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

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Vol. 6 No. 47

Rosh Hashonoh

The Day of Judgement
(Based on R. Bachye's introduction to the parshah)


'Four times a year the world is judged,' says the Mishnah in Rosh Hashonoh (16a) 'on Pesach, for the produce; on Shevu'os, for the fruits of the tree; on Rosh Hashonoh, all members of the human race pass before G-d like sheep; and on Succos, they are judged for water'.

Based on a B'raisa quoted in the Gemoro, the Bartenura explains the Tana's sources: Pesach is the time that we are judged for the produce, since the Torah commanded us to bring the Omer on Pesach. It must be so that we will merit G-d's blessing when He judges the produce on Pesach.

Similarly, the Torah orders us to bring the two breads on Shevu'os, in order to merit G-d's blessing when He judges the fruits on Shevu'os (bearing in mind that the author of the B'raisa is Rebbi Yehudah, who learns that the tree from which Odom ate was wheat). And it also obligates the water-pouring ceremony on Succos, so as to merit G-d's blessing when He judges us for water on Succos.


The Bartenura does not however, give a source for Rosh Hashonoh. The Tosfos Yom-tov quoting the Ran, states the source from a posuk in Eikev, where the Torah writes "from the beginning ('me'Reishis' - written without an aleph, to comprise the letters 'Mi'Tishri') of the year until the end of the year" (Devorim 11:12) - meaning that from Rosh Hashonoh it will be decided what will happen at the end of the year. And we learn that this takes place in Tishri from the posuk in Tehillim "Blow the shofar on Rosh Chodesh when the moon is hidden on the day of our festival" (81:4). The only festival on which the moon is hidden is that of Rosh Hashonoh - and the posuk continues "because it is a statute for Yisroel (to blow the Shofar then), a judgement for the G-d of Yisroel".


The Agodos Maharsho however, disagrees with the Ran. He points out that the very same B'raisa which serves as the source for Pesach being the day of judgement for produce, Shevu'os the day of judgement for fruit, and Succos for water, continues 'And say before Me on Rosh Hashonoh Malchiyos, Zichronos and Shofros. Malchiyos, in order that you crown Me over you; Zichronos, in order that your remembrance comes before Me - and with what? With the Shofar'.

It is clear, says the Maharsho, that the B'raisa considers the Torah's command to say Malchiyos, Zichronos and Shofros on Rosh Hashonoh to be the source from which we learn that Rosh Hashonoh is the Day of Judgement.


Why on Rosh Hashonoh?

It is obvious that the world is judged on Pesach for the produce, on Shevu'os for the fruits of the tree, and on Succos for water, because those are the seasons when the produce and the fruit ripens, and when the rain season is about to begin. But why are we judged on Rosh Hashonoh, asks the Ran?


According to Rebbi Eliezer, who maintains that the world (i.e. Odom ho'Rishon) was created in Tishri (on Rosh Hashonoh), that too, is easy to understand: it stands to reason that man gives account for his deeds at the end of each year, and that he is judged for his accomplishments and his failures as the new year begins.

More than that, the Ran explains. Odom sinned on the day that he was created, on Rosh Hashonoh, and on the same day he was judged and received a merciful sentence. And ever since then, Rosh Hashonoh has been the Day of Judgement, the day on which Hashem judges the world with mercy.


But according to Rebbi Yehoshua, in whose opinion the world was created in Nisan, we will have to look for another reason to explain why the world is judged in Tishri, says the Ran.

On Yom Kipur, he explains, Hashem forgave Yisroel for the sin of the Golden Calf; that was the day, say Chazal, when He said to Moshe "I have forgiven like your words," and when Moshe came down with the second Luchos.

And it is in order to arouse Yisroel to do teshuvah and to attain forgiveness on Yom Kipur that Hashem fixed Rosh Hashonoh as the Day of Judgement and the ten days until Yom Kipur as the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah.

Rosh Hashonoh Thoughts

Like Sheep ...

'On Rosh Hashonoh,' writes the Mishnah in Rosh Hashonoh (16a) 'everyone in the world passes before Hashem, like B'nei Meron ...'.

B'nei Meron, explains the Bartenura, are sheep that pass, single-file, through a narrow corridor into a pen, and, as they pass through, they are counted, and each tenth one is branded with a painted stick and becomes Ma'aser Beheimah.

The comparison is phenominal - and awesome: every sheep has to pass through the corridor (whether it wants to or not), individually. There is no escape route. Every sheep is noted by the owner, and every sheep is accounted for - which one will live, and which one will die (based on the Tiferes Yisroel 1:11).


... Like the Steps of Beis Meron

... Like the Soldiers of Dovid ha'Melech

Yet the Bartenura presents only part of the picture. The Gemoro in Rosh Hashonoh (18a) gives three interpretations of 'ki'B'nei Meron'. Besides 'like sheep' which we just explained, Resh Lokish explains 'like the narrow ascent of Beis Meron (which one could only climb in single-file), whereas Shmuel explains it to mean 'like the soldiers of Dovid ha'Melech' (who would be counted as they marched single-file into battle) - 'Meron' from the word 'Morus' meaning master.


We need to understand however, why the Amora'im find it necessary to give three interpretations of Beis Meron. What is the difference whether we compare Hashem's judgement on Rosh Hashonoh to the sheep of Ma'aser Beheimah, to the steps of Beis Meron (Beis Choron according to others) or to the soldiers of Dovid ha'Melech's army?

The Maharsho (in Agodos) explains that the three opinions do not really argue at all, but that each one symbolizes a different set of people. As a matter of fact, he explains, the three represent the three books that are open before Hashem on Rosh Hashonoh - the Book of Tzadikim, the Book of Beinonim and the Book of Resho'im (Rosh Hashonoh 16b).

The sheep (going to the slaughter) represent the Resho'im; the steps of Beis Meron (which one needs to climb with great care), the Beinonim; and the soldiers of Dovid ha'Melech, the Tzadikim (as the Gemoro writes in Kidushin).


No Shofar on Shabbos

There is no intrinsic reason not to blow the Shofar on Rosh Hashonoh which falls on Shabbos. The only reason in fact, that we do not blow, is because Chazal issued a decree with regard to Shofar, Lulav and Megilah. They negated all three mitzvos should the relevant Yom-tov fall on Shabbos, in case someone will profane Shabbos by carrying the respective object of mitzvah in the street, with the intention of consulting an expert on how to perform the Mitzvah propertly.

Indeed, Chazal have the authority to negate a mitzvah where necessary, certainly when one transgresses it in a negative way (by simply not performing it). Yet if we look a little deeper at the mitzvah of Shofar, their decree appears somewhat startling. It is clear from the Gemoro in Rosh Hashonoh (16a and b) that it is only through the merit of the Shofar, that our Tefilos on Rosh Hashonoh stand a chance of success. Presumably, this is due to the Shofar's ability to silence the Sotton, as the Gemoro writes here, coupled with the fact that the Shofar carries our Tefilos straight before the holy throne of Hashem, as the Gemoro explains later in 26a.

Perhaps not blowing the Shofar on Shabbos will result chas ve'sholom, in the Sotton being able to interfere with our Tefilos and to prevent them from reaching G-d's Throne? Indeed, Rebbi Yitzchok says that a year in which one fails to blow at its beginning will have a bad end!


Tosfos however, quoting the Behag, points out that Rebbi Yitzchok's statement applies to a case when, for some reason or other, one was prevented from blowing the Shofar on an ordinary Rosh Hashonoh, but not to Rosh Hashonoh which falls on Shabbos.

'On'es Rachmono patrai' says Chazal - (someone who is prevented from performing a mitzvah is exempt from performing it). He may well be exempt, but as the old saying goes 'He cannot expect to become a lamden (a talmid-chochom)'. Neither can he expect to glean all the advantages of someone who did perform it.

But that is not true of a mitzvah that one failed to perform because Chazal negated it. Chazal have the power to negate even a mitzvah min ha'Torah, and it seems that they also have the power to ensure that we receive all the rewards for the mitzvah of Shofar, as if we had performed it, by merely mentioning the Shofar appropriately, instead of actually blowing it.

* * * * *

We say Kapitel 27 ("le'Dovid Hashem Ori ve'Yish'i") twice daily, between Rosh Chodesh Elul and Sh'mini Atzeres. Here are some thoughts regarding it.


"One Thing I Ask From Hashem ..."

'Dovid', G-d said to Dovid ha'Melech, 'In your opening statement you say that you have only one request, then you go on to present Me with a whole list ("That I dwell in the house of Hashem all the days of my life, to perceive the sweetness of Hashem and to visit his sanctuary")!'

'I took my cue from You,' replied Dovid. 'Shouldn't the servant emulate his master? First You said "And now Yisroel, what does Hashem your G-d ask from you, other than to fear Him," then you continued "to go in all His ways and to love Him, and to serve Him ..." '
(Eikev 10:12) - Yalkut Shim'oni.


It is possible to explain the posuk in Eikev based on the fact that whereas the Torah added the word 'and' in the latter phrases in the posuk ('and to love Him, and to serve Him'), it did not do so in the former one ('to go in all His ways'). What the Torah is saying is that G-d only asks us to fear Him in order that we go in His ways. In other words, all one really needs is Yir'as Shomayim. Once one has that, it is a natural process to go in His ways, and to love Him and to serve Him.

Dovid ha'Melech too, omitted the word 'and' in the second phrase ("to perceive the sweetness of Hashem") but added it in the following phrase ("and to visit His sanctuary"). He too was saying that all he really wanted was to dwell in the house of Hashem all the days of his life. Once he attained that, seeing the sweetness of Hashem and visiting His sanctuary would be a natural process.


I Ask and I Will Seek

"One thing I ask from Hashem, that I will seek" (Tehillim 27:4). A well-known parable is told to explain the importance of striking the correct balance between bitochon on the one hand, and hishtadlus (personal effort) on the other. It concerns a man who was trapped in the waters of a flood that had engulfed the entire town. The water was rising higher and higher, and the man realised that there was no route of escape open to him. He climbed from one floor of his house to another, to the roof on to a tree ... but the water continued to 'climb' after him. So he prayed to G-d to save him.

A rowing-boat appeared and the man inside it offered to save him. He replied in the negative - because he had faith that G-d would save him. Then came a submarine, and then a helicopter. But each time he declined, and all on account of his strong faith. Finally he drowned. Arriving in Heaven, he asked G-d why He had betrayed his faith in Him, why He had not saved him. 'But I did', came back the reply! 'I sent you a rowing-boat, a submarine and a helicopter. But each time you declined. Why do you blame Me?'


In physical matters, G-d helps us when we place our trust in Him. But He expects us to make at least a minimal effort to play our part in our own redemption, much in the same way as No'ach, whom Hashem saved from the flood in a miraculous way, had to construct the boat that would then act as G-d's medium to save him. True, Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai was saved (in the cave) without his own participation. But we are not on the level of Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai.

In spiritual matters, the principle works along similar lines. We cannot pray to Hashem to help us and then expect Him to do the whole job for us. For example, it is fine to pray to Hashem each day for Divine assistance (as we do in the Amidah), but what use is that, explains the Chofetz Chayim, if we fail to follow this up by opening a Gemoro and studying it? And it is the same with mitzvos and with Tefilah. We can beseech G-d a thousand times to 'open our lips so that we shall tell His praise', but unless we take the trouble to go to shul and to open our Sidur and daven, what is that request worth?


The difference between the two concepts is twofold: 1) That in physical things, we cannot expect G-d to do everything for us because we are not so great (as we explained earlier), whereas in spiritual matters, it is because we are not so small that we cannot perform our duties in serving Hashem ourselves; 2) That, whereas in physical things, we are expected to make a minimum effort, leaving the bulk of our salvation to G-d, when it comes to spiritual matters, the reverse is true. We must ask for Divine assistance to guide us in the right direction, and to supply us with the necessary tools with which to perform our duties, but the bulk of the effort must be made by us, because 'The reward' Chazal have taught us, 'is commensurate with the effort'. That is why Dovid ha'Melech said "One thing I ask from Hashem, that I will seek". Having asked Hashem, he made a point of pursuing the matter, because the onus of sitting in the House of G-d lay, not with G-d, but with him.


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