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Rosh Hashana

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In the book of forgiveness and absolution

 

Good and upright is the Lord: the Option of Correction is One of God's Graces 

Good and upright is the Lord . How is He good? In that He is upright. How is He upright? In that He is good.

They asked wisdom: What is the sinner's punishment? It said: Evil will pursue the sinners (Proverbs 13:21).

They asked prophecy: What is the sinner's punishment? It said: The soul which sins shall die.

They asked the Torah: What is the sinner's punishment? It said: Let him bring a guilt-offering and it will be atoned.

They asked the Holy One, blessed be He: What is the sinner's punishment? He said: Let him repent and it shall be atoned for him, as it is written: The Lord is good and upright; therefore, He leads sinners on the way, [meaning] that He shows sinners the way for them to repent.

(Yalkut Shimoni Tehilim 25, 702)

 

A Good Year to All Our Readers for all Israel for All the World

 

A Year of Peace, Justice and Tranquility

An End to the Year and Its Afflictions

A Beginning of a Year and Its Blessings

 

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"In whom all the ends of the earth and distant seas put their trust"

Itai Marinberg-Milikovsky

 For the leader. A psalm of David. A song.

 Praise befits You in Zion, O God; vows are paid to You,

      all mankind comes to You, You who hear prayer.

 When all manner of sins overwhelm me,

      it is You who forgive our inequities.

 Happy is the man You choose and bring near to dwell in Your courts;

      may we be sated with the blessing of Your house, Your holy temple.

 Answer us with victory through awesome deeds, O God our deliverer,

      in whom all the ends of the earth and distant seas put their trust;

      who, by His power, fixed the mountains firmly,

      who is girded with might, who stills the raging seas,

      the raging waves, the tumultuous peoples.

 Those who live at the ends of earth are awed by Your signs;

      You make the lands of sunrise and sunset shout for joy.

 You take care of the earth and irrigate it; You enrich it greatly,

      with the channel of God full of water;

      You provide grain for men; for so do You prepare it.

 Saturating its furrows, leveling its ridges,    

      You soften it with showers, You bless its growth.

 You crown the year with Your bounty; fatness is distilled in Your paths;

      the pasture lands distill it; the hills are girded with joy.

 The meadows are clothes with flocks; the valleys mantled with grain;

      they raise a shout, they break into song.

                                                                                              (Psalm 65)

A

How beautiful this psalm of praise! Before offering even a single word of commentary, it is almost impossible not to be amazed at the vigorous joy of life which characterizes it towards its conclusion. The entire world is enriched with water, the earth sings praise, and the green today is greener than ever; the supernatural plentitude of good and blessings from above infuse Creation, and together with intense feelings of renewal, they create an intoxicating celebration of sound and color. The hope for rain, and the thanks for its eventual arrival - both deeply-felt and natural for men of antiquity, as is evinced throughout Tractate Taanit - both deviate here from their normal routine, and are elevated beyond the farmer's private field and vineyard to a state where every tiny mound of soil, valley and hill, are humanized so that one may discern in them welcoming eyes; they stimulate smiling speech. An atmosphere of a new year beginning  - true, the year begins in Nisan- but nonetheless - a new year.

B

But the psalm begins not with the exciting description of nature with the arrival of rain, but rather with the experience of prayer and penance: " All mankind comes to You, you who hear prayer. When all manner of sins overwhelm me, it is You who forgives our inequities. Happy is the man You choose and bring near to dwell in Your courts; may we be sated with the blessing of Your house" . The disparity - both in style and content - between the two sections led Biblical scholars to the hypothesis regarding the liturgical use of the psalm as an ancient prayer for rain; one which did not escape - as is usual with prayers - later additions, secondary to the original nucleus. Whatever the case may be, it is interesting to contemplate a certain motif which binds the passages together and gives them - at least ostensibly - a unified appearance. We are referring to the special characteristic of the event described; not only the valleys and hills react with lively movement to the Holy One's doings, but also human beings who turn to Him who hears prayers, and are blessed through their closeness to His holy courts. Their trust in the Lord derives, as the poet makes clear, from the Holy One's complete control over all the world, from the ends of the world to the ends of the sea: " Answer us with victory through awesome deeds, O God our deliverer, in whom all the ends of the earth and distant seas put their trust."

C

The word combination " distant seas"  stimulated the imagination of our Sages, who identified in space symbolic significance. The midrash in Psikta d'Rav Kahana I (Chap 24) relates:

R' Hinna bar Papa asked R' Shmuel bar Nahman, saying: What is the meaning of this "distant seas" ?

He replied: Repentance is likened to the sea; just as this sea is open forever,

So the gates of repentance are open forever.

And prayer is likened to a mikveh [ritual immersion pool]; just as the mikvah is sometimes open, sometimes locked, so the gates of prayer are sometimes open and sometimes locked.

The mikveh, when one comes immerse himself and finds there his father or his teacher, he is embarrassed and leaves; but at the sea, one moves a bit away, goes down and immerses himself."

The midrash creates a double contrast between prayer and repentance. First of all, while prayer is limited to appointed times, and its gates are not always open, the gates of repentance are never shut. But on the other hand - and this is for us the more important consideration - prayer, like the limited, defined mikveh, does not necessarily leave space for all. A person wishes to immerse - or to pray - if he finds there his father or his rebbi, he is embarrassed and leaves; repentance, like the open and spacious ocean, enables everyone to find his way to the water. But the midrash formulates its words better and more deeply than the way in which we summarized it; perhaps the sea enables everyone to find his way to the water, but not before he meets there his father or his teacher. This already charged encounter becomes more charged at the exposed moment of immersion, and it also seems true at immersion in prayer and repentance. Fortunately, "for one higher than the high watcheth (This quote from Kohellet 5:7 is employed by the Sages to express the supremacy of God in the celestial hierarchy).

An alternate version of the midrash (Midrash Tehillim, 4:3) stresses that the gates of mercy are never closed, not because they provide a circumvention of human authority, but because the Holy One, Blessed Be He, the addressee of our supplications, is always near to us " whenever we call upon Him"  (Devarim 4:7).

Embarrassment is not pleasant. But shame is not necessarily a negative emotion, especially when experienced in the form of respectful awe; it help us keep our actions in equilibrium, obligating us to be attentive to our fellow's feelings and opinions - or, as per the allegory in the midrash - obligating us to sensitivity towards ourselves, when we unexpectedly meet those greater than ourselves. But shame can also castrate and suffocate; those close to me are so great and powerful - what am I and who am I? Here we approach one of the advantages of distance, of space. The movement to a different place facilitates freedom, freedom which does not renounce the presence of the authoritative persona - it is still there, where we at first intended to immerse - but it obligates us to carve new side-paths.

D

We return to the rain. We read in Midrash Devarim Rabba (Ki Tavo, Lieberman ed., p. 111)

A tale is told of a gentile who asked Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai, saying: We have holydays and you have holydays, we have Calanda, Starlania, and Carosis. You have Passover, Shavuot and Sukkoth. On what day are both you and I happy? Answered him Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai: On the day when rain falls, as is written " The meadows are clothes with flocks, etc"  (Psalm 65:14) and what follows: " Praise the Lord all the earth.{Psalm 66:1)

In his answer to the gentile, who searches for single second of equal joy, of thankfulness shared by all, Raban Yohanan ben Zakkay ties the last verse of the psalm under consideration to the first verse of the following psalm. Immediately after the wonderful description of nature awakening, the poet of Psalms celebrates the shouts of praise emanating from all corners of the universe; the joy on " the day when rain falls"  does not differentiate among those created in the image. It is bound up with the penetrating recognition that notes - in joy - the unbridgeable gap between man and his God. " All the earth bows to You, and sings hymns to You; all sing hymns to Your name, Selah. Come and see the works of God who is held in awe by men for His acts."  (Ibid. 4-5)

E

It may well be that we have lost our sensitivity to rain. But the passing year signaled a new/old focal point for universal fraternity. One after the other the nations around us became disgusted with the dictatorial and corrupt reigns. Despite all the differences, it is difficult not to see in the social protest which rattled Israel's doorposts a sister to protests in the Arab world. The deep belief in the rights of the individual to freedom and a life of dignity gave birth to a shared destiny, and - for those who were willing to do so - cracked the walls of opposing national interests.

" You have let men ride over us; we have endured fire and water, and you have brought us through to prosperity"  (ibid. 12). In this hour of fundamental undermining of man's rule over man - in all its overt and covert forms - we can return to adopt one of the most radical ideas which Rosh Hashana embodies… the day of God's coronation over the entire universe, the day of thrilling submission to the exalted-beyond-exaltation; this is the day of stepping onto new paths to the great ocean, before which we are all equal.

Itai Marinberg Milikovsky, married and father to a son, lives in Yerushalayim. A graduate of the Kibbutz Hadati Yeshiva in Ein Tsurim, today a doctoral candidate in the Dept of Hebrew Literature in Univ. Ben-Gurion in the Negev. Studies and teaches Talmud in Batei Midrash in Yerushalyim and Tel Aviv.

 

 

Only the God of Thoughts Can Evaluate Who Is a Sinner, Who Is a Tzaddik

One whose sins exceed his merits dies immediately in his wickedness, as is written, "For most of your sins"and so a society whose sins are many is annihilated immediately, as is written: "The outcry in Sodom and Amora - how great it is!"and similarly the entire world, if their sins exceed their merits, they are destroyed immediately, as is written: "Now God saw that great was humankind's evildoing on earth". This weighing is not done according to the number of merits and sins, but considers the relative weight of each sin and merit; there is a merit which may outweigh a number of sins, as is written: "for some good has been found in him"and there is a sin which outweighs several merits, as is written: "A single error destroys much of value" - and weighing is done only in the mind of the God of thought, and He alone knows how to evaluate the merits as against the sins.

(Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Repentance, 3:2)

 

The Blowing of the Shofar and the Verses of " Malchuyot Zichronot V'Shofarot"* as Part of an Inner Conflict

"And on the day of your rejoicing and at your fixed seasons etc." : From these passages our Sages learned that on Rosh Hashanah we recite Makchuyot Zichronot V'Shofarot, as is written in the Yalkut on this parasha. It is important to understand what exactly led them to conclude that these passages refer to Rosh Hashana. It seems that they based their reading on that which is written " And when you come in battle in your land against the foe who assails you, you shall let out a long blast with the trumpets and be remembered before the Lord your God and be rescued from your enemies"  (Bemidbar 10:9). " And thus it was in ancient Israel that in every instance of calamity, they would decree a fast and would blow and cry out and recite Makchuyot Zichronot V'Shofarot, (Tur, Orach Hayyim, 679) and perhaps from their reading of these passages, as is said " When you come in battle etc."  they derived from both [passages] that on every day on which there is a sounding of the shofar, this order [Makchuyot Zichronot V'Shofarot] is followed, Rosh Hashana included. And since the text reads " battle inside your land"  we understand that the text refers to the assailant who is within the land. And this is fitting for Rosh Hashana on which the shofar is sounded in order to confound the satan which assails from within, from inside the land, [this reading] comes to exclude assailants who generally come from outside the land. And furthermore, what is the difference whether the oppressor comes from the outside or from within? According to this, it is appropriate to see in these passages a reference to the [liturgical] order of Rosh Hashana.

(Kli Yakar, Bemidbar 10:10)

 

*Portions of the Rosh Hashanah Mussaf liturgy referring to God's kingship, His goodness to mankind, and shofar-accompanied historic events.

 

Fateful hours are not fit for song, they are appropriate for introspection

The Book of Life is the heavens, and there all future decrees are inscribed on the day of their creation.

(Ibn Ezra, Psalms, 69:29)

 

"The court sat, and books were opened" (Daniel 7:10). He does not need a book, for He knows thoughts yet unthought, but this [text] is according to our customary style of "The Torah spoke in the vernacular.

(Sefer Chassidim 32, quoted in "Days of Awe" by S.Y. Agnon)

 

What is the reason [for not reciting the Hallel on Rosh Hashana]? - Said Rabbi Abahu: Said the ministering angels before The Holy One, Blessed Be He: Master of the Universe, why does Israel not sing hymns before you on Rosh Hashana and Yom HaKippurim? He said to them: Is it possible that a king sits in judgement, and the Books of the Living and Books of the Dead are open before him - and Israel sings!?

(Bavli, Rosh Hashana 32b)

 

"Now, lord our god, put thy awe upon all whom thou hast made... Now, o lord, grant honor to thy people"

One cannot ignore the fact that in the common perception of many generations, there sprouted the corrupted and misleading conception that His Name, Be It Extolled, has a special attitude to Israel and to dealing with their affairs.

True, there does exist a special relationship, but it receives expression not through greater privileges but in the obligations and missions with which Israel is charged, to be God's witnesses on earth, to work for the perfection ("tikkun") of the world under the reign of the Almighty. In the framework of this universal tikkun, and only following the yearning for "Now, Lord our God, put thy awe upon all whom thou hast made" will there come the tikkun of "Now, O Lord, grant honor to thy people, glory to those who revere thee, free speech to those who yearn for thee, joy to thy land and gladness to thy city."

The anticipation of the redemption of Israel is not a function of Israel's being Israel, but of Israel being "a nation in awe of You". If Israel does not meet that qualification, it deserves no special relationship.

Rosh Hashana is intended for every man who - in honest consciousness - considers himself to be a believer, who is willing to examine whether he is capable of serving God out of love. Such a person is in no need of the "Unetaneh Tokef" prayer with its descriptions of the celestial Day of Judgement; such a person accepts Rosh Hashana as the day in which man meditates upon the lofty idea of perfecting the world under the reign of the Almighty. The redemption of Israel receives its meaning through the realization of this ideal; Israel has been appointed to be the ideal's messenger on earth.

(Y. Leibowitz: Discussions on Israel's Festivals and Appointed Times, pp. 169-170)

 

The Sound of Teruah - Sob or Sigh?

The Holy One, Blessed Be He, Does Not Differentiate Between One Cry And Another

Throughout the years and in most of the Diaspora, there have existed doubts regarding the nature of the teruah mentioned in the Torah. Is it the wail of wailing women? Or is it a sigh, such as that which a person sighs again and again when his heart is greatly troubled? Or is it the two together, the sigh and the sob which usually follows it, for this is the nature of one deeply worried, first he sighs and then he wails. Therefore we execute all three.

 (Rambam, Laws of Shofar 3:2)

 

"You shall observe a day of teruah" - and we interpret this: You shall observe a day of sobbing." It is written in connection with the mother of Sisera (Judges 5): "Through the window peered Sisera's mother, behind the lattice she whined." One [authority] says she sighed , and another says she wailed.

(Bavli, Rosh Hashana 33b)

 

Said Rabbi Elazar: From the day the Temple was destroyed, the gates of prayer have been shut, as is written (Eicha 3:8) "And when I cry and plead, He shuts out my prayer."

But even though the gates of prayer were shut, the gates of tears were not shut, as is written (Psalms 39:13) "Hear my prayer, O Lord; give ear to my cry; do not disregard my tears; for like all my forebears I am an alien, resident with You."

(Bavli, Bava Metsia 59a)

 

 

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