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Posted by Ari Fuld's Israel Defense Page on Friday, September 14, 2018
Redacted Facebook messaging text with Ari Fuld
In this week’s parsha, we read about Klal Yisrael entering into a bris with Hashem. In perek 29 pasuk 15-16, Moshe Rabbeinu says a reason as to why it was to have klal Yisrael take an oath. The reason he gives is because “You have seen the other nations’ abominations and idol-worship”.
Rav Yitzchak Isaac Sher asks a very simple question on this. Why was it that they needed to take an oath just because they saw idol worship? This was a nation which witnessed the miracles of the Midbar!? They saw yad Hashem almost every day! Why is this a valid reason to warrant the necessity for an oath not to stray off the path of Hashem?
Rav Sher explains that the answer lies in the following pasuk. “Perhaps there is among you a man or woman whose heart turns from being with Hashem”. That is, as the Ramban explains, that there could exist some small inkling of evil and bitterness inside the person. And that little inkling of bitterness could be the seed which could grow until it ultimately destroys the human being.
I think we see a very powerful point here which is very related to the upcoming yom tov of Rosh Hashana. The Gemara in Rosh Hashana 16b says that four things warrant a negative judgement to be ripped up; tefilla, tzedakah, shinui sheim (the changing of one’s name), and shinui maisov (the changing of one’s actions). The Rambam in Hilchos Teshuva writes that the way of teshuva is to cry out to Hashem, then to give tzedakah, and then separate himself from the actual sin, then to “change his name”, meaning that the person should say to himself, “I am a different person”, and to change his ways for the good. The problem, is that the Rambam implies that all these are necessary stages towards a correct teshuva and to tear up a negative judgement. However, as the Lechem Mishna asks, each one is enough to tear up a negative judgement?! And furthermore, its made clear in many different places that a person doesn’t even need one of these things to tear up a bad judgement, rather its enough to feel bad, be mekabel for the future, and do a verbal confession!? SO what’s the explanation in the Rambam?
Rav Ahron Leib Shteinman answers that in reality, to achieve teshuva all one needs is to feel bad, accept upon himself to no longer sin, and to do a verbal confession. However, even after a person does this, there could remain inside of him small inklings of evil which resulted from the sin. These little “roots” of evil was what the Rambam was pinpointing. It’s true, one doesn’t need to go through the Rambam’s whole process to attain teshuva; but he does need to go through that to change himself.
The point is penetrating. We see from this week’s parsha and from this Rambam that if a person wants to walk on the path of teshuva, it’s not enough to attack the sin itself, rather one needs to attack the root of the problem. Rosh Hashana always warrants introspection. But instead of looking at our actions and deciding what we need to change, the real focus should be within. “What do I need to change about myself” is the correct question. Hopefully, armed with our heightened sense of self and what “roots” need changing, we can successfully daven to Hashem and warrant a successful year.
Last month, a dream came true. Thanks to the help of some dear relatives, my son and I were able to go to Eretz Yisrael for a whole week before my son’s Bar Mitzvah. We went to learn in the Mir Yeshiva and Ponevezh. We davened at the Kotel. We met with Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, Rabbi Povarsky, Rabbi Binyamin Finkel and many great talmidei chachamim. And we had fun, too! Indeed, my father advised me to make sure to plan a fun activity to do there. My son chose jeeping in the Judean desert. On a Friday, we found ourselves bouncing around in the back of a jeep. It was spectacular! We were surrounded by the magnificent Judean desert mountains. We stopped on top of a mountain and our tour guide, Bentzy, told us, “Look at that mountain on the other side of the Jordan River. That is where the Bnei Yisrael stood before they crossed into Eretz Yisrael. That is where Moshe Rabbeinu, on the last day of his life, said, “Atem Nitzavim Hayom” – “You are standing here today.” We could not believe it! He was quoting and pointing to portions of my son’s Bar Mitzvah parsha — Nitzavim!
Parshas Nitzavim is always read the Shabbos prior to Rosh Hashanah. The parsha opens with the words,” Atem Nitzavim hayom…” The Zohar says the word “hayom” (today) is referring to Rosh Hashanah, as that is the day all Klal Yisrael stand before Hashem in judgment. The Nesivos Shalom explains that the parsha is giving us a strategy to approach this special day of Rosh Hashanah. It’s contained in the words “Atem Nitzavim” You are all standing! What was the purpose of this great assembly before Hashem?
The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh says it was to unite all Bnei Yisrael, to create a pact that each Jew is connected to and responsible for one another. This is the principle of Kol Yisrael Areivim Zeh Lazeh. The Gemara tells us that “Arvus” gives a Jew the ability to make a blessing for another Jew, because he is responsible for him. But how is it possible to make a bracha for someone else, when you already fulfilled your own obligation? Reb Chaim Brisker says the root of the word Arvus is Areiv. An Areiv is a guarantor. When it comes to loans, there are two types of guarantors: a regular Areiv and an Areiv Kablan. A regular guarantor can only be approached after the borrower refuses to pay. However, an Areiv Kablan can be approached directly-it’s as if he personally borrowed the money. Reb Chaim says each Jew is on the level of an Areiv Kablan! If another Jew does not fulfill a mitzvah, we personally are missing that mitzvah. That is what gives a Jew the ability to make a bracha for another Jew, because it is our bracha. The Ritva says this new pact of Arvus united the Jewish nation together as one body.
Reb Yisroel Salanter goes even further. He tells us this concept of focusing on others is the only winning strategy in our impending court case on Rosh Hashanah. As directed by the Shulchan Aruch, we wear nice clothing, get a haircut, and eat a yom tov meal on Rosh Hashanah. Yet, it’s perplexing–shouldn’t we be too nervous to eat? So much is at stake!! No. The Jewish nation as a whole is guaranteed it will be meritorious in judgment. But…this guarantee is for the nation, not for each person.
For an individual to win his or her own case, Reb Yisroel tells we must leave self-absorption behind and sincerely look out for the needs of others. Helping others could be a family member or a neighbor or someone sitting next to you at work or in shul. We are all given different talents and personalities, and we’re to use these attributes to be kind to others around us. Hashem will judge us based on how well we use the abilities He gave us.
Will we succeed? Some people feel ill-prepared to help others. Reb Yisroel Salanter would emphasize an addition we say in our prayers during this time period: “Zochreinu l’chaim….” — may you remember us for life for your sake, Hashem. That is our ticket for success. If we dedicate our service for the sake of Hashem, Who is crowned on Rosh Hashanah, we will find that our efforts will succeed and we will be rewarded as well.
May we all stand truly united this Rosh Hashanah and translate into action, our focus on the needs of others, as we proclaim from the depth of our hearts, “Hashem is the King.” Wishing everyone a k’siva v’chasima tova – a happy, healthy and sweet new year.
The universal nature of Rosh Hashanah isn’t limited to a particular nation and certainly not to a particular location. All human beings are judged and, more broadly, the entire universe is recreated—just as it was thousands of years ago at the point of “initial” creation. In addition to “reviving” creation, the Day of Judgment underscores the power and glory of Divine authority. As Hashem judges every creature, on this day Divine authority is universally manifest. These elements of Rosh Hashanah are worldwide and unrelated to location. However, though geographically unbounded, Rosh Hashanah themes are intensified in the Land of Israel. Living in Israel magnifies three important facets of Rosh Hashanah. This magnification is best appreciated by revisiting the Rosh Hashanah ceremonies declared by Ezra 2,400 years ago.
The second recorded Rosh Hashanah in history (the first was the creation of the world) is documented in the eighth chapter of Nechemiah and describes Ezra’s return to Israel. Assembling the returning Jews in the public square, Ezra ceremoniously read the Torah but also encouraged the people not to grieve nor to excessively lament. Despite the solemnity of Rosh Hashanah and the potential for introspection and sorrow, the day should be observed through joy, shared food, based on the recognition that “Chedvat Hashem hi ma’uzchem” (the joy of Hashem is their strength, Nechemiah 8:10).
In general, the complexity of Rosh Hashanah demands Ezra’s careful calibration between solemnity and joy. On the one hand it is a “charged” day of seriousness and gravitas and the stakes are incalculably high as the books of life and death are inscribed. Yet, Rosh Hashanah is also a day of majesty and splendor—celebrating the palpable presence of Divine authority. In judging His creation Hashem imposes His authority—a condition that is veiled year-round but inexorably emerges on the Day of Judgment. We yearn for the conclusion of history and universal recognition of Divine authority. Until this is achieved, Rosh Hashanah is the closest approximation of that utopian condition and serves as a “taster” for the ideal world we all await. The sheer grandeur of this visionary experience mandates elation and delight. Experiencing Rosh Hashanah—anywhere—demands a very careful calibration between awe and splendor, between trepidation and majesty. In this respect, Ezra’s directive is a generic template for Rosh Hashanah celebrated anywhere.
However, a Rosh Hashanah experience in Israel demands an even more sensitive calibration, and Ezra specifically selects the return to Israel as the setting to stress celebration, not solemnity. Though God spans the entire universe, His throne is centered upon the Mikdash in Yerushalayim and it is specifically in these precincts that His authority is most tangible. Rosh Hashanah in Israel showcases the royalty of the day and therefore should yield greater human elation. It is interesting that Rosh Hashanah prayers in many communities and yeshivot in Israel often accent joy and celebration—sometimes at the expense of solemnity. In the land of God’s regency, Jews are acutely aware of the Rosh Hashanah coronation and are more attuned to the regality that Ezra’s stressed. Having returned to “ground zero” of Divine authority, Ezra sensed the magnificence of this day and emphasized celebration in place of melancholy.
Rosh Hashanah in Israel is different for a second reason—not only because the land serves as the base of Divine authority. The Jewish people—natural residents of this land—also represent Hashem in this world. Until the ultimate kingdom of God evolves, we yearn in our Rosh Hashanah davening “V’yeida kol pa’ul ki ata p’alto” (every creature will acknowledge that You are its Creator). Sadly, at this preliminary stage of history, we are the only nation to fully embrace His presence, and we alone sense the extraordinary royalty of Rosh Hashanah. Without any human contingent acknowledging Divine authority, Rosh Hashanah would be hollow; its full resonance depends upon a human “echo.” The Jewish people’s acceptance of God’s authority is crucial to the glory and majesty of the day. By extension, the more “honor” Jewish people achieve, the more profound our acceptance of God’s monarchy and the more elaborate the regality of the day. Our return to our homeland and our ascendant national condition have boosted our own national honor and by extension have augmented the honor God receives on Rosh Hashanah. We launch Rosh Hashanah prayers with the well-known plea U’vchein tein kavod Hashem l’amecha (provide honor for Your nation), recognizing that the honor we accrue deepens God’s “malchut” on this day. Our restored national honor is sensed most deeply in our homeland, and consequently the power and glory of Rosh Hashanah is most intense in Israel.
Tragically, during the exile of the First Temple, 70 Rosh Hashanah days had elapsed without meaningful Jewish celebration in the Land of Israel. Jews were strewn across the Mediterranean region and God was coronated on Rosh Hashanah by scattered groups of refugees. As Jews returned with Ezra, Rosh Hashanah was rejuvenated and the royalty of the day was augmented. Ezra conducted a national ceremony to punctuate this shift and encouraged the people to recalibrate the balance between solemnity and celebration. Like Ezra, we have returned and have refreshed the royal nature of this day. After 2,000 years in which scattered but faithful communities of Jews embraced Divine authority across the globe, Jews are finally united in their homeland and better able to reaffirm Divine monarchy on this day. Given this new condition, we have a greater mandate to carefully calibrate the day between joy and solemnity.
There is a third difference of Rosh Hashanah in Israel. On this day God recalls all human activity from the dawn of time and probes all human thoughts and emotions. Additionally, He surveys Jewish history and recalls the great moments of Jewish heroism. The section of Zichronot in Musaf prayer delineates these surpassing moments—from the Exodus through our nation’s faith in the desert and, ultimately, our visions of the Messianic era. Our prayers constantly invoke the Covenant of Brit Avot, which was steadily forged throughout thousands of years of commitment and sacrifice. Those who reside in Israel—the land of our ancestors—live the Covenant more personally. Rosh Hashanah in Israel isn’t only superior because it is the region of Divine monarchy. Rosh Hashanah in Israel allows a powerful identification with the historical covenant that lies at the core of this day of “Memory.” Just as Ezra sensed the heightened Rosh Hashanah experience upon the return from Babylonian exile, we sense the difference between Rosh Hashanah experiences of the past 2,000 years and the transformed holiday in our renewed homeland. Israel is the seat of Divine authority, the homeland of Jewish honor and the anchor of our historical covenant.
To summarize, Ezra’s Rosh Hashanah invites us to cast our experience within the framework of our return to our land. However, as ambitious as it sounds, our current stage of history demands that our Rosh Hashanah experience surpass even that of Ezra’s. We live at the tail end of history and we have dramatically fortified our historical covenant with Hashem. Our enduring emunah outlasted the greatest horror in human history, the Holocaust. Our sustained faith is a testament to our unconditional commitment to the Divine covenant. Additionally, the national courage and devotion displayed in reconstructing the modern State of Israel in the face of so much adversity and hostility further reflects our unwavering emunah in our historical mission. It is absolutely crucial that in 2018, on this day of historical covenant, a Jew daven differently from the way he did in the past. Failure to update our tefillah severs it from history and disassociates Rosh Hashanah from its historical core. Having “passed” these two crucial tests at the conclusion of history we have the “right” and the obligation to humbly lodge a claim for our final redemption. We have adhered to our part of the covenant through the nightmare of the Holocaust and through 70 years of endless enmity and international opposition to our presence in Israel. As we pray on Rosh Hashanah in Israel—some of us physically in the land while others following their hearts and imaginations to this land—we reinforce our centuries-old historical commitment while adding new layers of historical consciousness to this covenant. Our prayers and voices on this day must reflect these new Israel-based layers.
Rav Moshe Taragin [YHE ’83] has been a Ram at Yeshivat Har Etzion in Gush Etzion since 1994. He has Semicha from the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, a BA in Computer Science from Yeshiva College, and an MA in English Literature from City University. Rabbi Taragin previously taught Talmud at Columbia University, lectured in Talmud and Bible at the IBC and JSS divisions of Yeshiva University, and served as Assistant Rabbi at the Fifth Avenue Synagogue. In addition, Rabbi Taragin currently teaches at the Stella K. Abraham Beit Midrash for Women of Yeshivat Har Etzion in Migdal Oz in Gush Etzion. He is the author of an Internet shiur entitled “Talmudic Methodology” with over 5,000 subscribers, and authors an audio shiur for KMTT- Ki Mitzion Teitze Torah – The Torah Podcast, entitled “Redemptive.”