"And let all the evil dissipate as smoke" [Rosh Hashanah prayer].
A new year is spreading its pure white wings over us and over the entire world. Mixtures of new and old hopes beat in the hearts of each and every one of us – both as individuals and in the nation as a whole. Let us hope and pray to our Father in Heaven that our good dreams will come true. Amen!
We will all gather together in the synagogues throughout our land and all over the world, and with an atmosphere where we ask that "the old year and its curses should come to an end" we will wrap ourselves in infinite grief in our fateful identification with seventy-two families whose dear ones were killed during Operation Protective Edge (including five citizens), in addition to the families of the three kidnapped boys who were so cruelly murdered. "My heart goes out to them for their losses, my internal organs go out to them for their losses" [from the "Nachem" prayer of the Ninth of Av]. The only possible consolation – for us and for them – is in the continuation of the prayer, "For You have destroyed it with fire, and You will rebuild it with fire, and 'I will serve as a wall of fire around it, G-d says' [Zecharia 2:9 – referring to the Temple]. Our hearts also go out to those injured in the war and to their families, to all those who served by performing the mitzva of "rescuing Yisrael from an attacker." I will volunteer for the role of a messenger of the public in wishing them all a speedy and full recovery, both in body and in soul. Amen!
Putting the Nations on Trial
The prayers of Rosh Hashanah are full of universalism, as is indeed fitting for the day when the world was created. "And about the countries, for which it will be decided who will be put to the sword and who will have peace, who will have famine and who abundance. And all the creatures will be judged on this day, to mark them for life or death." [From the Amidah prayer for Rosh Hashanah, Ashkenazi version.] Note that the first ones judged are "the countries," and only afterwards is it the turn of the "creatures," denoting individualism. Everybody is familiar with the declaration by the sages that three books are opened on Rosh Hashanah and sealed on Yom Kippur. Each volume is composed of two parts, the Book of Kingdoms and the Books of Individuals. Wise men have said that these two types of judgment correspond to the two days of Rosh Hashanah – the first day is for "the countries" and the second is for "the creatures." The masters of the mystic meanings of the Torah recommend that we focus the prayers of the two days of the holiday on these two separate worlds, the general versus the individual, and they give this as the reason extending the holiday to two days.
The opening paragraph of this article, on the spread of "white wings" at the start of the new year, 5775, expresses a deep yearning in my heart. To my sorrow, "in a natural way," I see in front of us black clouds which spread Moslem wings over human culture. I assume that similar piercing words were written in Jewish bulletins before Rosh Hashanah 5693 (1932), eighty-two years ago, close to the time when the Nazi Party came into power in Germany, in 1933. Then too sane people tried to wake up the world and to ring all the warning bells, but to no avail. But there is one important difference: The Nazi ideology was anti-religious, based on "racist" philosophy and an animalistic "religion of nature." The monstrous Moslem fundamentalism which has burst upon our world from a number of directions puts its faith in "the religion of Allah." As far as I am concerned, its black wings carry with them apocalyptic dangers and horrors that are no less than those of the Nazi lust for destruction. And even though "it is not valid to make comparisons with respect to nonkosher items" (see Chulin 48b), to me the "black sword" of Islam is reminiscent of the "black eagle" of the Nazis.
Learning from Experience
However, there is another difference between what might have been written in the bulletins of 5693 and this year, 5775: The world already has experiencewith the wild behavior of the Nazi beasts, which took a horrible toll of 60 million victims (yes, sixty million!). Black Islam, which sucks its blood from "religious" ecstasy related to a god of evil, now threatens to choke humanity by sealing petroleum wells, by chopping off heads, and through the "jaws" of the ticking of an Islamic atomic time bomb.
Cruel Islam has already sunk its claws and surrounds us in a threatening crescent, including Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Sinai, and Azza, and it has branched out to Africa. It is gazing towards the "apostate" areas of Europe, both east and west, and from there it continues on to the remains of Asia in the east, and to North and South America in the west. And it has not forgotten Australia either...
Master of the Universe, open up the eyes of the "western world" so that they will understand that the rising Christian anti-Semitism in their lands is marching hand in hand with fundamentalist Islam, and it will wash over their lands much faster than they seem to think. Master of the Universe, transform the labor migrants of Islam into a trigger of shock for the satiated world of culture, a trigger that will reveal before it is too late that the goal of the religion of the sword is to wage war against the "apostates" using the methods of the Inquisition and the Crusades. The State of Israel is just the beginning...
The mission of the State of Israel to the entire world is to continuously expose the animalism and the cannibalism that are inherent in the satanic religions. We must establish an elite force that will disseminate throughout the world in every way possible the monstrous "vision" of fundamentalist Islam. In this realm we must utilize the weapons of our enemies – we must organize professional and highly-skilled propaganda. "Pursue them in anger and destroy them from under the Divine heavens" [Eicha 3:66].
Usually, when a poem begins, "Listen, heaven, and I will talk, and let the earth hear the words from my mouth" [Devarim 32:1], the commentaries explain the verse as a metaphor. Rashi introduced an element of reality by noting that the listening is expressed as rain coming from the sky and produce grown in the earth. Rav Saadia Gaon explains that the verse refers to the angels who live in heaven and to people who dwell on the earth.
In his "long" commentary, the "Baal Haturim" quite often searches for the most realistic interpretation of a passage in the Torah. In this case he explains that all the listeners are people. "Here is the simple explanation: 'Listen, heaven' – this refers to those who dwelt in 'great cities fortified up to the sky' [Devarim 1:28]. 'Let the earth hear' – those who dwell on the land, meaning the people who live in villages and small towns." According to this explanation, the people who bear witness to the poem are nations that live in the land. These other nations play an important role in the poem by participating in the punishment of Yisrael. (It is interesting to note that in this case he writes this straightforward explanation not in his long commentary but in his short one.) According to both Rashi and the Baal Haturim, the witnesses are not passive but have an active role in enforcing the covenant. As is written, "The hand of the witnesses shall strike him first" [Devarim 17:7].
Yeshayahu's prophecy begins, "Hear, heaven, and listen, earth" [1:2]. If we continue with the idea proposed by the Baal Haturim, then at the time of Yeshayahu the Jews were the ones who lived in fortified cities high in the sky. The testimony and the responsibility lie mainly with us.
The Torah portion of Ha'azinu is the only one that has an ancient tradition about how it should be divided into short segments among the people who read it in public. The division is indicated by the phrase "Haziv Lach" – The radiance is Yours – which is an acronym - the first letter of the first word of each of the separate reading segments (Rosh Hashana 31a). This can be for us a key to understanding the essence of the inner structure of the epic poem Ha'azinu, which provides a framework for understanding the general historic process of the nation of Yisrael and G-d's guidance of them. Let us look at the contents of each segment:
"Ha'azinu" – Listen, heaven (verses 1-6): This puts an emphasis on the simple process of reward and punishment – the Judgmental Process.
"Zachor" – Remember the days of old (verses 7-12): This emphasizes the inherent unique and special trait of Yisrael ("segulah," a treasure), which does not depend on action but rather on the fact that G-d would have chosen us even if we did not have any merits because of our deeds. "For the portion of G-d is His nation" [32:9].
"Yarkiveihu" – He will ride up to the high places of the earth (verses 13-18): This describes "kicking" (32:15), the rejection of the Torah of G-d, which among other things is a result of an exaggerated faith in the power of the segulah of Yisrael. We are convinced that G-d remains with us and will not allow us to be torn apart after He has already chosen us.
Thus, these first segments present to us the three basic elements of Jewish history: justice, inherent unique traits, and rejection.
The last three segments of the poem describe the necessary consequence of what was described in the first three segments, but in a different sequence.
"Vayar" – And G-d saw and He turned away (verses 19-28): This is a direct result of the Judgmental Process. Sinners must be punished. The passage describes a society that is apathetic on the subject of the Divine. "They upset me with a non-god" [32:21] – but not with "other gods." And the Torah then mentions their vain elements – "they angered me with their vanities" [ibid]. The solution is to punish them measure for measure. "I will upset them with a non-nation, I will get them angry with a cruel nation" [ibid]. A non-nation is the name for a national identity that has no reason to exist on its own except for filling in the empty spaces in our national identity. This is a unique type of struggle, which forces us to return to our original identity.
"Lu chochmu" – If only they were wise they would know this (verses 29-40): This is a solution for the rejection of Torah. Additional wisdom is needed in the generation. It corresponds to the insight by Rav Kook – that the spiritual illness of the generation of redemption can only be cured by enhancing our spiritual expertese (Orot HaTeshuvah 4:10), in order to satisfy the intellectual quest of the generation.
"Ki essah" – For I will lift my hand up to heaven (verses 41-44): This is a result of our inherent segulah. It consists of Israel's revenge, carried out by G-d who takes revenge for His people. The revenge takes the form of filling the land with the holy flocks. "And the land will be atoned" [32:43]. This can also mean that the land will be covered by "His nation" ("vechiper" might be related to "Kaporet," the cover of the Ark).
We can conclude that while on a theoretical basis the intrinsic value of the segulah (G-d's choice of Yisrael) takes precedence over the material aspect (where sanctity depends on the actions of the people), the existence of Divine guidance causes the time of the treatment of sins and their consequences to be advanced, so that the factor of inherent worth will appear in full force in the end of days.
The seventh segment of the Torah portion (verses 45-52), which tells us about G-d's commandment to Moshe that the time had come for him to die, emphasizes how important it is for a leader to refuse to play a central role at the point where G-d's sovereignty over the entire universe becomes clear.
Rabbi Cherki is the head of Brit Olam – Noahide World Center, Jerusalem
Riddle of the Week > Rosh Hashanah / Yoav Shlossberg, Director of "Quiz and Experience"
It is good, but don't exaggerate. It is part of the food of a king who is fleeing. The wife of a king brought a bottle of it to a prophet. The son of a king almost paid with his life in the process. A prophet ate and the scroll was pleasant to him.
Answers for last week, Ki Tavo: (What is it that comes before the last one but takes place at the beginning?)
"Hakhel" is the mitzva before the last one written in the Torah (the last mitzva is for every individual to write his own Torah scroll), and it is observed in the first year of the count of Shemitta. "And Moshe commanded them, saying, at the end of seven years, at the time of the year of Shemitta on the holiday of Succot..." [Devarim 31:10].
Let Your Wellsprings Burts Forth > The Mitzva of the Day / Rabbi Moshe Shilat Director of "The Torah of Chabad for Yeshiva Students"
"The shofar is the mitzva of the day" [Rosh Hashanah 27]. The entire holiday of Rosh Hashanah revolves around the holy moments when the shofar is blown. And Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the year, encompasses the entire year and all of our service of G-d.
Everybody performs a mitzva when the shofar is blown. As is true of every mitzva, its foundation is found in a decree in the Torah, and it includes many practical details. In addition to the physical performance of the mitzva it is necessary to have the proper intentions. And the deep meaning of the shofar blowing is repentance, as in the well-known words of the Rambam: "Even though the blowing of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah is a Torah decree, it includes an important hint. It tells us: Wake up, you who are asleep, rise up you who are in a stupor. Search through your deeds and repent, remember your Creator" [Hilchot Teshuvah 3:4].
When the shofar sounds everybody repents. The Holy One, Blessed be He, accepts our repentance, and He moves over from the throne of judgment to the throne of mercy and writes us down for a good life.
However, there is something much deeper in the blowing of the shofar, something that came before repentance and is at a higher level. Repentance is related to unworthy actions, but on Rosh Hashanah the world returns to its beginnings, to the beginning of its creation, before any desires to perform some act or another. The question asked on Rosh Hashanah is not only what will happen to us in the coming year but whether anything significant will happen at all.
The first important thing on Rosh Hashanah is the need to "awaken" G-d's will in the world and specifically within us. He must "wake up" and agree to reveal anew His royal power over us, and to have faith in us. And this is the essence of crowning G-d as the King over the entire earth.
We repent in order to succeed in crowning G-d, but the coronation itself is way beyond our actions and our thoughts. It involves the link between us and Him. This connection precedes the commands to perform or abstain from specific actions.
This deep concept lies at the root of the blowing of the shofar, when we shout out to the Holy One, Blessed be He, about how we belong to Him, reminding Him of His connection to us and His desire for us.
An Allegory by the Baal Shem Tov
We can see the basis of the above idea in an allegory told by the Baal Shem Tov:
* * * * * *
A king once had an only son who was very learned, and he loved him and treated him as the apple of his eye. The father and the prince decided that it would be a good idea for the son to travel to distant lands in order to learn wisdom and to better understand how people behave. The king gave his son a large entourage of ministers and servants and a large fortune, so that he would be able to journey to far lands and to the islands in the sea. In this way the son would reach a higher level than he could ever attain in his own house.
As time passed, the son used up all the wealth that the king had given him, spending it on the costs of the journey and mostly on new lusts that he had picked up on the way. And he then went on to a very faraway land where his father was not known at all.
Because of his difficulties the son decided to return home to his father's land. But he had been away so long that he had even forgotten how to speak the language. When he finally arrived in his own country he began to hint to the people around him that he was the prince. He arrived in the palace court and hinted at them that he was the king's son, but they did not pay any attention to him. And then he started to shout out in a loud voice, so that his father would recognize him. And when the king heard the voice, he said, "That is the voice of my son crying out in his great need!" And the love for his son was reawakened in the king, and he hugged him and kissed him.
* * * * * *
G-d sent the souls of Yisrael to this world in order to mend and raise up the world, so that they too would rise to a higher spiritual level. But the love of our bodies and of the physical lusts drove the souls away, until they forgot their mother tongue. By blowing the shofar we cry out with a simple sound, return to our father, and remind Him that together with Him we form a single entity.
This sound is not only the voice of repentance! It is in essence a renewal of our contact! I am Your son and You are my Father! Father, develop a desire for me! Father, have faith in me once again. Father, I want to be with you!
On the beach, we operate workshops and hold meetings sitting around in a circle for the purpose of enhancing the contact and the awareness of the participants. In one of these meetings during Succot on Lebanon Beach, we asked a few dozen young people to tell us which is their favorite holiday. The vast majority said that it was Purim, time when some of the participants are very careful to observe the special mitzva of the day with great dedication. We were thus quite surprised to hear Yoel, who said that his favorite holiday is Rosh Hashanah. He said, "The moment I hear the sound of the shofar, I feel within me a release, my soul cries out again and again, and I can't stop crying. I can feel all the filth pouring out of me, and this gives me strength of my own." The reaction of his girlfriend, Ilana, was just the opposite. She said, "I have a hard time with Rosh Hashanah, because I do not feel my soul reaching out to G-d but rather that He demands that I appear before Him. But when I remember my situation I am ashamed to go to Him."
During the rest of the year, we disperse and go back to our normal tasks. The beginning of the new year is unique with its many holidays, where the Holy One, Blessed be He, has arranged for us to be within the circles of the family (at home) and in the community (during prayers). Just as the close proximity and the constant encounters between us and the Creator act on the souls of humanity to make the day of the shofar blast into the beginning of the entire year, the start of all processes of revolution and change, so the family atmosphere and the "togetherness" of this period have the power to influence the links among family members during the rest of the year.
In this article we will concentrate on one positive aspect of Rosh Hashanah, but as a way of providing our readers with a conceptual apple dipped in honey we will first quote a beautiful idea presented by Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburg. He explains how all the Jewish holidays, G-d's gift to Yisrael, provide a collective response to mental illnesses with which every man could be infected within minutes. (This idea appears in the two-volume book by Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, "Min Hapardes." The book is highly recommended.)
Pesach – is linked to claustrophobia: It releases us from the fear of small and closed-in spaces ("Mitzrayim," the Hebrew word for Egypt, is related to a "meitzar," a constricting boundary.) The seventh day of Pesach – paranoia: We are cured from the fear of being pursued when in the end we see all the Egyptians die in the Sea. Shavuot – rescuing from anxiety: Experiencing such a great fear that the soul left the body after hearing each of the Ten Commandments helps us conquer our own vain fears. Yom Kippur – obsession: Compulsive behavior and repeated errors can be revealed and mended when a person decides to dedicate an entire day to repentance and searches through his minor actions, even including those actions which seem to him to be mundane and harmless. Succot – manic depression: This is countered by striving for perfection. It is characterized by the command "to be happy" and by the "simchat beit hasho'eiva" – the celebration when the water was drawn to be used for a libation on the Altar - which can protect us from the instability of extreme vacillating emotions. Purim – schizophrenia: This holiday is named for a lottery, implying that the roots of good and evil are the same before G-d. This idea can lead to split personalities. The final absolute decision in Yisrael's favor is the cure for this separation. Chanukah – normality: One of the most serious mental health problems in this generation, stemming from the wisdom and culture of Greece, is exaggerated normality, when a man feels that the entire universe can be explained according to the laws of nature. In the end, he does not even leave enough room in his soul for a small vial of oil that is real, for the Divine trait which gives life to everything.
The above paragraph is not a random collection of mere slogans. Rather, the holidays do indeed invite us to return to the events as experienced by our forefathers – to the shores of the Red Sea or the foot of Mount Sinai – and to partake of the cures that are hidden there.
And now let us get back to "our holiday," Rosh Hashanah. This provides a cure for megalomania – a superiority complex. A light-hearted comment that has been quoted in the name of various people is that during the time of prayer they at least do not feel that they are the Holy One, Blessed be He, and as a result they are able to open up their hearts and listen. By crowning G-d we bring a new factor into the equation, one that claims to be the true center of all existence. How does this help to improve our relationships in the home? Most often, tensions result from concentrating on our own desires. When parents do not accede to their children's demands and vice versa, the result is frustration, disappointment, and a bitter feeling. However, when there is a day when the entire home is dedicated to receiving the yoke of a power greater than the home, when the crowning of the Holy One, Blessed be He, is performed in a serious manner, as it should be, the question of my position in relation to G-d pushes aside all the other questions and makes them irrelevant. And the blessings that stem from this attitude can then be maintained throughout the coming year
A family named "Yisraeli" > Making a Choice / Rabbi Yikhat Rozen Director of the Or Etzion Institute – Publishing Torah Books of Quality
What fun! This year two new extracurricular activities opened up in our class – basketball and guitar. Every student had to choose one of the two, and all through the year we will be involved in club activities during the time of the class.
Last year there was also an extracurricular activity during the regular time for classes, but it was not so good because we had no choice in the matter! I was forced to go to some boring club on the subject of art, no matter whether it suited me or not. I, for one, really did not have a good time there at all. It's not that I am bad in art, but to use our spare time for art was a bit much for me!
It is really good that this year they are giving us an opportunity to make our own choice. Now I do what I really want. The teacher said, "You must choose by next week, and then we will start. Every boy will remain in the club that he chose until the end of the school year."
Okay, which of the two should I choose? My first thought was to take the basketball. I love to play, and I would certainly enjoy playing ball when we should be in class. Maybe I could also learn something new to improve my game.
On the other hand, it would be interesting to know how to play a guitar. It's true that I can't really hold a tune when I sing, but maybe in this club I can learn to play well. And anyway – and this is the main thing – most of my best friends are going to the guitar club.
Also, I figured, since I am already good in basketball, why do I have to join a club? I know how to play without any extracurricular activity!
Okay, so we started the guitar club. The first lesson was really great. I sat there with all my friends, holding this big guitar on my lap, and I enjoyed making all sorts of sounds, just like a real performer.
As time went on, it started to upset me a bit. The teacher kept asking us to play the same notes over and over, and I always felt that I wasn't doing it right. My friends seemed to catch on much faster than I did, but I couldn't get it. At least, that's what the teacher seemed to think. Personally, I didn't really hear any difference between what I did and what they played. It all sounded the same to me.
My friends in the basketball club told me that they were having a really good time. They learned some very good techniques, such as how to aim for the basket, the proper way to stand, how to dribble without losing the ball, and all sorts of other useful tricks. Why didn't I pick the basketball club?
I asked the teacher to let me switch to the other club, but she refused. She reminded me that from the very beginning she said that we would be required to remain in the club that we had picked. Now there was no way to switch.
My desire to play guitar sunk lower and lower from one meeting to the next. Even when I managed to play some tune, I got no pleasure out of it. And I couldn't take the pressure all the time – to keep trying, over and over.
"Boy," I cried out very loud when I got home. "Why did they let us choose our own club? I would much rather have them choose for me!"
Imma said, "And if they had chosen for you, are you sure that they would have made the best choice?"
"Sure! All I did was look where most of the other boys went, I didn't really choose what was best for me. At first I was quite excited by the guitar, but it never occurred to me to think about what fits me best."
"And why do you think somebody else, like your teacher, would know better than you what is best for you?"
"I think it would have been better..."
But Imma persisted. "What about last year, when they chose the club where you would go? Did you enjoy it any more than this year?"
"No!" I said.
"Okay, then who can know what is really best for you?"
"I guess it all comes back to me. But then it seems that I was influenced by unimportant side issues."
"Well then, maybe that is the lesson you have to take out of all of this. You should learn how to make better choices," Imma said.
And then Abba joined in the conversation. "Rosh Hashanah will be here in a few days. And that is a good time to think about all the choices you made during the whole year. Do we always really pick what is best for us? Aren't we sometimes influenced by our friends? Aren't we fooled into thinking that something will be fun, when in the end it is not?"
And Uri piped in too. He said, "Yehuda, maybe because of your club we will all put more thought into our lives and get more serious about our choices – not only in joining extracurricular clubs but also in matters that are much more important..."
"Rabbi Kruspedai says in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: Three books are opened on Rosh Hashanah – One for absolutely evil people, one for perfectly righteous people, and one for those in the middle. The perfectly righteous ones are immediately written down for life. The completely evil ones are immediately written down for death. The ones in the middle remain in the balance from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur. If they gain merits, they are written down for life, and if not they are written down for death." [Rosh Hashanah 16b].
These words of Rabbi Yochanan are explained more clearly by the Rambam:
"Every individual person has merits and sins. One who has more merits than sins is righteous, and one whose sins are more than his merits is evil. One who is half and half is considered in the middle. The same is true for a nation. If the merits of all the inhabitants are more than their sins they are considered a righteous nation, and if their sins are more they are an evil nation. The same is true of the whole world. A person who has more sins than merits immediately dies because of his evil, as is written, 'for your many sins' [Yirmiyahu 30:14]. The same is true for the world – if the sins are more than the merits, it will be destroyed immediately, as is written, 'And G-d saw that much evil was done by man' [Bereishit 6:5]. However, this balance takes into account not the numbers of sins and mitzvot but how serious they are... And the only one who can weigh the matter is the G-d of Knowledge, who knows how to compare the relative value of sins and mitzvot." [Hilchot Teshuva, chapter 3].
How are people judged on Rosh Hashanah? Is it right to conclude that everybody who passed away during the year was evil, and anybody who lives among us year after year while performing one evil act after another is really righteous?
The Definition of "Righteous" and "Evil"
The Ramban addresses this question in a sermon for Rosh Hashanah, and he gives novel definitions of the terms righteous and evil. "Everybody who is found innocent at his trial is considered perfectly righteous, while a person who is found guilty at his trial is called completely evil." Thus, according to the Ramban, there are two parallel systems of justice. The regular system is concerned with the total activity and actions of a person. This is relevant at the time of death, when a decision is made about his or her reward in the world to come. However, the decision which is made every year, "who will die at the proper time and who not at the proper time," applies only to that specific year, and the terms "righteous" and "evil" are only used during the trial and do not refer to a person's intrinsic traits.
The problem with this approach of the Ramban is that it is not easy to see why a specific person is found innocent or guilty at his trial, and at first glance it does not seem to depend on his actions. This is contrary to the approach of the Rambam, who seems to have taken the passage in the Talmud at face value (Hilchot Teshuva 3:1-2), placing great emphasis on the efforts that people should make before judgment takes place.
The "Divine Unique" Process and the "Judgmental" Process
The Ramchal (Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto) presents the essence of Rosh Hashanah as being based on the trait of "Yichud" – the unique Divine aspect of G-d. This is a basic concept in the Ramchal's philosophy, describing how the Master of the Universe guides the world. There is a second parallel concept of a "judgmental" process, which describes the system of reward and punishment that corresponds to the actions of mankind and is expressed in natural and unchanging rules. (The Divine Process is "Hanhagat Hayichud" and the Judgmental Process is "Hanhagat Hamishpat.")
The principle of free choice, which is the basis of the Judgmental Process, allows for the existence of evil, which might divert the created world from its appointed task. In order to prevent this, the Holy One, Blessed be He, has also instituted the Divine Process, with the goal of implementing the objective of the world in a way that does not depend on the actions of mankind. This process is the one which now and then gives out flashes of miraculous events, when phenomena occur that are beyond the way of nature and normal judgment. In this case, many people suddenly are the recipients of great good, including some who would not deserve it under the strict rules of judgment. On the other hand, sometimes great tragedies can take place, without regard for exactly who is harmed.
According to the Ramchal, both of these processes take place simultaneously in the world. Reward and punishment are visible in the exposed and external realms of the world, following general rules that exist. At the same time, the world is steadily advancing to a state of being mended and achieving its ultimate goals, following the path of the Divine Process.
The Coronation of G-d at the Center
Therefore, the Ramchal explains, the goal of Rosh Hashanah is not to put mankind on trial for his actions but rather to bring the world closer to its goal - coronation of G-d over the world, as is emphasized in the prayers throughout the day. And therefore the main considerations of the day are not related to reward and punishment. It is true that individual people are judged during this day, but only as an indirect offshoot of the main subject matter. The main question is not what happened in the past but rather what will happen in the future. Who will be able to act in the best way to enhance the proper functioning of the Kingdom, corresponding to the Divine plan. And that is how Rabbi Yochanan's statement must be understood: Evil and righteousness are not defined according to their actions before Rosh Hashanah but rather in accordance with the future, during the year that is about to start.
What can a person do under these circumstances? The task of a person on Rosh Hashanah is to declare his desire and his readiness to play a role in bringing the world closer to its goal, by taking personal action to make G-d the King. He must stand before G-d and declare, "I am ready!" A person who makes such a declaration shows that he is ready for any Divine demand, and he agrees to participate in the way the Holy One, Blessed be He, guides the world towards its destination. And the individual can then rise up above considerations of reward and punishment, leading towards a state of recognizing the uniqueness of G-d. This was described by the Ramchal as "crowning the Holy One, Blessed be He, over His world, so that He will be the recognized leader."
Something about books > The Last Gaon / Rabbi Yosef Leichter, The National Library of Israel, Jerusalem
Rav Hai Gaon (4699 - the twentieth of Nissan 4798, 939-1038).
The following sentence appears in one of the many biographies written about Rav Hai Gaon: "He was the last Gaon chronologically and the first one in importance." In his book "Shem Gedolim" in the chapter on early Geonim, the Chida writes, "Some items are written before the halachic rulings about Sotta brought by the Meiri that do not seem to be true – that Rabeinu Hai was the last of the Geonim. Perhaps he was the last chronologically, but he was the most important of them." Actually, this phrase was coined by Rabbi Yedaya Hapenini Habedarshi (5030-5100, 1270-1340), at the end of his book, "Bechinot Olam," in his praise of the Rambam: "In the end, whether my heart goes to the left or the right, whatever is believed by those who believe, the last Gaon in time was the greatest one in terms of importance – the great rabbi and mentor Rabbi Moshe son of the great Rabbi Maimon. There was no other who could compete with him among all the wise men of Yisrael after the Talmud was sealed."
Haja or Hai?
What does the name Hai mean? Rabbi Prof. Simcha Assaf wrote as follows: "'Haja' is the Babylonian form of the name 'Chayei.' Prof. Shlomo Morag does not agree with this, and he writes, 'Hai' refers to life, that is 'chaim.' As is well known, the pronunciation of a chet as a heh is a phenomenon that exists in Babylonian Aramaic... We can also add that in the literature of the Middle Ages we find the name of the Gaon written both with one 'yud' and with two – either 'Hai' or 'Haii.' It is possible that these two versions mean different concepts. The form with two yuds is related to a tradition that sees the word as denoting the plural in Aramaic, with the meaning of 'life.' The form with one yud is the singular form in Hebrew or Arabic, and it means 'chai.'" [Tarbitz volume 31, Number 2, Tevet 5752, pages 188-190].
Thousands of Responsa in Three Languages
What was special about Rav Hai's genius? Meiri writes in "Seder Hakabbalah" as follows:
"He enhanced, increased, and taught Torah more than all those who had come before him. He lived for ninety-nine years. And the [cloud of] his glory left us on the eve of the last day of Pesach. He wrote a few books, such as: Sefer Hadinim; Sefer Hashavuot (the laws of oaths); and Sefer Hamekach V'Hamimkar. On the other hand, he wrote a great number of responsa. And most of what is left of his writings and his responsa are worthy enough to rely upon them."
We know about other books which Rav Hai wrote, such as Sefer Hashetorot; Sefer B'Dinei Meitaranut; Mussar HaDayanim; Hilchot Shechita; Hilchot Tefillin; and Sefer Hakollel (or Sefer Hame'asef), which is a dictionary of terms in the Bible and in the Talmud.
Rav Hai Gaon also wrote commentaries on several tractates of the Talmud, a commentary on the Mishnayot of Taharot and a commentary on the Torah. Rabbi Prof. Simcha Assaf writes for following about the large number of responsa written by Rav Hai: "None of the Geonim who preceded him can compare to him in the large number of responsa which he wrote. He wrote thousands, but not all of them have reached us. Based on what they found in the Cairo Geniza, Wertheimer, Ginsburg, Levin, and Marmorstein published the remnants of indexes of responsa written by the Geonim, and these include many responsa by Rav Hai that have not been found until today. The early rabbis wrote many responsa that are based on responsa of Rav Hai which we have not seen in the original... The responsa of Rav Hai are about one-third of all the responsa of the Geonim that have reached us, which were sent to the two yeshivot during a period of four hundred years... Most of his responsa stand out in that they are complete and discuss the issues at hand from all sides, much more than the responsa written by those who preceded him... He wrote his responsa in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic. His usual custom was to respond in the same language as the question was written, and he sent his replies near and far, to all the lands."
A Unified Custom for all of Yisrael
One example of a responsa written by Rav Hai Gaon deals with our custom of blowing three different combinations of the shofar sounds (known in Hebrew by abbreviations: "tashrat, tashat, tarat"). Rav Hai was asked: "What was the custom before the time of Rabbi Abahu? What did the people do then, year after year? Is it possible that from the days of the early prophets until the time of Rabbi Abahu the shofar was not blown, even for one year? And if they knew their obligation, what did Rabbi Abahu do in making his own decree? After all, usually a decree would only be necessary for an issue which was in doubt and in a confused state."
Rav Hai replied as follows:
"This decree was not the result of a doubt... And do not think that in the time of Rabbi Abahu doubt about this matter crept in... Here is the custom of Yisrael from ancient times. Some communities made a 'teruah' as light short bursts, while others did a 'teruah' as longer heavy sighs, which we call 'shevarim.' And all the different communities fulfilled their obligations by what they did... And this gave the appearance of being a disagreement... But the truth is that each community performed the mitzva according to their own traditions... And when Rabbi Abahu came he decided to make a decree that would unify the different traditions..." [Otzar Hageonim, Rosh Hashanah, pages 60-68].
The day after the funeral of the three kidnapped boys I had a written exchange with a young boy. He wrote to me with a broken heart, and I wrote my answer to him the same way. Rosh Hashanah is a time for deep thought about the past year and about the new year that is about to start.
I feel that I am completely shattered, both spiritually and emotionally, after these horrible events. Why does G-d allow such a thing to happen? Not only that - it took place after a unified outpouring of prayer, suffering, and weeping... I feel that G-d's face is hidden so very deeply... I think about those boys (may G-d avenge their souls). They were my age – 16...
Why were they taken from us? From what I understand, they were much more worthy than I am... Why were they taken? And why was anybody taken at all?
The question of justice in the world is almost too heavy a burden to bear. On Mount Sinai, Moshe turned to the Holy One, Blessed be He, with only one request. "Tell me about Your ways" [Shemot 33:13]. Why are there righteous people who encounter evil? Why isn't there any justice in this world?
The answer to Moshe was, "For no man can ever see Me and live" [33:20]. No living person can understand the way that the Creator guides the world. A creature who was made from the earth and will return to it cannot understand the ways of He who sees the future of the coming generations.
The book of Iyov ends in a similar fashion. After dozens of chapters of discussions and doubts, the Creator is revealed to Iyov. "Where were you when I created the world's foundation? Tell Me if you know the concept of understanding! Who set the dimensions of the world for you to understand? Or, who drew a line for you?" [Iyov 38:4-5].
The Holy One, Blessed be He, explains to Iyov that just as we have accepted the fact that we do not understand how the world was created, so we must accept the fact that we do not understand how it is guided. (Albert Einstein once said that the more we discover about the world, the clearer it becomes how little we actually know.)
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Recently we took our leave of a beloved and gifted student by the name of Shimshon Youngster. Shimshon was a wonderful boy – honest, fair, righteous, one who loved everybody else and who loved the Torah. Shimshon graduated from our high school last year and he was planning on continuing to study with us this year. But he became ill with cancer and all the plans were for naught. He managed to study with us for a few important days, for a very short time in all. Not long before the end of the school year he was taken from us by the sickness.
When we came to console Shimshon's very noble family, I asked his father if Shimshon was bothered by the question of why this had happened specifically to him. Why do all the others continue with their lives and build themselves up, while he was the one left to struggle against the terrible disease?
For the first time in our conversation, Shimshon's father shook his head emphatically. "Absolutely not. Shimshon never thought about that question at all. First of all, he did not expect to receive any gifts, he was happy with whatever he had. In addition, and this is just as important, Shimshon did not feel that he deserved for anybody to give him anything at all. Nobody owed him anything, certainly not the Creator of the world."
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With the permission of Shimshon and his dear father, I will add the words of the late Rabbi Amital. Again and again he told us, "There is no way for us to understand what happened in the Holocaust. No human being can understand such monstrosity." We must learn to live with questions. We do not know why the Holy One, Blessed be He, hid His face from us and allowed the Nazis to accomplish their goals. "There are no answers to such questions, no answers at all."
Rabbi Amital was saved from the inferno, and the Holocaust remained with him, deep in his heart, all the time. When Rabbi Amital started to speak about the Holocaust, a great sigh would well up from him. But in spite of this, or perhaps because of it all, Rabbi Amital never asked the question, "Why?"
To be involved in the question of "why" will not get us anywhere. If somebody had been able to explain to Rabbi Amital why he lost his large family in the Holocaust, how would that have helped him? Would the explanation have helped lessen his deep pain and his grief?
We ask why in order to try to turn events back. But the wheel does not come back to where it was. The old situation is gone, it will never return. Even if we would get an answer to the question of why, the empty space that has been opened up in our souls would never be filled again.
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Many people who lived before me have said that instead of asking "lamah," meaning "why," we should ask "le'mah" – for what purpose? What should we do as a result of all that has happened? How can we utilize the terrible pain? What should we do with the sorrow and the loss? What good can we add to the world by making use of and because of the emptiness left in our hearts by the pure boys who were kidnapped?
I cannot answer the question, "For what purpose?" for you. You will have to find you own answer. Even if you are only 16, you have the strength and the ability to add a measure of good to the world. Have faith in yourself, and you will find the way to take this horrible loss as a starting point for doing good and mending the world. This is the way to add good to the world and to our beloved nation, and it will serve as a living memorial candle for the good of their souls.