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24 Elul 5765 - September 28, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Opinion & Comment
Rosh Hashonoh: An Audience with the King

This article is based on HaRav Yisroel Dovid Neuwoner's weekly shmuessen given to Kollel Ruach Chaim, Yerushalayim.

When he was a boy before the war, Rav Neuwoner's daily learning began at 5 a.m. and continued until 10 p.m. In the latter part of his thirteenth year Rav Neuwoner, along with his father and mother and six brothers, were taken to Auschwitz. With miracles, he and his father survived. In France, he learned in Novardok and eventually became the mashgiach of the Novardok Yeshiva — Ohr Yosef. Rav Neuwoner now lives in Yerushalayim and speaks extensively throughout Eretz Yisroel.


Rav Yitzchok Blazer zt"l quotes his rebbe HaRav Yisroel Salanter zt"l as asking: Since it is known that HaKodosh Boruch Hu is ever-watchful to assist and bring success to Klal Yisroel, why does Yom Kippur come after Rosh Hashonoh? Yom Kippur is the day of forgiveness and pardon from our aveiros. Rosh Hashonoh is the Day of Judgment — Yom Hadin — when the whole world must pass inspection and the Books of Life and Death are open, awaiting the inscription of Hashem's verdict.

Logically, Rosh Hashonoh should come after we receive a pardon from our aveiros on Yom Kippur. This would be the surest way for us to receive a favorable verdict! This would be the best way to benefit and insure Klal Yisroel's success.

The answer to this puzzle has been explained by way of the following moshol:

A king, accompanied by his royal guard and regal entourage, paraded through his city. Suddenly, in the middle of all the pomp and ceremony a rock, obviously thrown by one of the onlookers, struck the king's crown and toppled it to the ground.

As could be expected, the royal guards instantly chased down and seized the culprit who hurled the stone. Lo and behold, it was a young child! Unanimously, the populace demanded the child to be put to death for humiliating their king.

The king however, thought differently. The king called for the child to appear before him. Not only this, but the king sat the child down along with him in the royal carriage and commanded his coachmen to continue their journey. When they arrived at the royal palace, the king issued an order to his servants to give the child tutors to teach him. As time went by, the child grew into his teens and became wiser day by day.

Once the king saw that the child had matured and became intelligent and wise, the king gave the lad an appointment to meet him on a specific day. During the days that preceded the royal audience, his tutors made special efforts to impress upon him the greatness and excellence of the king. When the day came, the young man trembled with fear and awe of the king's majesty.

During the course of their conversation, the king asked, "What punishment is deserving of one who throws a rock at the king and topples his crown in public?"

Without any hesitation, the boy answered, "He should surely be put to death."

After hearing this reply, the king reminded the boy of the incident that happened when he was a child.

Immediately, the boy began to cry and regret his deed — how could he have been so defiant to do such a thing to the king! He fainted from his tears!

This moshol relates to us in the following way: People sin against Hashem Yisborach, the King of Kings, and we all know He has the power of life and death. However, Hashem allows us to do teshuvoh to be cleansed from our aveiros. Therefore, Hashem gave us Rosh Hashonoh first, to help us do a true and complete teshuvoh.

Rosh Hashonoh, Yom Hadin, should cause us to think and realize that Hashem is King and to understand all the implications of His Majesty and Sovereignty over the world — over each of us. The gemora Rosh Hashonoh (16a) obligates all of us to proclaim Hashem as our King and Ruler. This gemora requires us to mention in the Musaf prayers of Rosh Hashonoh our acknowledgement of Hashem's reign and supremacy: "You shall say before Me Malchuyos in order to crown Me as your King."

In our tefillos during the ten days from Rosh Hashonoh through Yom Kippur we make a special point to mention, "Melech HaKodosh" and "Melech HaMishpot." All this is in order to stress, and thereby to instill within us, the supremacy of Hashem Yisborach's rule over us.

Once we understand that Hashem is King. First we accept His rule over us and thus have a clear realization of the seriousness of transgressing the Will of Hashem Yisborach the King of Kings. With this preparation, it is possible to gain the most benefit from Yom Kippur. With this preparation, we can achieve a full teshuvoh, with honest regrets over the past, and a fresh steadfast determination for the future.

We cannot approach Rosh Hashonoh with an immature, childish attitude. The mischievous child of the moshol needed education and training to understand the glory and honor of his king and only then could he fully realize the seriousness of his crime. We too need preparation to approach Hashem Yisborach on Yom Kippur and ask Him for forgiveness.


The section of Malchuyos in our Musaf Prayers of Rosh Hashonoh begins with a posuk said by Bilaam, "He noticed no sin in Yaakov, nor did He see any transgression in Yisroel — Hashem, his G-d is with him and the affection of the King is with him" (Bamidbar 23:21).

Bilaam was a rosho. The mishnah in the fifth perek of Ovos contrasts the vast difference between Bilaam's talmidim and the talmidim of Avrohom Ovinu. The talmidim of Bilaam are jealous, arrogant and greedy, whereas Avrohom Ovinu's talmidim are content, humble and generous.

Bilaam's example, as indicated by his talmidim, produced corrupt results. If so, why should the statement of a rosho like Bilaam command such a central and important place in our prayers on the great day of Rosh Hashonoh?

Obviously, there is a deep and powerful lesson for us to learn from this. Bilaam, by his own admission, acknowledged that he was helpless to do anything that was contrary to the Will of HaKodosh Boruch Hu.

When Bolok hired Bilaam to curse Klal Yisroel, Bilaam said, "I cannot transgress the Word of Hashem, my G-d, to do anything small or great" (Bamidbar 22:18). Bilaam admitted that there is Hashgochoh protis. When Bolok's messengers first approached Bilaam they spoke about Klal Yisroel as being, "A nation has come out from Mitzrayim" (Bamidbar 22:5). Later, in the midst of Bilaam's brochos to Klal Yisroel, Bilaam uses the expression, "Hashem, Who brought them forth out of Mitzrayim . . ." (Bamidbar 23:22). Rashi explains that Bilaam was saying to Bolok: You wrongly said, "A people have come out from Mitzrayim." They did not come out by themselves — it was Hashem who took them out!


Nothing — absolutely nothing — happens in this world without Hashem wanting it to happen. HaKodosh Boruch Hu directs everything, and it is vital for us to know this for Rosh Hashonoh. The following is a lesson in Hashgochoh:

There once was a young talmid chochom. He got married and he wanted to sit and learn. The father-in-law could only afford to help with part of the money they needed. The young talmid chochom received a few thousand dollars and was told to go to the month-long bazaar in the next town. There he could buy good merchandise at a low price and then return to his hometown after a month. He could have a good parnossoh for the rest of the year by selling the merchandise he bought at a higher price.

He went to the fair and thought: How can I spend a whole month at this bazaar? I'll go to the beis medrash and learn. Afterwards, I will go to the bazaar on the last day to buy my merchandise. He sat and learned the whole month. On the last day of the bazaar, when he went to buy, he discovered that everything was sold out in the bazaar — except a large bolt of bright orange material!

In those days such bright material was used only to make signs or to make decorations — nobody bought large amounts. With no other choice, he bought the material and returned home, hoping to make his parnossoh from it. When he arrived home, everyone was shocked: You were there a whole month, and this is what you bought! It will take years to sell so much orange cloth!

He understood that this was what Hashem Yisborach intended, and he was content with his lot. Shortly afterwards, the local ruler issued a ridiculous decree: everyone must wear suits and dresses of bright orange! Of course, there was a great shortage of such material. In one day, the talmid chochom sold his whole stock of orange material at a great profit.

So, he said, "Do you think that because the governor went crazy I sold all this orange material? No! Because I needed to sell the material, the governor went crazy! It was Hashgochoh."


If we do not believe in Hashgochoh protis, then we also do not believe in Hashgochoh clolis. They go together.

The Orchos Chaim LeHoRosh (26) instructs us, "To have faith in Hashem with all your heart and to believe in His Hashgochoh protis . . . for he that does not believe [that Hashem] took [us] out of Mitzrayim also does not believe [that] I am Hashem your G-d . . ."

Nothing — absolutely nothing — happens without Hashem's wanting it to happen. The gemora Chulin (7b) teaches us that a person does not injure even his small finger without a Divine decision for it to happen.

The Orchos Chaim LeHoRosh says that this belief is the unique virtue of Klal Yisroel, that it sets us apart from all other nations and it is the basis for all Torah. We must believe in Hashgochoh protis, and this emunah begins from believing and understanding what Hashem did for us when He took us out of Mitzrayim. This was what Bilaam rebuked Bolok about.

The posuk of Bilaam's rebuke is written in the Torah just before our opening posuk of Malchuyos, "He noticed no sin in Yaakov, nor did He see any transgression in Yisroel — Hashem, his G-d is with him and the affection of the King is with him." If we do not believe it, we lose everything, as the Ramban at the end of his commentary on Parshas Bo writes, about the crucial importance of our believing in all the miracles and wonders that took place in Egypt. "A person has no share in the Torah of Moshe Rabbenu until he believes that all things, and every occurrence — all of them are miracles; that they do not operate by any natural or automatic process, either for the masses or for the individual."

Hashem Yisborach is with us, and we enjoy a special relationship with Hashem our King. This close relationship exists only through the zchus of Torah. The gemora in Chulin (139b) asks for a source in the Torah for Moshe Rabbenu. If learned superficially, this question is difficult to understand, for there are hundreds upon hundreds of references to Moshe Rabbenu in the Torah. Therefore, we must say that real intent of the gemora's question is: From where do we know that Moshe's greatness was attained from the Torah?

As its answer, the gemora cites a word "beshagom" from the end of parshas Bereishis (6:3). The word consists of the letters beis, shin, gimmel and mem and it has the same gematria as Moshe: mem, shin and heih. Beshagom means, "since he is also flesh." Thus the gemora comes to teach us a tremendous lesson: We may mistakenly think that a man of such unique greatness as Moshe Rabbenu was a born tzaddik. However since the two words "Moshe" and "beshagom" have the same gematria, we see that Moshe was also flesh and blood — like all of us. Moshe reached greatness from the Torah because he attached himself to Torah. There was no barrier between Moshe and the Torah. Consequently, there was no separation between Moshe and HaKodosh Boruch Hu.


Moshe Rabbenu said to Klal Yisroel, "You who cling to Hashem, your G-d — you are all alive today" (Devorim 4:4). It is written in the name of the Kuzari that this statement came to disprove four incorrect attitudes: (1) It is impossible for a human being, flesh and blood, to cling to Hashem, since Hashem is, as the posuk says, " . . . a consuming fire . . ." (Devorim 4:24); (2) It is possible to cling to Hashem, but not while alive. Only after a person dies, then, in Olom Habbo it is possible to cling to Hashem; (3) It is possible in this world, but not for everyone. Only exceptional individuals can cling to Hashem in Olom Hazeh; and (4) It is possible for everyone, but not in the early youthful years. However, in the later years after maturity and the yetzer hora is subdued, then everyone can cling to Hashem.

The Kuzari explains that Moshe Rabbenu was answering all four mistakes. The posuk says, "hadeveikim" that it is possible to cling to Hashem Yisborach, answering (1). "Chaim" shows that it is possible while still alive. "Kulchem" shows that everyone can cling to Hashem. "Hayom" shows that today, right now, even when some of you are young.

Moshe Rabbenu testifies that deveikus is possible — and expected — for all of us. We all have the potential and the Torah makes it possible. The Sefas Emes explains that the heih at the beginning of the word "hadeveikim" is extra. The heih therefore comes to teach us that the essence of Klal Yisroel, every member of Klal Yisroel, is to be doveik — joined to Hashem Yisborach. When we learn, and learn well, we can realize our true potential.

Torah is the only weapon against the yetzer hora. We are helpless without Torah. So many times we go wrong because we do not properly realize the great importance of Torah to our relationship with Hashem Yisborach.

Moreover, without Torah we cannot fully understand the greatness of our obligation to Hashem Yisborach, and this is absolutely essential for a favorable judgment on Rosh Hashonoh. We do not learn enough, and especially, we do not learn enough mussar. Only mussar can bring us to yiras Shomayim and anovoh.

Yiras Shomayim and anovoh are essential for learning, remembering and fulfilling the Torah. We have to learn mussar. The Chofetz Chaim zt"l once said that he could not understand how it is possible to have yiras Shomayim without learning mussar for at least two hours a day! Gedolei Torah understand that by not learning mussar they are lacking something essential in their lives. Most of us do not feel any lack, any deficiency.

The Imrei Chaim zt"l once said, "Those who learn mussar are `reshoim' and those who do not learn mussar are `tzadikim.' " This means: someone who does not learn mussar thinks he is a tzaddik. Whereas those who do learn mussar, realize their faults and know that they are not perfect tzadikim.

Bilaam understood Hashgochoh protis. Bilaam's prophecy is given a central position in our prayers on Rosh Hashonoh, the day we acknowledge and declare Hashem Yisborach as King, the Giver of Life. Nonetheless, Bilaam himself was far from mussar, and Chazal tell us the results: Bilaam's talmidim learned from him and turned into jealous, arrogant and greedy individuals.

The Mishnah in Ovos tells us that the talmidim of Bilaam also "inherit Gehennom and plunge into the pit of destruction." We can think very highly of ourselves. We can possess many virtues, do many mitzvos, do chesed and learn. But if we lack mussar, we are in danger. We risk losing everything.

Each morning before davening, the Satmar Rov zt"l would spend time learning a section of the siddur Tefillos Yeshoroh Berditchov as his preparation for tefilloh. The section he chose to learn pertained to the posuk, "Boruch Hashem le'olom omen ve'omen" that we say at the end of Pesukei Dezimrah. That siddur explains that this posuk is a remmez to yiras Hashem because the previous posuk we say was, "Every neshomoh [breath] shall praise Hashem."

Chazal teach us that this posuk obligates us to praise Hashem for each and every breath we take, and our obligation is constant — le'olom. And this is why we say "Boruch Hashem le'olom," in order to declare our commitment to praise Hashem constantly, for each and every breath we take.

Furthermore, we also say "omen ve'omen." We say omen twice to affirm that our declaration is "a true and reliable vow — therefore [because] of the great yir'oh we have for Hashem, His exaltedness and the infinite praise [owed to him] — `I accept upon myself to constantly declare Hashem's praises.'"

Great people take time to think about and realize the greatness of Hashem — and the great obligation we have to praise Him; to know He is our King and, as Bilaam said " . . . the affection of the King" is with us.

Rosh Hashonoh is the time to realize this. Rosh Hashonoh is the time when we meet the King, and if we are properly prepared we can enjoy His company.

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