September 11-12, 1999 1-2 Tishri 5760
by Rabbi Reuven Semah
"Seek Hashem where He can be found, call Him when He is close."
A rich man once lent a large sum of money to a poor man so that he could try his hand in business and improve his situation. After a long time, the rich man approached his debtor, and asked him what he did with his money. If the poor man were to reply that he had squandered it on liquor and gambling, the rich man would certainly be angry. However, if the poor man had kept in his wallet the entire time and immediately returned the entire amount of money exactly the way he got it, his benefactor would be annoyed that he took the money for no reason. The rich man could have invested it and earned more money from it.
Every Jew is lent a great treasure, his pure soul, with which he can do so much. However, Hashem will be disappointed with a person not only if he blemishes his soul with sin, but even if he didn't commit any sins but failed to maximize the potential of his great treasure. He will also have to stand in court and defend himself.
The prophet says: "Seek Hashem where he can be found." In the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Hashem is close by. Our situation can be compared to a great sale. Everyone loves a sale. There are big price reductions and discounts. Old debts are overlooked. It is worth maximizing this chance.
It is written that during these days, man should take upon himself new resolutions and obligations even if he knows that they are temporary. This is not considered deception, because once these resolutions are put into practice, they have the power to convince us that it isn't so difficult after all to make this improvement, contrary to what the evil inclination likes to make it out to be.
May we all be successful in this High Holiday season to get closer to Hashem and be written in the Book of Life, Amen. Tizku Leshanim Rabot!
by Rabbi Shmuel Choueka
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.
DID YOU HEAR THAT?
On Rosh Hashanah we read the first chapter and part of the second of the Book of Shemuel, which discusses Hannah's praying to Hashem and how she honored her vow without any reservation. The third chapter relates an episode with young Shemuel when his mother left him in the Sanctuary to be inducted into the service of Hashem. Hashem called Shemuel, and Shemuel, not realizing it was Hashem, ran to Eli the Kohen, his teacher, and said, "Here I am; have you called me?" Eli replied, "I did not call you. Go back and lie down." Again the young boy heard the voice of Hashem calling him, but the aged Eli sent him back, telling him, "I did not call you, my son. Go back and lie down." When this repeated itself a third time, Eli realized that Hashem was calling the boy.
We are living in a time when many a Jewish child has heard the voice of Hashem. They have experienced inspiring moments in their lives and have expressed to their parents a desire to learn about our golden heritage. The child tells the parent that he or she heard a call and would like to respond, but the unimaginative parent will say, "Go back to sleep."
Instead of nurturing this awakening and helping it grow into something positive, the parent stills the child and dampens the flame.
A story is told of a father who wanted to influence his young son with heretical views. When the child was asleep, he wrote on the side of his bed, "G-d is nowhere." When the youngster awoke and began to spell out his father's message, he jumped out of bed, ran to his father and excitedly exclaimed, "On my bed I saw written a message, 'G-d is now here!'"
Fortunately, many young members of our generation are hearing the Divine
call and refuse to listen to their parents who tell them, "Go back to
sleep." In all corners of the world there is a very strong ba'al
teshubah movement - people from all walks of life are returning to the
fold. They are coming in throngs to study Torah and have accepted
authentic Torah teachings as their way of life. Let us encourage them
and help them achieve their goal of learning about our golden heritage.
NOT ON SHABBAT
It is well known that Rosh Hashanah is the day on which Hashem judges us and our deeds. It is on this day that He determines, based on our merits, what kind of a year we will have. The Satan is busy on this day prosecuting us for our sins. Our Rabbis teach, though, that the blowing of the shofar helps to confuse the Satan so that he is no longer able to hurl accusations at us, and we then have a better chance for a favorable judgment.
There is a halachah that if the first day of Rosh Hashanah falls out on Shabbat, then we do not blow the shofar on that day. Rather, we blow the shofar only on the second day. The Gemara in Masechet Rosh Hashanah (29b) explains that the reason for this halachah was that there was concern that someone may mistakenly carry the shofar in a public domain and inadvertently violate the Shabbat. In order to avoid this possibilty, the Rabbis decreed that we would not blow the shofar when Rosh Hashanah falls out on Shabbat.
Does this make sense? In order to avoid a possible unintentional error, we are putting the entire nation in great danger! Without the shofar to stop the Satan, we are defenseless against his accusations!
Rabbi Yitzhak Blazer answers that the earlier generations had a much better understanding of the severity of sins, even accidental sins. They understood that the risk of even one person commiting a sin was too great a risk. In their complete comprehension of the benefits of the shofar blowing versus the possible violation of Shabbat, they determined that the risk was not worth the gain.
The message is clear. If this is the effect of a sin performed by mistake, how much more severe is a sin done with intention! Now, before we are judged, we must return to Hashem with humility and beg forgiveness for our past misdeeds. With this, we will merit a good year filled with blessing. (Lekah Tob)
WHAT'S FAIR IS FAIR
The Gemara has two separate statements which seem to conflict with one another. First, it states that on Rosh Hashanah, all of mankind passes in front of Hashem one by one and are judged for their actions. Later, the Gemara says that everybody is judged collectively as one unit.
In order to answer this question, the Sabba of Kelm quotes the explanation of Rabbi Yisrael Salant on the pasuk "E-l emunah ve'en avel saddik veyashar hu - a G-d of faith without iniquity, righteous and fair is he" (Debarim 32:4). Rabbi Salant asks: Is this all we could say about Hashem, that he is fair and just? He explains that there is a much deeper meaning. In any country, when a person breaks a law and is brought to trial, he is judged according to his actions and is punished based on the severity of his crime. However, this really is not a fair judgment. For example, if a person is put in jail for a few years, it is not only he who suffers, but also his family and friends. What did they do to deserve such pain?
Hashem's judgment is much different. No person will ever suffer from a "side effect" of a decree of Hashem unless he is deserving of such a punishment. Even if there is one solitary person on the other side of the world who would feel sorrow from the punishment of this sinner, and that person doesn't deserve to feel pain, then Hashem will bypass the punishment and the sinner will be spared. This, says Rabbi Salant, is what the pasuk means when it says that Hashem is fair. Now we can explain our two "conflicting" statements that we quoted above. It is true that each person is judged individually based on his merits and sins. However, Hashem also looks at the big picture, and if even one person who doesn't deserve punishment would suffer from this person's retribution, then Hashem will spare him.
Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian adds that it is a good idea to make ourselves needed and loved by as many people as possible, and it can even save us from punishment. If even one of our friends doesn't deserve the sorrow that he would feel by our suffering, then Hashem may withhold our punishment due to their merit. (Lekah Tob)
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