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September 19, 1998 28 Elul 5758

Pop Quiz: What two occupations are mentioned in this perashah?


As the New Year rapidly approaches, we all struggle to
make our preparations for the holidays. If we take time out to
study the text of the prayers of Rosh Hashanah, we see there is
almost no mention of our needs, be they physical or spiritual.
Instead they emphasize the theme of kabod shamayim - the glory of
Hashem. Rabbi Matityahu Solomon, the mashgiah (spiritual leader)
of Lakewood Yeshivah asks: How is it possible that for Rosh
Hashanah, the day on which Hashem decides who will live and who
will die, our Sages instituted prayers that have nothing to do with
the Day of Judgment?
He answers with a parable: There was once a minister who
ruled over a large country. He was extremely wealthy,
accumulating his riches through a monopoly over all building
supplies, be they wood, stone or cement. He was a benevolent
ruler and always treated his subjects well. To one particular young
man, he had been especially kind by taking him under his wing and
teaching him his building skills. In time, with his great talent, the
youth became the head of all builders in the country.
One day, this chief builder came to the minister and
remarked that as a way of expressing his gratitude to the minister
for his kindness, he wanted to build the minister an exquisitely
beautiful palace. The minister was obviously very pleased with the
suggestion and he told the builder to take all the necessary materials
from his warehouse.
Every day the builder would come to the warehouse with an
entire list of the materials he required, and the minister's servants
would quickly run to do his bidding. The other customers were
amazed and wondered why this builder merited such quick and
impeccable service without even paying, while they had to both
wait and pay. All their questions were answered when it became
known to them that he was building a palace for the minister.
Hashem is the minister; we are the builders. Our prayers on
Rosh Hashanah emphasize the concept of Hashem's universal
rulership. This helps us focus and dedicate ourselves to serve him.
When we apply ourselves to achieving this goal, Hashem will be
happy with us and will "open his warehouse" supplying us with
everything we need, be it children, health, we can
serve him with peace of mind and soul.
May Hashem inscribe us all together in the Book of Life,
Amen. Happy Holiday!

TAKE IT SERIOUSLY by Rabbi Shmuel Choueka

"You are all standing here today." (Debarim 29:9)

When the Jewish people heard the ninety-eight curses said
to them in last week's perashah, the midrash says that they turned
white from fear. Moshe then told them, "You are all standing here
today," meaning, although you may have done things wrong in the
past, you're still around, so don't worry so much. This seems to be
self-defeating, for if Moshe is telling them not to be afraid, why
then do we read the ninety-eight terrifying curses?
The answer is that once we took the message to heart and
became afraid, at that point Moshe can console us and say, "Don't
worry," because that means we got the message. This is similar to
a school teacher who shows his students the "stick" that he uses to
punish if they don't behave. He will never have to use it during the
year if on the first day, he scares them with the stick to keep them
in line.
It says in the laws of Rosh Hashanah that we don't say
Hallel on this holiday, since the books of life and death are open.
How then can we say Hallel? Yet the law is that we dress up for
Rosh Hashanah and have a festive meal. Aren't these two things
contradictory? The answer is the same. Once we come to the
realization that it's such a serious day that we can't even say Hallel
though it's a holiday, then and only then can we allow ourselves to
dress up and eat a festive meal. We must take these days very
seriously, realizing that our whole year depends on how we pray
and how we act on Rosh Hashanah. Then we can be assured to be
inscribed in the book of life, health and happiness. Tizku leshanim


"And it will be when he hears the words of this curse, he will bless
himself in his heart saying, 'Peace will be with me, though I walk as
my heart sees fit'...Hashem will not be willing to forgive him"
(Debarim 29:18-19)

The words "bilbabo - in his heart" and "libi - my heart" seem
extra. It could have said, "He will bless himself saying...Though I
walk as I see fit."
A common saying of non-observant Jews is, "I am a Jew at
heart." They excuse themselves from putting on tefillin, observing
Shabbat, etc. with this ubiquitous saying. The Torah is now talking
about a curse, G-d forbid, for the lack of observance, and therefore
says of those who excuse themselves "vehitbarech bilbabo" -
blessing themselves with a "good heart" - and claiming "bishrirut
libi elech" - "It will be sufficient if I go with good thoughts in my
heart" - that Hashem will not be willing to forgive their approach to
Torah and misvot.
The Torah consists of six hundred and thirteen misvot,
representing the six hundred and thirteen human body parts. The
misvot are divided up among the body parts; some are performed
with the hand, some with the foot, some with the mind, etc. A wise
man once said that a reason why there are so many heart ailments in
our times is because there are too many "cardiac Jews" - people
who put the entire weight of their Jewishness on their heart and
thus overburden it. (Vedibarta Bam)


"You shall return to Hashem, your G-d" (Debarim 30:2)

Rabbi Moshe Shternbuch explains the notion of "returning"
to Hashem in the following manner: Man does not sin unless a
foolish idea, which is antithetical to Torah philosophy, enters his
mind. This idea festers within him causing him to gradually
separate himself from Hashem. A man who cogently reflects upon
Hashem's constant proximity to him never consciously sins. He is
capable of sinning only after a subconscious feeling of remoteness
has permeated his being. At this time he injudiciously believes he is
not in the presence of Hashem. In order to effect proper teshubah,
one must "return" himself to Hashem's proximity. This transpires
when one realizes that he is always near to Hashem. A sense of
returning home constitutes the foundation of teshubah.
The most important aspect of teshubah is "vidui" or
confession of sins. The first step is the most essential and
simultaneously the most difficult. Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch
poignantly notes that confession is not merely the admission of
one's sins to Hashem. Rather it is also the admission to oneself that
one has sinned. One must confront the reality of his mistakes.
Hashem does not need an avowal from us, for He knows us
thoroughly, undoubtedly much better than we know ourselves. We
need this unreserved confession; without personally facing our own
ego we can never truly improve. Confession is difficult, for within
every individual an advocate exists which is constantly ready to
blatantly deny every wrongdoing. It is capable of mitigating our
most serious transgressions. In a fastidious manner it succeeds in
veiling our self image, thereby effectively obstructing the path to
self improvement. Consequently, the first and most essential step in
the teshubah process is our personal confrontation with the sin,
reflected in the act of vidui. (Peninim on the Torah)

Answer to pop quiz: Woodcutter and water-drawer.

Rosh Hashanah Pop quiz: What Jewish leader was assassinated on
Rosh Hashanah?


The Haftarah for the first day of Rosh Hashanah is the story
of a woman named Hannah who yearned for a child and, together
with her husband, Elkana, would annually make a pilgrimage to
pray in the Tabernacle of Shiloh. Eventually she was blessed with a
child, whom she named Shemuel because, "I borrowed him from
Hashem." The most well-known reason for designating this story
to be the Haftarah on Rosh Hashanah is that is was on Rosh
Hashanah that Hashem remembered Hannah and made it possible
for her to conceive.
One may, however, wonder, is this the only thing recorded
in Scriptures which took place on Rosh Hashanah? For instance, it
was on Rosh Hashanah that the prophet Elisha came to Shunam
and blessed the woman with a child. It was also on Rosh Hashanah
that the people gathered around Ezra to hear the Torah being read
and resolved to follow its teachings.
Perhaps we can add another reason for specifically selecting
the story of Hannah to be read on Rosh Hashanah. Rosh Hashanah
is a day when many come to shul with a tremor in their heart, not
knowing what the New Year entails for them. They make
resolutions and even vows of loyalty to Hashem and donations to
charity, etc., hoping that in this merit their wishes will be granted
and they will be blessed with a happy, healthy and prosperous New
Year. Unfortunately, when the inspiration of the crisis disappears
and when the danger is over, many pledges remain unredeemed and
many vows are violated.
This is like the story of the old woman who was about to
walk across an old, rickety bridge. She said, "G-d, if I get through
safely, I will give one hundred dollars to charity." When she was a
quarter of the way across and all seemed well, she said, "G-d, I do
not have so much. You won't mind, I know; fifty dollars are also
enough." As she walked a little further, the bridge suddenly began
to shake underneath her feet. "Oh," she said, "I only made a joke
and G-d took me seriously."
Hannah was a woman who was lacking fulfillment. She
wanted very much to have a child of her own, and for years she
came to the Tabernacle, poured out her heart and beseeched
Hashem to grant her a son. Together with this she vowed, "If You
will look upon the anguish of Your maidservant and give Your
maidservant a male child, then I will give him to G-d all the days of
his life." Finally her wish was granted and when the boy was still
very young, she brought him to the house of Hashem in Shiloh.
Though she could have procrastinated and waited until he became
much older, claiming, "A young little boy needs the tender loving
care of his mother," she did not look for excuses or loopholes, but
made every effort to fulfill her pledge promptly.
This may be a reason for reading specifically about this
event which took place on Rosh Hashanah. It is a reminder to all of
us that when in the midst of our inspiration and fervent prayers we
make resolutions, vows and oaths to improve our relationship with
Hashem and man, we should remember to carry on tomorrow in
accordance with the resolutions we have made today. Hannah was
blessed with an abundance of nahat and we, too, will be highly
rewarded when we fulfill our promises. (Vedibarta Bam)

Answer to Rosh Hashanah pop quiz: Gedaliah ben Ahikam (he was
the last Jewish leader in the Second Temple era)

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