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28 Elul 5763 - September 25, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
Days Of Awe: A Shmuess for Rosh Hashanah

by HaRav Sholom Schwadron zt'l

Our Name for This Period

The Yomim Noro'im -- Days of Awe -- and the period of mercy and forgiveness are almost upon us. Let's think what the term "Days of Awe" means. There must be a good reason why all of Klal Yisroel refers to these days by this name. It appears that the name arises from the special quality of these days and their ability to impart yiras Shomayim.

Chazal tell us that everything is determined by Heaven except for the level of a person's yiras Shomayim. The posuk (Devorim 10:12) says, "And now Yisroel, what is Hashem asking of you but to fear Hashem . . .?" In other words, a person has no power to do anything whatsoever independently. The only thing that is really in his power to determine is the level of his yiras Shomayim.

Let me tell you about one of the times that I went to see the Brisker Rov zt'l, and I asked him about the posuk (Devorim 5:10-11), "When Hashem brings you to the land . . . to give you . . . and houses filled with everything good, that you did not build . . . vineyards . . . that you did not plant . . ." Later however, the Torah says (9:17), "And you'll say in your heart, `My strength and the might of my hand have acquired all this wealth for me.' "

How can this be? If a person did not even build his house himself and was only able to take possession of his land because Hashem promised that He "will send the hornet among them" (7:20), how could it even cross his mind to attribute his success to his own strength?!

It is known that the Brisker Rov was a quiet person who used to say very little, yet on this occasion he spoke for a while and remarked, "It's true, it's true; that's how it is!" He cited pesukim such us, "Don't say . . . Hashem has brought me to possess this land because of my righteousness . . . You should know that Hashem is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness . . ." (Devorim 9:4,6). In other words, even if you do have merits and you are worthy, don't attribute your success to that and say, "My strength and might have brought me here," for that is pride and is tantamount to idolatry R'l. Everything is determined by Heaven and you are only receiving the land because of Hashem's kindness.

Although it is in everyone's power to work on refining himself -- and such efforts meet with success, for this is what Hashem desires from us -- the yomim noro'im have their own special quality of implanting fear of Hashem within a person's heart. This is one of Hashem's kindnesses, for He desires man's good and he wants man to attain forgiveness and atonement.

Implementing the Fear

This is the meaning of the posuk, "He will give us life after two days and on the third day He will set us upright and we shall live before Him" (Hoshea 6:2). There is a well-known explanation of this posuk, according to which the "two days" are the two days of Rosh Hashanah and the "third day" is Yom Kippur. This could be a way of explaining the gemora in Kiddushin (40), which says that, "A person should always view himself as having half merits and half liabilities. According to this, one should see oneself as being in the middle, "in between" category, whose verdict Chazal tell us remains in abeyance from Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur. Even if someone did not obtain a favorable judgment on Rosh Hashanah, "on the third day . . . we shall live before Him" -- on Yom Kippur, he will obtain forgiveness.

Each one of the Aseres Yemei Teshuvoh have this property of imparting yiras Shomayim. Chazal tell us that the posuk, "Seek Hashem when He is accessible" (Yeshayohu 55:6), refers to the ten days from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur. One of Hashem's many kindnesses is that He implants His fear within us at this time. In His kindness and mercy, we receive yiras Shomayim from Him.

Similarly, the posuk (Malachi 2:5), "My covenant was with him, to bring him life and peace and I gave them to him in fear and he feared Me and he fears from My Name." This posuk refers to Pinchos, who was promised that he would be a Cohen forever and that his descendants would also be cohanim. Rashi explains, "And I will give them to him in fear," means, "that he should receive them with fear and so he did [as the posuk says], `and he feared Me' ." According to Rashi, when the posuk says earlier about Hashem's gift to the tribe of Levi, "And I gave . . . fear," it means, "that they should receive it in fear." This is why these days are called yomim noro'im.

With this, we can also understand why the posuk that follows, "Seek Hashem when He is accessible . . ." is, "Let the wicked leave his path and the sinful man his thoughts . . ." What connection does this idea have with that of the previous posuk?

The explanation is that since it is a time of favor, when Hashem is accessible, it is easy for a wicked man to leave his path. The most important thing for him to do is to stop sinning. Rabbenu Yonah writes in Shaarei Teshuvoh that if a person confesses his sins but fails to abandon them, he is like someone who immerses in a mikveh to purify himself while still holding onto the impure creature that defiles him. Confession is ineffective in the absence of regret and without abandoning the sin. This is why the posuk calls upon the wicked man to leave his path and to change his evil ways.

The Alter of Novardok likened this to someone who boards a boat, intending to travel in an easterly direction. The passengers inform him however, that he has made a mistake, for this particular boat is travelling due west. "Never mind," he responds foolishly, "I'll just turn around so that I'm facing east!" Obviously, he'll never reach his destination by facing east on a boat that's travelling west.

A sinner might beat his breast while confessing his sins but if he does not change his ways, he's in the very same position as our traveler. Of what use is his confession?

Take the Antidote

Many people want to know: what exactly is teshuvoh? How does one go about it? What path should one take? The posuk in Mishlei (3:18) says, "It is a tree of life for those who hold onto it, and those who support it are happy." The medrash (Medrash Rabba parshas Kedoshim 25) comments, "Rav Huna said, `If a person stumbled and sinned, he deserves to die by Heaven's agency. What should he do in order to live? If he was used to reading one page he should read two. If he was used to learning one perek, he should learn two etc.' "

The gemora (Kiddushin 30) tells us that, "A person's evil impulse overpowers him every day," and "A person's evil impulse renews itself every day and if Hakodosh Boruch Hu were not helping him, a person could not get the better of it. Hashem says, `I created the evil impulse and I created Torah as its antidote.' "

Torah is the remedy for the yetzer hora. The Ramchal writes in Mesillas Yeshorim that, "This illness that I created has no other remedy besides Torah." This is what the posuk means when it calls Torah a tree of life for those who hold onto it.

I would like to tell you what the Chofetz Chaim zt'l said about this posuk. He noted that the posuk does not speak about those who hold Torah i.e. those who hold it up and support it because, he explains, Torah does not need people to hold it up. It isn't going to fall. The posuk speaks about those who hold onto Torah, meaning those who plant themselves squarely within Torah because they truly and sincerely feel that without Torah, they will sink in a morass of earthly desires.

When the King is Unacknowledged

In this vein, the Chofetz Chaim explained an awe-inspiring idea concerning the instructions that Dovid Hamelech gave his son Shlomo. The king told his heir, "And towards the sons of Barzilai Hagil'odi practice kindness and they should be among those who eat at your table, because in this way they drew close to me when I fled from your brother Avsholom" (Melochim I 2:7).

Granted, says the Chofetz Chaim, the sons of Barzilai showed Dovid great kindness at a time when most of the nation were sympathetic towards Avsholom, and the king made his escape in a distressed state, "going barefoot" (Shmuel II 15:30). In return, they certainly deserved some generous reward such as being appointed to important positions of state. But why did they deserve the singular honor of eating at the king's table as though they were his own relatives? It was right to repay them for helping Dovid in his hour of need but why with such honor? The Chofetz Chaim also notes that the posuk says, "because they drew close to me," rather than the seemingly more accurate, "because they drew me close," when they had mercy on Dovid in his hour of need.

If the sons of Barzilai had merely shown sympathy towards Dovid and provided for him when he was hungry, then it would have been sufficient to reward them handsomely while retaining a distance. However, what they did was far more significant. They recognized him as king and Avsholom as the rebel even while Dovid was in flight from his son. They accorded Dovid honor just as though he was occupying the throne in tranquil times. This is why Dovid said, "Because they drew close to me" meaning, because they acknowledged me as king. Despite everything, they felt that they were ministering to the king. They thus deserved the honor of sitting at Shlomo's table as though they were children of his own.

Quoting from the Tanna Devei Eliyohu, the Chofetz Chaim added that, "In the future, Hakodosh Boruch Hu will bring a sefer Torah and hold it in His arms and He will ask each person, `What, if anything, did you do so that Torah should not be forgotten by Klal Yisroel?' "

He explains that this question will be asked of each person at a time when the generations deteriorate and Torah is persecuted and is not observed. Hashem will ask, "What did you do so that Torah should not be forgotten?" Whoever is fortunate to have acknowledged the rule of Hashem and His Torah, will merit to eat at the table of Moshiach, may he be revealed to us soon!

This is the meaning of the posuk quoted earlier: "It is a tree of life for those who hold onto it" -- not "who hold it" but "who hold onto it." Torah is a tree of life for those who recognize its greatness and draw strength and encouragement from it. This posuk will be fulfilled and may we merit to eat at the table of Moshiach! This is truly something wondrous!

The Essence of the Judgment

To return to the Yomim Noro'im, I heard the following important idea from the gaon and tzaddik HaRav Eliyohu Lopian zt'l concerning the difference of opinion among the Rishonim about the three books that Chazal tell us are open on Rosh Hashanah: "Those who are completely righteous are inscribed immediately for life. Those in the middle are in abeyance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur . . ."

Tosafos (Rosh Hashanah 16) infer that anyone who has a majority of merits is referred to as a tzaddik even if he has some sins as well, while someone who has a majority of sins is a rosho. However, Tosafos says, the gemora (Kiddushin 39) tells us that a tzaddik who has some sins may be inscribed for suffering in order to cleanse him, while a rosho may be inscribed for life so that he receives the reward for his mitzvos in this world. Thus, they conclude, the inscriptions in the books of the living or of the dead which the beraissa mentions, can only refer to the life of Olom Habo. Other Rishonim disagree with Tosafos' approach.

HaRav Lopian asks that according to Tosafos' opinion that what is written in the books concerns Olom Habo, what is the relevance of these books to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the days when the beraissa tells us that they are open? If the entries only concern the eternal life of the World to Come, why are they opened on Rosh Hashanah?

The following parable will illustrate an additional, even greater problem. Imagine an avreich in his twenties standing in judgment on Rosh Hashanah. If he is a tzaddik, he will be inscribed immediately for eternal life in Olom Habo and if chas vesholom not, he is inscribed immediately elsewhere . . . However, he has many years still to live, until he's seventy or eighty, in the course of which he may repent completely. So how can his verdict for eternity be determined now?

He explains this in the light of the gemora that says, "The yetzer hora is [a] hard [adversary] for even its Creator calls it evil." Wherever a person turns, the yetzer places him in trying situations, especially with regard to the neglect of Torah study. One needs a large measure of Divine assistance in order to avoid stumbling, as Chazal conclude, "if Hakodosh Boruch Hu were not helping him, a person could not get the better of it."

Bearing this in mind, we can now understand Tosafos' approach. "Complete tzaddikim are inscribed immediately for life," means that they will receive assistance in the form of the removal of hindrances so that they can attain everlasting life in Olom Habo.

The opposite is true for complete reshoim. They lose the Heavenly assistance needed to be saved from the yetzer hora. When the Tosafos say that the life and death referred to by the beraissa in connection with the judgment of Rosh Hashanah is life in Olom Habo, they thus mean the opportunity to earn the life of Olom Habo.

Praying for Life

The way to merit Heaven's assistance in being spared trials is through prayer. The medrash says, "There are three tefillos, `Tefilloh leMoshe', `Tefillah leDovid' and `Tefillah Le'oni' (Tehillim 90, 145, 102)" The medrash asks, "Which of the three is the most worthy?" and responds, "Tefillah Le'oni," because, "Hashem does not scorn a broken and downtrodden heart" (Tehillim 51:19). Having a broken heart in prayer means recognizing one's own worth, realizing that one is a pauper in intellect and that one is beset by trials.

Then, the second part of the first posuk in Tehillim 102 is fulfilled: " . . . a poor man's prayer when he drapes himself," i.e. in shame, during the month of Elul and on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, when Hashem makes Himself available to us and wants us to return to Him and repent. Then, "he will pour out his prayer to Hashem" and beg Hashem to remove the trials that the yetzer hora puts in his way so that he justly merits being inscribed on Rosh Hashanah in the book of complete tzaddikim.

I will tell you a story that I heard from HaRav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt'l which illustrates the tremendous power of prayer. The Suvalker Rov zt'l who wrote the work Shailos Uteshuvos Amudei Or, would sign each teshuvoh with the prefix "he'oluv (the pitiful one)", before his name. (Similarly, the Netziv also used to sign with the words, "he'omus bo'avodoh -- the one who is loaded with work.")

Reb Yaakov explained the significance of this particular signature. The Amudei Or's grandfather, i.e. his mother's father, owned a tavern where liquor was sold and he was a very wealthy man. He had to travel into town and he left his daughter, whose appearance was becoming, in charge of the sales. The villagers were bad-hearted and they envied him, so they spread false rumors about his daughter. When she reached marriageable age, the tongues continued to wag about her and because of this, not a single match was suggested for her. A number of years passed during which she matured but did not find any suitable prospective partner. Her father finally said to her, "How will this end? One must not allow a Jewish daughter to sit on her own until she grows grey R'l. Maybe I can suggest a match with the wagon driver's assistant, a boy by the name of Aharon (Shmeiser). Though he is a simple fellow, there is no choice."

Naturally, both father and daughter burst into tears, but they put their trust in Hashem and considered whether the young man might agree. The idea was suggested to him and he said that he would give his answer and after a few days he replied that he agreed to the match. On the day of her wedding, just before the chuppah, the bride prayed to Hashem and said, "Ribono Shel Olom. You know that the truth is that I am an upright woman and am innocent of any wrongdoing. Please therefore merit me with sons who will be great in Torah and in yiras Shomayim."

She indeed merited having four sons who were among the greatest men of their generation. One of them was the Suvalker Rov. That, related Reb Yaakov, is why he used to sign he'oluv before his name.

Degrees of Cleansing

In the mishnah (Yoma 8:9) we learn, "Rabbi Akiva says, `Happy are you Yisroel, before Whom are you being purified and Who is purifying you? Your Father in heaven, for it is said, "And I will sprinkle pure water over you and you will become pure" (Yechezkel 36:25) and it says, "Hashem is the hope (mikveh) of Yisroel" (Yirmiyohu 17:13) -- just as a mikveh purifies the unclean, so does Hashem purify Yisroel.' "

What is the meaning of the double expression, "before Whom are you being purified and Who is purifying you?" Both questions seem to be asking the same thing. And why are two different pesukim brought to teach apparently the same thing?

There are two types of uncleanliness and two ways of becoming purified. There is the defilement caused by a dead body, which remains for no less than seven days. It is removed by sprinkling the impure individual with water containing the ashes of a poroh adumoh, on the third and seventh days, following which he immerses in a mikveh and becomes pure at nightfall.

A second type is caused by touching the dead body of an impure crawling animal. This type of defilement lasts for only one day, at the end of which the individual immerses in a mikveh and becomes pure.

Similarly, one can identify two types of person. There are those who are numbered among the upper levels of the nation, who fear Hashem. Their defilement is of the less intense kind, corresponding to the second type. If they sin, it is usually a slight transgression and they immediately run and immerse themselves in the purifying waters of teshuvoh. This is the type of purification to which the first question refers: "Before Whom are you being purified?" for these people purify themselves before Hashem.

Others have a heavier burden of guilt and are classed as evildoers, for when their scales are balanced they transgress one further aveiroh, thus weighing themselves down on the side of guilt. The first posuk that the mishnah quotes addresses this type of person: "And I will sprinkle pure water over you and you will become pure." When these people experience an arousal to do teshuvoh on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Hashem purifies them.

The gaon HaRav Yehuda Leib Chassman zt'l points out that in selichos we say, "Hearer of prayers, to You all flesh shall come," which could be understood as meaning that we bring just our flesh to Hashem but not our hearts. In His great mercy though, Hashem listens to our prayers for, "Hashem does not scorn a broken and downtrodden heart." He hears our prayers on the Yomim Noro'im, which are a time of special favor, and He fulfills his promise, "And I will sprinkle pure water over you and you will become pure."

"And he should return to Hashem and He will have mercy on him, for He is very forgiving" (Yeshayohu 55:7) -- everyone is purified in the mikveh of teshuvoh. One must take care though for just as when immersing in a mikveh, not a single hair can be out of the water, one must also immerse oneself completely in teshuvoh and prayer.

May we merit the fulfillment of the posuk, "For on this day He shall atone for you" (Vayikra 16:30) and may we all merit purifying ourselves, attaining forgiveness and atonement, a kesivoh vechasimoh tovah and the complete redemption, Omen!

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