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SEPTEMBER 17-18, 2004 1-2 TISHREI 5765

Pop Quiz: On which mountain did Moshe die?

As Rosh Hashanah approaches, we all try to think of ways to better ourselves. We know that we have tried before and many resolutions didn't last, but we still attempt some new ideas hoping they will fare better than the others. We even try to change some things for these special days, knowing full well that we probably will return to our old ways. Why do we bother? Is this really considered sincere?

Rabbi Matityahu Solomon, Mashgiah of Lakewood Yeshivah, gave a beautiful story to answer these points. There was once a poor woodchopper and his wife who lived in the forest. They got a letter that the king would be visiting them. The woodcutter told his wife, "We have to take the rags out of the windows, straighten out the benches and clean up the floor." She replied, "Why do we have to change our lives? Doesn't the king want to see us the way we really are?" He answered her, "If he wanted to see us the way we are all year long, he wouldn't notify us of his coming. Rather he would have come without warning. The fact that he gives us a warning is a sign that he wants us to be presentable for him." She responded, "But doesn't he know that we really are the way we live all year and not just the way we prepare for him?" He answered her, "Yes, he knows that. But he also sees how hard we try to better ourselves for him, and he therefore considers that this is the way we really want to be, just that we are not able on our own. This way he will help us achieve the goals we set for ourselves, because we show that this is the ideal way we wish we could be."

The lesson is clear. Let's try to be the best we could be during these days and the King will help us reach these goals. Tizku Leshanim Rabot. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka

"Let the wicked one forsake his way and the iniquitous man his thoughts" (Yeshaya 55:7)

As we get ready for the High Holiday season, we think about last year. We made certain commitments to improve. We sometimes make promises to repent and it lasts for a few days or even sometimes a few hours. Why is this? What can we do to make our teshubah more permanent, to become really better people?

Rabbi Ephraim Wacsman gives a parable. Imagine someone that has a garden that is overgrown with weeds. The person would like to get rid of his weeds, so he brings out his lawnmower and cuts down all the weeds. A few days later the garden will be filled with weeds again, because he only cut them at the surface. He has to get on his hands and knees and dig into the soil and uproot the weeds from the roots. If he gets to the roots the weeds will not grow back. People tend to look at teshubah, repentance, in a superficial way. Sometimes one attacks only the surface of the sin, which is the act of the sin, but doesn't get to the root or the cause of the sin. After Yom Kippur we feel elevated and clean. Our garden looks beautiful. We don't see any more weeds. If we don't get to the roots the weeds will grow back. Every sin has a root, something that causes the sin. The verse in Yeshaya says that the wicked must forsake his "way". It doesn't say he must forsake his sin. What is the "way" that the prophet is referring to? It is the way, the path that leads to the sin. To make our teshubah stick is to change our way of doing things. For example, a person is traveling to work. Many times the person will automatically flick on the radio. During the ride the person is given a full dose of ideas that don't necessarily reflect our Torah ideals. Many times a person will hear immoral ideas and unclean words. How will our person act and talk in work after hearing all of this? If the person wants to act in work on a higher level, he needs to root out the cause of sin. Instead of listening to the radio, put in a Torah tape. The Rabbi usually prepares a number of hours to present the class and you get the benefit of enjoying a whole class by just putting in a tape.

If we dig a little deeper and get to the roots and change our ways, we will be on the road to a permanent and happy road to teshubah. Tizku Leshanim Rabot. Rabbi Reuven Semah

"Hashem commanded us to perform all His decrees, to fear Hashem, our G-d, for our good, all the days, to give us life, as this very day" (Debarim 6:24)

In this above mentioned Torah phrase, there is a fundamental principle of our faith - that the misvot (Torah commandments) are for our "good". The pasuk even uses a double phrase - "for our good all the days" - in the world to come, and "to give us life as this very day" - in this world. However the next phrase states "and it will be a merit for us if we are careful to perform all the misvot," seemingly a redundant statement. However, the understanding of these two phrases is given with a parable. A man went to the doctor complaining that he has aches and pain all over his body. The doctor, after careful examination, came to the conclusion that the man was suffering from extreme fatigue, and sent him to a health spa for one week to rest. Can the ill man tell the doctor, "Now that I am going to the spa because of your orders, you must pay the cost of my stay at the spa"?? Certainly not. But these two verses were put together for this reason. Hashem is our Doctor, and he tells us to do the misvot because they are spiritually and physically healthy for us, and yet he also pays us for this by giving us reward. With this new awareness for the new year, Hashem will certainly write us in the Book of Life, amen!! Shanah tovah and Shabbat shalom! Rabbi Eli Ben-Haim


"Is his how you repay Hashem, O vile and unwise nation" (Debarim 32:6)

The Ramban in Parashat Kedoshim (19:2) defines the word ????? (nabal) as referring to a group or individual whose behavior is vile and shameful. Here, both Rashi and the Ramban understand this vile behavior as a lack of gratitude towards Hashem. Rabenu Yonah in his commentary on Abot (1:3) writes that hakarat hatob is basic to proper service of Hashem. One should serve Hashem not in order to receive compensation, but rather because of the countless kindnesses which He has bestowed upon him, and because of the greatness of the Master who is fit to be served this way.

Three times daily in the Amidah we express a general thanks to Hashem, "We shall thank You ... for our lives which are committed to Your power, and for our souls which are entrusted to You, for Your miracles that are with us every day, and for Your wonders and favors of every season, evening, morning and afternoon."

Often, we take these precious gifts of good health and life for granted, while bemoaning things that are trivial in comparison. For this and other reasons it is proper to visit the sick from time to time. Aside from fulfilling the misvah of visiting the sick, one comes in contact with people who only yesterday were healthy and are today ill. This serves as a reminder to be grateful to Hashem for the gifts of good health and life.

There are many instances and situations when gratitude to our parents and fellow man are required. This noble attribute of hakarat hatob serves as the primary means for a complete return to Hashem. This trait can inspire us to please Hashem by dedicating our life and our G-d-given resources to His service, and to providing for His Torah's dissemination. (Peninim on the Torah)


"My teachings should come down to you as rain" (Debarim 32:2)

Rabbi Chayim Shmuelevitz used to cite the Vilna Gaon on this verse that rain helps things grow. But what grows? Only what is there from before. If someone has vegetables and fruits that are healthy and delicious, rain will help them develop. But if there are poisonous mushrooms, rain will help them grow too. Similarly, Torah study makes one grow. But what one will become depends on one's character traits. A person with elevated traits will become a greatly elevated person. But if a person has faulty character traits, the more Torah he studies the greater menace he will become.

An arrogant person is likely to become more arrogant when he becomes more knowledgeable. Such a person is likely to use his Torah knowledge for one-upmanship. He will try to show others that they are inferior to him. If a person is cruel, the more he knows the more pain he will try to inflict on others. When a person who is power-hungry gains more knowledge, he will feel more justified in manipulating others. A selfish person will utilize his knowledge to become even more selfish. On the other hand, a person with positive character traits will use his Torah knowledge to help as many people as he can. He will readily share his knowledge with others. The more Torah he studies the more elevated he will become. His entire behavior towards others will be a kidush Hashem, a sanctification of Hashem's name.

A Rabbi told the Hazon Ish about the positive intellectual qualities of a young man whom his sister-in-law considered marrying. The Hazon Ish interrupted him with the question, "Will he be a good husband?"

A newly married yeshivah student's wife requested that he take out the garbage, but he felt that it was not fitting for one who studies Torah to deal with the garbage. He approached his Rosh Yeshivah and asked him for his opinion. "Yes, it is not fitting for someone like yourself to take out the garbage," the distinguished Rosh Yeshivah replied. The next day there was a knock on the young man's door. To his surprise it was his Rosh Yeshivah. "Could you please show me where you keep your garbage?" the Rosh Yeshivah asked him. "I came to take it out for you." (Growth through Torah)


Question: Why do we say "leb tahor bera li Elokim veruah nachon hadesh bekirbi" ("G-d has created in me a pure heart, and a proper spirit - He has renewed within me")

Answer: This is a comparison to the moon. Just as the moon renews itself, "ruah nachon hadesh bekirbi" ("may G-d give me a new purified spirit"). (Excerpted from Siddur Abir Yaacob, published by Sephardic Press)


This Week's Haftarah: Hoshe'a 14:2-10, Yoel 2:11-27, Micah 7:18-20.

This haftarah begins with the words "Shubah Yisrael - Return O Israel." This is the primary theme of this ten-day period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. This Shabbat is known as Shabbat Shubah after the first word of this haftarah.

The theme of the haftarah is a call for Israel to repent and return to Hashem. He is always ready and waiting to accept our repentance and forgive us. "He will be merciful to us; He will suppress our iniquities, and cast into the depth of the sea all of their sins."

Answer to Pop Quiz: Har Nebo.


Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of the creation of Adam, the first man. The Torah does not record what he did on his first day except for the account of how Hashem took him and placed him in Gan Eden to work and guard it, with explicit instructions not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil.

The Torah relates that Adam and his wife Havah were both naked, but they were not ashamed. When they violated Hashem's command and ate from the tree of knowledge, the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked, so they sewed together fig leaves and they made themselves aprons. Suddenly, they heard the voice of Hashem and they hid. Hashem called out to the man and said to him, "Ayekah - Where are you?" He replied, "I heard Your voice in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid" (Beresheet 3:1-8).

This seemingly simple story is very enigmatic. While at times a person may allow himself to lie to his friend, no one would have the audacity to lie to Hashem face to face! As you will recall, a moment ago we mentioned that when they realized they were naked, they made themselves aprons. Now Hashem is talking to Adam, who is dressed in his apron, and he tells Hashem, "I hid because I was naked"?!

Man has been sent to this mundane and earthly world "to work it and guard it." It is incumbent upon him to study Torah and perform misvot and conduct his life in accordance with Torah instructions. For this he will ultimately merit a respected place in Gan Eden.

While some are faithful to their mission, unfortunately there are those who get side-tracked. The glitter of success blinds them into thinking that "I am a self-made man, a secure individual and have everything that is needed to assure myself the very best." Little by little man forgets about his dependence on Hashem and begins to make for himself "garments" - security blankets which he is sure will protect him.

This is all good until one day he is awakened from his slumber by a "kol Hashem - the voice of Hashem." Suddenly, G-d forbid, he is taken to the hospital with a cardiac arrest or another serious ailment. Sometimes a catastrophe in his business shatters the entire security on which he confidently relied. At times it may be a tragedy in his family which casts him into gloom and despair. All these are the different forms of "kol Hashem" - the voice of Hashem calling man "Ayekah? - Where are you? Wake up." At that time man realizes his nakedness without Hashem.. Everything he thought he had, all that he built and amassed, is really nil.

This is what also occurred with Adam. Living in Gan Eden and having everything available at his disposal, he "opened his eyes" and perceived himself as secure and successful. Now he could do whatever he wanted, he thought, and not fear. When suddenly he heard a "call from Hashem," he came to the realization how insignificant and "naked" he really was.

Hopefully, no one should ever, G-d forbid, get a "call from Hashem" to awaken him. May the call of the shofar of Rosh Hashanah be sufficient to bring us out of our slumber. Let us resolve on this day, happy, healthily and in good spirit, to direct our lives according to the will of Hashem. (Vedibarta Bam)


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 Elkanah, 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 as 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. When the listeners wept because they realized that they had been neglecting the teachings of the Torah, Ezra and Nehemia told them not to "mourn or weep" since it was Rosh Hashanah. "Go eat rich foods," they said, "and drink sweet drinks...for today is sacred to Hashem."

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 hearts, 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 or forgotten.

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 hr 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 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 among all those 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 act tomorrow in accordance with the resolutions we have made today. Hannah was blessed with an abundance of nahat for keeping her word and we, too, will be richly rewarded when we fulfill our promises. (Vedibarta Bam)


What is the reason for the Tashlich service on Rosh Hashanah?

On the first day of Rosh Hashanah (or on the second if the first falls out on Shabbat) after the Minhah prayer before sunset, it is proper to go outside to a well or spring that contains fish - for water symbolizes kindness, and fish an ever-open eye - and recite the thirteen Divine Attributes of Mercy, mentioned in the last three verses of the Prophet Michah, "Mi Kel kamocha - Who is A-lmighty like You" (Michah 7:18, 20), which correspond to the thirteen Divine Attributes (see Shemot 34:6-7).

The prophet also stated, "Vetashlich bemetzulot yam kot hatotam - you will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea" (Michah 7:19). Based on this, the service received the name of Tashlich.

Fish have a tendency to multiply and since they are under the cover of water, the naked eye cannot see them, and thus they are not affected by an evil eye. With our going to Tashlich, we are alluding that we beseech Hashem that we be blessed with the fish qualities - multiply and not be affected by an evil eye.

Alternatively, the Gemara (Horayot 12a) says that Kings were anointed only by a spring of water to allude that their reign should flow continuously. Rosh Hashanah is the day of coronation of the King of Kings, Hashem. By going to the water we are alluding that we want His Kingdom over us to be everlasting, and we will endeavor to keep ourselves free of transgression so that our relationship will be constant and perpetual.

Alternatively, the Akedah took place on Rosh Hashanah. Satan tried to stop it from happening, and in one of his attempts, he disguised himself as a body of water. Abraham did not let this thwart him and walked right into the water. As it reached his mouth and he was about to drown, he prayed to Hashem. Seeing his sincerity Hashem instructed Satan to move aside, and Abraham continued on dry land unto Mount Moriah. To commemorate this aspect of the Akedah we go to a body of water on Rosh Hashanah.

Perhaps it can be said that with this we are proclaiming our commitment to following in the footsteps of our patriarch and resolving not to permit any obstacles to hinder us from serving Hashem.

In Hebrew, fish are called "dagim" and the numerical value of the word is fifty-seven, which is also the numerical value of the word "zan," nourishment. Hence, at Tashlich we are beseeching Hashem to nourish us throughout the year materially and spiritually. (Vedibarta Bam)

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