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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Creating Freedom Without Anarchy, Order Without Tyranny, By Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

Nine days from now Jewish communities around the world will sit in collective mourning on Tisha b’Av, the day of Jewish tears. So many tears. For the destruction of the First and Second Temples. For the defeat of the Bar Kochba rebellion. For the expulsion of Jews from England in 1290 and Spain in 1492. For the day on which Himmler was given the go- ahead for Die Endlösung ,“The Final Solution,” that is, the extermination of the Jews of Europe.

Yet as one of the generation born after the Holocaust, whose identity was shaped in the wake of the Six Day War, I believed that Tisha b’Av and its sensibility belonged to the world of my parents and theirs. It was not ours. They were ha-zorim be-dim’a and we werebe-rinah yiktzoru. They had sown in tears so that we could reap in joy.

This has made the past three weeks very difficult indeed for Jews around the world but above all for Am Yisrael be-Medinat Yisrael. After the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers and a Palestinian teenager, rocket attacks from Hamas intensified. The result was a sustained assault of a kind no country in the world has had to face: worse than the Blitz in World War II. (At the height of the Blitz, on average 100 German missiles were launched against Britain every day. On average during the present conflict Hamas has been firing 130 missiles a day against Israel.) We felt the tears of the injured and bereaved. We felt for the Palestinians too, held hostage by Hamas, a ruthless terrorist organisation.

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Tisha Be’Av and Why We Need to Forget About the Romans, By Rabbi Elchanan Poupko

“When bad things happen to a group, its members can ask one of two questions: “What did we do wrong?” or “Who did this to us?” The entire fate of the group will depend on which it chooses.”(Lord Jonathan Sacks)

It was the great Roman empire and Titus Vespasian who destroyed the Beit Hamikdash almost two thousand years ago, except it wasn’t and it would help us a great deal to understand that they were not the ones to destroy the Beit Hamikdash.

Yes, this does refer in part to the rabbinic teaching (Talmud Bavli, Yuma 9a) that says:” why was the first Temple destroyed? Because of three things it had: idle worship, idolatry, and bloodshed. Why was the second Temple destroyed? Because of baseless hate(“sinat chinam”) that they had among them.” These words bringing Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin, the great founder of the first modern day Yeshiva system, to write[1] that it is only after the Jews had destroyed the Temple’s spiritual infrastructure that God allowed Titus to come along and destroy the remaining physical representation of what the Temple was really all about.

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Tisha B’Av: A True Fast or a Peculiar Fast? By Rabbi Joel Finkelstein

The Gemara in Taanit 12b seems to say that there’s no fast like the fast of Tisha B’Av. Tisha B’Av then is the quintessential fast. Shmuel, or in another version, Rabbi Yirmiya bar Abba said, “There is no Public Fast in Babylonia except for Tisha B’Av alone.” How so? In what way is Tisha B’av unique, superior to other fasts? Rashi on the spot mentions two notions of stringency, not wearing shoes and starting the fast at night.
However, the Gemara in Pesachim 54b presents a debate as to whether Tisha B’Av is the only true fast (Shmuel) or that it is not a Public Fast (Rabbi Yochanan). The Gemara suggests several other possible unique features of Tisha B’Av. a. That one must fast even during its twilight time. b. That pregnant and nursing mothers must fast as they do on Yom Kippur (speak to your local MOR and doctors)  whereas they needn’t do so on other fasts. c. They considered the notion that people shouldn’t work on Tisha B’Av though that is more of a local custom. The Gemara then entertains the option (d.) that Tisha B’av is unique in that one may not even dip a finger in water (unless one is very dirty). All of this is codified into common practice today.
Rabbi Yochanan, however, said that Tisha B’Av is not a Public Fast day. The Gemara suggests two ways to understand what he meant by this. Did he mean it is not a Public Fast day in respect to not saying the prayer of Neilah as we do on Yom Kippur, or in respect to not adding the 24 blessing version of Shmoneh Esreh which was said on true Public Fast days of old? It is left unresolved. The Ramban in Toras Haadam seems to think both ideas are true.

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