This article was constructed with the help of either writings, lectures or shiurim of Rabbi’s Noach Isaac Oelbaum, Asher Hertzberg, Yissachar frand, Berel Wein, Baruch Dopelt, Efraim Buchwald, Yossi Bilius and Dr. Abba Goldman and Aryeh Burnstien
Does G-d forgive? How effective could we be to alter the unfavorable decree that has fallen upon us?
Can life really change drastically if we pray this Rosh Hashana or if we don’t?
If Rosh HaShana is such a crucial day of judgement, where life and death is dangled in front of us, why do we wear our finest cloths, have lavish meals and are in a festive mood? We should be in sack cloths and ashes begging for forgiveness, eating bread and water not French brick roast and the finest wine….Let’s not forget the deli roll.
Rav Pam z’l, the Rosh Yeshiva of the Mir once commented on the prayer that we say in Selichot prior to and during the Yomim Noraim (Days of Awe), “Like paupers and beggars do we come before You, knocking on Your door.” The simple interpretation is that we are paupers because we do not have sufficient good deeds to our credit. However, Rav Pam says that it is to be interpreted literally — when we appear before the Almighty on Rosh HaShana we are penniless. What does it mean we are penniless? I have money in the bank, I have a portfolio, I have a house, and I have assets! What does it mean, “I’m a pauper”?
Rav Pam explains that it means that nothing is a given. We start out afresh. There are no chazaka-automatics in life”. “You were healthy until now, but today there is a fresh judgment regarding what is going to happen now and for the coming year.” “You had success until now. Today there is a fresh Judgment.”
The reason we do not tremble before the Yom HaDin is because it is very hard for us to actually believe this idea. If a person is 50 years old, he figures that he has been through all this previously and things always seem to remain fairly stable. He assumes “Look, I just went for a physical and the doctor says I am doing quite well.” “I have been in my business or profession for 30 years; some years I do a little better and some years a little worse, but I have always had a steady income. What do you mean that I might not have parnasa this coming year?” We tend to assume that we are going into the Day of Judgment with a strong status quo in our favor. That is not true. It is very difficult for us to internalize this concept but the status quo is not guaranteed.
If we think about things we have seen and heard about during the past year, it will become all too clear how life can change in a minute. People are swept away by natural tragedies, by sudden changes of fortune, by unexpected diagnoses, and by unforeseen political changes. These sudden changes in one’s health or fortune or personal status are the most shocking things that can happen to a person. Yesterday, everything was wonderful. Overnight, things can change in such a way that a person is no longer able to function. However, such events do occur. That is the Day of Judgment of Rosh Hashana. There are no presumptions of status quo. We cannot be lulled into this false sense of security that we have been healthy, wealthy, and wise until now, presumably it will continue like that as well.
On Rosh HaShana, all bets are off. Like paupers and penniless people do we knock on Your doors. This is the reality. This is why the Din of Rosh Hashana is so awesome and scary.
There is a very interesting and important parable that must be remembered in order for us to have a better understanding of the questions above:
The parents of a young girl mentioned a few times that she should be back at home at eleven. However, she was enjoying her time with her friends so immensely that she didn’t realize how late it became. Eleven became twelve, then twelve thirtyas she waltzed into her house with a content grin. Although she had pure intention and had no notion what’s so ever to rebel against her parents, it’s just that she had a blast, a really good time and rather come home she wanted to continue spending precious moments with her friends.
It was inevitable, her parents were furious and she was punished severely. The parents were worried sick, to say the least. The anguish that they went through, they called all her friends inquiring her whereabouts and if she was okay. They, actually, almost called the police, out of desperation.
The punishment she received made the girl learn a valuable lesson about responsibility. She learned a word is a word. From then on, if she is told to be home at eleven she will make every effort to be home on time.
There is an element of maturity, an elevation of responsibility that the girl learned from the experience. However, what takes her elevation to a much higher level is if she feels the anguish she caused her parents. If she feels horrible how can she have caused such pain to her Mother and Father? Here we have a crucial turning point in life. These are crucial Torah values and the beginning of a tremendous insight into the high holidays.
There are many significant as well as inspiring meaningful moments during the course of the YAMIM NORAYIM High holidays. In the days of my youth, praying at the Sephardic shul in Forest Hills, many would attend and there would be two additional minyanim of significant size. There would be so many worshipers, the shul would be busting out of the seams. Everything was multiple sizes than a regular Shabbat attendance. Instead of having one punch ball game there would be five games going on at the same time. It was a kid haven. Interestingly, many of the non-observant, who attend perhaps once or twice a year, would be talking outside during services. Don’t forget they haven’t seen their friends conceivably for almost a year. It was very tempting for me, since I too have not seen my friends. However, during the Shofar blowing on Rosh HaShana as well as ne’ila at the end of Yom Kippur everyone would scramble inside, where it would be standing room only, to hear the shofar blowing. All would be quiet and one can see the sincerity on practically all the gatherers, whether it be the usual attenders as well as once a year individuals.
The sound of the shofar seeps through the soul of a Jew. The moment leading up to the blowing as well as “the moment” is very intense. The congregation feels the importance of the time. All eyes are on the chazzan and the shofar blower. I would feel the sounds vibrating through my whole being as I feel regret of all the sins I committed during the year. It is as if the pulsating sensation of the shofar sound was atonement for my sins.
Interestingly, there is a psalm that is recited seven times right before the shofar blowing. Psalm #47 that was written by the children of Korach. The psalm receives prime real estate being the intro to this significant moment. Who were Korach’s children and why were they deserving of such lofty honor? Why were they and their song chosen to persuade G-d to place us in the book of life? What is so special about this Psalm?
WHO WAS KORACH?
Korach, one of the rich leaders of the Levites, and a cousin of Moses and Aaron, felt that he had been slighted and overlooked in the distribution of the highest priestly honors and leadership. He envied Moses and Aaron, and also his cousin Elzaphan, who had been put in charge of the Levites, after Aaron’s family had become elevated to the rank of Kohanim (Priests). An entire parsha in the Torah recounts the tragic incident of Korach’s rebellion and his downfall. As a result of being slighted, Korach spread evil slander against Moshe and caused a great rift in the Jewish nation. All of the people who joined Korach and supported him were killed in a most tragic yet deserving way. The Jews saw that G-d did not allow disrespect towards the great leader Moshe. Despite Moshe’s pleas with Korach and his followers to make peace so that they would not be punished, they stood their ground, and literally went down into the ground. Pride is a spiritual trait and very hard to control once it is let loose. One of the most tragic aspects of the incident was that all of Korach’s family who supported him, even young children perished because of the severity of machlokes, disputes.
Originally, the three sons of Korach who were Assir, Elkanah and Aviassaf, stood by their father’s side, however, when they witnessed the ground open up, they sincerely repented and as they were being swallowed into the ground a ledge protruded and caught them protecting them from falling into the fires of Purgatory.
It took enormous courage on the part of Korach’s sons to resist joining their father, and for this they were saved. They chose to do what they felt was right despite their training, despite the overwhelming outside influences. They were indeed seekers of truth.
That is why, according to some commentators, Korach’s three children are referred to in the verse as the “Sons of Korach,” even though that label has negative connotations. By noting that they are the sons of Korach, the Torah is actually praising them for their bold actions. Despite being the sons of Korach, the wicked schemer against G-d and Moses, they were not drawn into their father’s rebellion.
One of the most beautiful literary legacies in all of human literature is the Book of Psalms. Most of the 150 psalms are attributed to King David. A few are ascribed to Moshe and King Solomon and others. Psalm # 47, however, begins with the words: “Lam’na’tzay’ach liv’nay Korach, mizmor,” For the conductor, by the sons of Korach, a song.
Not only did Korach’s children remove themselves from the rebellion, they and their descendants reached such great spiritual heights that they were able to compose magnificent psalms. Of all 150 psalms, it is psalm #47, written by the sons of Korach, that is chosen to be recited before the sounding of the shofar on Rosh HaShana. It reaffirms the belief that if the sons of Korach can repent, so can others. If they could resist the influence of one of the greatest propagandists of all times, then we can as well. It assures us that even though no one was closer to Korach than his sons, even though they were deeply involved in the rebellion, they were able to detach themselves from the rebellious assembly.
Psalm 47:2 reads: “Sound the shofar with a joyous cry,” because we can overcome outside influences and beat evil at its own game. Like the sons of Korach, each of us can rise above destiny and outwit the unholy influences that try to derail us.
In Chronicles I 6:18-22, we learn that the great prophet Samuel is a descendant of the sons of Korach. How exceptional is the power of repentance! That from Korach’s sons – a tsaddik, one of the greatest prophet emerged.
The later Biblical history nonchalantly relates that Korach’s direct descendant Heman was one of King David’s appointees to be in charge of song in the Temple (I Chronicles 6:16-23), and others of Korach’s descendants were the Temple gatekeepers and chefs (I Chronicles 9:17-32). Quite a turnaround: from Korach being the chief threat to the Priesthood, to his descendants directing security and food production – areas where one can most easily murder, poison, stage a coup. Apparently it wasn’t just Heman who had musical prowess, as ten of the Bible’s Psalms are attributed in their first line to the children of Korach (Psalms 42, 44-49, 84, 85, and87). The Rabbis seem to understand the significance of this, in that their Midrash-special insights on Psalm 1, which is not authored by Korach’s children, reads the whole poem as actually telling the story of Korach’s children’s rejection of their father’s ways, as if to say that the central theme of the book of Psalms is Korach’s children’s authorship of many of its poems.
Psalm 1 opens, “Happy is the person who does not walk in the council of the wicked”. The Rabbis explain, “This is the sons of Korach, who did not walk in the council of their father, as is said, ‘Turn away please, from the tents of these wicked men’ (Bemidbar 16:26). .
BEFORE THE SHOFAR BLOWING A VERY IMPORTANT LESSON
What’s the big deal about Korach’s sons? Someone’s life flashes in front of them and they hang on to dear life, by the skin of their teeth or else they will be swallowed up by the ground beneath them, of course they’re going to do teshuva-going to repent. It’s a no brainier!! This act, is similar to many heroes in our illustrious history, doesn’t deserve a front row seat before the shofar blower.
One has to realize, although it must have been very difficult to resist the strong current of the peer pressure, the key to Sons of Korach greatness, though, is not that they relinquished their father’s ideology the last second, although it’s very commendable, lies in the first verse ,” For the conductor, by the sons of Korach, a song”.. Song permeates emotions. Granted, they regretted their sins nevertheless, they stand out from others in our illustrious past, and they were enthusiastic to a degree that they sang. They were enthusiastic for they knew it made G-d happy. The idea we said before with the girl who stayed out late to prolong her “good time” with her friends. It’s not that a teenager is afraid of her parents for she knows if she does wrong she’ll be punished, she will lose her computer time or get grounded. It’s the fact that the teenager won’t do wrong for she doesn’t want to upset her parent and hurt their feelings. She wants to make them happy.
In essence TESHUVA means to return; return to the source. Just like when a child returns home to see his parents after a long term separation. The child is excited; he desires that feeling…. He feels tremendous joy. He is ecstatic to see his parents happy too. He glances in their eyes and is excited to see their joy… So too is the feeling when one repents and returns to G-d. He is excited for G-d for he also returned home. This is an elevated state of mind and a feeling one should strive.
The RAMBAM says one has a guarantee that the teshuva-repentance will be accepted if he does it or for that matter all mitzvot with love and enthusiasm. This is the proper attitude, an elevated attitude of happiness that the sons of Korach had.
Rabbi Chain Shmuelevtz – the great and revered Rosh Yeshiva of the Mir once said Purim is more powerful than Yom Kippur. How is that possible? Purim is holier than Yom Kippur? There is a play on words KIPPUR-IM.; it’s read KEH-PUR-IM. Yom Kippur is like Purim, insinuating that one can achieve a positive judgment from joy of the festive of Purim than the fear of Yom Kippur.
For this reason the famous phrase IVDU ET HASHEM B’SIMCHA – serve G-d with joy. That is a loaded statement which holds the key to success and long sweet life. So we wear our finest cloths and are joyous and be in a darn good mood. This is how we are able to win a positive decree and
Archive for High Holidays
When I was 15; I remember seeing the bar mitzvah movie and thinking what audacity, what chutzpah, three middle aged men at a happy occasion crying. Their emotions seemed misplaced. It may be a time and place to get nostalgic but not to cry. Hey guys! you are supposed to make the bar mitzvah boy and his parents happy. WHY ARE YOU RAINING ON MY PARTY!……THE NERVE.
In this weeks parsha Moshe informs the people (29:3) after forty years you are now ready in all aspects of life, feeling, seeing, hearing to enter the promised land. Rashi develops this idea, saying time had to pass and the nation had to grow up, lick their wounds from the sin of the spies and experience that chill time. A time spent wisely developing their Torah skills in order to graduate to the level of entering the land. Dr Goldman points out, we learn from here one does not fully comprehend a Rebbi’s or teacher’s message until forty years later. One can acquire a vast amount of informational knowledge and with it build the world; however it will still be somewhat on a superficial level. A vital part, an emotional edge, kicks in later.
ACT OF KINDNESS GOES A LONG WAY
Rabbi Joel was coming back from a conference in New Jersey where he figured he’d stop at the cemetery to visit the grave of his father, since it’s conveniently on the way. As he was saying tehilim at the grave site, he notices a family burying their loved one, not far away from his father’s grave. It didn’t seem they were observant and were having a hard time with some of the rituals.
After Rabbi Joel finished saying tehilim, he walked over to the family and said ‘Can I offer you my help, I’m a Rabbi”. After getting a nod of approval, he immediately helped with the rituals and then gathered ten Men and asked the sons of the deceased to say kaddish. Unfortunately, they seemed disinterested with saying the prayer that is said for the deceased and gave him permission to finish off the ceremony himself. Rabbi Joel proceeded to say kaddish and finished the necessary customs of burying the dead. On the way back on the Belt Parkway, he felt a tremendous uplifting feeling having helped out a perfect stranger getting buried properly according to Jewish law. Through the ride back, he couldn’t stop to think about the name of the deceased, ‘Sam Rosenberg’.
That evening as Rabbi Joel was curiously looking up Sam Rosenberg’s name on the internet for any information, he gets a call from his Rabbi. After some casual greetings, he decides to tell his Rabbi the act of kindness he did earlier that day. ‘I can’t seem to find out anything about Sam Rosenberg from Staten Island’ Rabbi Joel said in frustration. ‘What’s his name?’ his Rabbi asked. ‘Sam Rosenberg from Staten Island, why do you know him?’ Let me tell you about Sam Rosenberg from Staten Island. Thirty five years ago, I was a young rabbi convincing parents from a secular background to place their child in Yeshiva. The parents half heartedly agreed as long as it was free. I was handed a list of rich-well-to-do businessmen whom might be gracious enough to help. After a few hours, I called Sam Rosenberg who’s name was half way down the list. I began to go through my pitch on how important it is to give these boys a Jewish education and we need people who can commit long term for their studies. I told him, I have five boys that need the financial help. He said to me ‘I can only finance one; THAT ONE WAS YOU!
There is an old expression, ‘What goes around, comes around’. Be aware, Baruch Hashem, kindness is contagious.
Taken by the lectures of Rabbi Issac Olbaum
Throughout many of our prayers, the style that our great sages evoked is to have a poem, a piyut before we start. The reason is to warm the hearts of the one praying. We are not robots, we need something to get us in the mood, to get the emotions going. So we begin with a piyut. Here we begin with LECHA ELI written by the Even Ezra.
How appropriate to start off Yom Kippur with Kol Nidrai. Man was given special powers over the other living creatures of the world. He was given the gift, the power of speech. Unfortunately, it’s hard not to abuse it even though our tongue is enwrapped with teeth and a second layer of lips. It still manages to escape and put its foot in its mouth. Kol Nidrai tries to annul our careless misuse of our mouth.
* Introduction to Slichot
Betzalel, the builder of the Tabernacle in the wilderness, knew how to combine the letters (the Hebrew letters) with which heaven and earth were created. This is how he configured to build the temple. It is written in the mystic sefarim, “If the letters were to remove themselves for an instant and return to their source, the entire heaven will be an obsolete vacuum.” The Hebrew letters are the building blocks, the foundation of the world. One can understand the essence of a person through his name which consists of a combination of the alef bet. So it wasn’t the physical strength which enabled Betzalel to succeed in enacting the temple; it was the knowledge and expertise on configuration the letters.
Chas ve shalom – if we sin, these spiritual letters are erased, damaged. These are the same letters that enlighten the neshama, that the spiritual and physical world depends on. How do we fix it? How do we un-damage the letters?
If one notices many of the peyutim, paragraphs, poems are in alphabetical order Alef till taf, taf till alef (A-Z, Z-A) The philosophy is to fix the damage by reciting the letters in KEDUSHA form and in a proper state of mind; therefore, creating a positive force. Then one will re-organize, re-configure, re-structure the letters properly and fix the damage. So we find throughout the Slichot, actual in our everyday Tefillot – prayer as well, this format. A few examples: ASHRAI, ANSHAI EMUNA AVADU, ADON HASELICHOT. So it’s important to realize what the chachamim are trying to accomplish. By reinventing the letters again, it will give us a fighting chance.
* BEN ADAM
This prayer is referring to Yona, the prophet, who did not want to perform his task out of fear that the Jews will not repent. So he basically tried to phase himself out of the picture, thinking that G-d does not reveal, talk to His prophets at sea. Yona fled and took refuge on a ship. As the ship sailed, though, G-d brought upon a bad storm. People on board were terrified. The passengers and crew figured it must be someone on board that’s the cause of their misfortunes. So each one prayed to their G-d. However, none of their prayers were answered. “Someone didn’t pray.” So they searched the entire ship and they found Yona asleep. This is the basis of the prayer. “Hey man! Why are you asleep? Go call, pray to your G-d!” Before one knows it, time, life marches on. So go call your G-d before it’s too late.
* THE THIRTEEN ATTRIBUTES OF MERCY
The Avoda re-enacts the entire crucial ceremony of the high priest entering the holy of holies where he will find out the fate of the nation for the upcoming year. If the prayers were accepted, then the high priest departs from the holy of holies alive and everybody is happy. We also go into detail of the sacrifices that occurred on this holy day. Interesting to note that one she-goat is sacrificed and the other is thrown off a cliff apparently given to azzazel – the devil. Why do we practice this? Do we really have to give something to the devil? As a result of Adam’s sin, nothing in this world is 100% good; there is always a negativity attached. An example, when we eat food, no matter how much nourishment it provides, a person will always have to relieve himself. Again, it’s the result of the punishment. So, too with the she-goat. It’s a reminder to us of the negativity that was brought upon the world.
Our sages look out for us; yes they do. They are our leaders and as leaders they have to squeeze out the optimal best in all of us and motivate us to be the best we can be. They are our cheerleaders when we do well, and console us when we sinned. The Sages have an important task in where they have to represent us well; they have to instruct us to say the proper terminology in court so we can get the optimal verdict.
How do they do it?
How do they provide us with proper representation?
We have to ask ourselves “What’s the best way to have a good year and get in the book of life? How do we go about it? What’s the best method, percentage-wise for a successful sweet year? Should we have a businessman approach and get the best deal possible?” If we are desperate, maybe it would be wise to grab any deal!!
The lawyers are our Sages, who through the guidance of our Torah, comprised a three method plan to approach G-d on Rosh Hashanah. Our chachamim believe this formulation of prayer, which they added some salt and pepper to it, will enable us, if done right, to receive a good verdict. We will discuss Yom Kippur a bit later.
The Three Methods Are:
* Shofrot – A shofar is the main symbol of the high holidays. What’s so special about a shofar? Why do we need to hear it?
Why do we blow the shofer 100 times?
The Chazanim (cantors) Rabbis, and the person who tokes the shofar (shofar blower) are all meticulously careful that there should be 100 sounds blown before the crucial mussaf prayer. One may ask, why 100 sounds? Rabbi Berel Wein mentions one reason, which we learned from a famous incident that happened at the time of the shoftim (Judges).
The word LINSHOM means to breath; it comes from NESHAMA – the soul. The purest part of man is the soul. For this reason, G-d may have mercy and forgive us. After all those layers and layers of sin one accumulated, there lies the purest of good, the NESHAMA. When G-d created man, he blew into his nostrils the breath of life. There are a number of ways one can identify someone. At night, in the dark, one can tell a loved one through the sound of their breath; if one wants to get spiritual, one way to start is to take deep breaths. The essence of the soul is though the passage of breathing. This is the reason we blow the shofar which is the highest form of prayer because it comes from the inner part of man; a part that’s not tainted, the purest part of man, deep inside him, the NESHAMA. So, apparently through the shofar, it’s the purest Tefillah.
In the amida of Mussaf, the additional prayer said after the morning services, we say nine blessings. The Gemarah says the source for the number nine is the 9, AZKAROT mentions of G-d’s name in the story of Chana. We read on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the story of Chana, who was known for the tremendous intensity of her prayer. Chana was a barren woman who had to suffer the humiliation by her husband, who took a second wife and bore his children. Chana’s prayers were finally answered on Rosh Hashanah. She had a son who became the great prophet, Shmuel. There is a very important message one can learn from the story of Chana that is a very essential part of the holiday, and for that matter an essential part of life. At the end, Chana bore seven children while her rival lost a child every time Chana gave birth to one. One must realize there is a change of fortunes that the unpredictable life offers. Rav Tzadok HaCohen says the Shofar blowing consists of shevarim and teruahs which are broken sounds representing crying, broken spirit. This must always be sandwiched in by two tekias. The firm unbroken sound represents joy. This represents the theme of the day; we have to be joyous, however we are judged; so anything can happen, which translates into fear. For some, this year will bring joy and for some sorrow. For some, fortunes will change and for others not.
* Zichronot – remembrance: When we pray and ask G-d to remember our good merits, we are referring to our ancestors. We said in our previous newsletters since we are the genealogy of those great people, it would be a good bet, and it would be safe to assume that those great qualities are found in us. Therefore, He should forgive us because we are bound to do well. So we remind him of the major shining moments in our history where it was so impressive it would be hard for Him not to forgive us. It’s a tremendous weapon which we use on Rosh Hashanah. The three major characters that will help us in this theme is Avraham, his wife, Sarah, and their son Yitzchak, and the major event is the Akeda.
What’s important to note and a major aspect to Judaism is the power of the Hebrew letters. Avraham and Sarah were believers of monotheistic G-d and they openly campaigned for Him. Unfortunately, though, they could not have children. G-d rewarded them by adding the letter ‘HEY to Avraham and Sarah. As a result, Avraham and Sarah became a new entity. (Perhaps this is the reason when someone is sick, a new name or a letter is added). Avraham was taken out from the mazal of the world and was rewarded with the ability to go against nature. “You will always have the ability to break nature through your faith,” G-d said to him. They weren’t supposed to have children, it was against nature and yet, they did. So we see, the inception of Jewish nation, the whole Jewish entity began against nature through the power of the letter HEY. This letter represents G-d’s name. So if someone calls Avraham, Avram, they take away the power, not just from Avraham, but himself. He takes away the essence of the Jews. Avraham with the HEY fuels us together. Ever wonder why we are called children of Avraham and not the children of Noach (non-Jews). Because Noach had children naturally, he was part and parcel with the natural state of the world. We have an unnatural and illogical existence; we were crucified, humiliated, and tortured throughout history. However, we never lost hope; we were tenacious and we never gave up. So G-d remembers Avraham’s ability to spread G-d’s name and being a model example of what a Jew is all about. The acts of kindness were passed down through the generations to us. G-d looks at us and that particular potential to manifest itself through our personality. Then it would remind Him of our forefather, Avraham.
Ever wonder why we do not say one slicha – please forgive me – on Rosh Hashanah. Why don’t we bang on our heart like we do on Yom Kippur? Nevertheless, it’s the big time, Judgment Day. How is it Judgment Day if you’re eating such delicious foods via three course meals? When I was a young care-free fellow, the tradition was I would buy a new suit every Rosh Hashanah; that’s Judgment Day? Maybe one is being judged by friends on who bought the nicest clothes at bargain prices. Who got more bang for their buck this holiday season? The cheap is to pay Jamaica Avenue prices and have the Hugo Boss, Fifth Avenue look and quality. In essence, though, Rosh Hashanah is designed that way; it’s designed to feel like royalty. Everybody in shul is on their best behavior, dressed to the tee; one feels like royalty.
ME ZEH MELECH HAKAVOD – who is the king that’s wrapped in honor, in royalty? He’s the one who gets the KAVOD. The KAVOD is due to him. G-d is the king. However, if the king has no followers, his kingship is weakened. His people are the ones who raise the volume and strengthen his rulership. If not, they are not needed. So it’s our responsibility to make a tremendous kavod in His honor all year round, especially on Rosh Hashanah. We wear the fine clothes, cook fine foods and we feel good about ourselves. We feel like royalty. What a great feeling, right? By enhancing and indulging in the royalty, one is enhancing G-d. However, it’s important to think, “I am doing this for G-d.” All the clothes, the food, the feel-good is all for G-d. This is the frame of mind we should have on Rosh Hashanah when we pronounce MELECH – King – at every juncture of our prayer. All this material beauty is all for You, G-d.
The greatest teshuvah – repentance – that ever occurred was by one of the three central characters:
The Matriarch, Sarah
When the three angels arrived to Avraham’s home and proclaimed, “Sarah and you will have a child”, Sarah upon hearing them from the back, by the door, laughed. We’re going to have kids – that’s funny. Apparently, G-d didn’t find her reaction too amusing and asked her, “Why did you laugh? Do you doubt I have the ability to do so, the ability to change your mazal?” Sarah answered something very startling, “I didn’t laugh.” “What do you mean you didn’t laugh? Are you lying in front of the Almighty? That’s chutzpah!!!” What is startling is that she meant it! Sarah was completely sincere that she didn’t laugh.
“HAYOM HARAT OLAM” We say in the Mussaf Amida prayer “today”. Today, I am a different person. I totally regret what I did, to an extent, to such a level that I disengage, dis-associate myself from the person who sinned. Although I take responsibility, however, that’s not me anymore; I’ve changed; I would never do those things again. With all the regret that was in her heart, she meant it. How else would one explain her naming her son Yitzchak; Yitzchak means laughter. Is it possible she would name her child after a sin? That would constitute the highest level of audacity. However, the name will forever be associated with the highest level of teshuvah – repentance – performed by our matriarch, Sarah.
Yitzchak’s special quality was how he prayed. No one prayed with such intensity as Yitzchak did. When his bride-to-be, Rivka, arrived and she saw him for the first time, she fell off her camel, because she saw him at the time when he was in the middle of prayer. It left such an impression that she was struck with such fear and awe of him for the rest of her life. When one makes the leap and becomes religious, this individual’s prayer is beloved in G-d’s eyes more-so than the prayer of one that has been religious all his life. One may think such was the case with Rivka who came from a house of reshayim. Rivka’s strong character and extreme kindness was quite the opposite of her family. One can only imagine how difficult it was for her to live in her father’s house; she was a unique individual, a tzadakus. Rivka’s prayers rattled the heavens. However, it was Yitzchak’s prayers that were accepted, in which, enabled them to have children, because he prayed with intensity.
G-d injected Avraham with such a love for his son, Yitzchak, like no other, which made the test extremely difficult.
These three characters showed such devotion to G-d; such devotion and love to each other, that they’ve taken human potential to an unprecedented level. We are proud to say we are their offspring and offspring inherit the character traits, the genes of their ancestors. So if they were outstanding, we too, have the credentials and potential to reach them. G-d, then should give us the benefit of the doubt; after all, we’re a chip off the old block.
With these three methods, we hope that it would be sufficient for a good Judgment Day. The next part of repentance is Yom Kippur.
Yigal ben Chaim was considered one of the best chazzan of his times,
There is a very interesting story in the Tanach-Prophets that will shed some light on the true meaning of Rosh Hashana.
There was a man named Navot who lived at a time in Jewish history where the Jews were divided into two kingdoms, Judea and Israel. We Jews have a tendency to be very opinionated and therefore gravitate to our own corner and reject community. Although independent thinking can be healthy however at times two heads are better than one. There are pluses and minuses to having “too many chefs in the kitchen”. G-d, though, encourages unity and proclaims we would be much more better off united.
Navot was a very talented chazzan, one of the best in the business, who lived under the rule of the wicked king and queen Achav and Izzevel of the 10 tribes known as Israel.
Every Shlosha Regalim, a name for the three holidays Succot, Pesach and Shevuot- these are the three holidays that Jews all over Israel and Judea proper would walk and congregate to the Bet Hamikdash-Temple and pray. The top chazzanim in all of the land will be called upon to participate in the rendition of the holiday services; leading the pact was none other than chazzan #1, Navot. It was such a scene to hear and it made quite a positive impression for the sake of G-d. However on one particular Holiday Navot, for no real apparent reason, decided not to attend. Perhaps there were better things to do?
What transpired after would was downright cruel and the Navi suggests that perhaps Navot refusal to go was the cause for the tragedy which will occur.
It happened to be Navot was the proud owner of a vineyard in which Achav the King desired. The king asked Navot to sell it however he refused. Achav had such strong desire for the vineyard that he fell into a depression. Izevel, the queen took note of her husband’s demise and took things into her own hands. She hired false witnesses who testified that Navot cursed at the King which deserves the death penalty.
Navot, then, with his entire immediate family were put to death. Achav took over the vineyard. As penalty for showing disrespect to the kingdom the land was confiscated and became property of the king.
What a shocking tragic turn of events. This incident degraded Achav and Izevel into murderers.
Why was Navot treated so cruelly?
One of the major and important prayers we have in which we say three times a day and a fourth on Shabbat, is the Amida (literally means standing). This prayer is also called shemona esray (eighteen brachot). When we say the Amida, we take three steps backward and then three forward, and we pray in silence. The concentration should be so intense that talking is prohibited.
The Amida is divided into three parts 1) praise 2) request, or in a crude language ‘give me’ 3) acknowledgement. The structure of the prayers is so meticulously precise that one marvels of its construction. It seems like the sages took care of business providing us with the optimal dosage of prayer power so we can be in a better standing with G-d. During the days of Awe (Rosh Hashanah, the days of repentance and Yom Kippur), a number of additions are placed in our prayers. One of which is zachrainu lechaim, (remember us and keep us alive). A very curious question has been asked about this phrase; it seems like it’s in the wrong category; it should be with the ‘”give me’s” which is in category two. Why is it in the category of praise?
My father z’l always said the five fingers on the hand are all different; each finger is unique; each individual is also unique. Rav Gedalya Schorr compares the world to an orchestra. Each individual with his uniqueness has a part, which no one else can perform, and if he doesn’t perform, he doesn’t play his instrument, and the orchestra is not the same. Therefore we see that each individual brings his gift to the table and no one else can duplicate it.
When we say ‘Remember us in the book of life’; it’s not a gimmie, because the end of the statement says ‘lema’anach’ (We’re doing it for You. We are bringing our own uniqueness to serve You in whom nobody else can.) Therefore, our contribution is essential; it is part of the existence of the world and we should have it in mind that we’re doing it for G-d.
Navot was given a gift and his mission in life was to make KIDDUSH HASHEM-to make a really feel good environment for the KAVOD of G-d, by his beautiful voice. There was no use for Navot to be in this world otherwise. When he refused to go to the Festival in Yerushalayim, when he refused to provide his unique gift, his mission was then officially terminated.
G-d gave Navot a gift; he was a very gifted cantor who was supposed to enhance and the name of G-d by his beautiful voice at the Temple during the three festivals. That was his mission in life. However, when he refused to attend then his usefulness was no longer needed.
We too have a mission in life. G-d gave each and one of us the tools and the unique gifts to perform in this world. Our argument to have a good year is that HE should give us a good sweet year, another chance so we can perform these unique gifts for HIM, not for us. This is the meaning of ZOCHRAINU LECHAYIM.
We have three weeks to go before we enter the period of judgment. If the reader has any fear of the days of awe and would like to increase his or her chances for a better and successful year, presumably it seems like a percentage game and we have to do whatever we can to improve our chances. It’s a well-known fact, in Psychology 101, that once a person knows the problem, that’s half the solution. Let’s clarify and expand a bit on that statement by introducing one of the classic self-improvement books in Jewish literature, Mesilat Yesharim (Path of the Just), written so eloquently by Rav Moshe Chaim Lutzato.
In his famous introduction, he writes, ‘Most of the material which is in my book, one already knows. The human mind absorbs quite a bit of information in a lifetime but it tends to shift or maybe the right word is gravitating to the back of his mind, rarely to be recognized again. The job of this book is to rediscover those important points that if it would be fresh and known in the front of our minds therefore we’ll be better prepared with those tools resulting in us being in a better position in life.’
The Mesilat Yesharim says a few chapters later, ‘It’s very important to keep a diary’. Every night one should review the positive and negative occurrences that happened to him and how he dealt with them. When something is written, there is a better chance of it remaining fresh, and comprehension of it will be easily attained. One should also keep in mind that if any of those occurrences happen again, he would be better prepared to confront the issues. A person should seek through his diary what good deed he has done on daily basis and encourage himself to increase them. When self-improvement actions are written, it causes the fresh mind to practice self-control, preventing unnecessary disastrous explosions by individuals, which could have occurred. Many times we walk on eggshells, where one wrong move, one remark said out of instinct could have a negative lasting effect. What a diary accomplishes is it creates a certain order of thoughts. There is a certain sense of control, a self-awareness of G-d and of ones brethren that is vital in making you a better person.
Rabbi Jay Shapiro says that the diary should be kept similarly to one’s business accounting ledger. If one makes sales and doesn’t write them in the ledger, he’ll be out of business in a short time.
When I first learned this concept of ‘diary’ in Mesilat Yesharim, I wasn’t impressed but I did it anyway. However, after a few months I began to see a tremendous improvement in my life; it’s worth trying!!!
If one notices in this week’s Parsha, one will find many of the holiday/new moon/Shabbat Torah readings. For the most part, we read about the sacrifices which were brought in the Temple pertaining to that particular festive period. In most, if not all, the ox is a mainstay in the sacrifice procession. Why is the ox always in the limelight of the sacrifices? Furthermore, who cares? Why do we have to read about it anyway? Can’t we read about something more interesting; maybe some action-packed miracle or a war where the Jews are victorious. We should liven up the Bet Hakneset a little with an interesting story line for the reading. Perhaps reading about Yosef and his brothers and the famous dramatic pause “I am Yosef, your brother. Is my father still alive?” Sorry, but reading about an ox isn’t going to keep my interest.
Throughout the Jewish calendar year, we follow the mystics in performing many symbolic rituals. The ones that stand out are the ones recited on food. For example, apple in honey during the night meals on Rosh Hashanah. The sages say by making the bracha on these symbolic rituals, it will touch a cord in the heavens where the chances are better they will come true.
What special symbolism does the ox signify? We know every creature on earth has a special song. The song that the ox sings is Az Yashir; which is the song that the Israelites sang after the splitting of the sea and discovering the Egyptians didn’t make it in their quest to capture and conquer the Jews. So in a moment of gratitude and appreciating what G-d has done for them, they sang this particular song. The emphasis, though, is on the words ASIHIRA LA-HASHEM KEE GAOH GAOH, sing to G-d for we have pride. What does the ox have pride in? The ox has pride in his wealth. The ox is a very strong animal and is considered a workhorse for his master and therefore brings him riches. With his stamina and work ethics, he is able to endure and weather many difficulties in his quest to satisfy his master. It says in the prophet Yeshayahu, “He knows his master.” An ox has tremendous loyalty to his master and recognizes him.
When Eliyahu, the Prophet, had a showdown with the false prophets, he gave them an ox for them to sacrifice to their G-d. “Who’s ever sacrifice will be accepted is G-d’s choice.” The ox wouldn’t move; he would not go with the false prophets. It was only after Eliyahu convinced the ox that if he goes with them he will sanctify G-d’s name. Then and only then, did he go.
This is the reason the ox is in the limelight. We read about the ox being sacrificed because this is the animal who knows his master. He has the utmost loyalty towards him. The sacrifices are substituted for us. We have to have tremendous loyalty to our Master. It’s our job to do His work at any cost because this will bring us riches by doing His mitzvot – commandments. The ox is symbolic of what we should strive for to be the best in serving G-d.
From the shiurim of Rabbi Isaac Olbaum.
Today, when we swear or take upon ourselves a vow, one can bet the house that the percentage of keeping it is, sadly, not very good odds. Although our intentions are genuine and we give it the old college try, we are not trained or as disciplined as our great ancestors were, to be more careful in this area. Boy, if one only knew how important hatarat nedarim and Kol Nidrei are (invalidating vows and oaths before Yom Kippur and at the start of Yom Kippur). Apparently, even annulling the vows and oaths are not a simple matter. It should not be taken lightly and done hastily like it was second nature.
It was said about Nevuchadnetzar that when he died, they were scared in Gehenom – hell – that such a terror was joining them. As one knows his history, he destroyed the first Temple and exiled the Jews to Babylonia. Nevuchadnetzar was known to be a cruel tyrant, never-the-less had sparks of goodness that the sages said were most impressive.
In his early years as emperor, he treated the Jewish king Tzidkiyahu, respectfully. When Tzidkiyahu came to Bavel to affirm his alliance to the emperor, Nevuchadnetzar granted him free access to the palace. He appointed him, Tzidkiyahu, ruler over the king of Edom, Moav, Amnon, Tzor, and Tzidon. Tzidkiyahu once entered Nevuchadnetzar private dining room unannounced, and found him tearing the limbs from a living rabbit as he ate it. Eating the limbs of a living animal is forbidden by Noachide law, even to a non-Jew. Apparently, Nevuchadnetzar did not wish to make this public knowledge and give the impression he had cruel habits. Embarrassed, Nevuchadnetzar commanded Tzidkiyahu, “Swear that you will never reveal what you witnessed.” He did swear; however later, a wind of stupidity fell upon him and requested the Great Sanhedrin (the House of Jewish Judges) to annul his oath. Unfortunately, this wind of stupidity was contagious and they did. Their annulment proved fatal to them and put a bad taste in Nevuchnadnetzar’s mouth toward the Jews.
Tzidkiyahu once foolishly disclosed the embarrassing incident of Nevuchadnetzar to the five kings at a dinner, which they apparently immediately dispatched this confidential disclosure to the Babylonian palace. So much for friends.
Nevuchadnetzar, unsurprisingly, considered Tzidkiyahu’s offense an act of treason. He ordered Tzidkiyahu and the Sanhedrin to appear before him, where he gave the sages seats of honor. He then asked them to expound the Torah before him. The Sanhedrin proceeded to translate one Parsha at a time. When they arrived at the subject of vows in Parsha Matot. the Emperor inquired, “If someone wishes to annul a vow, may he do so?” “He can go to the Sage” they replied, “who has the authority to annul his vow.”
“Now, I know Tzidkiyahu betrayed me!” the emperor accused them, “He came to you and you annulled his oath!”
Nevuchadnetzar commanded that each member of the Sanhedrin be tied by his hair to a horse’s tail and be dragged from Yerushalayim to Lud.
This tragic event was one of many that foreshadowed the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.
G-d has given mankind a precious gift – speech – as well as many important laws attached to it. He can take this gift and take this world to the highest chamber in heaven. However, he can also destroy it and bring it down to the lowest depths of Gehenom.
The high holidays had a different meaning at different stages of my life. As a child, the high holidays was fun and greatly anticipated, because many more children would come to shul since their parents felt it was an important time of year. The best way to explain it, for example, is to envision yourself in a crowded movie theater or packed stadium, watching a great film or an important ball game. The buzz of excitement was apparent. The best chazanim would come from Israel. As a young adult, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur began to differ a bit. On Rosh Hashanah, it was fun; we all had a chance to show off our dapper don new suits which we bought in honor of the holiday, from the fancy shmancy boutiques on Austin St in Forest hills. However, the anxiety of fasting on Yom Kippur was a bit more of a hardship. As we got older, we started to realize the seriousness of and the potential impact of Yom Kippur. There’s an elderly tall gentleman in the Sephardic shul in Forest Hills, Mr. Moradi, who would not speak and would cry throughout the entire Yom Kippur services; he got us all in a repentant mood. However, Rosh Hashanah, with the fancy suits and delicious special foods (dushperreh-mantu – meat dumplings) was more majestic and a special time.
If one realizes, though, there is not one reference to slicha – please forgive me – on Rosh Hashanah; there’s not one banging on the heart; no tears are shed. If there is no reference to forgiveness, then what’s Rosh Hashanah all about? What’s the purpose?
The answer lies in what we read every Sunday morning ME ZE MELECH HAKAVOD – who is the King who gets the honor – G-d. This is one of the themes of Rosh Hashanah. The King is enwrapped in royalty; He gets the kavod. We pronounce through the Rosh Hashanah prayers, MELECH – King – because Rosh Hashanah is designed to be royalty. However, if a king has no followers, his kingship is weakened. His people are the ones that raise the volume and strengthen his kingship. If that’s not accomplished, then the people are not needed. In essence, the people have the illustrious responsibility to honor G-d all year round and especially on Rosh Hashanah. Fine new clothes have to be worn; delicacies have to be eaten; one has to feel good about himself; one has to feel like royalty. But he has to have the intention that the clothing, the food, the feeling, is not for your KAVOD – honor – but for G-d’s. Everything is dedicated to G-d. The same concept applies for Shabbat, if one eats well on Shabbat. For the sake of Shabbat, he’ll have a bracha the up and coming week; if he buys food with the intention of it being for Shabbat, then there would be a bracha attached to it.
There is a true story which happened in Israel. It definitely has an Israeli flavor to it. One religious Jew wanted to sell his car to another religious Jew. “There’s one stipulation,” the seller demanded “it should not be driven on Shabbat.” “This car follows Shabbat laws and has never been driven on Shabbat.” The buyer was taken aback, “How can he say that to me? I’m an observant Jew 100%.” Regardless of the comments, he agreed, and the sale was completed. A number of years later, the buyer decides to sell this very car and found someone who is interested. However as he’s about to finish the transaction, he’s reminded of the first seller’s words, about not driving it on Shabbat. The new buyer had a ponytail and an earring. The seller said, “Oh I don’t know how to say this, but this car should not be driven on Shabbat. It’s an observant car and it never violated the holy Sabbath. You have to promise me you’ll never drive it on Shabbat.” After realizing the seller was not joking, the buyer had a puzzled look on his face and thought he was a little crazy. “Yea, yea, sure, sure, whatever you say, I won’t drive it on Shabbat.” So he’s driving the car and everything is fine. When Friday night arrives, the car doesn’t start. After an hour or so he gives up and decides to call a tow truck on Sunday. Sunday morning arrives and lo and behold, the car starts. He has it checked out by the mechanic every way, but nothing was found. The next Friday night however, the car doesn’t start again.
A few years have passed and the last seller of the car was stopped one day on the street by a Chassidic looking man. “Hey, you don’t recognize me, do you? I’m the guy with the pony tail who you sold the shomer Shabbat car to.” “This is a pleasant but drastic change; what happened?” said the seller. The buyer replied, “I said if you people are so careful about cars, about Shabbat, about G-d, it must be something to explore, and I did.
People designate special suits for Shabbat. They save items for KAVOD – G-d – because honoring G-d is the biggest attachment one can achieve. We say during the ten days of repentance which includes Rosh Hashanah, LE MA A NACH – for Your sake, for Your kavod. This is the biggest repentance one can make – honoring the King.