually conceived on Rosh Hashana, the Gemora would understandably be emphasizing the unique power of the day, but in what way is it special and noteworthy that this was decreed upon them when every event which will happen to every person throughout the year is decided on Rosh Hashana?

6) The Shulchan Aruch rules (Orach Chaim 101:1) that if a person fails to have proper intent during any part of the first blessing of Shemoneh Esrei, he doesn’t fulfill his prayer obligation. Does this stringency also apply to having proper intent while saying זכרנו לחיים – remember us for life – regarding which the law is (Orach Chaim 582:5) that if it was completely forgotten, a person may still fulfill his prayer obligation?

7) In the Zichronos (Remembrances) section of the Mussaf prayers, we say that on this day Hashem decides which nations will be blessed with bounty and which will be cursed with famine. How can this be reconciled with the Mishnah in Rosh Hashana (16a) which teaches that the grain supply is decreed on Pesach and not on Rosh Hashana? (Ramban in Derashah for Rosh Hashana)

8) According to Avrohom’s assumption that he was actually to slaughter Yitzchok, why did he prepare and plan to do so on top of the Altar he built (Bereishis 22:9-10) instead of doing so on the ground as was done with all other sacrifices in the Beis HaMikdash? (Chavatzeles HaSharon, Tzafnas Paneiach, M’rafsin Igri, Shiras Dovid)

9) As Avrohom was about to slaughter his son Yitzchok, an angel called out to him from heaven and ordered him to stop (Bereishis 22:11). Why was the original command to take Yitzchok up as an offering given by Hashem (Bereishis 22:2) while the command to cease and desist came from an angel? (Tiferes Torah)


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כתיבה וחתימה טובה!!

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