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24 Elul 5765 - September 28, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly
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Opinion & Comment
Reflections on the Days of Mercy and Forgiveness

An essay taken from a manuscript of HaGaon Hatzaddik R' Shlomo Wolbe zt'l from a recently published work, Maamorei Yemei Rotzon

Erev Rosh Hashonoh 5738

"For this thing is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart to do it" (Devorim 30:14).

The Torah penetrates deep into the physical body and into the material world — and sanctifies it. The Torah reveals here that even body and world are actually not very removed from the Creator, for they can be sanctified and uplifted.

From hereon in, it remains dependent: "If one [a man-and- wife unit] is meritorious, the Shechinah abides. If one is not meritorious — fire consumes them."

This is an essential rule in all mundane matters. Those very things which fire consumes are latent within you. This refers to the fire of desire and craving. But this selfsame fire can also be used as a utensil for the dwelling of the Shechinah in your midst.

What shall a person do if, alas, he has not merited this? He was overpowered by his evil drives and he cannot wrench himself away from their power. This comes from the supremacy of the powers of evil, and wherever they rule they are so potent that they cannot be moved, even by a hairsbreadth. They are ironclad. What strategy can one use against evil?

*

"Hashem reigns, the earth rejoices; the many islands are glad.

"Cloud and fog surround Him; righteousness and justice establish His throne.

"Fire goes before Him and consumes His adversaries before Him.

"His bolts of lightning illuminate the universe; the earth saw and trembled.

"Mountains melted like wax before Hashem, before the Master of the entire world" (Tehillim 97:1).

When the power of holiness reveals itself, it is so potent that it takes no more than a single bolt of lightning from a cloud or the fog surrounding Hashem to ignite and devour all of Hashem's enemies.

To what extent does His power begin to reach? To melting mountains like wax.

A mountain as high as the Matterhorn can be reduced in one storm to a level plain. This is the power of kedushoh when it is revealed.

Evil in this world is compared to a high mountain. "How were we able to capture this great mountain?" [the tzaddikim will ask in the future]. Dovid Hamelech tells us that the vast power which evil possesses can just melt away into nothingness before Hashem.

We hear this, but find it difficult to believe. All of the battles against our evil inclination which it won, all the many trials attempting to budge something, to chisel away at it somewhat, only prove it to be impermeable — it is iron! Can that very mountainous power actually disintegrate before Hashem?

That is our very plea: "And all the wickedness shall be entirely consumed like smoke, when You remove the malevolent domination from the world" (Tefilloh of Yomim Noraim). Like ephemeral smoke, it will simply vanish into thin air and no longer constitute a reality.

*

"The voice of my beloved, He is coming, skipping over the mountains" (Shir Hashirim 2:8).

Hashem Who, by virtue of His pure spirituality, is so distant and removed from our material world, longs to repose His Shechinah precisely in this world, of all places. He leaps, as it were, from the heights of His holiness to descend to us, until He actually draws very close through the Written and Oral Torah. Where there is Torah — there you will find the Shechinah.

From here we learn that there is no limit to His wonders. He can lower Himself to the bottommost chasm: His lightning illuminates the whole universe. Mountains disintegrate like wax before Him. A single bolt unleashed can mortally strike down the power of evil, and all the forces of evil melt like wax and become totally nullified.

We have yet to be privileged to experience this. This will be at the coming of Moshiach, the Redemption, and we must surely believe that evil will be cancelled out and be altogether eliminated. It seems — to us, now — to be the most powerful force in the world. But it will be abolished and melt into nothingness from the heat of Hashem's holy fire.

*

"Thus says Hashem: guard justice and practice righteousness, For My salvation is nigh in coming and My righteousness to be revealed" (Yeshayohu 56:1).

This can be compared to a man who came to a country and heard that people sentenced to death would be cast into an amphitheater, in a fight to the death. He approached one person and asked him when this event was to take place. "Oh, not for a long time to come," said the man. When he asked another one, the latter said: "In the near future."

"But I already asked someone else who told me that it would be a long time in coming."

It turned out that when a sentenced man was asked, he said it would be a long time in coming, since he wished to postpone his death as much as possible and to think of it as being in the distant future. When he asked a disinterested person, the latter said it would be soon.

When Israel asked the prophet Bilaam when the Redemption would come, he said: "I see it, but it is not nigh; I visualize it but it is not near" (Bamidbar 24:17).

Said Hashem to them: Is this what you think? Don't you know that in the end, Bilaam, himself, will descend to Gehennom? Therefore he does not wish the Redemption to come. Be, rather, like your ancestor [Yaakov] who said: "I hope for Your salvation, Hashem." Anticipate the yeshu'oh; I hope and pray that it be nigh. Therefore is it stated: "For My salvation is nigh in coming."

Bilaam saw the Redemption in his prophecy but he predicted that it would not be soon in coming. It was distant from Bilaam in a different, essential way. It was removed from his interest, his desire; he shunned it.

Yaakov said: I hope and pray for Your salvation, Hashem. To him, it was something close, dear — something to aspire to, even though it might be chronologically distant.

Indeed, the Redemption is very close, as Yeshaya said, "Be'itoh — achishenoh — If they are meritorious, it will be close and soon: if they are not meritorious, it will come in due time, nonetheless." But theoretically, and technically it is within our grasp, our power, as is promised by Yeshayohu.

How can we define these parameters in time?

Two people experience a single prophecy. One says: "I see it, but it is not near." And the other says, "For My salvation is nigh in coming."

The difference is the vantage point. Bilaam — with his evil eye, haughty ego and grasping spirit — stands within the sphere of evil. The mighty power of evil does not let go of him. "You shall not go with them, nor shall you curse the nation, for it is blessed" (Bamidbar 22:12). Very explicit words, and still, notwithstanding, they do not nullify Bilaam's desire. From the depths of the power of evil, he, "Sees it but it is not near."

Yaakov, however, stands by the side of Hakodosh Boruch Hu. He merited the attribute of truth. His evil drive has been conquered and abolished. And he declares: "I anticipate and hope for Your salvation, Hashem." Yeshaya, the prophet of truth, also stands on Hashem's side, as it were, very far from evil and the evil inclination. And he declares in Hashem's Name, "My salvation is nigh in coming."

We, who are sunken in the mire of sins and drives, find it difficult to believe that evil has no reality. "Mortal king decays and descends to the grave; weary and restless . . . "

But this is the secret which we must believe: that evil will be eventually abolished. "Like vanishing smoke, when You shall transpose the dominion of evil from the world." If on Rosh Hashonoh this truth becomes clear to us, that evil will disintegrate into nothingness and that even now its existence is mere illusion, then this faith will raise us up. For then we will no longer look at evil as something necessarily so, as something invincible.

*

Chazal said that Moshiach can only come in a generation which is totally meritorious or totally blameworthy. We know the former from a verse stating, "And Your people are all righteous, they will forever inherit the land" (Yeshayohu 60:21). As for the latter, we learn this from the verse, "And he saw that there was no one, and he was astonished . . . " (Yeshayohu 59:16) and it also says, "For My sake will I do" (Yeshayohu 48:11 — Sanhedrin 98).

It is not difficult to accept the fact that Moshiach will come in a generation that is wholly good. But where does Moshiach fit in a generation that is evil? This must be in order to reveal Hashem's Uniqueness in the world and to nullify the evil, the desires, the sins of that generation in which is so mired. All this wickedness will melt away like wax from the powerful kedushoh that will touch it.

Our very eyes see this is in our generation, more so than ever in the past. Even from the sector which we label as `wholly evil,' people rouse themselves to repent and return. This does not refer to isolated cases, but to many. And these are not the common folk either, but the banner holders of degeneracy and disbelief. These people come and seek refuge under the wings of the Shechinah. They saw evil in its ultimate form and discovered how empty and vain it was, devoid of any content.

"Therefore, says Hashem, if you return, I will bring you back and you will stand before Me. And if you will extract the pure from the contaminated; you shall be as My mouth. Let them return to you but do not return to them" (Yirmiyohu 15:19).

Extracting the pure from the vile, say Chazal, is a revelation of Hashem, and from here they expounded, "Whoever teaches his neighbor's son Torah merits to sit in the Yeshiva shel Maaloh, as it is written, `If you return, I will bring you back and you will stand before Me.' Whoever teaches the son of an ignoramus Torah, even if Hashem passes an evil decree, He will annul it, as it is written, `If you will extract the pure from the contaminated . . . ' Purifying the dross is revealing Hashem in this world, which is equal to nullifying evil and exposing good.

He merits measure for measure that he will `be as My mouth.' Hashem will pass a decree but he will have the power to nullify it. Hashem issues a harsh decree because there is justification for it, but the one who has purified the pollution has become empowered to abolish the power of evil by virtue of having revealed the Shechinah in the world.

How great it is to extract good from bad, and how much more expedient when the time is auspicious.

"Blessed are you in your coming." Said R' Y' bar Simon: this text is referring to Moshe: In your coming — Moshe. In his coming into the world, he had an impact on Batya, daughter of Pharaoh. "And blessed are you in your going." This also refers to Moshe, for when he left the world, he had a positive impact on Reuven (Devorim Rabbah 7:5). If his beginning was in kiruv, so was his passing. As my master and teacher said, "If the beginning of a sugya is about one subject, and the end of it also deals with the same subject, this is a sign that all of it is involved with it, too. The same can be said of Moshe Rabbenu — his whole life consisted of drawing people near to Hashem. According to him, this is the revelation of Hashem's Uniqueness. And this truly was the theme of Moshe's entire life.

Kiruv rechokim shows that the Salvation is close. It penetrates the evil and melts it away. This is one of the wonders of the A-mighty, that the Redemption can come even to a generation that is wholly evil, and transform itself into good.

*

Part of the effort on Rosh Hashonoh is to baffle the Soton, that is, to undermine his strength and show that he is not invincible. There is one conclusion which we must arrive at from our prayers for the Redemption and the revelation of Hashem's kingdom on earth: not to believe anymore in the power of evil as if it were ironclad; to know and believe that when it will, in the future, be nullified, it will simply disappear in smoke, showing that it was nothing more than that all the while, but only an illusion, an obfuscation. And if all that we extract from Rosh Hashonoh is the belief that it is possible to abolish the yetzer hora, including our own evil inclination, then even though we do not succeed in doing so tomorrow or the day after, and even if it tarry, still, we continue to await the nullification of evil every day, every month, every year. But through the power of the Torah, we will certainly succeed in eradicating it. If this is what we gain through Rosh Hashonoh, it will be a great achievement.

However, even on Rosh Hashonoh we might feel the sense of rebellion seething inside us, and we might find it difficult to pray and concentrate on Rosh Hashonoh better than on a regular weekday. Why is this so, if this day is the revelation of Hashem's kingdom over the world?

Chazal commented on the verse, "`And they stood at the foot of the mountain' — we learn from here that Hashem overturned the mountain above them like a basin. In other words, Hashem coerced the Jews at Sinai to accept the Torah by threatening them with burial under it. If so, they did not accept it altogether electively but under threat. When did they finally accept it willingly? In the times of Mordechai and Esther. The Jews were so moved by the miracle of their salvation that they embraced the Torah this time from their own free volition.

We learn from here that acceptance under pressure is not considered a full acceptance. Perhaps this is the reason why Israel sinned with the eigel. Why all this took place in this manner is not ours to question here and if it was so, surely it had to be so. However, later during the time of Mordechai, they did accept it wholeheartedly and out of love. "And the Jews had light" — which is Torah. "And gladness" — this is yom tov. "And rejoicing" — this is bris milah. "And honor" — this is tefillin.

We see here that even acceptance under threat and force is also considered acceptance, but it leaves room for rebellion. When it stems from gladness, no rebellion is stirred up in the heart. In applying this to the matter at hand, we see that if one approaches prayer as an obligation of Rosh Hashonoh, under coercion, there exists a certain sense of negative reaction in our hearts, a resentment of sorts, which is absent when we approach the prayers out of a feeling of joy in being so privileged to accept the yoke of Hashem's rule.

Should we not rejoice to begin with in our "not being like the nations of the world", in the fact that our "portion is not with theirs and our fate like their masses?" Should we not be happy that Hashem imposes "His fear upon . . . as we know, Hashem, our G-d, that dominion is before You?"

We are aware of that even now, only the nations do not acknowledge it. But is this not reason for rejoicing?

"Fortunate is the nation which knows of the teruah blowing; Hashem, in the light of Your countenance will they walk." "For in Your rejoicing will they exult all the day and in Your righteousness will they exalt."

"Hashem reigned; the earth shall rejoice; the many islands shall be glad." And further, "The heavens tell His righteousness; and all the nations, His honor. All the idol worshipers who glory in their false gods shall be ashamed; all gods shall worship Him. Zion heard and rejoiced; the daughters of Yehuda were glad because of Your judgments, Hashem."

When Hashem is revealed, the nations will also see Him and will be embarrassed of their graven images, but Jewry will be glad and proud. And even though the revelation will be joined with justice and the attribute of din, Hashem's rule of justice, nonetheless, Israel will be filled with joy that He reigns.

"Light is sown for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart. Rejoice in Hashem, you righteous, and give thanks to His holy Name."

This chapter begins with the earth rejoicing, continues with the rejoicing of the daughters of Yehuda, and ends with the rejoicing of the righteous.

Let us approach the avodoh of this sacred day of Rosh Hashonoh with true, deep joy, and thus will we succeed.


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