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Weekly Chizuk

Parshas Ki Savo

Getting Ready For Yom Hadin

(Adapted from a recorded lecture by Rav Yisroel Eliyahu Weintraub, zt"l.)

We are approaching Rosh Hashana. Everyone knows that in another few days we will all be receiving a new judgment regarding the coming year. The fact that we don't see anything happening isn't to say that nothing is happening. It's happening, we just don't see it.

We can understand this with a moshol. There is a big bird called the ostrich. It is a large fat bird which lives in the wilds of Africa. It is a delicacy in the diet of the great African lions. Whenever an ostrich sees a lion, she starts running with all her might to escape. That's natural. After a few minutes she turns her head to see what the matzav is and yikes, the lion is gaining ground. He's only a few hundred meters away. Now the situation is really serious. She's going to be lunch for the lion. She's got to find an avenue of escape. So she hunts for a hole in the ground and sticks her head inside. She opens her eyes and Ah! Now the lion disappeared. She doesn't see him anymore. Now she's safe. What's the truth? In a few moments she's going to be the lion's dinner.

The moral of the story is obvious. We cannot allow ourselves to suffer the "ostrich syndrome." Closing our eyes to the danger is the worst strategy possible. We must learn how to deal with the problems and not hide from them. A person who always runs away from his problems, his problems accompany him wherever he tries to hide. The ostrich is called by Chazal "a stupid bird." Her stupidity is in thinking that by closing her eyes she's found an answer to her problems.

The gemara in Rosh Hashanah (16b) states:

R. Kruspedai said in the name of R. Yochanan: Three books are opened [in heaven] on Rosh Hashanah, one for the thoroughly wicked, one for the thoroughly righteous, and one for the intermediate. The thoroughly righteous are immediately inscribed conclusively in the book of life; the thoroughly wicked are immediately inscribed conclusively in the book of death; the verdict of the intermediate (beinonim) is suspended from Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur; if they deserve well, they are inscribed in the book of life; if they do not deserve well, they are inscribed in the book of death.

Rashi explains that the beinonim are those whose merits equal their aveiros. They are half-half. Therefore their judgment is suspended until Yom Kippur. The Rambam (Hilchos Teshuva Chap. III) cites this gemara with a slight addition:

Just as a person's merits and sins are weighed at the time of his death, so, too, the sins of every inhabitant of the world together with his merits are weighed on the Yom Tov of Rosh Hashanah. If one is found righteous, his [verdict] is sealed for life. If one is found wicked, his [verdict] is sealed for death. A beinoni's verdict remains tentative until Yom Kippur. If he repents, his [verdict] is sealed for life. If not, his [verdict] is sealed for death.

The Rambam adds a pshat to the gemara: if a beinoni does teshuva, then he will be sealed in the book of life. Many meforshim have grappled with this Rambam. Why does the beinoni have to do teshuva in order to gain life? Rashi explains that he is 50-50. Let him just perform one more mitzvah and he'll tip the scales to the side of righteousness and be inscribed for life. Why did the Rambam add that the determining factor is whether he does teshuva or not?

The Meiri in his Chibur HaTeshuva quotes the Ra'avad who explains that this gemara is not discussing quantities of mitzvos or aveiros. Rather it is discussing the disposition of the person. A tzaddik is one who is inclined to do mitzvos. A rosha is one who is inclined to do aveiros. A beinoni is straddling the fence. Sometimes he feels like a tzaddik, and sometimes like a rosha. Thus the judgment that everyone is subjected to is to determine what his disposition is.

The Ra'avad adds that the tzaddik we are discussing is not a total tzaddik. He still has a yetzer hora. Every once in a while his yetzer overpowers him. However, this is only incidentally, it is not indicative of the true nature of this person. His basic nature is good and inclined to good things. In the eyes of Heaven this person is called a tzaddik on Rosh Hashanah and judged for life.

A rosha is the opposite: he is someone who desires the wrong things. However, sometimes it happens that mitzvos come his way and he will perform them. Sometimes he gets in a good mood and performs mitzvos. But mitzvos are not part of his real personality, they are only incidental. His mind is sunk in areas which are contradictory to the Divine will. He is called a rosha and his verdict is for death (spiritual death).

A beinoni is someone about whom it is difficult to say exactly who he is. His personality is inclined half this way, and half that way. For the beinoni to merit a good verdict on Rosh Hashanah it is not enough for him to merely perform one more mitzvah. He will still remain intrinsically the same. His verdict depends upon changing his disposition, changing his inclinations. He must do teshuva and accomplish a deep turnaround in his thinking.

As a moshol he cites the Rambam (chap. 2) who mentions concept of changing one's name as a method of performing teshuva: Among the paths of repentance is for the penitent… to change his name, as if to say "I am a different person and not the same one who sinned;"

When the gemara says one must change his name, it doesn't mean simply changing his name from Yankel to Leizer. Changing one's name means changing himself. He is now a different person. He thinks differently, he acts differently, he's different. Yesterday you were Yankel. Today you're Leizer. A different person. That's teshuva.

So how do we approach Rosh Hashana? What is the eitza that will help us get through the Yom Hadin? The gemara in Rosh Hashana (16b) derives a very interesting eitza from the possuk: But the land, to which you pass to possess, is … a land the Lord, your G-d, looks after; the eyes of Lord your G-d are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year (Devorim 11:11-12). The words "from the beginning of the year" are written missing a letter. Instead of writing ?????? ???? the possuk instead writes ????? ????. The gemara derives from this that the verse is hinting at an important principle about the beginning of the year: "R. Yitzchak further said: Every year which is poor (lowly – ??) at its opening becomes rich at its end, as it says, 'From the beginning of the year — where the word is spelled ????? — until the end'; such a year is destined to have a (good) end."

The eitza is that at Rosh Hashana one should feel himself poor, lowly, destitute. Then the end of that year will have a good ending. Why is this so?

I want to tell you a little story. The Baal Shem Tov had a special minyan for Rosh Hashana and in that minyan he had selected a certain avreich Reb Wolff Kitzis to be the Baal Toke'ah – an expert to blow the shofar. He used to blow the shofar according to the kavanos of the Arizal – special meditations based on very deep kabbalistic teachings. These kavanos are very complicated and making a mistake and having the wrong kavana at the wrong time could be very dangerous. So Reb Wolff wrote down notes to remind him of the proper kavanos and their proper order.

Once it happened that they were all prepared for Tekias Shofar. Reb Wolff was standing at the bimah with the Baal Shem Tov. He opened his machzor to take out his notes and to his consternation the notes were missing. He was very disconcerted because if he would blow the shofar with the kavanos from memory, perhaps he would make a mistake, and that could ruin everything. He didn't know what to do. He became very broken and almost couldn't blow the shofar at all. Finally he gained his composure and decided to blow the shofar without the kavanos of the Arizal. He would just blow to perform the mitzvah properly (as we do).

After musaf the Baal Shem Tov came over to him and told him, " Reb Wolff, this year you blew extremely well. It was one of the best tekios I've ever heard."

"But, Rebbe, how could that be. Every year I blow with the kavanos of the Arizal and this year I had to blow stam. I had no kavanos at all."

The Baal Shem answered him. "No. that's not true. Let me explain with a moshol. A person who has to get into the palace to stand before the king has to get through the doors. But the doors are locked. If you have a key you can get in. Those privileged to enter are given keys and come in to stand before the king. But what do you do in an emergency if you don't have a key and you have to get in? You take a big ax and break the door down!

"The shofar is our key to get into the palace to stand before the King of Kings. The kavanos of the Arizal are a VIP pass to get us into the inner chambers so our entreaties can be heard. But they don't always work. A broken heart, however, is like an ax and literally breaks the door down. With a broken heart one is guaranteed to get through the gates and stand before the king. It is the best tool to bring our shofar blasts before the Heavenly Throne so the Almighty should accept our teshuva and grant us a good year. Reb Wolff. This year you blew the shofar with a broken heart. The tekios were the most marvelous you have ever blown."

Wishing everyone a Gut Gebentched Yahr!

© Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
4 Panim Meirot, Jerusalem 94423 Israel
Tel: 732-858-1257
Rabbi Parkoff is author of "Chizuk!" and "Trust Me!" (Feldheim Publishers), and "Mission Possible!" (Israel Book Shop Lakewood).
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