Rosh Hashanah 3
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High Holiday season is a special time of year. Within it lays potential to reach
the pinnacle of spiritual ecstasy. However, like anything else in life that is
meaningful, it must be understood to be appreciated.
is the time of year when people, regardless of their shortcomings, are presented
with a special opportunity to reach within themselves, and pull themselves
closer to G-d. Let us not squander this wonderful opportunity.
from the Saturday night a week before Rosh Hashana we recite Selichos (special
prayers) in order to prepare us for Rosh Hashanah. The focal point of Selichos
is the thirteen attributes of mercy. These attributes are also said three times
on Rosh Hashanah, the days in between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and
approximately twenty times on Yom Kippur. Obviously they have a major role in
the High Holiday season.
What are these
thirteen attributes? After the Jews had committed the grievous sin with the
golden calf, Moshe despaired of the Jews ever being able to find favor in G-d’s
eyes again. G-d, however as explained in the Talmud (Tractate Rosh Hashanah 17b)
donned a talis (prayer shawl), and, in the role of a chazzan, showed Moshe the
order of the thirteen attributes of mercy. G-d then told Moshe, “whenever the
Jews sin they should do these thirteen attributes before Me, and I shall forgive
thirteen attributes are:
G-d of Mercy
G-d of Mercy (these two will be explained further down)
G-d source of power (whose power is manifest in his mercy)
Compassionate (G-d eases the punishment of the guilty; He never gives a person
more than he can handle)
Gracious (even to the undeserving)
Slow to anger (the sinner has an extraordinary amount of time to reconsider)
Abundant in kindness (towards those who don’t have much merit, He also tips
the scales towards good)
Truth (He never goes back on His word, even if we don’t completely deserve it)
Preserver of kindness for thousands of generations (deeds benefit far into the
Forgiver of iniquity (even intentional sinners)
l) Forgiver of willful sinners (even rebellious sinners)
Forgiver of error (unintentional sinners; why mention unintentional? If
intentional can be forgiven, surely unintentional? If one repents on a certain
level, they can have their intentional sins judged as unintentional and if one
repents on the highest level they can even turn them into merits)
Who cleanses (the residue left over from the sin).
is it necessary to mention G-d of Mercy two times? With this answer we will, G-d
willing, understand the thrust of the thirteen attributes, and more than that, a
deep insight into our relationship with G-d.
are two ways that we can relate to G-d: Love and Fear. The lower and beginning
level is fear - “the beginning of
wisdom is fear of G-d (Psalm 11 l)”. The higher level is love. Sins can be
turned to merits if one apologizes out of love and not fear (Yoma 86b). G-d
relates to us also in two ways: Lovingkindness and Justice (depending on how we
relate to Him). The first attribute
"G-d of Mercy" is referring, before we have sinned, to lovingkindness.
The second "G-d of Mercy" is referring, after we have sinned, to
justice. But the justice we receive from G-d is only a means to an end, the end
being lovingkindness. This is the level of ultimate closeness. When we recite
these thirteen attributes, we are expressing G-d’s ultimate level of mercy:
that even after we have sinned, we still have an opportunity for a relationship
with G-d. Only now in order to rectify us, this love must be tempered with
Order of the Holidays
of the most basic questions that can be asked is the order of the holidays. Why
does Rosh Hashanah come before Yom Kippur? If Rosh Hashanah is the new year
(this year being 5763 from creation of man), and Yom Kippur is the day of
forgiveness, the day when we have the chance to apologize for all the sins
committed in the past year (5762), would it not make more sense to have Yom
Kippur come before Rosh Hashanah? Why start the new year, and ten days later
revisit the sins of the previous year?
order for us to understand the order of the High Holidays, let’s first define
the words sorry / apology. What do these words mean? Are they arbitrary words to
be thrown out when we are caught doing something wrong, so we can still get our
way? The Jewish definition of sorry/apology goes a lot deeper than that.
Maimonides brings down in the Laws of Returning to G-d that one must do three
things before he is forgiven. 1. Verbally confess to G-d. 2. Have sincere
regret. 3. Accept onto one’s self not to repeat the act. If this sin is done
to a person (as opposed to sins between man and G-d), he must apologize and ask
that person’s forgiveness. In other words, in order to be forgiven one must do
some sincere soul searching as to what he did wrong before he can apologize.
That is sorrow. So before we can apologize and beg G-d’s forgiveness for
having pushed ourselves away, and having made barriers between us and G-d, thus
preventing ourselves from achieving goodness, we must first clarify why it is
wrong to have done these things. That is our role on Rosh Hashanah - to
understand our role and our responsibilities (the word in Hebrew for “pray”
is “hispallel”, from the root peellel that means to clarify). Once we
understand our role, and how sins have disrupted our achieving this (Rosh
Hashanah), then we are ready to apologize on Yom Kippur.
what is our role?
What are our responsibilities?
Yoseph Albo in Sefer Haikkrim (Book of Principles) writes there are three
beliefs incumbent upon every Jew. 1. The belief in G-d and that He created the
world. 2. Reward and Punishment [Providence]. 3. Belief that the Written and
Oral were given by G-d.
would it not be appropriate and logical, he writes, that on Rosh Hashanah, the
anniversary of the creation of man, the day when the world is judged if it lived
up to its responsibilities, and the Jews in particular who are responsible to
reveal G-d goodness to the world, to enumerate our belief system, our charter,
on this day?
says in the Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 16a), G-d said “Say before me on Rosh
Hashanah Malchiyus (Kingship), Zichronos (Remembrance), and Shofaros. Kingship
in order that you should make me your King, and Remembrance so that your
remembrance should arise before me for good. How is this done (how are Kingship
and Remembrance accomplished)? Through the Shofar.”
three above mentioned concepts are the three topics of the most vital service of
the Rosh Hashanah day, if not the most vital service of the year, the Rosh
And, writes Albo, they represent the three principal beliefs incumbent
upon each Jew. Kingship is belief in G-d, Remembrance is belief in Reward and
Punishment / Providence, and Shofaros is the belief in the Torah.
belief in G-d is predicated upon the knowledge that not only did G-d create the
world, but that He is, was, and will be the King of the world. What is the ideal
of a King? This ideal is that the nation over whom he rules wants to fulfill his
ruling and laws in order to benefit their own lives. The King’s laws make them
better people. Unfortunately, throughout history there have been very few kings
who have met this ideal. But our belief in G-d as King can and does meet this
ideal. When we fulfill G-d’s laws, we are not doing a favor to G-d, we are
doing good onto ourselves. When we praise Him, we do it so that we should
understand who He is, and why we should listen, and that His will is, by
definition, Goodness. As we mentioned earlier, G-d said, “When Israel does
these attributes, I will forgive them.” How can we do these attributes? The
Talmud tells us we have the ability to imitate G-d (Sotah 14a). Just as G-d
provides food for His creatures, so can we. Just as G-d is compassionate to
those who do not necessarily deserve it, we can be compassionate to those who do
not deserve it. Even more, on Rosh Hashanah, we have the unique opportunity to
“crown” G-d as King! (Pachad Yitschok-Rosh Hashanah).
our proclaiming His Kingship, by accepting upon ourselves His Will and all its
implications voluntarily, we raise mankind in general and ourselves in
particular to a much closer bond with G-d. When we accepted the Torah we
proclaimed “Naaseh V’nishma” - We will do and we will listen. When G-d
heard this He said who revealed the secret of the angels to mankind. The secret
is the concept of the complete acceptance of the will, and the goodness of G-d,
even without completely understanding it.
how could we do such a thing, accept without complete understanding? Let us look
to the incident of the Sacrifice of Isaac, which is read on the second day of
Rosh Hashanah. In that story, G-d tells Abraham to offer as a sacrifice his son
Isaac. Abraham immediately acquiesces. How could Abraham have agreed to such a
request? The answer is that Abraham already had a relationship with G-d. True,
he did not know the reason behind this latest request, but he knew anything
requested of him by G-d, however unreasonable it may seem, was in reality good,
and in reality right. That is accepting the Kingship of G-d.
Rosh Hashana we have the opportunity to act to proclaim G-d’s Kingship.
Through this proclamation of the Kingship of G-d, we are telling him we desire a
relationship with Him.
do we wish to be remembered, i.e. judged by G-d? Maimonides brings down (Laws of
Fast Days Ch. 1 Laws 2-3), “If a series of misfortunes befall a community and
some people say ‘what happened here was a run of bad luck’, these people are
called cruel. Why? Because nothing happens through arbitrary luck - everything
happens for a purpose. By people saying it was luck, however, they are robbing
themselves, and others, of the opportunity for true introspective thought, i.e.,
why did this happen - where did we go wrong?” One might not usually be able to
pinpoint exactly what he did to deserve this; one is able, however, to
understand that everything happens for a purpose, and to grow, i.e., improve one
self for the good, accordingly. When we are punished it is never arbitrary, it
is to make us take notice of who we are, and where we are going. If G-d did not
love us or care about us, then why would He interact in our lives?
of the verses of Remembrances (each of these three concepts - Kingships,
Remembrances, and Shofar - is followed by several verses from the Torah,
Prophets, and Writings) is Exodus 2:24: “G-d heard their groaning, and He
remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Before G-d heard
their groaning, did He not remember they were in Egypt, or that He had made a
Covenant with their forefathers? Obviously, He remembered them, and remembered
the covenant, but only when they cried out to Him, in essence saying ‘Okay,
G-d, we realize You must have put us here for a reason.’ Once they said that,
Hashem saw they were ready to come out, and He responded accordingly.
aspect of G-d’s remembrance is His complete judgment. Normally when a person
is judged, it is not the person, but rather what is known about the person, that
is judged. When G-d judges a person, it is on what the person is, past, present,
and future (potential). Let’s say there are two people, Herman and Kummings.
They both are compulsive liars. They both told 250 lies that year. The year
before, however Herman told 400 and Kummings told 150.The year before that
Herman told 1000 and Kummings told none, so even though they each told 250 and
caused the same amount of damage, they are two people headed in totally
different directions and cannot be judged the same way. This is an obvious
example, but even on the most minute details, G-d’s judgment is precise. He
also takes into account our existence regarding other people’s reality. One
thing we should strive to do this time of the year is to forgive all grudges,
even those we deem legitimate, because if we can forgive grudges against other
people, G-d can forgive us. When He sees how we relate to His creations so too
He relates to us.
we express our belief that G-d interacts with us, He will interact with us.
now we know we must proclaim G-d’s Kingship, and accept His will upon
ourselves, and we know how we remember G-d, so will we be remembered, but how do
we reach these elusive goals?
we stated earlier from the Talmud, “How are Kingship and Remembrances
accomplished? Through the Shofar.” As we also stated previously, regarding our
three principal beliefs, Shofar represents belief in the Torah.
When the Jewish
people received the Torah, it was heralded by the sound of the Shofar, as
produced by G-d. When we received the Torah we were in a passive role as
acceptors. On Rosh Hashanah when we blow the Shofar, we are imitating G-d, but
as opposed to the receiving of the Torah when we had a passive role, now we have
the aggressive role; through the Shofar, we are crowning G-d. The Shofar is
symbolizing the Torah and the dichotomy of the Torah. On the one hand, we
receive the Torah from G-d, and accept upon ourselves to follow it. On the other
hand, it is our responsibility and our destiny to interact and interpret the
Torah, as the Torah is not in Heaven, but on earth (Deut 30:12).
is the sound of the Shofar? It plays no notes, and if its sound can be
identified, it would be that of a wail. Our connection to G-d is through the
Torah. In the words of the great eighth century philosopher Rabbi Sa’adiah,
“We are Jews by virtue of the Torah.” It is our blueprint. But we are not
perfect and sometimes we even fail miserably. But even when we don’t keep to
our potential, G-d forbid, the Torah, the Shofar, can step in and renew our
connection with G-d (contingent on our acceptance to rectify our noncompliance
with the Torah (Sfas Emes; Rosh Hashanah). The mystics tell us the wail of the
Shofar translated into words means, “It is our will to do Your will.”
Yes, we have strayed, but we desire to return home to You, G-d. That is
the heartfelt plea of each and every Jew, whether that Jew can express it into
words or not. That is the sound of the Shofar and the role of the Torah:
connection through doing the will of G-d. We can achieve G-d’s will and have
an interactive relationship with G-d, a connection with G-d, through the Shofar,
and all year long, through the Torah.
seems like a lot to accomplish. Even if we can’t do everything, there is one
sure way to have a successful Rosh Hashanah and year. That is to strive - to
constantly grow. This time of year gives us a unique opportunity to step off the
carousel of life and to honestly look in the mirror and see where we are going.
person could go ten years or more without monitoring his growth, to see where he
is going. This is tragic. One of the things the Rabbis recommend this time of
year is acceptance upon oneself of new things, i.e. "resolutions". It
should be small things that are doable. We should not resolve to change
ourselves overnight, for real change is gradual, but over a period of time which
will lead to true changes within ourselves. That is how one grows and makes a
connection with G-d.
all of us and the people of Israel merit a year of true growth, and may we be
written and inscribed for a good year.