by Zvi Akiva Fleisher
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YOM TOV SELECTIONS - ROSH HASHONOH 5770 BS"D
All of "klal Yisroel" will forgo the mitzvoh of hearing the sounding of the shofar on the first day of Rosh Hashonoh as it is Shabbos. The sounding of the shofar is not a prohibited act, as it does not fall under any of the categories or sub-categories of Shabbos restricted work, "m'lochos." The gemara says that it prohibited as a Rabbinical safeguard to avoid the possibility that someone might carry a shofar four cubits in the public arena to bring it to a person who would teach him how to blow it properly. The same reason applies to the taking of the four species on the first day of Sukos that falls out on a Shabbos (surely on subsequent days that are Shabbos, where the mitzvoh is only Rabbinic in nature), and the reading of Megilas Esther on Shabbos.
Although the basic mitzvoh of sounding the shofar might be as minimal as hearing three soundings of the shofar in a certain sequence, a confluence of varying opinions as to how the sounds should be made and a custom to enhance the mitzvoh by sounding the proper blowing repeatedly brings us to no less than 100 shofar blasts.
The combination of these two points brings us to a most poignant lesson in our commitment to Hashem, the King, which is in the main, the service we are to do on Rosh Hashonoh. Our emotional connection to Hashem can be broken into two basic components, service out of fear, "yiroh," and service out of love, "ahavoh." It is somewhat farfetched (see Ran on gemara Shabbos chapter Rabbi Eliezer d'miloh) that one might carry a shofar in the public domain on Shabbos Rosh Hashonoh, as one would normally prepare beforehand, and if he was not knowledgeable of how to sound the shofar, he would tend to learning its intricacies before the advent of Yom Tov. Secondly, to institute that all of the nation Yisroel should refrain from this Torah mandated mitzvoh, which brings in its wake (see Rabbi Saadioh Gaon who cites 10 reasons for the sounding of the shofar) the merit of the mitzvoh itself, repentance, a spirit of clemency in the upper spheres, etc., all because of this farfetched concern is startling, to say the least. We must conclude that the slightest fear of desecrating the Holy Shabbos is a sufficient overriding consideration. Commentators also add that all the positive concepts that come with the sounding of the shofar are likewise accomplished through the extreme care manifested by our safeguarding Shabbos (see Rabbi Akiva Eiger on gemara R.H.).
The extreme expansiveness of broadening the mitzvoh of hearing the sound of the shofar, which is basically a few blasts, and in practice is the blowing of a series of 100 combinations, likewise shows our extreme care in doing this mitzvoh in the best possible manner.
We thus have both extreme care in not transgressing a prohibited act, and also extreme care in fulfilling a positive act. Refraining from a negative precept is based on serving Hashem through fear, while fulfilling a positive precept is serving Hashem with love, as explained by the Ramban in his commentary on the Ten Commandments in parshas Yisro. This combination shows true allegiance to the King of Kings.
We might find an allusion to all of this in Bmidbar 23:21. The verse says, "Lo hibit o'ven b'Yaakov v'lo ro'oh omol b'Yisroel Hashem Elokov imo u'sruas melech bo," - He has not seen iniquity in Yaakov nor has He seen struggle in Yisroel Hashem his G-d is with him and the friendship of a King is in him. This is a loose translation of these words. Based on the above we might say that avoiding negative transgressions is service of Hashem through fear, a lower level, which is in tandem with the lower level name Yaakov, while not seeing "omol," which we will translate as toil, meaning that when the bnei Yisroel fulfill their mitzvos they do it with joy and alacrity, and not as a toil. This behaviour deserves the higher title of Yisroel. As translated by Targum Onkelos, "o'ven" refers to idol worship. Whoever desecrates Shabbos is equated to one who denies Hashem as the creator and master of the world. Hashem has seen no such flaw in Yaakov, as we have distanced ourselves greatly from even accidental desecration of Shabbos, even at the cost of pushing aside the greatest action-based advocate we have on Rosh Hashonoh, hearing the sound of the shofar. "Ameilus," toil, is experienced when one does something without total joy, as a labour of love does not tire. When we do sound the shofar, rather than doing it just to the minimal requirement, we far exceed this and blow a total of 100 times! This positive command, an act on the level of Yisroel, is surely done without "omol." The verse continues, "Hashem Elokov imo," both the name Hashem, "rachamim," generated through positive precepts, and "Elokov," "din," through negative precepts, are with him, as evidenced by "usruas melech," sounding the "truoh" for the King on the day we herald in and coronate the King, is done 100 times. The extreme care in avoiding the transgression of a negative precept, is "bo," which can be read as "b'Vov," on six days only and not on the seventh, Shabbos.
We might add that Amoleik embodies negation of serving Hashem with joy, as per the verse, "Asher korcho ba'derech," (end of parshas Ki Seitzei), which is translated as "who has cooled you off" (see Rashi). Taking the joy out of our service to Hashem turns it into toil. Amoleik is "OMoL Kuf," the 100 sounds (Kuf=100) are a burden. We instead do it very willingly and negate his negative powers.
May our extreme care in fulfilling both "mitzvos assei" and "lo saa'seh" this Rosh Hashonoh in relation to shofar be a merit for a "shonoh tovoh umsukoh, shnas geuloh vishu'oh."
"US'SHUVOH USFILOH UTZDOKOH MAAVIRIN ES RO'A HAGZEIROH" - And repentance and prayer and charity remove the negativity of the decree - This is a phrase that is a highlight of our mussof repetition prayers. It is printed in virtually all machzorim in a large point font, indicating its importance. I believe that there are over fifty phrases whose first letters spell the word ELUL, either in order or out of order, but there are three that are very well known and the word ELUL is spelled in order. They are: "U'mol Hashem Elokecho *Es *L'vovcho *V'es *L'vav zar'echo" (Dvorim 30:6), "Ani L'dodi V'dodi Li" (Shir Hashirim 6:3), and "U'mishlo'ach matonos *Ish *L'rei'eihu *Umatonos *Lo'evyonim" (Megilas Esther 9:22). In all three verses the word ELUL appears in order. These three verses allude to the preparation we make in the month of Elul in the three realms, "teshuvoh, tefiloh, tzedokoh." Hashem's, so to say, circumcising our hearts means that the negative blockages created by our sins that make our hearts stoic to spirituality are circumcised. i.e. removed. This is done through repentance. "I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me" is done through prayer. When two partners are beloved to each other, even when one behaves improperly, through behaving with contrition and asking the other for forgiveness, it is granted. Sending portions of food to friends and giving presents (charity) to the poor is the act of charity.
It is well understood that repentance removes a bad decree as proper repentance brings atonement for sins, and one's balance sheet, so to say, could well have a majority of merits upon reduction of sins. Prayer likewise can be effective in that through prayer we entreat Hashem to have mercy upon us and simply by turning to the King of the world and recognizing that He is the supreme Judge and Master of the world and it is totally up to Him to render our verdict, that we might invoke clemency, even if it is not deserved, a "matnas chinom" of sorts. However, charity being a powerful source of removing a negative decree required clarification. True that it is a mitzvoh, and it shows our compassion for our fellow man, and that there is a direct benefit for the recipient, thus adding to our credit side of the celestial scales, but there are numerous other mitzvos that surely have many aspects of merit that can likewise tip the scales in our favour. Why do we stress the mitzvoh of charity? What are this mitzoh's unique powers?
Three insights are offered to clarify this. The first is rooted in the words of the Baal Hatanya in his Igerres Hakodesh, mainly in chapter 10, and also in chapters 11 and 16. The second is the Meshech Chochmoh's explanation of a medrash in parshas Emor. The third is based on a lecture given by HRH"G Rabbi Mechel Zilber shlit"a, Rosh haYeshivah Chasidei Zhvil, during the month of Elul in Yerusholayim.
The verses in Mishlei 10:2 and 11:4 say "Utz'dokoh tatzil mimo'ves," and charity will save from death. (We need no further elaboration into why charity removes the harshness of judgment as these verses simply state that charity saves from death. The words of the Baal Hatanya will give us a wonderful insight into how this happens.) In Mishlei 21:3 the verse says, "Aso tzedokoh umishpot nivchar laShem mi'zevach," - Doing charity and righteousness is preferable to Hashem over a slaughtered offering. The reason is that offerings for wrongdoing are limited in numerous aspects (i.e. what to bring, how much to bring, how to do the service, etc.), but charity has no limit. Although the gemara Ksubos 50 says that even he who generously distributes charity should not dispense more than a fifth of his holdings, this is only true for a sin-free person or one who has sinned but has been exonerated through fasting and physical suffering. However, one who has sinned may give limitlessly, just as a person spends his money without calculation to bring his ailing body back to health, as per the verse, "V'chol asher l'ish yi'tein b'ad nafsho" (Iyov 2:4). Healing of one's soul is no less important than healing his body. A person has to fight to subjugate his natural tendency to keep his hard-earned money for himself to enable himself to donate to charity. He negates his will for the will of Hashem. (This is somewhat like offering a sacrifice. Besides the explanation of the Ramban that when an atonement sacrifice is offered in the presence of the donour, he should envision its being slaughtered, dismembered, and burned on the altar as if this were done to him, simply the cost of the animal reduces one's funds and limits his intake, so his reduced blood and body fat is also included in the sacrifice aspect. We can thus say the same with charity.) This hard fought battle likewise fights against spiritually negative powers he has created through his sins. Charity is the only mitzvoh (mishnoh Pei'oh 1:1?) whose reward is paid in this world, and this is because it benefits the recipient, as per the gemara Kidushin at the end of the first chapter. The great kindness of Hashem in allowing charity to be an atonement for sin is echoed in Eichoh 3:22, "Chasdei Hashem ki lo somNu ki lo cholu rachamov." (Rashi explains "somNu" as if it were "somu," and that it refers back to "chasdei Hashem," or that it refers to OUR not being destroyed.) It is a kindness of Hashem to accept our charity to bring atonement, as we are not complete, perfect, i.e. because we have sinned. At the end of chapter 16 he writes that charity atones and protects from general punishment and that it is literally a "r'fuas haguf v'nefesh."
Ch. 23, v. 22, 24: "U'v'kutz'r'chem …… lo s'cha'leh pas sodcho, Bachodesh hashvii b'echod lachodesh" - The M.R. Vayikra 29:2 cites the verse in Yirmiyohu 39:11, "Ki e'e'seh choloh b'chol hagoyim …… ach os'cho lo e'e'seh choloh," and comments that the nations who totally end their fields, i.e. harvest everything for themselves and leave nothing for the poor, I will bring to an end. However, the bnei Yisroel who do not end their fields, i.e. they leave over that which the Torah prescribes (two of these items are mentioned in our verse), I will in turn not bring to an end. The M.R. ends by saying that with this interpretation we understand the juxtaposition of "lo s'cha'leh pas sodcho" to "bachodesh hashvii b'echod lachodesh." The M.R. requires elucidation, although it is clear that the last words come to answer why some of the laws of agricultural charity are placed in the middle of the listing of Yomim Tovim, between Shovuos and Rosh Hashonoh.
The MESHECH CHOCHMOH explains the M.R. by predicating the verse in T'hilim 9:9, "V'hu yishpote teiveil b'tzedek u'l'umim b'meishorim," that Hashem judges the world with righteousness. The gemara R.H. 16b and Yerushalmi R.H. 1:3 say that Hashem judges a person "ba'asher hu shom" (Breishis 21:17), as per his present status. The MESHECH CHOCHMOH proposes a novel interpretation that "ba'asher hu shom" not only means "his present status" in relation to his future status, as was the case with Yishmo'eil, but also in relation to his previous status, i.e. if he sinned a while back and more recently has not sinned, he is judged more leniently, and also conversely, if he has fulfilled many mitzvos earlier, and more recently has not done so, he is judges less favourably. (This understanding of "ba'asher hu shom" can also be found in the Sfas Emes, Likutim on R.H. As well, we find it in the commentators who explain that the Torah reading of R.H. includes the incident of Yishmo'el at death's door in the desert and his being saved because of being saved through the maxim of "ba'asher hu shom" to accentuate to Hashem that even if we have not behaved properly throughout the year, we still entreat Him to judge us with mercy because of "ba'asher hu shom," that we have recently improved ourselves in the days of Elul, again "ba'asher hu shom" in relation to the recent past.)
In earlier generations the majority of people were involved in agricultural pursuits, both Jews and non-Jews. Thus in the winter, when the larder is full and there are no agricultural activities, one can occupy himself with his true interests. The majority of bnei Yisroel would busy themselves with Torah study and fulfillment of mitzvos, while the majority of non-Jews would indulge in all sorts of inappropriate activities. When spring comes and one must involve himself in agricuture, there is no major difference in the activities between these two groups, as all must plow, fertilize, sow, etc., leaving little time for either doing mitzvos or for sinful indulgence. It is therefore most surprising that Hashem has placed Rosh Hashonoh, the day of judgment, towards the end of the agricultural season, when the mitzvos of the bnei Yisroel wane and the sins of the non-bnei Yisroel also wane. Why not have Rosh Hashonoh in the spring, shortly before Pesach, when the "ba'asher hu shom," recent behaviour, of the bnei Yisroel's mitzvos are at their strongest, and the "a'veiros" of the nations are at their strongest?
The MESHECH CHOCHMOH answers with the gemara B.B. 11a. The gemara relates the story of Binyomin "hatzadik," the righteous Binyomin. He distributed charity in his community to the needy. During a year of famine a woman approached him, imploring him to give her some charity. All funds had been exhausted, as it was a year of famine. He told her that the coffers were empty. She responded that if he would give her no charity, she feared that she and her seven children would die of starvation. He responded by digging into his own funds and helping her. Later, while still quite young, he became deathly ill. The administering angels in heaven appeared in front of Hashem, pleading his case. "Master of the world, You have stated, 'Whoever sustains even one person it is as if he has sustained the whole world' (mishnoh in Sanhedrin 37a, M.R. Bmidbar 23:6, Pirkei d'Rebbi Eliezer ch. 48). How then can Binyomin the righteous, who sustained a needy woman and her seven children, die at such a young age?" The negative decree was immediately destroyed, and 22 years were added to his life.
It is obvious that notwithstanding this great act of kindness, Binyomin was a very righteous man, as he was called "Binyomin the righteous" even before he responded so charitably. If so, why weren't his other meritorious acts sufficient grounds to grant him long life? It seems that righteousness alone is insufficient to guarantee long life. However, by his doing an act that extended others' lives, he in return was also granted an extension to his years, "midoh k'neged midoh," reward in kind. We now understand why Hashem placed Rosh Hashonoh towards the end of the agricultural season. This gives us the opportunity to leave over "leket, shikchoh, pei'oh, ol'lose," and "perret" for the needy, thus sustaining them and in turn being a merit to extend our lives. These particular objects are different from tithes and Trumoh, in that tithes and Trumoh may be given to the recipient of one's choice, "tovas hano'oh," thus directly benefiting the giver as well. However, the items mentioned in our verse are left to any person who deems himself poor, with no control by the farmer over who the recipient will be, whether he is worthy in the eyes of the farmer or not. So also in kind we activate a similar response in heaven, that our lives be extended even if we are not so worthy.
This is the intention of the M.R. Because the non-ben Yisroel takes all for himself he has no merit to be dealt with in such a kind manner, but the bnei Yisroel who do not annihilate (take all produce for themselves) the field will in turn not be destroyed, as per the verse in Yirmiyohu 30:11. Based on this insight of the Meshech Chochmoh, we have a clear understanding of why giving charity is a merit that is "maavir ro'a hagzeiroh."
Although it does not offer an understanding of this M.R., possibly another answer to the MESHECH CHOCHMOH's question of why Rosh Hashonoh does not occur before the agricultural season begins might be that Hashem is not ready to judge a person only when he has free time to study the Torah and fulfill mitzvos of his choice. The acid test of the Torah knowledge one has in practical application, if it has permeated his being in the realm of mitzvos between man and man, "bein odom lacha'veiro," takes place during the agricultural season. We then see if he treats his workers fairly, paying them on time, honouring his financial commitments, not overworking them, selling and buying his produce in an honest and fair manner, and giving and leaving of his produce for the less fortunate. Then, and only then, is Hashem ready to judge us.
The gemara B.B. 10a relates that Tornisrufus asked Rabbi Akiva why it wasn't sinful to give charity to a poor man. After all, Hashem controls the world and decreed that this and that individual be poor. By offering charity, the donour seems to be thwarting Hashem's plan. He added an analogy. If a king was very angered by his servant, incarcerated him and decreed that he be given no food or drink, and a person on the sly supplied him his needs, wouldn't the king be very angered by this benevolence? Rabbi Akiva responded that this was not an accurate comparison. A fitting analogy would be that of a son who greatly angered his father the king. The king incarcerated him and decreed that he be given no food or drink. On the sly, someone gave the son food and drink. When the king becomes apprised of this he would surely be pleased. True, that he wanted to discipline his son, but he surely didn't want him to suffer so greatly. His decree was a tool to show his son how bad his behaviour was and that he should mend his ways.
Tornisrufus did not accept this. He countered that although Rabbi Akiva's analogy was accurate when the bnei Yisroel are behaving as sons should, but since they were at the moment under the heel of the Roman's they surely weren't behaving properly, and the gemara Brochos says that when the bnei Yisroel do the Omnipresent's will they are called His sons, but when they ch"v do not, they are called his slaves, so his comparison was more accurate than that of Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Akiva responded that even when under the oppression of a foreign power the verse dictates that we still give charity, as it says, "Ha'lo frose lo'ro'eiv lachmecho vaaniim m'rudim tovi boyis" (Yeshayohu 58). From this verse we see that we should offer bread to the hungry even when we are under the oppression of "aniim m'rudim," the Romans. What happened to the analogy? If indeed the bnei Yisroel in such circumstances are considered slaves, their destitute shouldn't be supported. It seems that although they seem to be on the level of slaves, nevertheless when a poor man appears on our door step we should treat him as "bonim" not "avodim."
What we can extract from this gemara relative to our original question is that by distributing charity to the poor we consider ourselves on the level of "bonim" and not "avodim." In our Rosh Hashonoh prayers we say, "Ha'yom haras olom ha'yom yaamod bamishpot y'tzurei olomim, im k'VONIM im kaAVODIM, im k'vonim racha'meinu k'racheim ov al bonim v'im kaavodim t'choneinu v'sotzi cho'ohr mishpo'teinu." Loosely, this translates as: "Today is the conception of the world. Today will stand in judgment the creations of the worlds. If like sons if like slaves. If like sons have mercy upon us as a father has mercy on sons. If like servants judge us with undeserved favour and issue forth as positive light our verdict."
We clearly see that being judged as sons is preferable to being judged as servants. This is not because we deserve it. To the contrary, a son's sins against his father are more grievous than a servant's to his master. It is just that a father has more mercy on his son than on an outsider. Our giving charity demonstrates that we consider the bnei Yisroel as sons, as explained by Rabbi Akiva. This is not mere lip service as we put our money where our mouth is. Thus by giving charity we show Hashem that we truly consider ourselves His sons, and in turn pray that He have mercy upon us like a father to a son. This is how "tzedokoh" removes the negativity of a decree.
(At the same time we must realize that we cannot approach the day of judgment with over confidence and complacency. We give charity and say that our fellow bnei Yisroel are "bonim," but at the same time we much approach Hashem with great contrition, fearing that we might be on the level of servants. The Rokei'ach writes that after the sounding of the shofar we are to say the verse, "L'mishpo'techo omdu ha'yom ki hakole avodecho" (T'hilim 119:91) - For Your judgment all have stood today because all are Your servants. He says that the numerical value of this complete verse is the same as Rosh Hashonoh (it is the only verse in Tanach that has this value). We see that on one hand we demonstrate through our actions that we are "bonim," but at the same time we accept the seriousness of the day of judgment on the level of being "avodim.")
In summation, the Baal Hatanya's approach to charity removing a strict decree is from the point of view of the sacrifice of the donour, the Meshech Chochmoh's approach is from the point of view of the benefit of the recipient, and the third approach is a more global one, of charity creating a merciful Father-son relationship.
May we merit to have a "Shonoh tovoh umsukoh shnas ge'uloh, lonu ulchol Yisroel, omein."
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