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 Rosh Hashana/Parshas Haazinu - Vol. 5, Issue 49
Compiled by Oizer Alport


Boruch Atah Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’Olam she’hechiyanu v’kiymanu v’higianu la’zman ha’zeh

At the beginning of each Yom Tov, we recite the she’hechiyanu blessing, thanking Hashem for keeping us alive and sustaining us to reach this holiday. However, Rav Pinchas Goldwasser suggests that the she’hechiyanu blessing that we say on Rosh Hashana is unique. He explains that as a person progresses through the year and recites the blessing with tremendous gratitude and enthusiasm on Sukkos, Chanuka, Purim, Pesach, and Shavuos, he has no way of shaking the doubt that he may not survive that year.

The fact that he survived to enjoy yet another holiday mandates a blessing expressing his appreciation, yet it provides no guarantee that he was sealed last Yom Kippur in the book of life. Sadly, we have all heard tragic stories of people dying just before Rosh Hashana, at which time it becomes clarified that they were inscribed in the book of death, just that they were given more time to enjoy their final year than others.

The moment at which it becomes retroactively revealed that a person’s repentance last year was accepted and he merited to live another year is the night of Rosh Hashana. As the solemnity appropriate for the Day of Judgment descends upon a person with its onset, he may take inspiration from the simultaneous recognition that it is precisely the arrival of this awesome day which signals that he succeeded last year in the repentance upon which he is about to embark once again.

As a person returns home from shul and raises his cup to make Kiddush, it behooves him to reflect upon the mercy Hashem showed in granting him another year of life. This recognition should fill him with an unbelievable feeling of gratitude, and in the merit that he properly expresses his appreciation when he says the she’hechiyanu blessing, he should be able to do so once again next Rosh Hashana.


Ham’chabeh es ha’ner mipnei she’hu misyarei mipnei goyim mipnei listim mipnei ruach ra’ah v’im bishvil hacholeh she’yishan patur; k’chas al ha’ner k’chas al ha’shemen k’chas al ha’pesila chayav (Mishnah Shabbos 2:5)

            The Mishnah in Shabbos (2:5) discusses if and when it is Biblically prohibited to extinguish a burning candle on Shabbos. If a person does so because he is afraid of non-Jews or robbers, for medicinal purposes, or so that a sick person may sleep, it is Biblically permitted. If, however, he extinguishes the flame because he wishes to preserve the candle, the oil, or the wick, it is forbidden.

However, the Mishnah uses a peculiar expression when discussing the latter case. It discusses a person who puts out the fire because it is as if (k’chas) he wants to save the candle, oil, or wick. Why does it refer to him as somebody who wishes to save money and not as one who is actually doing so?

The Gemora in Beitzah (16a) teaches that a person’s entire income for the year is determined on Rosh Hashana. However, the Gemora adds that the money one spends for the honor of Shabbos or Yom Tov or for the education of his sons is an exception to this rule. They are in a separate category, and whatever additional money a person spends for these purposes will be added to his preordained annual salary.

Therefore, the Vilna Gaon explains that somebody who extinguishes a candle on Shabbos in an attempt to save money by sparing the candle, the oil, or the wick, is in reality saving nothing. Had he allowed it to burn fully for the sake of Shabbos, the additional cost thereby incurred would have been repaid to him. The Mishnah therefore stresses that one who puts out the flame on Shabbos is only attempting to save money, as in reality the expenses of Shabbos are part of a separate calculation, and he ultimately will have no additional funds to show for his sin.



B’Rosh Hashana kol ba’ei ha’olam ovrin l’fanav kib’nei Maron (Mishnah Rosh Hashana 1:2)

The Gemora (Rosh Hashana 16b) teaches that three books are opened on Rosh Hashana: one for the completely righteous, one for the totally wicked, and one for those in the middle. Those who are found to be totally righteous are immediately written and sealed for life. Those who are completely evil are immediately written and sealed for death. The judgment of those in the middle is suspended until Yom Kippur, at which point they are written for life if they are found meritorious and for death if they are not.

The Rambam (Hilchos Teshuvah 3:3) emends the last section of the Gemora and writes that if a person repents his actions before Yom Kippur he will be sealed for life, and if he doesn’t do so, he will be sealed for death. Why does the Rambam specifically require the person to do the mitzvah of teshuvah to tip the scales in his favor as opposed to performing any other mitzvah which could similarly accrue a sufficient merit to tip the scales?

The Navi Yeshaya (55:6) exhorts us to seek out Hashem when He may be found and to call to Him when He is near to us. The Gemora in Yevamos (49b) understands this verse as referring to the 10-day period from Rosh Hashana until Yom Kippur. In light of this, Rav Yitzchok Blazer explains that although the observance of a mitzvah indeed generates an additional merit, the failure to take advantage of this unique opportunity to draw close to Hashem is so great that it outweighs any mitzvah we could possibly do. As the Rambam writes, this leaves us no choice but to properly repent our ways, and in that merit we will be inscribed for a year of blessing, health and happiness.


Sh’al avicha v’yagedcha z’keinecha v’yomru lach (Devorim 32:7)

            Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer served as the beloved Rav of the prestigious Jewish community of Slutzk. However, the position as spiritual leader of the community kept him quite busy and left him little time for Torah study. When he was presented with an offer to leave the Rabbinate to become the Rosh Yeshiva in another town, he jumped at the opportunity. Before making a final decision, he traveled to discuss the matter with his illustrious mentor, Rav Chaim Soloveitchik.

            Rav Isser Zalman laid out three arguments in favor of his proposed decision to accept the new position. Firstly, the position of Rav of a community, in which one must rule daily on difficult questions of Jewish law, is fraught with tremendous responsibility. One wrong decision could, G-d forbid, cause somebody to eat non-kosher food or unjustifiably have to pay money to another person, whereas giving a daily Gemora shiur (class) would be a much lower-risk activity.

Secondly, in his present position, he was forced to spend a large portion of the day dealing with simple, uneducated laymen who weren’t able to appreciate his greatness in Torah. In a yeshiva setting, on the other hand, he would be able to spend the entire day engaged in Talmudic discourse with young scholars who could appreciate his talents and who would challenge him to maximize his own potential.

Finally, the obligations of his current position were so numerous that they left him insufficient time to engage in his own personal Torah study. The new position being offered would leave him free of distractions so that he would be able to focus his efforts on loftier pursuits. Rav Isser Zalman concluded by suggesting that each of the three reasons unto itself constituted a powerful argument for accepting the new position, and when considered together they seemed to point unequivocally in that direction.

Rav Chaim responded that Rav Isser Zalman’s logic indeed seemed correct. However, Rav Chaim pointed out that he had overlooked one compelling consideration: this is not the way such matters have traditionally been handled. Rav Isser Zalman was not the first Torah scholar in history to serve as Rav of a community who found himself spending a disproportionate amount of his day engaged in activities that he would prefer to avoid. Nevertheless, there is no mesorah (tradition) of these Rabbonim abdicating their positions due to the aforementioned considerations.

In our verse, the Torah teaches that when in doubt, a person should consult those older and more experienced than him, who can guide him based on the wisdom of their years. In this case, Rav Isser Zalman’s seemingly logical reasoning was outweighed by the simple observation that throughout the generations, our elders obviously had a different perspective and this is not the way that they conducted themselves.


K’chu imachem devorim v’shuvu el Hashem (Haftorah – Hoshea 14:3)

            In the special Haftorah that we read this week for Shabbos Shuva, the Navi Hoshea advises, “Take with you words and return to Hashem.” Although repentance is the main theme of this time of the year, it is also one of the most difficult projects for us to succeed in. Some have even cynically suggested that instead of getting excited and making a new list of proposed improvements, a person should simply take out last year’s list and change the date at the top, as the lists will surely coincide. How can a person follow Hoshea’s suggestion to take words with him and do proper teshuvah?

            The Chofetz Chaim explains both the root of our difficulty in doing teshuvah as well as the solution by way of an insightful parable. A successful merchant was once purchasing new inventory from his supplier’s warehouse. Just as he paid his bill and prepared to leave with his new merchandise, another salesman came in and presented the clerk with his list of needed items. The clerk was about to begin compiling the order when he remembered that the last few times this customer came to the warehouse, he didn’t have the money to pay his outstanding bill and promised that he would do so when he returned.

When the clerk demanded payment of the accumulated debts, the embarrassed man explained that he still didn’t have the money but begged for one last chance to earn it. The clerk was considering the man’s request when the owner of the warehouse overheard the commotion and declared that he wasn’t willing to extend the man’s line of credit any longer. As the salesman began to plead with him, the first merchant, who was observing the proceedings, interrupted to announce that he understood the root of the problem and would like to propose a solution.

The warehouse served as a wholesaler, selling large quantities to merchants at cheap prices. This arrangement was ideal for someone such as himself whose business was based in a large town, as his sales volume was sufficient to allow him to turn a profit. The other salesman, however, came from a small village where has unable to sell enough of the large quantity he was forced to buy at the warehouse to recoup even a fraction of his costs. The merchant suggested that the warehouse owner make an exception and permit the salesman to buy only the small quantity that he would be able to sell, and over time he would turn a profit and slowly be able to pay off his debts. This insightful proposal was accepted by all and worked successfully, just as the merchant had projected.

When the Yomim Noraim draw near, a person naturally wants to rectify his ways. He sincerely examines all aspects of his life to determine which areas could use improvement. He then comes to Hashem and pleads for another year in which to make all of the changes he has accepted upon himself, yet year after year he finds himself asking for additional time to make many of the same improvements that he promised to make the year before.

Eventually, there comes a time when the accusing angel will argue that Hashem (the warehouse owner) has repeatedly given more and more merchandise (time in this world) to this person (the salesman) in exchange for a promise of payment (complete repentance) in the year to come, but without any payment on the horizon, it is unreasonable to continue extending the petitioner’s line of credit.

The wise merchant overhears the commotion and explains that a person is simply unable to accept upon himself so many improvements in so many spheres of his life all at once. Rather than unrealistically promising to completely change oneself and become a totally different person, it would be more practical and effective to choose a small number of areas on which he will focus his energy and gradually improve until he is able to “pay his debts” in those categories and move on to others  one-by-one. A person who heeds the sage advice of the merchant (the Chofetz Chaim) will merit fulfilling the exhortation of Hoshea to take the words of his Yom Kippur promises with him and to truly return to Hashem, something that we should all merit in the coming year.


Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1)     The period beginning with Rosh Hashana and concluding on Yom Kippur is traditionally referred to as Aseres Y’mei Teshuvah – the 10 days of repentance. In what way are the two days of Rosh Hashana considered days of teshuvah, as there is no mention of confessing or repenting our sins throughout the entire Rosh Hashana machzor (prayer book)? (Zahav MiSh’va, Even Meira)

2)     Where is there any hint in the Torah to Rosh Hashana being the Day of Judgment? (Kuntres Avodas HaTefillah Zichronos section of Mussaf, K’Motzei Shalal Rav Yamim Noraim pg. 154)

3)     Although we celebrate two days of Rosh Hashana due to the doubt which used to exist regarding the date when the months were sanctified based on the testimony of witnesses, Hashem clearly knows which of the days is correct. Does He judge us twice, and if so, how is the judgment of the second day different than that of the first day? (Michtav M’Eliyahu Vol. 2 pg. 74)

4)     Why are we accustomed to cover the shofar when reciting the blessing over it (Be’er Heitev Orach Chaim 593:3) when we generally try to minimize interruptions and perform the mitzvah as soon as possible after making the blessing? (Shu”t Avnei Nezer Orach Chaim 431, S’dei Chemed Ma’areches Rosh Hashana 2:14, K’tzei HaMateh 585:10, Shu”t Minchas Elozar 4:36, Shu”t Divrei Yatziv 5:56, Piskei Teshuvos 585:4, Ma’adanei Asher Rosh Hashana 5770)

5)     The Gemora in Rosh Hashana (16a-b) explains that the reason for the custom to blow the shofar both before the Mussaf prayers and during the chazzan’s repetition is to confuse the Satan. Tosefos explains (16b) that the Satan fears that this represents the great shofar blast heralding the coming of Moshiach, at which time he will be swallowed up. As a result of his anxiety, he is unable to prosecute the Jewish people at this time of judgment. How can the Satan mistakenly believe that the shofar is being sounded to proclaim the coming of Moshiach when the Gemora in Eiruvin (43b) teaches that Moshiach cannot come on Yom Tov? (Ya’aros Devash)

6)     In the beginning of the section of the Shemoneh Esrei discussing the Holiness of the Day, we beseech Hashem, “Please place Your fear upon all of Your works and Your dread on all that You have created.” As it is preferable to serve Hashem out of love than out of fear, why don’t we ask Him to instill His love in His creations?

7)     As Avrohom and Yitzchok approached the mountain on which the Akeidah would be performed, Avrohom placed the wood for the offering on Yitzchok, at which point Yitzchok questioned his father why they have the necessary equipment for the sacrifice but no sheep (Bereishis 22:6-7). Why did Yitzchok assume that Avrohom intended to offer a sheep as opposed to another animal, such as a cow or goat? (Ayeles HaShachar, Chavatzeles HaSharon)

8)     Why did Avrohom bind his son prior to placing him on the altar on top of the wood (Bereishis 22:9) instead of reversing the order, which would allow the adult Yitzchok to climb onto the altar and save Avrohom from the substantial exertion of lifting him? (Maharil Diskin, MiTzion Michlal Yofee, Shiras Dovid)

9)     The Gemora in Bava Kamma (50a) derives from Devorim 32:4 that whoever says Hashem will overlook his sins will have his life overlooked. How can this be resolved with the concept (Shemos 34:7) that Hashem forgives our sins and judges us with mercy? (Taam V’Daas)

10)  In Parshas Haazinu, we are told (32:39) that Hashem puts to death and brings to life. The Ibn Ezra writes that many derive from here a source for the concept of the World to Come, as the verse hints that Hashem will revive the dead. Why are the World to Come and the resurrection of the dead, which are such fundamental concepts in Jewish belief, not discussed explicitly anywhere in the Torah? (Ibn Ezra, Taam V’Daas)

11)  The Shulchan Aruch rules (Orach Chaim 605:1) that a pregnant woman should use two chickens when performing the kaparos ritual, one for her and one for the fetus. For what purpose is it necessary to effect atonement for a fetus which has yet to commit any sins?

  © 2010 by Oizer Alport. Permission is granted to reproduce and distribute as long as credit is given. To receive weekly via email or to send comments or suggestions, write to


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