Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Rosh Hashana – Expanding Our “I”

At the beginning of Elul last year, the Mir Yeshiva in Yerushalayim found itself in an overwhelming deficit. Three weeks before Rosh Hashanah, the rosh yeshiva and HaRav Benny Carlebach flew to America for a six-hour visit to meet with 150 close supporters. The situation was dire. The yeshiva was four months behind in paying the married men learning in the yeshiva kollel! The group of supporters launched a plan to raise $7 million for the yeshiva. A few close supporters offered to donate half the needed funds if the other half was raised before Rosh Hashanah. A three-week, $7 million challenge! It was frantic—dozens of meetings, working into the wee hours of the night. Thankfully, the goal was reached and the married kollel students received their checks before Rosh Hashanah, giving them and their families great relief.

I believe the dedication shown by the yeshiva’s supporters provides us with a core message for Rosh Hashanah. Parshas Nitzavim opens with Moshe addressing the entire nation before him. The Ohr Hachaim says the purpose of speaking to all of klal Yisrael was to unite the entire nation as one entity. This created arvus—a feeling of responsibility of each Jew for the other. The Zohar notes that the words “You are standing here today before Hashem…” alludes to the day when all klal Yisrael stands before Hashem in judgment—Rosh Hashanah. How is arvus related to Rosh Hashanah?

The Mishnah Rosh Hashanah tells us that on Rosh Hashanah everyone passes before Hashem as if in a flock of sheep—indicating that each person is judged individually. Conversely, Rabbi Yochanan tells us we are all judged by Hashem in one glance, implying that everyone is judged collectively. So are we judged independently or collectively?

Rav Chaim Friedlander explains there is no contradiction. Two areas of each individual’s actions are assessed on Rosh Hashanah: his performance as an individual based on his capabilities, plus his actions with regard to his family, community, the Jewish nation and the world. Even if one falls short individually, if his efforts are beneficial to and appreciated by his family and the community, then he will receive a good judgment.

It’s puzzling that both these concepts are derived from the same source in Tehillim, “Hayotzer yachad libam hameivin el kol ma’aseihem”—Hashem fashioned their hearts together and understands all their deeds. How can the individual assessment and the collective assessment both be learned from one source?

This coming week, Ashkenazi Jews start reciting Selichos. The central prayer in Selichos includes the 13 attributes of mercy. On Rosh Hashanah we recite Tashlich, which is based on a few pesukim from Micha that also correspond to the 13 attributes of mercy. One of the attributes is how Hashem relates to the Jewish nation as “She’eris Nachalaso.” Rav Moshe Cordevero explains that the word “she’er,” which usually means “remnant,” in this context means relative, teaching us that Hashem has a special relationship with klal Yisrael as we are all relatives and not strangers. Similarly, every Jew is considered a close relative to each other, as learned from the concept of arvus. The Jewish nation is one large, close-knit family, and the plight of each Jew affects all of us.

My good friend Rabbi Avrohom Weinrib, rav of Congregation Zichron Eliezer of Cincinnati, told me that Rabbi Shimon Shkop says different people mean different things when they say “I.” Some people are only referring to themselves. Others are referring to themselves and their family, while still others include their friends, community and nation. A person is capable of increasing the realm of his “I.” As Jews, our “I” needs to be inclusive of all of klal Yisrael because we are one. The greater a person is, the larger is his “I.”

We live in the “I” generation: iPad, iPod, iPhone, iCloud, iTunes… We need to expand our outlook to include others with ourselves. Think about quarantined individuals and families. Some are stuck alone in their houses. My wife mentioned to me that when I go shopping I should call someone stuck at home to offer to purchase things for them. My daughter and son-in-law went back to Eretz Yisrael last week and are now quarantining for two weeks. Their friends have been helping them purchase whatever they need. This exemplifies arvus.

Last year, close supporters of the Mir Yeshiva took upon themselves to ensure that the kollel families had food for Yom Tov. This year, Hashem has created an extra opportunity for us before Rosh Hashanah to expand our “I” to include so many other Jews. When we do that, we are judged not just as individuals but as representatives of the entire Jewish nation. Although each person individually is not guaranteed a favorable judgment, klal Yisrael as a nation has a guarantee to be judged favorably.


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