In This Issue:
Rabbi Avi Pollak
Ely Winkler, Editor-in-Chief, 2004-2005
Rabbi Chaim Jachter
In Parshat Nitzavim (Devarim 30:11), Moshe encourages the Jewish people, This Mitzvah which I command you today is not impossible for you rather, it is in your mouths and hearts to accomplish it.
The Rishonim debate to what Mitzvah Moshe is referring. Many Rishonim claim that Moshe is referring to all of the Mitzvot of the Torah. If so, Moshes message to Bnei Yisrael is that living a life of Jewish belief and observance is not as difficult as it may appear. It is something that we can all achieve.
The Ramban, however, claims that Moshe is referring specifically to the Mitzvah of Teshuvah, repentance. According to this approach, Moshes message to the people is that even if they have veered from the path of Torah observance, they always have the opportunity to return to Hashem. By adding in the conclusion of the Pasuk, BeFicha UViLvavcha LaAsoto, It is in your mouths and hearts to fulfill it, Moshe points out that there is a verbal component (BeFicha, which refers to Viduy), an internal, emotional component (UViLvavcha, which refers to regret about what you have done wrong) and a practical component (LaAsoto, which refers to actually changing your ways) in doing complete Teshuvah. (This interpretation is echoed by Rambam in the beginning of Hilchot Teshuvah where he lists these steps as the necessary components of repentance.)
Ive often wondered about the term Mitzvah being used to refer to Teshuvah. How can we classify Teshuvah as a Mitzvah? Are we encouraging people to sin so that they can fulfill the Mitzvah of repentance?
The answer may lie in Reish Lakishs famous statement: Teshuvah is so great that it converts intentional sins (Zedonot) into merits (Zechuyot). How can that be? It may be understandable that such sins not to count against you once youve repented, but for those sins to count to your benefit requires explanation.
Perhaps the answer is that the experience of making a mistake, genuinely regretting that mistake, committing not to repeat the error, and actually following through with that commitment is an enormously valuable process to undergo. When you genuinely engage in real repentance, you emerge spiritually stronger than you started; stronger even than before you committed the sin for which you repented. During the Teshuvah process, you have the opportunity to learn a lot about yourself; your priorities, your inner strength, your ability to honestly assess and critique yourself. These are qualities and abilities that one must continuously work on and improve in order to become a spiritually sensitive individual.
In that sense, the sins weve committed really can allow us to reach spiritual heights otherwise unreachable. Perhaps that is why Moshe commands us to engage in the Mitzvah of Teshuvah.
It is a custom to eat symbolic foods on the eve of Rosh HaShanah, including an apple dipped in honey, a pomegranate, and a fish head, among others. We say a special prayer upon each of these foods, in each case requesting a blessing from Hashem which is somehow associated with that particular food. What do these symbolisms truly mean? Is the food more than simply a reminder of what we want coming into the new year?
Rav Ami states in Horayot (12a), that this form of symbolism does not violate the Torahs prohibition of divination, using a particular item to predict or change the future. This being said, it is permissible to eat these foods as symbols. But do they really work?
In Keritot (6b), the Gemara quotes Abayes statement implying that the symbolic rituals have an integral effect in the outcome of our year. A new king is anointed near a spring to symbolize that his monarchy should endure and flow like a spring. Abaye then comments that since we know that symbolism does affect the future, it is our custom to eat a gourd, fenugreek, leek, beets, and dates on Rosh HaShanah. This Gemara is the primary source for our custom to eat symbolic foods on Rosh HaShanah.
Now that we have a precedent for eating the symbolic foods, one can ask if it would be legitimate to expound upon these , or would that be mere nonsense? The Gemara (Berachot 56b), in the midst of a discussion regarding the interpretation of dreams quotes a Baraita. The Baraita states that one who sees a reed in a dream should anticipate the attainment of wisdom. One who sees multiple reeds in a dream can expect understanding. The Baraita learns these rules from the linguistic similarity between the word Kaneh (reed) and the Pasuk (Mishlei 4:7), UVeChol Kinyanecha Kenei Vinah, In all of your acquisitions acquire understanding. The Gemara later states that this kind of word-relation applies to all languages. From here we see that any food whose name in any language resembles a blessing is a good omen.
Although we have seen from multiple sources that these representations are effective, the Mishnah Berurah in Hilchot Rosh HaShanah (chapter 583) cautions that these foods are but symbols of what we request from Hashem and are meant to enhance our Teffilot by representing them with tangible objects.
Going into Rosh HaShanah, one should eat the foods and say the the Yehi Ratzon associated with each one. But whether the foods are efficacious or not, one should primarily rely on his Teffilot to welcome in a good new year.
Occasionally, we turn on the news to discover that a CEO has embezzled from his or her company. We make comments about how greedy this CEO was or where anothers flaws are. However,, it is necessary to take a step back and analyze whether we are actually different. Is the only difference between us and the guilty individual the number of zeros on our pay checks or in our bank accounts? Are our lives really led any more ethically?
An important concept on Rosh HaShanah is that Hashem controls our income. He determines a total amount that we will generate over the year. No amount of penny pinching, saving, cheating, or fraud will change that figure. We need to make a certain amount of effort so that our sustenance doesnt seem entirely miraculous, but after that, all we can do is place our Bitachon, trust, in Hashem. Beyond this, the only way for us to change our economic condition is by giving Tzedakah. The Torah says (Devarim 14:22), Aser Taaser, You shall surely tithe, which Chazal homiletically read as Aser Bishvil SheTitAser, Tithe so that you shall become rich. If one gives Tzedakah, he will merit becoming rich.
Its a hard notion to accept, but everything is in Hashems hands; we are utterly dependent on Hashem for sustenance. We are willing to believe that Hashem is in control when it comes to davening for someones recovery from illness. We are willing to believe it when we ask him for success in school. Yet for some reason, when the world of finance becomes involved, we tend to take on an every man for himself attitude to combat the cheating and manipulation that occurs. Yet if we kept in mind that HaKadosh Baruch Hu is in charge, we become free of the anxiety of market fluctuations and can deal honestly in business without worry.
We wont always attain the riches or possessions we desire, but will hopefully get the amount we need. We may wish to do Mitzvot with the money, yet Hakadosh Baruch Hu may decide that is not what we need. Greater wealth may not be beneficial and might even be injurious to our spiritual health. Greater assets can inspire a greater desire to maintain ones funds. Often, this extra time spent on safeguarding property can decrease time spent bringing ourselves closer to Hashem through Tefillah and Torah learning.
On Rosh Hashanah, our finances for the upcoming year are inscribed by Hashem. May we have the prudence to use them appreciatively and wisely.
Its been a long journey. Shofar blasts each morning, LeDavid (Tehillim 27) twice a day, Selichos for an entire week, and finally Rosh HaShanah. But what are we truly preparing for? We have before us two days of closeness to Hashem, who loves us more than we will ever know. But maybe for the same reason we dread bonding time with our parents, we often dread Rosh HaShanah as well. We began saying the paragraph of LeDavid a few short weeks ago, something to make our davening even longer each morning and night. But those that look into this Mizmor can find a very important lesson. David HaMelech writes, Ki Avi VeImi Azavuni, VaHashem Yaasfeini, For my father and mother have abandoned me and Hashem shall pick me up. Hashem will always take care of us even when we think there is no one there. And sometimes, there really might not be anyone there in this world, but there is still the One, who cares the most of all. Think about the words we say
daily: HaBocher BeAmo Yisrael BeAhava, Who chooses His Nation Yisrael with love. One cant even begin to understand Rosh HaShanah without recognizing Hashems love for all of us. Hashem doesnt want us to meaninglessly sit there and say the words that Chazal wrote, but instead wants us to say them with some love towards Him. If any of us think we truly understand love, then why dont we apply what we know to our love for Hashem? The fundamental principle of any relationship is give and take. The root of the Hebrew word Ahava, love, is Hav, which means to give. One must understand on Rosh HaShanah that Hashem gives to us every day of every year, while all we seem to do is take.
These two days of prayer are our chance to give; to build our relationship with Hashem. The giving on these days can even be selfish giving. HaKadosh Baruch Hu simply wants to hear from us. As long as we put love into that which we pray for, we can achieve both give and take. For this reason, if one cant look at his life and see anything bad, and he honestly loves everything just the way it is, then he should simply to daven that Hashem should continue these good things. But I think we all know that not everything is perfect, and that some of the things we do on a daily basis are not the right things to do. But putting that aside, this is our day to not only achieve forgiveness for the past, but also to daven for the entire upcoming year. Through this selfish-giving - davening out of love for Hashem and for our futures- we will surely see the benefits of Hashems kindness. Everything we want for ourselves and everything that will happen to us
is decided over these 48 hours. Hashem is our father and will always have tremendous mercy on us. As we say each day, Avinu Av HaRachaman, Our father the merciful father. Hashem does absolutely everything for us, His children. Through our prayers and love we will strengthen the connection we have to Hashem.
With a quick look at the three sections of Mussaf on Rosh HaShanah, Malchuyot, Zichronot and Shofarot , we see the importance of improving the relationship we have with Him. The section of Malchuyot anoints Hashem as our King, as we try to bring ourselves closer to Him with more of an understanding of His divine rule. More than this, Rav Shlomo Wolbe points out that on a daily basis we fail to recognize Hashem as our King. Only through this section of Mussaf do we understand that He is always there for us whenever we need Him. Zichronot, while at first glance simply another way of admitting Hashems divine power, focuses also on the give and take that we must have with Hashem. In Zichronot, we admit that He is the ultimate one in remembering and recognizing things we may not have even known about ourselves. But as we recognize this power, we also requesting that He see our past and remembers us, as His children, for our good deeds and not our
bad deeds; thus we have both the give and take. We then move to the final section of Shofarot, in which anoint Hashem as our King. It is said that when the Shofar was sounded at Har Sinai, Bnei Yisrael were unable to stand the tremendous power of the blasts and thunder alone, since the Shofar heralded the coming of the Shechinah to us. But in addition to that, the Shofar has always represented a wake up call for us to regain our closeness to Hashem. We combine the Kingship of Malchuyot and the give and take of Zichronot as we work on our connection to HaKadosh Baruch Hu with the dual aspects of Shofarot.
Among all the things we have all been taught to focus on for this holy day, the most important aspect is too often overlooked. May this be a Rosh HaShanah filled with love and growth Bein Adam LaMakom.
One of the major highlights of Ashkenazic Rosh HaShanah davening is UNetaneh Tokef, a prayer in which we express the idea that everything is in the hands of Hashem. We explain that Hashem will judge the fate of all mankind on Rosh HaShanah. This Tefillah is very confusing. Is it implying that after the judgment, there's no hope, that no matter what we do the next year, Hashem will allot to us whatever punishments He decrees on Rosh HaShanah?
The Gemara (Avodah Zara 17a) relates a very peculiar story. It talks about a man, Elazar ben Durdia, who slept with every prostitute in the world. He once heard about a particular famous and expensive prostitute in a city overseas. Right before he cohabited with the woman, she remarked that there was no way Elazar would ever receive Teshuva if he went through with this act. Elazar was heartbroken and distraught, and immediately went outside and asked the mountains and other parts of the earth to pray for him. However, none of them would agree to intercede for him. Upon realizing that no one else would pray for him, he cried and sat in the fetal position and cried so much that he died. A heavenly voice thereupon announced that Elazar had received a share in Olam Haba and earned the title of Rabbi. The Tanaaim comment on this story that a person can turn around his life in just one moment no matter how deeply he has fallen into sin. As we say
right after UNetaneh Tokef, UTeshuva, UTefillah, UTzedaka Maavirin Et Roa HaGezeira, But repentance, prayer, and charity remove the evil of the decree. In other words, Hashem does decide what will happen to us but repentance, prayer, and charity can change the decision completely. Hashem realizes that people change and allows room to annul the decrees He makes.
This idea is an integral part of our religious ideology. In Sefer Melachim, Eliyahu HaNavi goes through very difficult times and is eventually forced to flee to the desert to escape King Achav and his wife Izevel, who seek to kill him. Eliyahu becomes so frustrated that he claims that the people are corrupt and there is no hope for them because and that they have abandoned the Brit (Melachim I 19:14-15). Hashem thereupon commands him to appoint a new leader, Elisha, in essence declaring that Eliyahu has been fired. It is impossible for Eliyahu to be a leader of the Jewish people because he does not believe that there is any hope for them because they abandoned the Brit. Incidentally, this is why Eliyahu is forced to be present at every Brit Milah and Pesach Seder; he is forced to bear witness that in fact Bnei Yisrael have not abandoned the Brit. We too must recognize that no matter how far we have gone astray or how deeply our bad habits are
ingrained within us, there is always room to change.
Staff at time of publication:
Editor-in-Chief: Josh Markovic
Executive Editor: Avi Wollman
Publication Managers: Gavriel Metzger, Yitzchak Richmond
Publishing Managers: Shmuel Reece, Dov Rossman
Publication Editors: Gilad Barach, Ari Gartenberg, Avi Levinson
Business Manager: Jesse Nowlin
Webmaster: Michael Rosenthal
Staff: Tzvi Atkin, Josh Rubin, Doniel Sherman, Chaim Strassman, Chaim Strauss, Ephraim Tauber, Dani Yaros, Tzvi Zuckier
Faculty Advisor: Rabbi Chaim Jachter