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Rosh Hashana - Vol. 3,
Compiled by Oizer Alport
Eretz asher Hashem Elokecha doresh osah tamid einei Hashem Elokecha bah mereishis Hashana v’ad acharis shana (Devorim 11:12)
The Gemora in Rosh Hashana (16b) teaches that any year which is “poor” at the beginning will be rich and full of blessing at the end. This is homiletically derived from our verse, which refers to the beginning of the year as reishis hashana (leaving out the letter aleph in the word reishis), which may be reinterpreted as a poor year (rash means poor). The Gemora understands the Torah as hinting that such a year will have an ending different than that with which it began (i.e. rich and bountiful).
As Rosh Hashana grows ever closer, what does this valuable advice mean, and how can we use it to ensure that the coming year will be a prosperous one for us and our loved ones? Rashi explains that a “poor” year refers to one in which a person makes himself poor on Rosh Hashana to beg for his needs. In order to follow this advice, we must first understand what it means to make oneself like a poor person.
Rav Chaim Friedlander explains that it isn’t sufficient to merely view oneself “as if” he is poor for the day. A person must honestly believe that his entire lot for the upcoming year – his health, happiness, and financial situation – will be determined on this day. In other words, at the present moment, he has absolutely nothing to his name and must earn it all from scratch. This may be difficult to do for a person who is fortunate enough to have a beautiful family, a good source of income, and no history of major medical problems. How can such a person honestly stand before Hashem and view himself as a pauper with nothing to his name?
Rav Friedlander explains that if a person understands that all that he has is only because Hashem willed it to be so until now, he will recognize that at the moment Hashem wills the situation to change, it will immediately do so. Although we are accustomed to assuming that this couldn’t happen to us, most of us personally know of stories which can help us internalize this concept.
I once learned this lesson the hard way on a trip to Israel. Shortly after arriving in Jerusalem, I took a taxi to the Kosel. My enthusiasm quickly turned to shocked disbelief when I suddenly realized that I’d forgotten my wallet in the back seat of the cab. Numerous frantic calls to the taxi’s company bore no fruit, and instead of proceeding to pray at the Kosel, I had to first stop to call my bank to cancel my credit cards. Looking back a few years later, I realize that I painfully learned that just because I had something and assumed it to be firmly in my possession, I shouldn’t rely on this belief and take if for granted.
On Rosh Hashana, Hashem decrees what will happen to every person at every moment of the upcoming year, including what they will have and to what extent they will be able to enjoy it. Each person begins the year with a clean slate and must merit receiving everything which he had until now from scratch. If we view ourselves standing before Hashem’s Throne of Glory like a poor person with nothing to our names, we will realize that our entire existence in the year to come is completely dependent on Hashem’s kindness. A person who genuinely feels this way can’t help but beg and plead for Divine mercy. The Gemora promises that if he does so, Hashem will indeed be aroused to give him a decree of a wonderful year, something that we should all merit in the coming year!
Vatidor neder vatomer Hashem Tzevakos im ra’os sir’eh b’oni amasecha uz’chartani v’lo tishkach es amasecha v’nasatah l’amasecha zera anashim un’sativ L’Hashem kol y’mei chayav (Haftorah 1st day – Shmuel 1 1:11)
An American Rabbi once visited Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach shortly before Rosh Hashana. Rav Shlomo Zalman asked him whether he had any congregants in difficult financial situations, to which the Rabbi sadly replied in the affirmative. Rav Shlomo Zalman then asked whether there were any wealthy members of the synagogue, to which the Rabbi again responded in the affirmative. Rav Shlomo Zalman continued, asking whether any of the down-on-their-luck congregants were as poor as the poorest beggars in Jerusalem or whether any of the rich congregants was a billionaire. The Rabbi, becoming confused, answered in the negative on both counts.
Rav Shlomo Zalman smiled and asked what would a member of the Forbes 500 think if he were seated on Rosh Hashana next to the poorest of the vagabonds and overheard him praying to become so wealthy in the coming year that that on the following Rosh Hashana, the billionaire would be working for him? The Rabbi, taking the bait, responded that a person making such ridiculous requests would be viewed as crazy. Rav Shlomo Zalman disagreed strongly. On any other day of the year, such a far-fetched request would indeed be considered inappropriate. On Rosh Hashana, however, the entire universe is being recreated for the upcoming year, and with nothing set in stone, the sky is the limit for our prayers.
As proof, Rav Shlomo Zalman noted that the Medrash teaches that Chana was barren for 19 years prior to the birth of her son Shmuel. Although she surely beseeched Hashem daily to grant her a child, the Haftorah which we read on the first day of Rosh Hashana teaches that on Rosh Hashana she prayed for a special child: zera anashim. Although this literally refers to a male child, the Gemora (Berachos 31b) understands it as a plea for a child who would be considered equal to Moshe and Aharon combined.
This would be quite a tall order even for a woman with a large family who had no difficulty conceiving, but for a woman who had suffered the anguish of being childless for almost 20 years, such a request seems absurd. Any other woman who had been barren for so long would be ecstatic just to conceive a healthy child. Why did Chana make such an unrealistic request? She understood that on Rosh Hashana, the only barriers to what we may ask for are self-imposed ones. She asked for a son who would lead the generation and after two decades of suffering, she merited to give birth to the prophet Shmuel.
Rav Shlomo Zalman’s message is relevant to each and every one of us. When we go to the synagogue on Rosh Hashana, we are surely cognizant of the tremendous import of the day, and we pray appropriately on behalf of ourselves and our loved ones. We pray for years of health and happiness, of spiritual and material blessing, and of joy and success for our family and friends. However, the scope of our requests has always been limited to what we considered reasonable and appropriate for our circumstances. This year, let us remember the lesson of Chana regarding the phenomenal power of the day and that for one who appreciates it and prays accordingly, the sky is literally the limit.
Vayeida Elkanah es Chana ishto vayizk’reha Hashem vayehi litekufas hayamim vatahar Chana vateiled ben (Haftorah 1st day – Shmuel 1 1:19-20)
The Meiri writes in his commentary on Rosh Hashana that the story of Chana’s conception after years of enduring the pain and frustration of her inability to give birth is read as the Haftorah on the first day of Rosh Hashana as a lesson in the power of heartfelt prayer on this special day. However, the Medrash (Yalkut Shimoni Bereishis 78) teaches that Chana was barren for 19 years and 6 months prior to the birth of Shmuel. It is reasonable to assume that a number of Rosh Hashanas had passed on which Chana prayed with great intensity and was nevertheless unanswered. What was unique about her petitions at this time that caused them to be answered?
When Chana’s husband Elkanah ascended to the Mishkan in Shiloh to bring sacrifices, he gave the best portion to his beloved Chana (Shmuel 1 1:3-7). Nevertheless, she was unable to enjoy this, as Elkanah’s other wife, Penina, provoked her, leaving her crying and unable to eat. When Elkanah noticed this, he asked her why she refused to eat, noting that even if she was in pain over her inability to bear him even one child while Penina had already borne him ten, “Am I not better to you than ten children?”
Rav Aharon David explains that until this point, Chana had always assumed that her barrenness pained Elkanah as much as it hurt her, and that he prayed for her with the same intensity that she did. Although she prayed with great fervor, there was nevertheless a degree of desperation missing due to her reliance on the assistance of Elkanah’s prayers. Upon realizing that he had made peace with the situation by concluding that their relationship was more valuable than the birth of a child, she recognized that her entire fate was solely dependent upon the power of her prayers. Armed with this newfound conviction, she prayed as never before, and it was in that fateful year that her heartfelt prayers were finally answered!
Kach na es bincha es yechidcha asher ahavta es Yitzchok v’lech lecha el eretz Moriah v’ha’aleihu sham l’olah (Bereishis 22:2)
Hashem asked Avrohom to “please” take his son Yitzchok and bring him up as an offering. Was this a commandment for which Avrohom would have been punished had he refused, or was it merely a request that Avrohom could have chosen to decline without receiving any retribution?
The Terumas HaDeshen (2:99) maintains that Avrohom was indeed commanded regarding the offering of Yitzchok. He writes that the expression “please” doesn’t indicate that offering Yitzchok was optional. Rather, it represents an additional request that he do so with alacrity in a manner indicative of a generous spirit that wishes to perform Hashem’s will.
The Ran disagrees, arguing (Derush 6) that Hashem merely asked Avrohom to bring Yitzchok up as an offering. After Hashem promised Avrohom that Yitzchok and his descendants would be considered his spiritual offspring, He didn’t command Avrohom in a manner which would seem to contradict His guarantee. He merely indicated that he would prefer if Avrohom would overlook the promise he received.
Had Avrohom refused to do so, he wouldn’t have been punished in any way, but due to his great love for Hashem, he was willing at great personal sacrifice to perform what he knew was Hashem’s true will. Recognizing what Avrohom was willing to forego even when not obligated to do so gives us a new appreciation of the tremendous merit he created that we invoke in our prayers as his descendants.
Rosh Hashana Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Why is the Yom Tov referred to as Rosh Hashana (literally, head of the year) instead of a seemingly more appropriate name such as Yom HaDin (the Day of Judgment) or the name by which it is referred in the Torah (Bamidbar 29:1), Yom Teruah (the day of blowing the shofar)?
2) Rosh Hashana is considered a festive day, on which we dress in our finest clothes and eat enjoyable meals. The verse commands us (Nechemia 8:10) to rejoice on this Holy day and not be sad. How can we be expected to be happy at a time when we know that we are on trial and our very lives are at stake? (Darash Moshe)
3) Is it appropriate or even permitted to cry on Rosh Hashana? (Maaseh Rav 207, Shaar HaKavanos pg. 90, Be’er Heitev Orach Chaim 584:3, Elef HaMagen 582:47, Mateh Ephraim 582:28, Shu”t Teshuvos V’Hanhagos 2:268, Piskei Teshuvos 584:2)
4) The Rambam (Hilchos Shofar 1:3) rules that a person who blows a stolen shofar fulfills his obligation. Why isn’t this considered a mitzvah ha’baah b’aveirah – mitzvah performed through a sin – and disqualified for use? (Asufos Rabbeinu Chaim HaLevi Rosh Hashana 4)
5) The daily Shemoneh Esrei is divided into three sections: the first 3 blessings focus on Hashem’s praises, the middle blessings contain requests of Hashem, and the final 3 blessings express our gratitude to Hashem. As the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 112:1) rules that it is forbidden to add requests to the first 3 or last 3 blessings, how is it permitted to add the requests to remember and inscribe us for life and peace in the first two and last two blessings of the Shemoneh Esrei? (Tosefos Berachos 34a d.h. al, Beis Yosef and Biur HaGra Orach Chaim 112, Tur and Prisha 582, Aruch HaShulchan 582:2, Mishnah Berurah 582:7, Pri Megadim Aishel Avrohom 582:3)
6) One of the reasons for the blowing of the shofar on Rosh Hashana is to remember the merit of the binding of Yitzchok. Why do we refer to this episode as Avrohom’s test and not Yitzchok’s, who was willing to sacrifice his life for Hashem? (Shu”t Chasam Sofer Orach Chaim 208)
7) Rashi writes (Bereishis 22:3) that the two men who accompanied Avrohom and Yitzchok on the journey to the Akeidah were Eliezer and Yishmael. As Avrohom had previously sent Yishmael away with his mother Hagar (Bereishis 21:14) and he settled far away in the desert of Paran (Bereishis 21:20-21) with no mention in the Torah of his returning home, why was he with Avrohom at this time? (Me’am Lo’ez, Meged Yosef)
8) Was Yitzchok obligated to recite Birkas HaGomel (the Thanksgiving Blessing) after being saved from sure death at the Akeidah? (Torah L’Daas Vol. 10)
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