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21 Elul, 5780 - September 10, 2020 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Rosh Hashanah: A Day of Crying

by HaRav Zev Leff

HaRav Zev Leff

This material was prepared 24 years ago. It aged well. This article is a high quality article that appeared in the English Yated print edition published in Bnei Brak, but was not posted previously on the Internet. Our plan is to feature old high quality articles that were not previously available on the Internet.

Rosh Hashanah is designated as Yom Teru'oh, which theTargum translates Yom Yelalah, a day of weeping. Although there are various opinions whether one should actually cry on Rosh Hashanah, the Torah instructs us to simulate crying through the shofar, and the Netziv explains that Rosh Hashanah is also Zichron Teru'oh, a day not merely to sound the shofar, but to contemplate and comprehend the concept of this crying. Therefore in preparation for Rosh Hashanah, it behooves us to gain an insight into the motif of the day.

The gemara relates that on each Yom Tov which corresponds to a period of judgment for a specific commodity, we are commanded to bring a portion of that commodity as a sacrifice in order to receive G-d's blessings on the remainder. Hence, on Pesach, when we are judged on grain, we bring the Omer sacrifices from barley grain. And on Succos, when we are judged for rainfall, we perform the nisuch hamayim, the water libation on the alter.

In this vein it follows that on Rosh Hashanah, when man himself is judged, that we should bring of ourselves as a sacrifice. And in fact, this is the requirement of the day.

The Midrash notes that on all other Yomim Tovim the Torah says, "Vehikravtem oleh — You should offer a burnt offering," while on Rosh Hashanah the Torah says, "Va'asisem olah," which can literally be translated, "Make yourselves into a burnt offering."

This concept is also reflected in our custom of beginning Selichos a minimum of four days prior to Rosh Hashanah in accordance with the law that an animal requires four days of inspection prior to its being offered as a sacrifice. Obviously the Torah does not demand of us to actually sacrifice ourselves. Instead the gemara gives us the formula that Hashem prescribes for effecting the sacrifice.

"On Rosh Hashanah, recite before Me Malchiyos, Zichronos, and Shoforos: Malchiyos, that you should coronate Me to reign over you; Zichronos, that your memory should come before Me for good; and these should be done through the vehicle of the shofar." The shofar is the symbol of Akeidas Yitzchok, the ultimate example of giving up all for Hashem and delivering everything precious to oneself to Hashem.

In order for a person to in fact deliver himself to Hashem, he must first recognize and appreciate Hashem and His total supremacy, to know to Whom he is making his offering. This is the function ofMalchiyos, an understanding of G-d, the Supreme King.

Second, he must recognize and appreciate himself, to know what he is offering. This is the function of Zichronos, our remembrances, a study of the totality of human existence and experience.

And last, he must understand the nature and parameters of the offering itself, what type of relationship or bond is formed by the offering and the benefits and responsibilities of both parties. This is the function ofShoforos, which describes the bond between G-d and man, represented in the revelation of the Torah and the ultimate redemption and revelation of G-d in the universe. The vehicle that conveys the components of this sacrifice is the crying sounds of the shofar.

The Midrash relates that Avraham Ovinu, although he went to theAkeidah with a happy heart, confident and joyous to fulfill G-d's will, outwardly wept. Weeping is the manifestation of the deepest inner emotions. Hence, crying in loshon hakodesh is bechi, which has a connection to the word becha, within you.

Bechi in numerical value is 32, which equals the numerical value of lev, heart. Crying conveys a total submission, an expression of helplessness and dependence. In this light, crying, when expressive of the value of something lost, is an extremely powerful force.

The Midrash relates that when Yitzchok told Esav that he had no blessings left for him, Esav began to cry. The first tear that fell from his eye caused the destruction of the First Temple. The second tear caused the destruction of the Second Temple. And, had a third tear fallen, chas vesholom, there would be no Third Temple.

Esav's strong appreciation of these brochos and his weeping in intense sorrow for their loss is a censure and condemnation of the Jewish people, who received these brochos, and nevertheless transgressed the Torah, capriciously forfeiting the blessings. We did not show the appreciation for them that Esav showed.

Similarly we find that one who sheds tears for an adam poshut who passed away, has those tears counted by HaKadosh Boruch Hu, Who places them in His treasure house and forgives the sins of the one who cries.

The Midrash relates that Nevuchadnezzar instructed Nevuzaradan not to permit the Jews he was exiling to rest until they crossed the Euphrates, lest they have time to weep and entreat Hashem to foil the efforts of exiling them.

The Midrash says that after crossing the Euphrates, the Jews were given the opportunity to rest, and there, by the rivers of Babylon they sat and wept. The Prophet Yirmiyahu met them there and found them weeping and told them, "I would bring heaven and earth to testify that had you shed one tear while you still were in your land, you would not have been exiled."

This awesome power of crying is reflected in the teru'oh of Rosh Hashanah that has three different facets. Is it always preceded and followed by the long, unbroken blast of the teki'ah to signify that our crying is not negative, not an expression of hopelessness and abandonment, chas vesholom. Rather it is a recognition of our dire plight, and the resolve and hope that it can be changed and improved.

The Torah readings and haftorah of both days of Rosh Hashanah contain references to various episodes of crying. The first day we read of Hagar, who cried out of fear of losing her son Yishmoel. The haftorah records the crying of Channah for the child she was not able to conceive. The second's day's Torah reading records the Akeidah, which is embodied in the cry of the shofar itself. And the haftorah records the weeping of Rochel for her children in exile.

The shevarim aspect of crying is a sighing and a weeping for a state of something absent and lacking, an intense recognition that one is being judged and found lacking and incomplete. This corresponds to the crying of Channah for the child she lacked.

The teru'oh aspect of crying is a staccato alarm, an intense feeling of imminent danger and insecurity, One recognizes the dire consequences of sin. This corresponds to the cry of Hagar, expressing her alarm and helplessness at the imminent peril inherent in her son's condition.

The combination of shevarim-teru'ah gives us the final aspect, the recognition that the state of imperfection itself is cause for alarm. This corresponds to the cry of Rochel Imeinu for the glories of the past lost, and the danger to her children exiled, bereft of their spiritual heritage.

Chazal explain that we blow the shofar before Musaf, at which time we are permitted to sit, and repeat the blowing again during Musaf, in conjunction with the blessings of Malchiyos, Zichronos, and Shoforos, when we are standing. This is done to confuse the Satan.

Rashi explains that when the Satan sees that we cherish the mitzvah by repeating it, he cannot prosecute us. Tosafos offers another explanation. When the Satan hears us repeat the blasts of the shofar, he thinks that the shofar of the Resurrection of the Dead is being sounded, which will herald his demise. At this thought he becomes confused and cannot prosecute us.

At first glance this explanation seems absurd. Is the Satan so foolish and short-memoried, not to have learned in the thousands of years that we have been blowing shofar that we repeat the order every year?

Perhaps the idea is much more profound. When we blow shofar initially, it is while sitting, while uninspired. We need to awaken ourselves, so we cry through the shofar to arouse ourselves. The second series of shofar blasts, however, are sounded while we are standing already. We are already aroused and inspired. We sound them after each of the blessings as a sign of our total surrender to Hashem in submission, subjection, and subordination.

True life is the result of a bond with the source of all life"Ve'atem hadeveikim baHashem Elokeichem chayim kulchem hayom — You who cleave to the L-rd your G-d are alive totally today." One whose bond was severed, even partially, is as if he is not fully alive. Hence a strengthening of the bond is in fact a resurrection of the dead. It is this renewal of the bond that literally puts theyetzer hora-Satan out of commission.

Finally, we sound the shofar a total of 100 sounds, corresponding to the 100 cries that Sisera's mother cried when he failed to return from the battle with Devorah and Barak. Perhaps the implication is that our ultimate crying is that of a baby, who cannot fully understand its own needs nor express them, but knows that if he cries a parent will tend to him. So, too, we express to HaKadosh Boruch Hu that we ourselves do not fully know for what and how to cry, like Sisera's mother, who was unsure if her son failed to return because he was tarrying over the spoils of victory, or because he was perhaps wounded and sick, or worse, killed in battle.

Hence she cried a hundred cries, the total gamut of different types of crying, from cries of joy to cries of mourning. Similarly, we sound every combination of cries, the total spectrum, and as a baby, we know that our merciful Father in Heaven will be able to discern and heed our cries and tend to our needs.

May we merit having the tears of our hearts expressed through the cry of the shofar, and as we recite at the end of Neilah, "May it be the will of the One Who heeds the sound of crying, that he put our tears in His receptacle for safekeeping, and may He deliver us from all cruel decrees, for to Him alone do our eyes look for support."

May our tears mingle with the tears of our mother, Rachel, and may G-d likewise declare to us, "Yesh tikvah le'achrisech, veshavu bonim ligvulam — There is hope for posterity, and you children will return to their boundaries." Soon in our days.

Kesivoh Vechasimah Tovah!


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