If the blast of the shofar did not accomplish its purpose on
Rosh Hashonoh, it should at least prepare us to face the
final judgment that awaits us on Yom Kippur.
The blasts of the shofar we heard on Rosh Hashonoh were
intended to help us face reality. If we did not wake up then,
if we still have not changed our ways, our way of thinking,
and our way of life — we should do so before it is too
late. The sound of the shofar should force us to reconsider
what we are doing with our lives.
This is what the Rambam means when he writes, "Even though
the sounding of the shofar on Rosh Hashonoh is a decree of
the Torah, there is remez in it. Which means to say
[that the blast of the shofar is intended to] arouse sleepers
from their slumber and to awaken those who are in a stupor
from their unconsciousness. They should examine their deeds,
repent and remember their Creator — those who forget
the truth . . ." (Hilchos Teshuvoh 3:4). The shofar
beckons to us; it calls out and reminds us to realize the
truth and to face reality.
The Rambam continues, saying that because of our daily
routines we lose track of the true purpose of life. Over the
course of the busy year, the demands of life — and our
lifestyles — distract us from facing the truth. Thus,
we lose track of our true purpose in life.
We can, as a result, uselessly waste much of our precious
lives. To avoid this, we must seriously evaluate our
If we did not come to our senses before Rosh Hashonoh then at
least on Rosh Hashonoh, the shofar blasts should alert us to
the seriousness of our situation. If it did not happen then,
it should happen now, during these ten precious days of
teshuvoh which start with Rosh Hashonoh and conclude
on Yom Kippur.
We must examine our actions, and question their motivations.
We must be honest with ourselves about what we are really
doing with life. Designed to force us to face reality, the
shofar should have aroused us to wake up and do
To realize the truth requires profound insight and profound
foresight: insight to see what we are doing and foresight to
see were we are going. Life is a constant battle between
reality and fantasy, truth and falsehood, logic and emotions
— the yetzer hatov and the yetzer
The Seforno (Bereishis 3:1) explains that the
yetzer hora has the power to deceive our
seichel. The yetzer hora influences our better
judgment by introducing appealing imaginary choices —
choices that actually, if assessed with insight and
foresight, would be found lacking in true worth. Such
fantasies amount to a waste of time and, if pursued, they
result in a wasted life. If fulfilled, they result in
Obviously, we must wake up before it is too late. We must
realize what we are doing with our lives. We all have
something unique and special to accomplish in life, and none
of us lives forever.
The sefer Even Shleimoh (10:11) explains, based on
the teachings of the Vilna Gaon zt"l, that three
mal'ochim appear to a person just before he dies. The
first one comes with a total of the person's time he spent
alive — and how the time was used. Each moment is
inspected to see what was done with the time that Hashem
allotted in this world. A second mal'och appears with
an account of all the person's transgressions.
Finally, a third mal'och, the same mal'och that
taught the person Torah while still in the mother's womb,
appears and determines how much of that Torah was actually
completed during his lifetime. We must face the fact that our
time in this world is limited — and even more
seriously, we are held accountable for what we did with
In light of these facts, it is not difficult to imagine why
the Chofetz Chaim would spend part of his day by himself, in
a special room, in order to make a cheshbon hanefesh.
He would analyze how he spent the day's time.
Once, Rav Yeruchom zt"l, the mashgiach of the
Mirrer Yeshiva, and Rav Naftali Tropp zt"l, who had
learned together in Kelm, were curious to know how the
Chofetz Chaim, made this accounting. They listened in and
discovered that the Chofetz Chaim scrutinized each minute of
the whole day.
When the Chofetz Chaim realized that on that day twelve
minutes were unaccounted for, he began to cry out, "Yisroel
Meir! Yisroel Meir!" When his cries became vehement, they ran
away. All this was over a problem of properly accounting for
This attitude — a realistic understanding for the value
of time — helped make the Chofetz Chaim great, so great
that his influence continues to grow to this day. Great
people realize the great value of time — the value of
The prayer, "Tefilloh leMoshe, ish ho'Elokim . . ."
(Tehillim 90) is a great testimony to the value of
time and the preciousness of life. When Hashem decreed that
Moshe Rabbenu would pass from this world, Moshe Rabbenu
prayed for Klal Yisroel. The Malbim, in his commentary
on Tehillim, sums up the essence of Moshe's prayer: "A
prayer about the shortness of a person's life; and since his
days are wasted on trivialities, he is unable to fulfill the
purpose for which he was created."
At the very end of Moshe Rabbenu's life in this world, Moshe
Rabbenu prayed that he would realize the value of time. We
would expect Moshe Rabbenu's last prayers for Klal Yisroel
to include requests for greatness in Torah, yiras
Shomayim or prophecy.
Surprisingly, Moshe Rabbenu instead prayed for us to wake up
and to realize that our time in this world is limited.
Moshe Rabbenu's last plea to Klal Yisroel was,
"Repent!" The last lesson Moshe Rabbenu taught us was: from
Hashem's point of view, a thousand years are like yesterday.
They pass by like a night. We live only seventy years,
perhaps eighty years. We have so much to accomplish with our
lives and our lifetime is so short. We must be wise enough
not to waste our time, not to waste our life.
Accordingly, Moshe Rabbenu's final prayer to Hashem was to
grant us the ability "to count our days, so we shall
understand and chochmoh shall come into our hearts"
(Tehillim 90:12). Moshe Rabbenu's last prayer for us
was to face reality, to realize the shortness of our lives
and to value the time Hashem has given us. It is a prayer
that we should become awake enough and wise enough to have
hearts that desire chochmoh, the true wisdom we need
for success in this life.
Our lives pass very quickly. We waste lots of time,
especially in our early, youthful years. Therefore, the Ibn
Ezra comments on this posuk, explaining why this
chochmoh, the realization of the value of time, is so
important that Moshe prayed for Hashem, "To give us a heart
to know how to value our days, and the reason why —
because they are few." Moshe Rabbenu continues his prayer,
"Satisfy us in the morning with your kindness and we shall
sing out and rejoice all our days" (Tehillim
The Ibn Ezra explains that this means, " . . . if Hashem has
been kind with us in our younger years [the morning]; that He
has taught us the proper way, therefore we will rejoice all
our life, even when we are old."
This is a vital aspect of Moshe's prayer. It was Moshe's
special request for wisdom in the early part of our lives, in
order that our most energetic and productive years should not
go to waste, and that we should not fool ourselves by
thinking we can run away from reality.
During the minchah prayers of Yom Kippur — the
day when Hashem Yisborach concludes His judgment, the
judgment that started on Rosh Hashonoh — we read
sefer Yonah. The Chofetz Chaim zt"l writes two
reasons why we read sefer Yonah on Yom Kippur: It
speaks about teshuvoh, and also it teaches us about
the impossibility of running away from Hashem (Mishna
Berurah, s. k. 7 Shulchan Oruch, Orach
Hashem commanded Yonah to go to the great city of Nineveh.
Yonah was to prophesy that the time had come for Nineveh's
judgment and the population should therefore repent. Yonah
refused. In his footnote Shaar HaTzion (6), the
Chofetz Chaim elaborates on the foolishness and futility of
trying to escape from HaKodosh Boruch Hu: " . . .
many times a person will give up hope on himself. He will
think that he is not at all able to correct himself.
Therefore he will always behave in one particular way [of
wrongdoing] and [resigns himself to the fact that] if
HaKodosh Boruch Hu will decree that he die — he
The Chofetz Chaim continues and explains the foolishness of
such thinking: "This is a mistake, because ultimately
everything HaKodosh Boruch Hu wants the soul to
rectify [in this world], it is forced to rectify — [and
if not, then against the person's will] he will come again,
and again to Olom Hazeh! If so, why should he go
through all the effort — to die, suffer burial and
other travails — and return another time?" Yonah's
experience proves the falsehood and foolishness of thinking
that we can escape our mission in life and our
responsibilities to our Creator.
The Chofetz Chaim continues, "HaKodosh Boruch Hu
wanted him to go and prophesy. He refused and fled to the sea
[to escape] . . . and we see [the outcome was] that he
plunged into the sea; he was swallowed by a fish, and he
remained in its belly many days. It would seem unlikely that
he would ever be able to fulfill the command of Hashem
Yisborach when he was at that stage. Nonetheless, we see
the eventual outcome was that the Word of Hashem was
fulfilled — he went and he prophesied. Similarly [for
each and every one of us], as it says in Ovos, `And do
not let your yetzer convince you that the grave is an
escape, for against your will you are formed . . ."
Especially when we are young, when we are most creative, we
must face reality. We must realize the value of time and the
value of life.
When we are young, the yetzer hora is very active and
tricks us into chasing after all that the world has to offer.
The yetzer hora tempts us and fools us into believing
that the world's pleasures have real value. This pursuit of
empty, short-lived physical pleasure leads us further and
farther away from our true goals.
Without insight and foresight, we follow our desires and we
lose track of the purpose of life. We forget why we are
alive. We stray farther from the path of Torah, further from
the fulfillment of mitzvos — farther, further away from
our Creator, and inevitably closer to sin and
The gemora Sotah (3a) teaches us that, "No one does an
aveiroh unless a ruach shtooss — a spell
of idiocy — enters him." Logically, no one should ever
do an aveiroh. Using seichel, the proper
outlook, with enough insight and foresight into the goal and
purpose of life, should protect us from transgressing the
Will of our Creator. Regrettably, when a craving for pleasure
triggers our emotions, our seichel must then clash
with the imagination, the main weapon that the yetzer
hora uses against us.
Once challenged, our ability to think gives in to the
deceptions of fantasy — the tempting opportunity for
physical satisfaction — a fantasy which is not true,
productive or lasting. These fantasies cause indulgence
instead of restraint, aveiroh instead of mitzvah,
tumah instead of kedushoh and death instead of
life. The anticipation for pleasure creates a thrill, a
physically undeniable sense of excitement, and the
seichel gives way.
We lose ourselves over the false, momentary possibilities of
pleasure. In spite of our better judgment, we stumble over
the slightest temptations. How many times will a diabetic,
knowing the consequences, indulge in sweets or chocolate
cake? How many times will the mouthwatering expectations of
eating a charcoal broiled steak outweigh the agony of ulcer
Mature, rational individuals can ignore such obvious and
immediate harm — they know their health will suffer,
and they know their indulgence is not good for them —
but, since they are captured and fascinated by the lures of
the yetzer hora, they lose their senses and act
foolishly. If the yetzer hora can trick us to ignoring
the reality of physical pain and suffering then, if we do not
defend ourselves against the yetzer hora's spiritual
attack, how can we ever hope to survive?
Our ruchniyus is much more at risk because the
consequences of our transgressions are not always so
immediate and direct. Therefore, when it comes to
ruchniyus the yetzer hora has much more power
over us. We can unknowingly fall prey to the yetzer
hora very easily. The yetzer hora is very
satisfied if we sleep through life.
The sound of the shofar on Rosh Hashonoh should wake us up.
But waking up is not enough. We must ask Hashem to forgive us
for our sleep, for our negligence.
In the al cheit we say on Yom Kippur, we ask
forgiveness from Hashem for very many different sins and
transgressions. We mention some of the aveiros that we
did knowingly, some that we did by mistake or by accident,
and some that we did through rebellion. Some aveiros
are mentioned specifically, and others are mentioned
generally. One of the general categories that we mention are
the aveiros that we did "bli da'as."
In the Siddur HaGra, the commentary Siach
Yitzchok explains that the expression "bli da'as"
refers to a sin done without knowledge. "This includes the
things a person stumbles upon without taking notice and
without knowing about it from the beginning to end . . .also,
it includes many transgressions done for lack of proper
consideration. Included also in [the category of] `bli
daas' is something that the person is not commanded
about, but, if he would properly contemplate — deeply,
he would understand it on his own; therefore he is punished
Something we did bli daas is an aveiroh due to
not thinking, not realizing, not knowing — a completely
different class of transgression. If we are responsible for a
single aveiroh of bli daas, can we imagine
the responsibility we have for a lifetime — a lifetime
spent without insight and foresight! A lifetime of sleep!
We can continually renew and enliven our avodoh to
Hashem if we apply ourselves, if we are watchful and wakeful,
if we give proper thought and reflection to our way of life.
Thus, we will realize new ways of fulfilling what Hashem
expects from us. We can reach great heights of devotion and
love for Hashem; and if not, we are accountable for what we
could have done but did not do.
The boundless chesed that Hashem continually bestows
upon us demands that we think ever more deeply into how we
can better serve Him. These are the obligations that our
seichel demands of us. Without effort however, these
obligations will not be recognized and certainly not
fulfilled, often with very serious consequences.
During these precious days between Rosh Hashonoh and Yom
Kippur, we have an opportunity to come back down to earth and
face reality. We have to realize that we came into this world
for a purpose; we have a goal.
Shall we go through life ignoring our responsibilities? Are
we foolish enough to think we can escape Hashem? We must
realize the significance of our lives, and the value of the
time Hashem has given us. Ignorance will not be an excuse.
Shall we choose to return to this existence in order to put
back together the pieces of a wasted life? If we realize the
seriousness of life we will not waste our time, we will not
waste our lives.
Hashem Yisborach gave us the precious opportunity of
life and its glorious, noble purpose — to draw close to
Him. Hashem Yisborach also gave us the means; Torah
and mitzvos. We need to remember our goal. We have to give
serious thought and make a cheshbon hanefesh —
with insight and foresight into what we are accomplishing
with our lives. Our lives are so short. We must face this
We all know Torah and mitzvos are important, but we have to
realize, and never forget, not for a moment, the necessity of
Torah and mitzvos to our goal. A successful life is
impossible without them. If we know this and remember this we
will be motivated; motivated enough to withstand the
yetzer hora's foolish worldly distractions —
and, Hashem will be with us. Hashem will help us.
HaRav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg is rosh hayeshiva of
Yeshiva Torah Ore, Yerushalayim.