Thoughts on the Weekly Parshah by HaRav Eliezer Chrysler
Formerly Rav of Mercaz Ahavat Torah, Johannesburg

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Vol. 7   No. 50

This issue is sponsored by the Glassman Family
Jerusalem - Efrat - Johannesburg - Edenvale
in loving memory of their grandmother
Zahavah bas Chayim Yosef Luria z"l

Rosh Hashonoh

Turning Din Into Rachamim

"Elokim ascended with the teru'ah, Hashem with the tone of the Shofar" (Tehillim 47:6).

The posuk begins with "Elokim" (judgement) and concludes with "Hashem" (mercy). Chazal explain that the tone of the Shofar turns G-d's Midas ha'Din into Midas Rachamim. How does this work? One way of understanding it is by means of Chazal, who say that when there is din below, there is no din (only rachamim) on High. In other words, we control G-d's Midas ha'Din. To put it simply, by being strict with ourselves, we enable G-d to be lenient with us. He is strict with us only when we become lax.

The shofar is the very embodiment of Midas ha'Din, as the Novi writes "Will a shofar sound in the city and the people will not tremble?" If we take the shofar's message to heart and acknowledge G-d's Midas ha'Din, then He will respond by bestowing upon us His Midas ho'Rachamim. And this is the message inherent in the Posuk in Tehilim with which we began.


Another interpretation of the switch from din to rachamim is through a deeper perception of the Shofar blasts. The Teki'oh signifies Midas Rachamim, which explains why it is one straight note (the same note that they blew on the trumpets in the desert, to gather the people to form one unit). The Teru'ah (and the Shevorim) on the other hand, which is a broken note (which is why they blew it as a sign for the people to disperse), signifies the Midas ha'Din. It is of no mean significance that the note that they blew (seven times) to bring down the walls of Yericho, was a teru'ah.

Others explain that the first teki'ah signifies chesed (Avrohom), the teru'ah and the Shevorim, din (Yitzchok) and the final teki'ah, rachamim (Ya'akov). It is no coincidence that the teru'ah is contained in between two teki'os - demonstrating that thanks to the mitzvah of teki'as Shofar, the Midas ha'Din is kept in check.


The Sh'loh puts it like this: The human body passes through three stages - health, sickness and death, and the same three stages exist in a person's spiritual being - the fulfillment of Torah and mitzvos and good midos (health); a decline in one's level of Torah observance and midos (sickness); and a sharp deterioration from this state of decline (death - in the same way as a sick person whose sickness deteriorates sharply, dies). And this is what Chazal mean when they say 'Resho'im already in their lifetime are called 'dead').

That is why we blow 'Tashrat'! - as Chazal have said: 'Shevorim resemble a sigh' (like sick people tend to do); 'Teru'ah resembles sobbing' (in the way that one weeps over one's dead. Hashem made everyone straight, Chazal say, and it is man who deviates from the truth and makes himself corrupt. This is depicted by the first Teki'ah, which is a long straight note, followed by a shevorim, a sigh denoting the sickness of the soul. Until finally, one blows a teru'ah, a sobbing that represents the serious sins which resemble death (for which one ought to shed pools of water).

And the last teki'ah, concludes the Sh'loh, depicts teshuvah. If the sinner repents sincerely for what he has done, Hashem, in His mercy, will forgive him, and he will revert to the level of sinlessness with which he was born, and in which he was, prior to having sinned.


With the explanation of the Sh'loh, we can easily understand the sequence of chesed, din and rachamim which we discussed earlier. Because chesed describes Hashem's relationship with us before we sin, din, after we have sinned, and rachamim after we have done teshuvah. The above explanations help us to understand better what the commentaries mean when they describe Rosh Hashonoh as 'Din be'Rachamim'.



Adapted from the Yalkut Yitzchok

The word 'Tishrei' points out the Kol Bo, is the Arama'ic for 'You will forgive', a clear enough hint as to the essence of the month.


The Yom-tov of Rosh Hashonoh

The reason that work is prohibited on Rosh Hashonoh is because, following the opinion of Rebbi Eliezer, the world was created on Rosh Hashonoh, and to commemorate the creation, G-d fixed that day as the day of judgement. He did this so that each year, He will be able to take the sinners to task before their sins accumulate. As a result, it is not allowed to reach the stage where their numerous sins cause their annihilation. In this way, the institution of Rosh Hashonoh prevents the world from destruction, setting it up (for all its awesomeness) as another of G-d's acts of chesed. That is why the Torah fixed it as a Yom-tov.


Neither is it befitting for a person who is being judged, to continue with his daily occupation as if nothing was happening. On the contrary, he is expected to be free from work, to ponder over the Day of Judgement, and tremble in fear at the prospect of having to give reckoning of his deeds before his Creator. This will have the effect of causing him to repent and to arouse himself† from his slumber, to extricate himself from the pit of inertia into which he is sinking.

And we blow the shofar for the very same reason; because that is precisely the effect that the Shofar has on us.


Three Times Three

The Mishnah in Rosh Hashonoh explains that the order of blowing comprises three groupings (one for Malchi'os, one for Zichronos and one for Shofros), each consisting of three notes (Teki'ah, teru'ah and teki'ah).


The significance of the number three, explains the Magid Meishorim, lies in the words of Chazal who equate the Yeitzer ho'ra with the Soton and with the Angel of Death. He descends in his first capacity and talks a person into sinning; then he goes up to heaven and, in his second capacity, he prosecutes the sinner before the Heavenly Tribunal. And finally, in his third capacity, he takes his Soul.


Perhaps this describes the inherent power of the Shofar. One group of teki'os can dispel the Angel of Death, commuting the sinner's sentence to a lesser punishment; the second group can dispense with the Soton, until he is unable even to prosecute; whilst the third has the ability to transform the listener into a tzadik, who can no longer be led into temptation by his Yeitzer ho'ra.


The number three here is also reminiscent of the three Books that are open before G-d on Rosh Hashonoh. Three books Books that goad a person into action to do what needs to be done before his fate is sealed on Yom Kipur, to ensure that he is written in the Book of Life. Both explanations go neatly with the Chazal discussed earlier - see main article - which states that when there is din below there is no din above.


Right, Up and Standing

The Shofar is held pointing to the right, says the Magid Meishorim, to conform with the posuk "And the Sotton was standing on his right-hand side to prosecute" (Zecharyah 3:1)

And to conform with the posuk in Tehillim (47:6)"G-d ascended with the teru'ah ... ", the shofar should be pointing upwards when it is blown.

And the mitzvah to blow standing is based on the concept that the Shofar plays the role of a defense counsel. In that case, the listeners are considered the defendants, and the litigants, we are taught, are obliged to stand whilst the court-case is in progress.


THE DINIM OF SH'MITAH Adapted from 'Mitvos ha'T'luyos bo'Oretz', based on the rulings of the Chazon Ish by R' Kalman Kahana z.l.)

The Sh'mitah-Year

1. The Torah commands us to desist from working the land in the Shmitah-year, and to declare all its produce hefker (ownerless).

Most poskim agree that the Torah compares the Sh'mitah-year to the Yovel-year. Consequently, seeing as nowadays, the latter does not apply by Torah law, the former does not apply either. However, whereas the Rabbonon did not institute Yovel, they did institute Sh'mitah.


2. Although the din of tosefes Shevi'is (adding to the Sh'mitah-year - like one adds to Shabbos and Yom-tov) does not apply today, and to all intents and purposes, one may till the land in the normal manner until Rosh Hashonoh of the Sh'mitah, there is one aspect of Sh'mitah which comes into effect earlier ...


3. One may sow or plant a fruit-tree only up to and including the sixteenth of Av. The reason for this is because, when one reckons the years of orlah (the first three years of the tree's growth, during which time the fruit is forbidden), less than fourteen days cannot be counted as a year. Consequently, one will begin counting them from Rosh Hashonoh of the Sh'mitah-year, conveying the impression that the tree was planted then.

For the same reason, one may not replant a branch whilst the other end is still attached to the tree, and then detach the branch from its parent tree within thirty days of Rosh Hashonoh (from Rosh Chodesh Elul).


4. One is however, permitted to plant a non-fruit-bearing tree right up to Rosh Hashonoh. And the same applies to grafting - even into a non-fruit-bearing tree, or replanting the branch whilst it is still attached to its parent tree.


The Forbidden Melochos

5. There are two categories of plants: 1) Those that grow from the ground and that need to be planted year by year.

2) Those that grow automatically from a tree and do not require planting.

With regard to the former, the Torah forbids sowing and reaping; with regard to the latter, pruning and harvesting. And the Torah forbids ploughing too.

Planting a tree is included in sowing and pruning.


6. Chazal added to this list other tasks that one performs in the fields and on the trees, as we shall soon see.

They restricted these prohibitions however, to tasks that actually improve the field or the tree, not to preparatory tasks, such as digging a ditch around a tree for watering purposes. Nor did they forbid tasks when their purpose is exclusively to preserve the tree (i.e. to prevent the tree from deteriorating, rather than to improve it).


Removing Stones

7. Stones that one tends to clear from one's field annually may not be removed in the Sh'mitah-year, irrespective of their size, whether it is from one's own field or from someone else's, whether the stones are attached or detached.

In the event that the removal of the stones improves the field, then doing so is prohibited even if one intends to use the stones.

Should one intend to use the stones, without being interested in the looks of the field, then he may even remove them all, provided he leaves the bottom layer (those that are touching the ground). All these dinim apply equally to pieces of wood and branches that are scattered around the field.


8. Someone who needs wood and stones however, is permitted to collect them from his friend's field, since he has no personal interest in improving it - provided that is, that the owner of the field does not feel indebted to him for his favour, and certainly not if he will pay him for his services.


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