SEPTEMBER 7-8, 2007 25 ELUL 5767
"He became King over Yeshurun [Israel] when the members of the nation gathered - the tribes of Israel in unity" (Debarim 33:5)
The theme of Rosh Hashanah is to declare Hashem our King. As the verse quoted above says, G-d is Israel's King in the fullest sense only when the people are united to do His will, just as the acceptance of G-d's sovereignty at Sinai was with the consent of the entire Jewish nation, without dissent.
A parable is told by Rabbi Shmuel Binder. The conductor taps his wand, signaling to the orchestra that he is ready to begin. Each musician has worked years to prepare himself for the opportunity to play his part in this presentation. Though every one of them had a different set of challenges to overcome in order to get where he is today, there is one common thread that unites them. Each of them knows how much effort his colleagues had to invest in order to become a part of this group. This mutual understanding leads to a respect that binds them together, a respect that develops into a common goal - playing one's part, clearly, precisely and perfectly.
We are in the midst of preparing ourselves in many ways for the holidays. We began Selihot, tuning the strings of our hearts to approach the days that follow correctly. We pick only the finest members of the congregation to represent us as Hazanim. However, just as a conductor cannot perform if his orchestra members are not in tune with each other, so a Hazan is limited in how far he can pull a Kahal if there are those who choose to harp on the negative characteristics of their peers.
However, there is something that binds us all together. Just as a successful musician knows what it took for those standing next to him to attain their positions, each of us knows the challenges other Jews face living in today's world. Though we may have a variety of issues that divide us throughout the year, as these days approach, it is incumbent upon us even more to tune in to one another and to the commonalities among us.
The overriding theme becomes clear: We are united in reaching for one common goal, that of playing our parts properly in history before the Conductor of all time. Tizku Leshanim Rabot. Rabbi Reuven Semah
The Gemara tells a story. There was once a drought in Israel which was causing a tremendous famine. R' Eliezer, the great leader of that generation ordered fasting and special prayers with twenty-four blessings, but they weren't answered. R' Akiba then got up and said "Abinu Malkenu, Our Father our King, please have mercy on us," and rain came down. The students began to whisper, "How come the great R' Eliezer wasn't answered and R' Akiba, who was his student, was answered?" A voice came down from Heaven and said, "Do not think the student is greater than the Rabbi, rather the student overcomes his character traits which merited this miracle."
R' Salanter asks the obvious question: Doesn't this mean that R' Akiba is still greater, since he overcomes his character traits? He answers that R' Eliezer came from very noble stock and therefore his personality was very refined from birth. His character traits were all positive. R' Akiba, however, whose ancestry had converts in it, had to overcome personality traits which he inherited. He had to perfect himself by overcoming his nature. Therefore, he merited to have miracles that Hashem also "overcame his nature" (so to speak) and allowed rain to come, even if not deserved.
We see here the power of overcoming one personality trait. If we refrain from responding when insulted, or hold back our anger when provoked, we can bring about miracles since we controlled our nature. We have experienced a difficult year and we all want to see Divine mercy and compassion. If we exhibit these very same traits then Hashem changes His nature and will bring us a year of health, happiness and prosperity. Tizku Leshanim Rabot! Rabbi Shmuel Choueka
"Gather together the nation, the men and the women and the children, and the stranger who is in your gates, in order that they should hear, and in order that they should learn and they will fear Hashem, your G-d, and they will observe and fulfill this entire Torah" (Debarim 31:12)
Rashi cites the Talmud (Hagigah 3a) that the young children were brought along in order to bring reward to their parents. The Talmud calls this concept a precious jewel. What is so special about it? It reveals to us a major principle pertaining to the education of the very young. Young children have a tendency to make noise and can easily disturb older people who are trying to listen. Therefore one might think that it is better not to bring them. But even thought they do not understand what is being said, just being there when the king reads the Torah in the presence of the entire nation will have a major influence on the child for the rest of his life. He gains an experience of how important the Torah is for the entire people. This teaches us even today to do all we can so that children can learn at an early age the extreme importance of Torah. Every experience makes an impression; make certain to give your children many positive Torah experiences. (Growth through Torah)
If we were to receive a distinguished guest in our home, there is no doubt that we would go all out to welcome him and show him respect. We would prepare the finest meals for him and offer him the best accommodations. If the guest were to stay in our home for an extended period of time, though, we probably would not maintain that level of service throughout the duration of the visit. Then, when the time came for the guest to leave us, we would again prepare for him a lavish meal and send him on his way with honor.
This, Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian teaches, is the way we should view the last Shabbat of the year. We may have neglected to give the Shabbat the honor it deserves throughout the year, but this Shabbat is like a guest who has been with us all year and is now preparing to depart. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to give greater honor to this particular Shabbat.
How do we show more honor to the Shabbat? Of course, this means that we must be extra careful with the prohibitions of the day. Any "leniencies" we have allowed ourselves during the year should be put aside, at least for this day. We must also pray the tefillot of Shabbat with greater concentration, to understand and think about the meanings of the words which we are saying to Hashem.
We should also be sure to enjoy the meals of Shabbat for the express purpose of giving honor to the day. If a person stuffs himself to the point where he is too tired to sit down with a sefer and study Torah, then he didn't show respect to the Shabbat - he simply honored himself.
It is known that a person in the last moments of his life can do complete teshubah and be forgiven for a lifetime of sins. In an instant, he can repair all the damage he has done to his soul over the many years of his life. The same holds true regarding the last Shabbat of the year and regarding the last day of the year. If a person acts in the proper way, dedicating himself to the study of Torah and the performance of misvot he can salvage the entire year and merit great blessings for the new year. (Lekah Tob)
A quick tip to boost the power of your prayer. Hazal tell us (Masechet Baba Kama Daf 92A) that Hashem loves the tefilot of one Jew for another so much that anyone who prays on behalf of a fellow Jew with similar needs will have his prayer answered first. A special service has now begun to provide people with names of others who find themselves in a similar predicament. You can call with complete anonymity and get the name of someone to pray for and give the name of someone that needs our prayers. The name of the service is Kol Hamitpalel. Categories include: Marriage; Income; Health; To have children etc.
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