Back to This Week's Parsha| Previous Issues
Adapted from "Ori V'yishi" by Moreinu Hagaon Hatzaddik Rav Zeidel Epstein, zt"l
Rosh Hashana is the Day of Judgment when it is decided in Heaven everything that will happen to the person this coming year, whether material or spiritual, a person's health, tranquility, parnossa, etc. We have a tradition that the procedure for the Heavenly Judgment follows the same pattern as temporal judgment. There is a prosecutor, a defending attorney, a court appointment, just like the court system here on Earth. The Satan is the prosecutor who is given the ability to prosecute on this Holy Day. Then there is a summons given 30 days before the trial (the month of Elul). Why is that so? Doesn't Hakadosh Baruch Hu know everything that is going on without all this? Why can't He just make a judgment based on that Divine knowledge? What does He need this whole procedure for? It seems that Chazal, in notifying us of this Heavenly reality are sending us a message; they are trying to teach us something.
"On Rosh Hashana all the inhabitants of the world pass before him, Kibnei Maron (like those of Maron)." What does the Mishna mean by these last two words "those of Maron"? Here (in Bavel) it is translated as being based on an Aramaic word, "like sheep." Reish Lakish says they refer to "the steps of a narrow mountain path" (i.e., narrow, so that people have to pass by one by one). R. Yehudah, however, said in the name of Shmuel: (They mean) "like the armies of the house of David" (which were numbered one by one). Said Rabba bar Bar Chana in the name of R. Yochanan: "In all circumstances they are surveyed at a single glance. And R. Nachman bar Yitzchak said: Thus also we understand the words of our Mishna: "He that fashioned all their hearts alike" (Tehillim 33:15], i.e., the Creator, sees all their hearts (at a glance) and (at once) understands all their works. (Rosh Hashana 18a)
The commentaries have struggled for centuries to understand these enigmatic statements of Chazal. This gemara is definitely trying to teach us something important that will enable us to understand the judgment of Rosh Hashana. A beautiful explanation can be found in the sefer Ohr Yisroel (in the section called Kochvei Ohr, sec. 4, written by Rav Yitzchak Blazer, talmid of Rav Yisroel Salanter). Rav Zeidel's rebbe, Rav Shlomo Harkavi, mashgiach of Grodno, used to relate it every year. Rav Zeidel continued this practice in the yeshiva.
Rav Yitzele wrote that this gemara is surprising. Why did the holy Sages state that everyone is judged individually, one after the other, when at the conclusion of this gemara states that Hakadosh Baruch Hu with His Divine knowledge is able to judge everyone at one time? If the judgment can be made at one time, why does everyone have to pass by individually, one after the other? Rav Yitzele deduces from this that this is a chessed from the Ribono Shel Olam to help us get through this very difficult court case.
The gemara (Rosh Hashanah 16a) sates, "Rav Chisda said, when a king and the populace are waiting for Din, the king enters first." No one can evade his day in court. Even kings are judged. However, he is given the opportunity to enter first. Why is that? The gemara gives two lines of reasoning. 1) Hakadosh Baruch Hu wants the Heavenly court proceedings to follow the style of the Earthly court. In our lowly world, Kings are ushered in first, ahead of the populace. 2) Another reason is to judge them before the anger of the Beis Din is kindled when the transgressions of the populace emerge before the court.
This gemara is astounding. Hakadosh Baruch Hu wants to judge the world just in the same fashion as earthly justice. But how are we to understand this? Doesn't Hakadosh Baruch Hu know everything even before the case is heard? What it seems to mean is that the Ribono Shel Olam doesn't use His omniscience. That being the case, if He would bring everyone at once, it is very possible that the sudden appearance of such a large aggregate of all the aveiros would arouse the Divine wrath and everyone would be condemned. Therefore Hakadosh Baruch Hu, in his infinite wisdom, decreed that the cases should be heard one after the other. But now we need to determine what the order is? Who goes first? The gemara, therefore relates that there are 3 determining factors.
The first method is that there are certain individuals who are close to Hakadosh Baruch Hu: these are the tzaddikim. Their good deeds are pleasing in Hashem's eyes and they are worthy of succeeding in their case before the Heavenly Court. Hashem has a special fondness of His Tzaddikim and wants to protect them. Therefore He allows them to enter first in order that their case should find merit in the eyes of the Beis Din before the accumulation of aveiros should draw the divine wrath. This is the first level, which is compared to sheep. The sheep are herded together into a small pen to be tithed. A narrow gate is opened enabling them to pass through only one at a time. They are counted and every tenth animal is marked to be ma'aser beheima. The sheep push one another in their desire to escape the crowded pen and inevitably the strong ones push their way to the front and exit first. So too, on Yom Hadin. The strong ones enter first. These are the tzaddikim whom Hakadosh Baruch Hu loves and so they are judged first.
The third category is above our understanding. But we do know something about it. Moshe Rabbeinu asked to understand the Divine Ways. He asked three requests; two were granted him, and one was not: "I grace those whom I choose to grace, even though he is not worthy. And I pity those whom I pity even though he is not worthy." Why are these individuals singled out for Divine grace and compassion when they aren't worthy? But that is the will of the Almighty. Of course He has His reasons which are beyond our grasp. This is the parable of the soldiers standing in single file formation. When the general wants to count them, they must all stand in a straight line. The soldier is totally dependent upon the will of his commanding officer, the will of Hakadosh Baruch Hu.
These two categories of Divine Justice are basically irrelevant to us. We cannot determine if we are really tzaddikim and so merit early entry into the Beis Din. And as far as the category of soldiers, that is not up to us, it is up to the Divine will.
However, the middle example relates to us: a narrow mountain path overlooking a deep ravine. There is enough room for only one passer-by and so everyone walks in single file, one after the other. The universal custom is that everyone has his turn. Whoever gets in line first walks in front. If someone tries to push his way in front of anyone else, he is immediately censured, "Excuse me, sir, there's a line." That's the common custom.
One who is at the front of the line is truly fortunate. Who wants to enter the court after all the judges have been incensed by all the violations they have witnessed today? One stands a better chance if his is called in early, rather than later. Thus, explains Rav Itzelle, the gemara is giving us a vivid picture of Yom Hadin and what we can do to try to prevail. The Chazal are defining what is takes to get in first. The first way is compared to the sheep, that the stronger ones push their way to the front. The third way depends upon the compassion of the Ribono Shel Olam. The second way tells us that it depends upon who was first in line. How does this work in the Heavenly Court? If the judge sees that the person is searching desperately for a defense, that he is worried and concerned about the outcome of the case, then the Heavenly Judge takes him in first, and this is to his great benefit.
During the days of Elul each one of us should be searching for defending attorneys who will go before the Beis Din Shel Maala and plead on our behalf. The primary defending attorney is Torah study, because the Torah is the best defense a person has. As we see, the reward of Talmud Torah is greater than any other mitzvos, and the cessation (bitul) of Torah the most severe transgression.
However, there is another aspect of Torah that makes it so important on Yom Hadin. The Chossid Yaavetz writes that the gemara Nedarim relates that Chazal asked, why was there a Churban Beis Hamikdash, why did we lose Eretz Yisroel? The possuk states, "For they forsook My Torah." The gemara is perplexed by this statement. During the first Beis Hamikdash the people were guilty of violating the three cardinal sins upon which we are obligated to give up our lives rather than violate them. Bitul Torah is merely an infringement of a positive commandment. How can that be the reason for the destruction of the Sanctuary and the loss of Eretz Yisroel? The Yaavetz explains that the punishment wasn't for bitul Torah. The violation of the three cardinal sins was very real and severe, and it was due to these severe sins that the punishment was meted out. Rather we can understand this by a moshol. There was once a king who had a musician who played extremely sweet music. There was no one comparable in the whole kingdom. The king loved to hear him play. Once this musician committed a terrible crime and was sentenced to death. The king, nevertheless pardoned him because it was so difficult for him to be without his lovely music. However, once this musician, recklessly and irresponsibly broke his violin. Then the king sentenced him to death. Now, did the king sentence him to death for breaking a violin? Of course not. But as long as he played beautiful music, the king pardoned his severe transgressions.
Hakadosh Baruch Hu loves the music of our Torah even if we are worthy of a severe sentence due to our aveiros. Therefore the eitza to get through the Yom Hadin is to increase, qualitatively and quantitatively, our study of Torah. It is very sad that Erev Shabbos, such a long day, has become a vacation day from the Beis Medrash. That should be an obvious issue. One seventh of our lives goes to waste. That's an important chunk of time. This is the violin that Hakadosh Baruch Hu loves so much. Do we have a better defending attorney than this? Therefore each one of us should try to come to the Beis Medrash and increase his learning, in depth and amount.
We must all try to set aside some time to learn mussar. Each one of us should make demands upon himself. See where you are holding and where you can improve and change for the better. Are you fulfilling your obligations in life? Each one of us must set aside time to talk to the Ribono Shel Olam privately. We can't continue davening like a script, out of sheer habit. Prayer has to come from the heart. And so we must find a time and place to privately beseech the Ribono Shel Olam and daven. Each one of us must examine his personal philosophies, his hashkafos. We say, in Elul, the possuk, àçú ùàìúé îàú ä' àåúä àá÷ù, ùáúé ááéú ä' ëì éîé çéé. "One thing I asked from Hashem, and that one thing will always be my request, to sit in the House of Hashem all the days of my life." Have we really internalized that concept?
We need much merit in order to get through the Day of Judgment. We have to daven for this. And we have to mean it! Hakadosh Baruch Hu should grant us to truly recognize this.
It is within our grasp to merit to enter the Court of Justice early, and to be one of the lucky ones. People are already gathering to stand in line. Whoever starts preparing himself now will get in earlier than those who wait until next week. Then it may be too late. Hakadosh Baruch Hu has given us a tremendously powerful eitza to get through Yom Hadin. With this we can change the order of who comes in first.
I wish you that we should all be able to strengthen ourselves in Torah, mussar and tefilla. Then most certainly we will merit getting to the front of the line. Hashem should help us all to merit a new year of spiritual climb, and success in gashmius and ruchnius.
I wish everyone a great Rosh Hashana. May you all be written and sealed in the Book of the Living for a wonderful, prosperous, and healthy New Year.
Wishing everyone a Gut Gebentched Yahr!
Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
Yeshiva Gedolah Medrash Chaim
Rabbi Parkoff is author of “Chizuk!” and “Trust Me!” (Feldheim Publishers), and “Mission Possible!” (Israel Book Shop ? Lakewood). You can access Rav Parkoff's Chizuk Sheets online:
If you would like to correspond with Rabbi Parkoff, or change your subscription, please contact: rabbi.e.parkoff@gmail
Yeshiva Gedolah Medrash Chaim
Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff: 732-325-1257
Rabbi Dovid Moshe Stern: 718-360-4674
Shema Yisrael Torah Network