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Rosh Hashana / Parshas Haazinu - Vol. 8,
Compiled by Oizer Alport
At the beginning of each Yom Tov, we recite the ùäçééðå 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.
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.
In the beginning of Parshas Haazinu, the Medrash (Devorim Rabbah 10:1) cryptically asks whether it is permissible to treat somebody who is suffering from an earache on Shabbos. The Medrash answers that the Sages have taught that saving a person's life takes precedence over the desecration of Shabbos. What is the connection between this Medrash and Parshas Haazinu? Secondly, what is the intention of the Medrash, as earaches are generally not life-threatening, and the law that one may desecrate Shabbos to save a person's life is a more general rule not specific to earaches?
The Chasam Sofer explains the Medrash by noting that there is a legal dispute whether a person is permitted to confess his sins on Shabbos. Some maintain that it is permissible since it gives him pleasure to repent and atone for his transgressions, while others forbid it because the focus and emphasis on his misdeeds causes him anguish. Therefore, it is questionable whether it is permissible for somebody lecturing on Shabbos to rebuke the listeners. Even if he feels that they need to hear his reproof to inspire them to examine and improve their ways, doing so on Shabbos may be forbidden because it causes them pain.
However, on the Shabbos preceding Yom Kippur, commonly known as Shabbos Shuva, which has the power to rectify all of the Shabbosim of the previous year (Mishnah Berurah 603:2), the rebuke which the speaker gives is classified as pikuach nefesh (life-saving) and permissible according to all opinions. Proof to this may be brought from the fact that Tosefos writes (Menachos 30a d.h. mi'kan) that Moshe died at the time of Mincha on Shabbos. On his final day in this world, Moshe said the harsh words of rebuke contained in Parshas Haazinu. Because Moshe realized that this was his final opportunity to do so, he considered the admonishment to be pikuach nefesh which was allowable even on Shabbos.
We may now understand the true intention of the Medrash and its connection to Parshas Haazinu. In discussing a person whose ear hurts him, the Medrash doesn't refer to a medical ailment but rather to a person who suffers anguish upon hearing words of rebuke. The Medrash questions whether it is nevertheless permissible to "cure" him on Shabbos by giving him needed words of reproof. The Medrash answers that although this question is normally subject to a dispute, in a case of pikuach nefesh - such as on Shabbos Shuva, when Parshas Haazinu is often read - it is certainly allowed, with the proof coming from the rebuke given by Moshe on Shabbos which is contained within the parsha.
As a result of Moshe's sin at Mei Meriva (the waters of strife), Hashem told him that he would die in the wilderness and wouldn't merit leading the Jews into the land of Israel. In explaining his actual sin, the Torah seems to give two explanations: Moshe trespassed against Hashem, and he also failed to sanctify Hashem's name among the Jewish people. What are the two different components of this sin, and in what way are they connected?
The Mishnah in Pirkei Avos (3:1) warns a person to remember that he will be required to give a din v'cheshbon - judgment and accounting - before Hashem, the King of Kings. As Chazal don't waste words or repeat themselves with unnecessary synonyms, a number of commentators question what is the difference between judgment and accounting?
The Vilna Gaon explains that din is what a person visualizes when he imagines the process of Divine justice; it is the punishment that a person will receive for his actions. As if that weren't scary enough, the Mishnah teaches us that a person must also give a cheshbon. He will additionally be punished for the opportunity cost of the sin, which is all of the good deeds which he could have accomplished with the time and resources that he invested in the sin.
The Meshech Chochmah explains that the Torah is emphasizing these same two concepts. It begins by stating Moshe's actual sin: he trespassed against Hashem by hitting the rock instead of speaking to it. Additionally, Rashi writes that had Moshe followed Hashem's orders and publicly demonstrated the rock bringing forth water at Hashem's verbal command, a tremendous sanctification of Hashem's name would have occurred. The Torah emphasizes that even the great Moshe had to give a din åçùáåï and was punished not only for what he did, but also for what he had the potential to do.
The Meshech Chochmah (30:20) extends this explanation to the mitzvah of repenting on Yom Kippur in a most powerful way. The Gemora in Yoma (85b) teaches that if a person does proper teshuvah (repentance) on Yom Kippur, the combination of his teshuvah and the holiness of the day will atone even for very serious sins. If Yom Kippur passes without him repenting his actions, the day won't effect forgiveness even for the most minor of his sins.
As a result, the din which a person will have to give for neglecting the positive commandment of doing teshuvah on Yom Kippur is no more severe than for failing to perform any other positive commandment. However, the çùáåï for neglecting this "simple" mitzvah is greater than for virtually anything imaginable. Every sin which a person did over the past year could have been forgiven through his proper repentance, and the opportunity cost of not doing so is that every sin will now remain a blemish on his soul as a result of this one action, a cheshbon beyond anything we could possibly imagine.
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Did Avrohom sleep the night before setting out with Yitzchok for the Akeidah (22:3)? (Har Tzvi, Nesivos Rabboseinu, Ayeles HaShachar 20:8)
2) After Avrohom offered a ram on the altar originally built for Yitzchok, the Torah relates (22:19) that he returned to Eliezer and Yishmael, who had been waiting at a distance, but no mention is made of Yitzchok. Where did he go after this episode? (Targum Yonason ben Uziel, Daas Z'keinim, Rabbeinu Bechaye 23:2, Ibn Ezra, Paneiach Raza, Tal'lei Oros, Darkei HaShleimus)
3) The Gemora in Berachos (21a) derives from 32:3 that one is Biblically obligated to recite a blessing prior to the study of Torah. Is it permissible to study words of Torah with somebody who hasn't recited the appropriate blessing beforehand? (K'Motzei Shalal Rav)
4) The Torah instructs us (32:7) to ask our fathers and grandfathers for advice. Does this advice also apply to somebody whose father or grandfather isn't a Torah scholar? (Lulei Soras'cha)
5) Hashem told Moshe (32:49-50) to ascend the mountain and die there just as his brother Aharon died. Rashi explains that Moshe coveted the way in which Aharon had died. Aharon merited seeing his son Elozar wearing the garments of the Kohen Gadol and preparing to succeed him, and Hashem promised Moshe that he would die a parallel death. In what way did Moshe enjoy a similar death, as Rashi writes (Bamidbar 27:16) that his request for his children to succeed him was denied and he was succeeded instead by Yehoshua? (Kol Dodi)
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