Profound and important thoughts for Elul.
"It will be when he hears the words of this curse, that he
will bless himself in his heart, saying, `I shall have peace
though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart,' to add
drunkenness to thirst. Hashem will not spare him, but then
the anger of Hashem and His jealousy shall smoke against that
man, and all the curses that are written in this book shall
lie upon him, and Hashem shall blot out His name from under
heaven. And Hashem shall mark him off for evil out of all the
tribes of Yisroel, according to all the curses of the
covenant that are written in this book of the Torah"
What terrible sin has this man committed? How has he angered
Hashem to such an extent that Hashem's "jealousy shall smoke
against that man?" Why does he deserve to be punished with
all the curses written in the Torah and for his name to be
erased from under heaven?
The Vilna Gaon, in his famous Igeres, reveals to us
many principles of man's service of Hashem. "The rosho
realizes he is acting wickedly but it is difficult for him to
stop. Man must concentrate on overcoming this difficulty. He
must not allow his innate physical urges to dominate him;
instead he should overcome them. Until death a person should
torment himself. This should not be done by afflicting his
body but by restraining his mouth and desires . . .."
The Gaon is telling us that man has a natural inclination to
do evil. Desire is anchored in his heart and continually
tempts him to satisfy his bodily instincts without taking
into consideration whether doing so is good or bad for him.
Man's desires drive him to seek gratification from them,
forcing him to strive for them.
As long as a person lives, his avodas Hashem
necessitates halting life's turbulent current of passions and
curbing his speech. Someone who neglects doing this loses
hope in his battle against the yetzer and his lusts
eventually lower him to the lowest level of Gehennom.
Although this man realizes his way of life is causing his
ruin he cannot save himself. His only chance to rescue
himself from this bitter fate is through reinforcing his
perception that the way he is acting is totally wrong. When
his intellect gains control over his desires he will no
longer be tempted to succumb to them.
These principles that the Gaon informs us of are based on a
teaching of Chazal (Chulin 89a). "R' Yitzchok said:
`What is meant by the posuk (Tehillim 58:2),
"Is there indeed silence when you should be speaking
righteousness, when you should be judging people with
fairness?" What is man's vocation in Olam Hazeh? It is
to make himself like a dumb person. I might think that also
concerning divrei Torah he should be speechless; the
posuk, however, teaches us that he "should be speaking
righteousness." I might think that he should speak
arrogantly, but the posuk teaches us that "you should
be judging people with fairness." ' "
"Hashem Elokim formed man of dust from the ground and
breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became
a living soul" (Bereishis 2:7). The Targum Onkelos
explains "man became a living soul" to mean "he became a
speaking spirit." The characteristic differentiating man from
other beings is the power of speech. In fact man's natural
tendency is to continually speak.
What should man do so that his mouth will not cause him to
sin? Chazal (Midrash Rabba Koheles 6:7) write on the
posuk "All the labor of man is for his mouth"
(Koheles 6:7), that all of man's mitzvos and Torah is
insufficient [to atone for what he] utters with his mouth.
As the abovementioned gemora writes, a man's vocation
in Olam Hazeh is to be like a dumb person. He should
restrain himself when he talks and pause in the middle of
speaking. All that he speaks should be premeditated with
every word weighed. He should talk only with great
reluctance. Man's avodah, then, is to arrest the
mighty stream of lust and control it.
A man's duty to torment himself until death -- not by
afflicting his body but by restraining his mouth and desires,
as the Gaon writes -- is not only intended to prevent his
dropping into Gehennom and suffering there. Man
requires self-restraint to recognize all the miracles that
HaKodosh Boruch Hu does for us. Someone who is enticed
by his desires cannot see or recognize Hashem's miracles; he
is truly like a blind person.
When Klal Yisroel left Egypt and Pharaoh chased after
them, HaKodosh Boruch Hu said to Moshe to command
Yisroel, "Fear not, stand still and see the salvation of
Hashem which He will show you today" (Shemos 14:13).
The commentaries explain that bnei Yisroel were
commanded to "stand still" and stop their tide of desires
since anyone who is engulfed in earthly desires cannot
possibly see Hashem's salvation. These physical urges
naturally blind him from seeing any redemption.
Although Pharaoh beheld numerous overt miracles during the
ten makkos, when Moshe forewarned him and afterwards
prayed that they should stop, and although Pharaoh even
reached a point where he agreed to send bnei Yisroel
from his land, he caught himself and pursued bnei
Yisroel and even descended into the Yam Suf, where the
Egyptians drowned. Was Pharaoh insane? Why, after seeing all
those miracles, would he pursue bnei Yisroel even into
the Yam Suf?
It seems that Pharaoh did not stop his tide of desires but
instead followed them like a blind man who can see nothing.
He did not even realize what was liable to happen to him and
actually committed virtual suicide by chasing after bnei
Yisroel into the Yam Suf.
HaKodosh Boruch Hu, Who wanted to help us, commanded
Moshe to warn us to "stand still." We should inhibit our
desires so we may see Hashem's salvation. Not only Pharaoh
acted in such a way but everyone who follows his lusts does
the same. Such a person never tries to stop these physical
instincts. He remains blinded by them and cannot see the
danger facing him.
"R' Abahu said: `Why do we blow a
shofar made from a ram? HaKodosh Boruch Hu
said: "Blow before Me with a shofar made from a ram so
that I will recollect Akeidas Yitzchok, and I will
consider it as if you sacrificed yourselves before Me" ' "
(Rosh Hashanah 16a).
Let us understand better what the gemora means by "I
will consider it as if you sacrificed yourselves before Me."
One explanation is that we want HaKodosh Boruch Hu to
remember the zechus of Akeidas Yitzchok, in
which Avrohom Ovinu was prepared to sacrifice his son
Yitzchok. Avrohom Ovinu subdued his inclination to have mercy
on his own son and instead was ready to carry out Hashem's
will. Yitzchok too, willingly agreed to the Akeidah.
We therefore ask HaKodosh Boruch Hu to subdue His
anger against us and to grant us a good year.
This explanation is, however, unacceptable. What do Chazal
mean when they add, "I will consider it as if you sacrificed
yourselves before Me"? This refers to our own zechus,
while according to the above explanation the Akeidah
is actually the zechus of our Ovos.
"R' Lazar of the yeshiva of R' Yosi bar Ketzarta said:
`Concerning all korbonos it is written "you
sacrificed," but here is written "you did." HaKodosh
Boruch Hu said: "Since you have appeared before Me to be
judged on Rosh Hashanah and emerged safely, I consider it as
if you had been created anew" ' " (Yerushalmi Rosh
The Korbon HoEidah explains that "you did" means "you
have made [yourself]." Our being created anew is likewise
understood from the Midrash Tehillim (81), which
writes on the posuk, "Blow the shofar on the
chodesh" (Tehillim 81:4) that from the word
chodesh we learn to be mechadeish (to renew)
our acts and from "a shofar" we learn to be
meshapeir (to improve) our acts.
It is evident from the above that our duty on Rosh Hashanah
is to become new creations. How is this done? By suppressing
our tendency to follow our desires. The Rambam (Hilchos
Teshuvah 3:4) writes that although blowing a
shofar on Rosh Hashanah is a gezeiras hakosuv
it hints to a call to those sleeping to awaken and to those
slumbering to stir from their deep sleep and to examine their
deeds. These people, the Rambam says, have forgotten what
truth is because of the follies of the times, and during
their life they indulge in empty vanities that will not help
or save them.
"Look at your souls, improve the way you behave, and abandon
your evil ways." The Rambam teaches us that someone sleeping
must stop the stormy current of life's lusts by first
awakening himself. Rosh Hashanah is the time of making
ourselves into new creations by first curbing our desires.
Someone wholly devoted to gratifying himself cannot agree to
allocate money for spiritual purposes and is surely not
prepared to forsake any of life's pleasures. His whole aim in
life is indulging in these pleasures, so he will not agree to
do without them.
When we say Malchuyos on Rosh Hashanah we are
subjugating ourselves to the King of Kings, HaKodosh
Boruch Hu. Even if we needed to sacrifice ourselves and
all our material resources, we are prepared to do so. We have
discontinued our pursuit of lusts and have erased any barrier
to our readiness to sacrifice ourselves for Hashem.
Chazal referred to such a stage when they remark that Hashem
says, "Say Malchuyos before Me and blow the
shofar of a ram in order to recall Akeidas
Yitzchok." Our patriarch Yitzchok was ready to sacrifice
himself to fulfill Hashem's command. Yitzchok, whose
midda was pachad Yitzchok, the midda of
yirah, suppressed his worldly desires and therefore
could be moseir nefesh for Hashem.
We too, when we blow the shofar, are zoche to
the midda of yirah. Through the blowing of the
shofar we remember how Yitzchok with his yirah
detached himself from all desires, and we too follow his
steps. HaKodosh Boruch Hu therefore remarks, "I will
consider it as if you sacrificed yourselves before Me," since
now we too are prepared to be moseir nefesh for the
sanctity of Hashem's name.
During the whole year when we are immersed in our
ta'avos, it is difficult for us to declare our
readiness for mesiras nefesh, but on Rosh Hashanah we
are unfettered by earthly desires. Through being ready to be
moseir nefesh for Hashem's sanctity we are
zoche on Rosh Hashanah to a favorable judgment.
Moshe said to the people, `Fear not, for Hashem
has come to test you so that His fear may be upon your faces,
so that you shall not sin'(Shemos 20:17). The Ramban
(ibid.) writes, "In my opinion this is a real test
that the Torah is telling us about [and the posuk does
not mean "Hashem is coming to raise you," which is another
way that it could be understood]. Elokim said He would test
whether you observe His mitzvos, since (at Matan
Torah) he removed from your hearts any doubt; now He will
see whether you love Him and yearn for Him and His
The Ramban is telling us a great chiddush. The test of
bnei Yisroel is after Matan Torah, after our
receiving Torah and mitzvos, and not beforehand. When a
person indulges his desires, he cannot withstand any test
since he is blind to anything else and cannot even realize
that he must choose between two ways. A man can be put to
test only after he is liberated from ta'avos.
After HaKodosh Boruch Hu showed bnei Yisroel at
Matan Torah that He is the Ruler of the World, that He
is omnipotent by bursting all of heaven's firmaments and
everyone saw that Hashem is Elokim -- only then were
they able to be tested. Only then did Moshe Rabbenu say,
"Fear not: for Hashem has come to test you so that His fear
may be upon your faces, so that you shall not sin." After you
have seen the truth and your earthly desires have ceased,
this is the right time to test you to see whether you love
Hashem and crave to Him and His mitzvos.
A person who "blesses himself in his heart, saying, `I shall
have peace though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart' "
(Devorim 23:18) openly shows how he is engrossed in
ta'avos. His entire goal is to attain these pleasures
and he neither hears nor sees any keloloh out of all
the kelolos written in the Torah. Nothing scares such
a person and he never has even the slightest thought of doing
teshuvah. But since man was created to attempt to
reach Olam Haboh and become nearer to HaKodosh
Boruch Hu, this man has no zechus to continue
living and is condemned to be erased from this world.
"Amolek was the first of the nations, but his latter end
shall be everlasting perdition" (Bamidbar 24:20).
Amolek too was condemned to be erased from the world: "You
shall blot out the remembrance of Amolek from under heaven;
you shall not forget" (Devorim 25:19). That wicked
nation was decreed to be destroyed since "He feared not
Elokim" (v. 18) and was dominated by ta'avos. When
bnei Yisroel left Egypt, all nations were in awe of
them: "The people shall hear and be afraid, trembling shall
take hold of the inhabitant of Peleshes. Then the chiefs of
Edom shall be amazed, the mighty men of Mo'av, trembling
shall take hold upon them, all the inhabitants of Canaan
shall melt away" (Shemos 15:14-15). Amolek, who was
engrossed in earthly desires, did not pay any attention to
all this and went out to wage war against Yisroel. This
nation was therefore condemned to be blotted out from under
"Lift up your heads, O you gates, and lift them up, you
everlasting portals, that the King of Glory may come in"
(Tehillim 24:9). The Mashgiach (HaRav Yeruchom
Lebovitz zt'l of the Mirrer Yeshiva in Europe) was
accustomed to explain this as Dovid Hamelech telling us that
we must open up wide entrances if the King of Glory is to
enter them. Regular entrances are insufficient; only
especially wide ones will do. We must be aware that we cannot
say the malchuyos of Rosh Hashanah unless we open wide
entrances in our hearts so that the King of Glory can enter
them. To be zoche in our judgment we must suppress our
desires, since only in that way can we open new and wide
entrances for the King of Glory.
HaRav Nosson Meir Wachtfogel, zt'l, was the
mashgiach of Yeshivas Lakewood in New Jersey.