Rosh Hashana : The Birth of Freedom, By Rabbi Warren Goldstein

The key to understanding the themes of Rosh Hashanah is the date. The Day of Judgment for the world was not chosen arbitrarily, but is specifically on this date – not because it is the first day of the year (in fact, the Mishnah mentions four different kinds of new years), but because it is the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve. As we say in the Rosh Hashanah davening after each time the shofar is blown, “Hayom harat olam– Today the world was created.”  This is because human beings are the reason for Creation. As the well-known Mishnah (Sanhedrin 4:5)  says, “He who saves one life is considered to have saved an entire world; and he who destroys one life is considered to have destroyed an entire world.”

We understand that Rosh Hashanah is the day Adam and Eve were created. But what is the connection between this and judgment?

To answer this, we must first take a look at what makes the human being unique. G-d created many things in the world; why is the human being considered to be “an entire world” unto himself?

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Notes on Chazarat ha-Shatz of Musaf of Yamim Nora’im: Vocalization, Punctuation, and Meaning, By Rabbi Dr. David Berger

Regrettably, most congregants, myself included, do not fully understand every line of the many piyyutim that appear in our liturgy. Generally speaking, the texts that we recite on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur tend to be somewhat easier to follow than many selichot, kinot, and yotzrot composed for other occasions. Nonetheless, they are not without their challenges. I present here a number of observations that should help enhance our understanding of what most of us see as the most important prayer services of the year.

  1. Near the beginning of chazarat ha-shatz of musaf on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, we find the lines Dibberot elleh divrei ha-berit galleh be-zikhron shillush berit. The tune impels almost all chazzanim to pause after elleh. This, however, is a mistake. The lines mean, “Remove (roll away) the words elleh divrei ha-berit (the three words that follow the tokhachah (or tokhechah) in Ki Tavo and hence represent that tokhechah) through the remembrance of the threefold covenant (with the patriarchs).” Thus, the words elleh divrei ha-berit must be said as a single phrase. It is not terribly difficult to do this.

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The Titanic Sacrifice of the Ram, By Zachary Orenstein

The images that the event of Akeidat Yitzchak generally conjure are Avraham’s compliance, Yitzchak’s selflessness, and their unity in order to fulfill the ultimate sacrifice for God. However, the day that is more focused on the Akeida than any other is called Yom Teruah and its climax is the sounding of the shofar; Avraham’s sacrifice of the ram steals the show.[1] This oddity is exaggerated when looking at how the Torah records the sudden change in what is being offered. “Vayeilech Avraham vayikach et ha’ayil vaya’aleihu li’olah tachat binno- Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering in place of his son.״ (Genesis 22:13) The word the Torah uses for “in place of” is “tachat.” Nachama Lebowitz explains based on the Benno Jacob’s reading of Ayin tachat ayin – an eye for an eye, that from many of the places where the word tachat is used in Tanach, it is clear that it implies replacement or compensation for something lost. The argument by “ayin tachat ayin” is that even in Pshat it cannot be about revenge, but rather it has to be describing a way to replace the eye; thus, Chazzal say that the Torah is commanding monetary compensation to replace at least one function of the eye, which is helping to make a living. If this is true, then how could the Torah use the word “tachat” to describe replacing the sacrifice of Yitzchak with the sacrifice of a ram? How could sacrificing an animal begin to compare to the act of sacrificing a child such that it could be referred to with the terminology of a valid compensation?

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Deveikus Done Twice, By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein

[1]Nechemiah’s advice to a chastened nation seems strange. “Today is holy to Hashem….Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks. Send portions to those who have nothing prepared….Do not be sad. The enjoyment of Hashem is your strength!”[2] Nechemiah’s audience, no paragons of virtue, had good reason to cry any day of the year.  They had many misdeeds that they needed to acknowledge. All the more so on Rosh Hashanah, when they accepted their guilt, and understood that they were standing before G-d Who was judging them at that moment. We would think that crying would have been both cathartic and beneficial to their repentance.

Moreover, the Ari z”l measured the sensitivity of our souls by our ability to cry. He looked down upon any person who could pass through an entire Yomim Norarim period without shedding a tear. Why would Nechemiah suppress the tears of his people, and even urge them to eat celebratory meals?

The Yerushalmi[3] turns Nechemiah’s speech into policy for all time. “Ordinarily, a person awaiting judgment sits as if in mourning. Yisrael does not do that. They dress in finery, eat and drink, secure in the knowledge that Hashem will perform the miraculous for them.” Is not Rosh Hashanah supposed to be a time of awe, in which we see ourselves submitting to the judgment of Heaven? How can we expect a miracle, when we understand how vulnerable we are because of our sins?

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The Sound of Shofar, By Rabbi Dr. Chaim E. Schertz


In Jewish tradition we encounter two different traditions about the nature of the Mitzvah which requires us to hear the sound of the Shofar on Rosh Hashana.  According to one tradition, this is a Mitzvah which is incumbent upon the individual.  It is no different than the Mitzvah of taking hold of Lulav and Etrog on Sukkot or having Tzitzit upon a garment which one wears, or placing Tefillin upon one’s head or arm.

A different tradition, however, considers hearing the sound of the Shofar as a communal obligation.  That obligation is related to communal prayer and is in many respects no different than other communal obligations for example, building the Temple or going to war against specified enemies.

The Rambam discusses both of these aspects.  He first states:  “How many Shofar blasts is a person (i.e. an individual) obligated to hear on Rosh Hashana?” and he answers, “nine blasts.”  (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Shofar 3:1).  Later in the chapter he states, “The community is obligated to hear the sound of the Shofar blasts according to the order of the blessings.”  (Ibid  3:7)

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Le-Dovid and Teshuva: Achieving Clarity of Purpose, By Rabbi Michael Rosensweig


Compiled by: Yakir Forman[i]

The practice of Klal Yisrael is to recite Psalm 27, le-David Hashem ori ve-yishi, throughout the month of Elul. Ostensibly, this practice is motivated by the Midrash on the opening verse of the psalm:

Rabinin Patri Kra be-Rosh Ha-Shana u-beYom ha-Kippurim. Ori be-Rosh Ha-Shana, she-hu Yom ha-Din, she-Ne’emar ve-Hotzi ke-Or Tzidkecha u-Mishpatekha ke-Tzaharayim. ve-Yeshi be-Yom ha-Kippurim, Sheyoshi’ainu ve-Yimchol Lanu Al Kol Avonoteinu.

The rabbis interpreted this verse as referring to Rosh Ha-Shana and Yom Kippur. “Ori,” “my light,” on Rosh Ha-Shana, as it is the Day of Judgement, and another verse states, “He shall put forth your justice as the light, your judgment as the noonday.” “Ve-yishi,” “and my salvation,” on Yom Kippur, when He shall save us and forgive all our sins.

It seems, however, that what underlies the psalm’s recitation during Elul runs deeper than these few words. The psalm’s theme is highlighted by two crucial verses:

Im Tachaneh Alay Machaneh Lo Yirah Libi Im Takum Alay Milchamah be-Zot Ani Bote’ach. Achat Sha’alti me-Eit Hashem Otah Avakesh Shivti be-Veit Hashem Kol Yimei Chayai Lachazot be-Noam Hashem u-Livaker be-heikhalo.

If a camp encamps against me, I shall not fear; if a war arises against me, in this I shall trust: one

I have asked of G-d, it I shall request, [to] sit in the house of G-d all the days of my life, to gaze upon G-d’s pleasure, and to visit his temple. (v. 3-4)

These verses seem disjointed. The first of these verses appears to introduce a promise from the Ribbono Shel Olam, the memory of which soothes us and builds our confidence when we are distressed and besieged. Yet, at first glance, the following verse describes no such panacea. Instead, it describes a seemingly unrelated lofty ideal.

Rashi and Radak are thus motivated to find the antecedent of be-zot ani votei’ah, “in this I shall trust,” earlier in the psalm. Yet Ibn Ezra quotes a position which sees the antecedent of be-zot ani votei’ah in the request of the following verse. This position, unlike that of Rashi and Radak, allows the verses to be read as one thought, with a colon between the verses.

To understand how the request forms a basis for confidence and security, we can analyze the uniqueness of the request of shivti be-veit Hashem, “to sit in the house of G-d.” Malbim focuses on the striking phrase otah avakeish, “it I shall request.” A normal request, explains Malbim, consists of two separate components: the bakasha, “request,” which describes the goal of the petitioner, and the she’eila, “question,” which details the strategy the petitioner hopes to adopt together with the other party. In this case, uniquely, the question is the request; “to sit in the house of G-d all the days of my life” is simultaneously method and objective.

The unity of she’eila and bakasha expresses itself in a chronological sense as well. Malbim notes that the verse begins in the past tense but transitions to the future tense. He explains that unlike situational requests, which are relevant only as long as a certain situation lasts, the request “to sit in the house of G-d” is uniquely timeless and thus ties together past and future.[ii]

The timeless clarity of purpose afforded by the unity of she’eila and bakasha, of means and end, is precisely the panacea which provides confidence and security to the person in crisis. Tactics can, and often must, deliver reprieve in a particular situation. But a clear objective offers a broader sense of perspective, brings long-term confidence, and provides a greater sense of equanimity. One whose timeless goal is shivti be-veit Hashem, “to sit in the house of G-d,” understands the value and purpose in his or her life. Such a perspective allows one to weather any crisis.

This clarity of perspective is central to the concept of Teshuva. It is expressed in one of the tenets of Teshuva:

“ha-Omer Echhte ve-Ashuv Echte ve-Ashuv Ein Maspikin be-Yado la-Asot Teshuva”

One who says, “I shall sin and then repent, I shall sin and then repent” is not provided the opportunity of Teshuva. (Mishnah Yoma 8:9)

Me’iri (Hibbur Ha-Teshuva, Meishiv Nefesh 1:3) notes how counterintuitive this rule is in practice. One whose sin is wholly rebellious, without any repentant intention, can later repent, but one whose failure is only temporary from the start cannot! In his explanation of how this can be, Me’iri focuses on the cynicism and the built-in exploitation of Teshuva as preventing its efficacy.

One cannot exploit Teshuva because one accomplishes Teshuva by attaining a clarity of perspective, by unifying she’eila and bakasha. If one instead plans to use Teshuva to overcome an imminent hurdle to securing a positive divine verdict, but wants to allow himself or herself to lapse, one has lost the unity of means and end, and has turned Teshuva into a tactic instead of perspective. “I shall sin and then repent” is inconsistent with the notion of Teshuva as clear perspective, and its inefficacy is a result of that inconsistency, not merely a punishment for abusing the Teshuva process.

During the month of Elul, when we focus our thoughts toward Teshuva, we recite the psalm centered around the timeless, unambiguous ideal at the center of Teshuva, “to sit in the house of G-d.” The clarity of purpose expressed by the unity of she’eila and bakasha becomes the centerpiece of our Elul enterprise, the single factor “in which we shall trust.”


Author: Rabbi Michael Rosensweig, Rosh Yeshiva and Rosh Kollel, RIETS

Compiler: Yakir Forman, Rabbinical Student, RIETS


[i] This article is an adaption of a sikha given by R. Rosensweig during Elul, 5765. The article was reviewed by R. Rosensweig and is part of a future volume of essays edited by Itamar Rosensweig and Avraham Wein.

[ii] Expressing a similar idea, Rashi quotes one opinion which interprets the word u-levakeir, “to visit,” as related to the word boker, “morning.” According to this interpretation, the speaker expresses a desire to visit G-d every morning and thus develop a persistent, long-term relationship.


Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur: The Ideal Time for Ideal Spirituality, By Rabbi Yona Reiss

The Mishna in Rosh Hashana (16a) indicates that Rosh Hashana is the day that all of humanity is judged like sheep passing through a corral.  At other intervals during the year, such as Pesach, Shavuos, and Sukkot, humanity is judged on its wheat, fruit and water, respectively.  The Gemora notes that this Mishna does not seem to reflect the views of four different Tannaim who alternatively hold that mankind is judged regarding everything on Rosh Hashana with the final judgment sealed on Yom Kippur (Rabbi Meir), or that mankind is judged regarding everything on Rosh Hashana with the final judgment sealed for mankind on Yom Kippur, and sealed regarding wheat, fruit and water on their respective holidays (Rabbi Yehuda), or that man is judged each day (Rabbi Yossi), or that man is judged each moment (Rabbi Nosson).

The Gemora concludes that the Mishna is in accordance with the opinion of Rabbi Yishmael that man is judged on Rosh Hashana regarding himself, and the judgment is sealed on Yom Kippur, and that the Mishna is referring to the starting time of the judgment, rather than the sealing of the judgment.

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