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Weekly Chizuk

Yom Kippur

Change Your Name

R. Kruspedai said in the name of R. Yochanan: Three books are opened on Rosh Hashana: one for the absolute resho'im (utterly wicked), one for the pure tzaddikim (wholly good), and one for the beinonim - the average class of people. The wholly righteous are at once inscribed and sealed for life; the entirely wicked are at once inscribed and sealed for death; the average class are held in the balance from Rosh Hashana till Yom Kippur; if they prove themselves worthy they are inscribed for life, if not they are inscribed for death.

According to R. Kruspedai, only the average undecided people have to wait until Yom Kippur. The tzaddikim and resho'im are judged and their fate is sealed right away on Rosh Hashana.

This statement of R. Kruspedai doesn't sit well with us. Tosefos asks the obvious question. How can R. Kruspedai state that tzaddikim are immediately inscribed in the Book of Life? Don't we see tzaddikim dying after Rosh Hashana. And how can he state that resho'im are immediately inscribed in the Book of the Dead. Don't we see many resho'im passing through many Rosh Hashanas, enjoying long lives and dying on their beds at a ripe old age?

Tosefos gives us a very cryptic answer. This statement of R. Kruspedai is not talking about judging people for what is going to happen in Olam Hazeh, in the here and now. It is talking about Olam Haba. The tzaddik is inscribed in the Book of Life of the Next World, and the rosha is inscribed for death, he will have no Olam Haba.

Again, the problem is obvious. Aren't people judged for their portion of the Next World after they pass on? According to R. Kruspedai a person is judged every year if he is going to get Olam Haba. So when he finally gets upstairs and stands in front of the Beis Din Shel Ma'ala, I guess he's only judged on the few months that transpired since last Rosh Hashana. That doesn't make any sense at all.

The Gra, in his Likutim (compilation of his annotations) comments that he Geonim added four insertions to the Shemoneh Esre during the Yomim Nora'im; two additions at the beginning, zochreinu lechaim, and mi chomocha, and two at the end, uch'sov lechaim tovim, and b'sefer chaim. You will notice that the first two just mention life - chaim. We do not ask for a good life - chaim tovim. The last two add the word "good," we ask to be written for a good life - chaim tovim. The Gra explains that this also is in conjunction with the opinion of Tosefos.

In the first two insertions in Shemoneh Esre, we ask to be written down for life, everlasting life together with the tzaddikim. Afterwards, as we approach the end of Shemoneh Esre, we ask to be inscribed in the Book of good life and peace. This is a request for a good life here and now.

In order to understand this position of Tosefos, we turn to Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzato (Ma'amar Hachochma).

The way of Heaven is to follow the same model as this world. When a court has to issue a verdict on someone, first they decide: is he a good person or not? After deciding what he is, they issue the specific ruling what is going to happen to him. The same thing happens on Rosh Hashana. First, Heaven decides the spiritual status of a person. Is he to be inscribed in the Book of the Living, or the Book of the Dead. The middle class, the average person or beinoni, is left hanging to determine if he will do teshuva or not. The second judgment on him is the verdict regarding what is going to happen to him this coming year, will he have a good year or not. So we see that there are two cases against the person, one regarding his standing in Heaven, and the second regarding his future down here.

In the Heavenly Court, they first decide as to which group one belongs: with the tzaddikim or the reshoim. This literally means that they write him in the book of the living, the tzaddikim. The rosha, however is pushed aside and written in the Book of the Dead, for a rosha is considered as if he is already dead. The average person, the beinoni, is not written down immediately. He is given a chance to do teshuva. Therefore his verdict is left hanging until the final decision on Yom Kippur. This is our tefilla at the beginning of the Amida: write us in the Book of the Living.

There is another verdict that has to be handed down: all the decrees regarding what happens to a person during the coming year. It could be that even a tzaddik will suffer to atone for his few sins, or perhaps he will prosper. So too a rosha. Perhaps he will prosper and receive his reward in this world (Hashem doesn't want to see him in the next world). Or perhaps his wickedness is such that he deserves his just rewards now and will suffer or perish.

Once that is decided, they hand down the specific judgment on him. All these judgments are consequences of the first verdict, is he to be considered among the tzaddikim or the reshoim? Nevertheless, we daven that whatever the verdict of first judgment was, still, we should be blessed with "good life," chaim tovim.

A few weeks ago I mentioned the Rambam (chap. 2). He mentions the idea of changing one's name as a method of performing teshuva. This 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.

We, I would assume, do not consider ourselves pure tzaddikim. We all have our faults and failings. But also we're not resho'im. We're not wicked people. We're Torah Observant Yidden trying to do our best with a very challenging opponent - the yetzer hora. So we are beinonim. Our job, during these 10 Days of Teshuva, is to change our status. We need to set higher goals for ourselves and change our entire mental attitude. We have to put ourselves in the position of trying to be tzaddikim. In that way, when Yom Kippur comes, the Beis Din Shel Maalo will look at us and say, that's not Yankel. That's a different person, he's a tzaddik.

Please forgive me for the following moshol. It could be taken wrong. It deals with Hitler. Hitler, we know, was Amalek, and for such a rosha, Shomayim doesn't permit even an inkling of a whisper of teshuva. He lived as a rosha, he died a rosha; and he is burning in Gehinom where will remain even after Gehinom is gone. I really shouldn't use Hitler in this moshol so as not to cause pain to our dear brethren who are Holocaust survivors and the mere mention of his name evokes terrible memories. I don't want to hurt anyone's sensitivity. However, I heard this moshol from Rav Ezriel Tauber, who is himself a Holocaust survivor having hid from the Nazis for many years only to be caught and sent to Auschwitz. So, using his precedent I will take the liberty to use his moshol. It has a powerful message for us on this Erev Yom Kippur.

Imagine after WWII, a few Yidden were approached by Hitler. He was crying bitterly over the terrible things he had done. He had murdered 6 million Jews and tortured and persecuted another few million. "I deserve to die. So I ask you, torture me, cut me into little pieces. Do anything you want to me. I can't live with my guilt." But then he adds, "But before you kill me, I have one request. I took 6 million Jews away from G-d. 6 million of His children are gone. I can't bring them back. But one thing I can do. I can give Him back one Jew. I want to convert. That way I give G-d back one of His children. Afterwards you can kill me."

After getting over the shock they start taking him seriously. They check him out and he's really sincere, he wants to convert. And the halacha is if a goy is really sincere we can't turn him away. So they take him to a Beis Din and convert him. After he goes to the mikva, he says to them, "Now, kill me." Can we kill him? No! He's no longer Hitler. A goy who converts is like a newborn baby. He starts fresh, anew. He pleads with us, please torture me, kill me, I can't live with myself. And we have to explain to him, we can't kill him, he's not Hitler. His name isn't Adolf, it's Avraham. Now his job is to go around the world and repair what Hitler did. That's his positive mission. He has just turned all his aveiros into mitzvos. He has done teshuva out of love, teshuva m'ahava.

On Rosh Hashana we have the choice to seal our status for the coming year. Our whole year depends upon our Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Of course, even during the course of the year we will have ups and downs. But they will be within the framework of that position where we stood on Rosh Hashana. Therefore, on Rosh Hashana we occupy ourselves with basic spiritual issues: we declare Hakadosh Baruch Hu the King of Creation and daven that his kingship should be revealed to the entire world. There is hardly a mention or tefilla regarding this material world. The thrust of our tefillos are for the Kingdom of Heaven. This was designed to raise our awareness and our aspirations and ideals. On Rosh Hashana we have to jump up to the pinnacle of spiritual ambition and strength. On Rosh Hashana we change our name and with it change our mission on this earth.

Then during the 10 Days of Teshuva and Yom Kippur, we finalize the change and take upon ourselves to correct what we have done wrong. Not in a negative way. In a positive way. We want to make a better world for the Ribono Shel Olam and it is our mission to fix it up.

We daven that we be written in the Book of the Living - in the book of the tzaddikim who are working towards gaining entry into Olam Haba. When we have some connection to Olam Haba, we are called alive, while the reshoim who live only in this world, are called dead.

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I wish everyone a great Yom Kippur. 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
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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