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 Rosh Hashana - Vol. 6, Issue 53
Compiled by Oizer Alport


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 grossly 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?

Rav Shlomo Zalman explained that Chana 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 great 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.


Ki atah shomeiah kol shofar uma’azin teruah v’ein domeh lach (Shofros – Mussaf)

            Just before the conclusion of the Shofros section of the Mussaf prayers for Rosh Hashana, we praise Hashem Ki atah shomeiah kol shofar uma’azin teruah v’ein domeh lach – for You hear the sound of the shofar and listen closely to the teruah, and there is none like You. This line is difficult to understand for many reasons. Why do we change from discussing the shofar to mentioning one of the sounds it makes (teruah)? Secondly, why do we switch the verb used to refer to Hashem’s listening from shomeiah to ma’azin? Finally, what is the unique praise which we offer Hashem – stating that there is none comparable to Him – for the simple act of listening to the shofar?

            The Medrash Tanchuma (Ha’azinu 2) notes that while Moshe said ha’azinu to the Heavens and  tishmah to the earth in our verse, a similar verse said by the prophet Yeshaya (1:2) switches the verbs. The Medrash explains that ha’azinu is applicable when addressing a subject that is close to the speaker, while tishmah is used when the listener is farther away. Because Moshe received the Torah, he was closer to the Heavens and spoke to them using the verb ha’azinu, while employing tishmah to address the more distant earth. Yeshaya was based on earth, so he reversed the verbs.

            In the introduction to his commentary on Shulchan Aruch, the Pri Megadim writes that the shofar symbolizes the pure sound of the righteous, while the whimpering teruah represents the cry of the sinner who regrets his errant ways. One would assume that although Hashem will listen to both of them, He prefers to be closer to the pious man who never sinned. However, the Gemora in Berachos (34b) teaches that in the place where repentant sinners stand, even the most righteous tzaddikim are unable to stand.

With this introduction, the Pri Megadim brilliantly explains the prayer with which we began. Chazal specifically tailored their verb usage to indicate that while Hashem hears (shomeiah) the voice of the tzaddik, He listens from an even closer place to the cries of the ba’al teshuva. It is for this willingness to draw closer to the ba’alei teshuva than to even the most pious individuals that we laud Hashem and proclaim, “There is none comparable to You!”


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 Ran writes (Derush 6) that Hashem merely asked Avrohom to bring Yitzchok up as an offering. After Hashem had promised Avrohom that Yitzchok and his descendants would be considered Avrohom’s spiritual offspring, He didn’t command Avrohom in a manner which would seem to contradict His promise. Rather, He merely indicated that he would prefer if Avrohom would overlook the promise he had received.

However, had Avrohom refused to do so, he wouldn’t have been punished in any way. Nevertheless, due to his tremendous 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.

On the other hand, the Terumas HaDeshen (2:99) disagrees and 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.


Rosh Hashana Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1)     In Parshas Emor (Vayikra 23:24), the Torah refers to Rosh Hashana as "zichron teruah" – a remembrance of shofar blasts. In Parshas Pinchas (Bamidbar 29:1), it is called "yom teruah" – a day of shofar blowing. The Gemora in Rosh Hashana (29b) explains that Parshas Emor refers to Rosh Hashana which falls on Shabbos, in which case the shofar is only remembered but not actually blown, and Parshas Pinchas refers to Rosh Hashana which falls during the week, when the shofar is sounded. Why did the Torah write these two cases in this order, first mentioning the less common case of Rosh Hashana falling on Shabbos and the shofar not being blown? (Rav Akiva Eiger Al HaTorah Parshas Pinchas)

2)     Was Yitzchok required to recite Birkas HaGomel (the thanksgiving blessing) after being saved from sure death at the Akeidah? (Machazik Brocha Orach Chaim 219)

3)     The Medrash in Pirkei D’Rebbi Eliezer (31) teaches that the shofar which was blown at Mount Sinai (19:16) comes from the horn of the ram which Avrohom offered as a Korban Olah (Bereishis 22:13) in place of Yitzchok. As the Gemora in Chullin (90a) derives from an apparently redundant word (Vayikra 1:9) that the Kohen is required to burn the animal’s horns and hooves together with the rest of the animal, how was Avrohom permitted to save the ram’s horn? (Ramban, Rav Eliyahu Mizrachi, Gur Aryeh, and Ayeles HaShachar Shemos 19:13; Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh Vayikra 1:9; Tal’lei Oros, Peninei Kedem, and M’rafsin Igri Parshas Vaeira)

Parshas Haazinu - Vol. 6, Issue 54


Amarti af’eihem ash’bisa me’enosh zich’ram (32:26)

            The Seder HaDoros (4954) records a fascinating historical incident. The Ramban had a student by the name of Avner who left the path of Torah observance and eventually rose to become a prestigious minister to the Spanish king. One year, in the middle of Yom Kippur, Avner sent a messenger to bring the Ramban before him in the king’s palace. On the holiest day of the Jewish year, in front of his illustrious former teacher, Avner proceeded to commit the dastardly deed of killing a pig, cooking it, and eating it.

Although Avner had sunken to the lowest spiritual abyss imaginable, he still retained the knowledge that the Ramban had imparted to him. After eating the pig, he asked the Ramban how many kerisos (spiritual excisions) he was liable for his actions. The Ramban responded that he would suffer four kerisos for what he had done. Avner attempted to argue that he was actually liable five kerisos, but the Ramban gave him a stern look of disapproval. Avner, stricken with the ingrained reverence he once felt toward his teacher, was speechless and unable to continue.

At this point, the Ramban asked Avner what had caused him to leave the Torah path. He replied that the Ramban had once claimed that Parshas Haazinu, the final lessons taught by Moshe prior to blessing the people before his death, contains within it allusions to the entire Torah and to everything which will occur throughout history. Avner found such an assertion ridiculous and viewed it as an insult to his rational faculties. This was the beginning of his cynical questioning of everything which he had ever been taught and held as sacred.

The Ramban held his ground and responded that his original contention was indeed valid. Avner challenged the Ramban to locate a reference to him in the parsha. The Ramban silently prayed for Divine assistance, and our verse was revealed to him. Beginning with the second word in the verse, the third letter in each word spells the name Avner.

Upon realizing the implications of the verse, which means “I will scatter them, and I will cause their memory to cease from mankind,” in which his name is contained, Avner was overcome by an intense fear and asked his teacher if there was any hope for him. The Ramban replied, “You heard what the verse says (and its connotations).” At that point, Avner set sail in a boat with no destination, allowing it to take him in whichever direction the winds and waves would send him, and he was never heard from again – in precise fulfillment of the words of the verse in Parshas Haazinu which refers to him.


Re’u ata ki ani ani hu v’ein elohim imadi (32:39)

In the middle of discussing Jewish national history, Moshe digressed to proclaim, “See now that I (Hashem) am He, and there is no other god with Me.” Why did Moshe interrupt his discourse to make this declaration specifically at this point? Further, why did he stress that you should see now that I am Hashem and there are no other powers besides Me, implying that something occurred which clarified this point?

The Vilna Gaon brilliantly answers these questions. The mystical work Megaleh Amukos writes that there are 955 ascending levels in the Heavens. Although the majority of them contain various types of celestial angels, the upper 55 levels are empty of anything but Hashem’s Divine Glory. This is alluded to by the verse (10:14) hen l’Hashem Elokecha – they (the Heavens and the earth) belong to Hashem your G-d. The numerical value of the word “hen” is 55, hinting to the fact that although the entire Creation belongs to Hashem, the upper 55 levels of the Heavens are exclusively His.

The Vilna Gaon explains that with each successive verse of the book of Devorim that Moshe taught, his soul ascended to the next level of the Heavens, concluding with the 955th verse, through which he merited reaching the greatest heights possible and from which there was nowhere further to ascend. As Moshe spoke each verse and ascended through the levels, he encountered loftier celestial beings, yet there was nary a level which was completely devoid of them.

Our verse is the 901st verse in the book of Devorim. As Moshe prepared to say it, he looked around at the celestial level he had just reached and noticed that for the first time in his ascent, he had reached a place completely empty of any being other than Hashem’s Divine Presence. He couldn’t help but exclaim that although it hadn’t been visibly apparent in the lower levels, now – from his new vantage point – it was quite clear to see that Hashem is One, and there are no other powers with Him.


Shuva Yisroel ad Hashem Elokech ki kashalta ba'avonecha (Haftorah - Hoshea 14:3)

            Rosh Hashana is the beginning of a 10-day period known as the Aseres Y'mei Teshuvah (10 Days of Repentance). The Gemora (Rosh Hashana 18a) teaches that Hashem is particularly close to us during this time, and it is therefore an auspicious time to repent for our sins. In addition, the Noda BiYehuda suggests that this period presents another unique opportunity. If a person's transgressions are so great and include sins which can only be forgiven through death, we would think that repentance during this period is unable to help him because he is too far gone. However, even though it is true that his misdeeds may indeed be so great that his teshuvah might not be able to help him, nevertheless it may be able to save the entire world, and as an amazing result, to save his own life as well.

            The Rambam writes (Hilchos Teshuvah 3:2) that just as each individual is judged based on whether he has done more mitzvos or more sins, so too is each nation judged, and so too the entire world. In light of this, it is possible that even after this wicked individual does teshuvah, he is still judged as possessing more sins than mitzvos and should be sentenced to die in the upcoming year. However, during the Aseres Y'mei Teshuvah the entire world is being judged as well, and it is possible that the entire world together with all of this person's sins was considered just more than 50% wicked, but his repentance, even though it is insufficient to save him, could be enough to take away his transgressions from the accounting of the entire world and switch the world from being destroyed to being saved.

            Although that will certainly be beneficial for the rest of the world, we would assume that it's still too late for him because at the end of the day, his sins are still greater than his mitzvos. Since the Rambam writes that Hashem first judges each individual, then each nation, and the entire world only at the end, we would think that even though he managed to save the entire world, his verdict was long-ago sealed that he must die for his sins.

            However, the Noda BiYehuda maintains that even though this person is in fact deserving of death, the fact that his teshuvah managed to save the entire world will cause his own personal verdict to be changed to life as well, adding that even if his judgment was already signed and sealed for death and even if Hashem sealed it with an oath, his contribution to saving the entire world is enough to tear up his own decree and save him.

            His novel proof for this fascinating claim is an episode in Sefer Shmuel in which Shaul swore in the name of Hashem that whomever was singled out by a Heavenly lottery that he conducted to determine who had committed a certain sin would be put to death, even if it was his own son Yonason (Shmuel 1 14:39). After the lots indeed confirmed that Yonason was indeed the guilty party, Shaul again repeated his death sentence together with the oath (14:44).

            In response, the rest of the nation pointed out that even though Yonason had in fact violated Shaul's command and according to the strict letter of the law deserved to be killed for doing so, he had one redeeming point: his actions had saved the entire nation from the looming danger posed by the Philistine army, and as such, it wasn't right that he should be punished for his sin (14:45). Shaul accepted their argument and annulled Yonason's death sentence even though it included an oath, and so too concludes the Noda BiYehuda will Hashem do for somebody whose repentance is able to save the world during the Aseres Y'mei Teshuvah.


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

1)     Rashi explains (32:48) that our parsha is one of 3 places where the expression "b'etzem hayom hazeh" – in the middle of the day – is used. It is also used in conjunction with Noach entering the ark and with the Jews leaving Egypt to emphasize that although others claimed they would prevent Noach from entering the ark and the Jews from leaving Egypt, Hashem commanded them to do so “in broad daylight” to prove that nobody can thwart His will. When the Jews heard of Moshe’s impending death, they claimed they would not permit him to die. Hashem commanded him to ascend the mountain and die in the middle of the day to prove that they were unable to stop Him. How did the Jews think that they could prevent him from dying, something which was beyond their control? (Yalkut Shimoni Parshas Chukas 764, Medrash Lekach Tov, Chiddushei HaRim, Nesivos Rabboseinu, Yishm’ru Daas, K’Motzei Shalal Rav)

2)     How many words are there in Parshas Haazinu, and what is the significance of this number? (Genuzos HaGra)

3)     The Shulchan Aruch rules (606:1) that Yom Kippur will not atone for sins in which one has hurt another Jew until he has been appeased. The Mishnah Berurah adds (606:3) that when asking forgiveness, a person is required to state explicitly what he did for which he is seeking forgiveness. If a person insulted another Jew (who suffered as a result of his speech) who is presently unaware of his actions and asking him for forgiveness for this sin will make it known to him and cause him additional anguish, is one still required to do so? (Chofetz Chaim 4:12, Moadim U’Zmanim 1:54, Shu”t Az Nidberu 7:66, Shalmei Moed pg. 56)

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