Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Parshas Ha'azinu (Rosh Hashana is in archives)

ראו עתה כי אני אני הוא ואין אלהים עמדי (32:39)

In the middle of discussing Jewish national history – the cause and source of its suffering at the hands of its enemies as well as Hashem’s words of comfort – Moshe digressed to proclaim, “See now that I (Hashem) am He, and there is no other god with Me.” Why does Moshe interrupt his discourse to make this declaration specifically at this point? Further, why did Moshe emphasize that you should see now that I am Hashem and there are no other powers besides Me, as if to imply that something occurred which clarified this point?

The Vilna Gaon offers a brilliant and remarkable explanation of our verse. The mystical work Megaleh Amukos writes that there are 955 ascending levels in the Heavens. Although the majority of them contain various types of celestial angels, the upper 55 levels are empty of anything but Hashem’s Divine Glory. This is hinted to by the verse (10:14) הן לד' אלקיך – they (the Heavens and the earth) belong to Hashem your G-d. The numerical value of the word הן is 55, alluding to the fact that although the entire Creation belongs to Hashem, the upper 55 levels of the Heavens are exclusively His.

With every successive verse of the book of Devorim which Moshe taught, his soul ascended to the next level of the Heavens, concluding with the 955th verse, through which Moshe merited to reach the uppermost heights possible and from which there was nowhere further to ascend. As Moshe spoke each verse and ascended through the levels, he encountered loftier celestial beings, yet there was nary a level which was completely devoid of them.

Our verse is the 901st verse in the book of Devorim. As Moshe prepared to say it, he looked around at the celestial level which he had just reached and noticed that for the first time in his spiritual ascent, he had reached a place completely devoid of any being other than Hashem’s Divine Presence. He couldn’t help but exclaim and note that although it hadn’t been visibly apparent in the lower levels, now – from his new spiritual vantage point – it was quite clear to see that Hashem is One, and there are indeed no other powers with Him!

ויבא משה וידבר את כל דברי השירה הזאת באזני העם הוא והושע בן נון (32:44)

Prior to sending the twelve spies to bring back a report about the land of Israel and its inhabitants, Moshe blessed Hoshea and changed his name to Yehoshua (Bamidbar 13:16), and from that time onward, he is always referred to by his new name. Why in our verse does the Torah, which has consistently employed his new name, suddenly revert and once again refer to him as Hoshea?

The Chanukas HaTorah answers by noting that the Gemora in Sanhedrin (107a) teaches that the “י” which was added to Hoshea’s name to become Yehoshua was taken from Sorah original name. Sorah was initially known as Sarai (שרי), until Hashem appeared to Avrohom and commanded him (Bereishis 17:15) to change her name to Sorah (שרה). At that point, the “י” began complaining that it would no longer be used in her new name, and it was only mollified when Hashem “paid it back” by adding it to Hoshea’s name when Moshe changed it to Yehoshua.

As Sorah was 90 years old when she gave birth to Yitzchok, she was 89 at the time of her name change one year earlier. Sorah died at the age of 127 (Bereishis 23:1), which means that the “י” wasn’t used for the final 38 years of her life. Hoshea’s name was changed to Yehoshua when the spies were sent in the 2nd year after the Exodus. The events of our parsha took place just before Moshe’s death, which occurred at the end of the 40th year of their sojourn in the wilderness.

As such, it comes out that the “י”, which had been added to Hoshea’s name to pacify it over its removal from Sarai’s name, had already been used for 38 years, which is precisely the amount of time Sorah lived after her name was changed. At this point, the “י” had received its full “compensation,” and the Torah therefore reverts to referring to Hoshea by his old name!

על אשר מעלתם בי בתוך בני ישראל במי מריבת קדש מדבר צן

על אשר לא קדשתם אותי בתוך בני ישראל (32:51)

Hashem told Moshe that he would die in the wilderness and wouldn’t merit leading the Jews into the land of Israel because of his sin at Mei Merivah. In explaining his sin, the Torah seems to give two explanations: Moshe trespassed against Hashem, and he also failed to sanctify Hashem’s name among the Jewish people. What are the two different components of this sin, and in what way are they connected?

The Mishnah in Pirkei Avos (3:1) warns a person to remember that he will be required to give a דין וחשבון – judgment and accounting – before Hashem, the King of Kings. As Chazal don’t waste words, what is the difference between judgment and accounting, which seem to be synonymous?

The Vilna Gaon explains that דין is what a person visualizes when he imagines the process of Divine justice; it is the punishment a person will receive for his actions. As if that weren’t scary enough, the Mishnah teaches us that a person must also give a חשבון, meaning that he will additionally be punished for the opportunity cost of the sin, which is all of the good deeds that he could have accomplished with the time and resources he invested in the sin.

The Meshech Chochmah and Rav Pam explain that our verse is emphasizing these same two concepts. The Torah begins by stating Moshe’s actual sin, in that he trespassed against Hashem by hitting the rock instead of speaking to it. Additionally, had Moshe followed Hashem’s orders and publicly demonstrated the rock bringing forth water in response to Hashem’s verbal command, a tremendous sanctification of His name would have occurred (Rashi Bamidbar 20:12). The Torah teaches that even the great Moshe has to give a דין וחשבון, and he was punished not only for what he did, but also for what he had the potential to do had he followed Hashem’s orders.

The Meshech Chochmah (30:20) also applies this explanation to the day of Yom Kippur in a most terrifying way. The Gemora in Yoma (85b) rules that if a person does proper repentance on Yom Kippur, the combination of his teshuvah and the Holiness of the day will atone even for very serious sins. If he passes Yom Kippur without repenting his actions, the day won’t effect forgiveness for even the most minor of his sins.

As a result, the דין which a person will have to give for neglecting the positive commandment of doing teshuvah on Yom Kippur (Rambam Hilchos Teshuvah 2:7) is no more severe than for failing to perform any other positive commandment. However, the חשבון for neglecting this mitzvah is greater than for virtually anything conceivable. Every sin which a person committed over the past year could have been forgiven through his teshuvah. The opportunity cost of not doing so is that every single will remain a blemish on his soul as a result of this one action, a חשבון beyond anything we could possibly imagine!

שובה ישראל עד ד' אלקיך כי כשלת בעונך (הפטורה – הושע 14:3)

The Gemora (Rosh Hashana 16b) teaches that three books are opened on Rosh Hashana: one for the completely righteous, one for the totally wicked, and one for 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. The judgment of those 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.

The Rambam (Hilchos Teshuvah 3:3) emends the last section of the Gemora and writes that if a person repents his actions before Yom Kippur he will be sealed for life, and if he doesn’t do so, he will be sealed for death. Why does the Rambam specifically require the person to do the mitzvah of teshuvah to tip the scales in his favor as opposed to performing any other mitzvah which could similarly accrue a sufficient merit to tip the scales?

The Navi Yeshaya (55:6) exhorts us to seek out Hashem when He may be found and to call to Him when He is near to us. The Gemora in Yevamos (49b) understands this verse as referring to the 10-day period from Rosh Hashana until Yom Kippur. In light of this, Rav Yitzchok Blazer explains that although the observance of a mitzvah indeed generates an additional merit, the failure to take advantage of this unique opportunity to draw close to Hashem is so great that it outweighs any mitzvah we could possibly do. As the Rambam writes, this leaves us no choice but to properly repent our ways, and in that merit we will be inscribed for a year of blessing, health and happiness!

Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) The Gemora in Berachos (21a) derives from 32:3 that one is Biblically obligated to recite a blessing prior to the study of Torah. Is it permissible to study words of Torah with somebody that hasn’t recited the appropriate blessing beforehand? (Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv and Rav Asher Weiss quoted in K’Motzei Shalal Rav)

2) The Gemora in Bava Kamma (50a) derives from 32:4 that whoever says Hashem will overlook his sins will have his life overlooked. How can this be resolved with the concept (Shemos 34:7) that Hashem forgives our sins and judges us with mercy? (Taam V’Daas)

3) How many words are there in Parshas Ha’azinu, and what is its significance? (Genuzos HaGra)

4) Is a sick person who is required to eat on Yom Kippur for the sake of his health still obligated in the commandment to eat on the day before Yom Kippur (Orach Chaim 604:1)? (Shu”t K’sav Sofer 112, S’dei Chemed Ma’areches Yom Kippur 1:3, Mikraei Kodesh Yamim Noraim 37)

5) Does the mitzvah to eat on the day before Yom Kippur (Orach Chaim 604:1) begin on the night prior to Yom Kippur or only in the morning? (Shelah HaKadosh quoted in Magen Avrohom, Aishel Avrohom Bochotch, Biur HaGra and Yad Ephraim Orach Chaim 604; Rashi Kesuvos 5a)

6) Does every small amount that a person eats throughout the day before Yom Kippur fulfill the mitzvah to eat on that day (Orach Chaim 604:1), or is there a shiur (minimum amount) for how much one is required to eat in order to be included in this mitzvah, and if so, what is it? (Minchas Chinuch 313:16, Shu”t K’sav Sofer 114, Elef HaMagen 604:38, S’dei Chemed Ma’areches Yom Kippur 1:3, Orchos Rabbeinu Vol. 2 pg. 199)

7) The Shulchan Aruch rules (Orach Chaim 605:1) that a pregnant woman should use two chickens when performing the kaparos ritual. For what purpose is it necessary to effect atonement for a fetus which has yet to commit any sins which need forgiveness?

8) The Shulchan Aruch rules (606:1) that Yom Kippur will not atone for sins in which one has hurt another Jew until he has been appeased. Is a person required to pacify somebody who he has hurt, but who has also insulted him? (Mekor Chaim, Shu”t Zichron Yehuda 201)

9) The Gemora in Kiddushin (40b) teaches that a person who performs mitzvos and subsequently regrets them loses the merits he accrued for those mitzvos. If Hashem allows remorse to uproot prior good deeds, it naturally follows that sins which are regretted should also be erased, as Hashem’s attribute of giving reward is 500 times greater than that which punishes. If a mere thought has the power to undo our past deeds, what is so unique about the concept of teshuvah that we consider a valuable gift from Hashem? (Kovetz Ma’amorim, Derech Sicha)

10) There is a Talmudic rule (Kiddushin 59a-b) that although a statement may annul the effects of an earlier statement, it doesn’t possess the strength to undo an action which has been performed, which may only be uprooted through a subsequent action. As every sin consists of an action, how can it be rectified through the confession of teshuvah, as a verbal declaration doesn’t have the ability to undo an action? (Chida in Midbar K’deimos Maareches Tof 21, Sifsei Asher 150)

11) In explaining the 13 Attributes of Hashem’s Mercy, Rashi (Shemos 34:6) explains that Hashem’s name is repeated to teach that He is merciful both before a person sins and also after he sins and repents. What need is there for Divine Mercy if a person has yet to sin, and even if he has thought about sinning, the Gemora teaches (Kiddushin 40a) that Hashem doesn’t punish a person for sinful thoughts unless he acts on them? (Rosh on Rosh Hashana 17b)

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גמר חתימה טובה!!

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)

© 2007 Permission is granted to reproduce and distribute as long as credit is given. To receive weekly via email or to send comments or suggestions, write to parshapotpourri@optonline.net

כתיבה וחתימה טובה!!