by Rabbi Ephraim Sprecher, Dean of Students, Diaspora Yeshiva
Rosh Hashanah is a puzzling Yom Tov for us. On the one hand, we are facing an awesome judgment; on the other hand, we celebrate the day as a joyous holiday. One can hardly imagine someone facing a life and death judgment enjoying himself on that very day. Yet, the Halachah states that we must celebrate on Rosh Hashanah by feasting on meat and wine.
What is even stranger, we not only celebrate amidst the judgment, we actually invoke the judgment on ourselves. According to the Zohar, our shofar summons the Judge to the chamber to begin the judgment. Clearly we would only do so if we viewed that judgment as beneficial to us.
A Midrash concerning Rosh Hashanah makes this point. Rosh Hashanah falls on the first of Tishrei, says the Midrash, because it was then that Adam Harishon was judged favorably. That first favorable judgment serves as a hopeful precedent for our own judgment.
But how was Adam judged favorably? As a consequence of his sin, he lost his immortality and death was introduced into the world. Chava was condemned to suffer the pains of childbirth, and Adam to earn his bread by the sweat of his brow.
The answer, the Midrash suggests, is that the very act of judgment itself was favorable because it showed that Hashem still cared about the relationship. Hashem visited upon Adam the consequences of his actions in order to preserve the overall system of consequences and to emphasize that our actions matter to Hashem. What we do in life is of major importance to Him.
Recognizing that Hashem's judgment itself is a sign of our ongoing relationship does not, however, remove our anxiety about that judgment. To ignore those feelings would be insincere. Even as we rejoice in the larger context within which the judgment is taking place, we do not lose sight that we are on trial for our lives.
That uncertainty is hinted to in Nechemiah's instructions to the exiles returning to Israel from Babylon the first Rosh Hashanah after their return. They began to weep when they realized that their sins had led to the exile. In response, Nechemiah told them, "Eat tasty meat and drink sweet wine… for joy in Hashem is your strength." The Hebrew Language has many terms for joy. The word used by Nechemiah is CHEDVA.
We find a verb of the same root in the Torah to describe Yitro's rejoicing upon hearing of the miracles that accompanied the Children of Israel as they left Egypt, including the drowning of the Egyptians at the Sea: "And Yitro rejoiced" (Sh'mot 18:9). Yitro was a senior advisor to Pharaoh in Egypt.
Later on, Yitro joined the Jewish People, as a Ger Tzedek. On one level, he rejoiced at the destruction of Egypt, for that destruction was the means by which Hashem revealed Himself to the entire world. Yet he also felt sadness for the Egyptians who drowned at the Sea.
The Hebrew word CHEDVA conveys that sense of a deeper joy, with a mixture of sadness. And it is that mixture that we feel on Rosh Hashanah. Indeed whenever "Hashem is 'dealing' with us" we face the same mixture of sadness and joy. At the most immediate level, we are acutely aware of our pain. But at a deeper level, we experience satisfaction in the knowledge of Hashem's ongoing concern for us and of His desire to bond and connect with us.
Therefore one of the most frequently repeated prayers during the High Holy Days is the recitation of the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy. This is based on the Gemarah Rosh Hashanah 17b that teaches, Hashem says, "Any time that Israel sins, let them perform before Me this procedure, and I shall forgive them." Why should the mere recitation of the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy "magically" atone for our sins?
The Alshich HaKadosh states, that the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy bring about forgiveness only if we try to emulate them, and not just by reciting them repeatedly. He explains that this is the reason that the Gemarah quoted above says, "let them PERFORM before Me this procedure." The Gemarah chooses its words carefully and doesn't say, "let them recite these words, and I shall forgive them."
Only if we try to actively emulate Hashem's Attributes of Mercy do we attain forgiveness. This is logical and not a magical incantation, because the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy describe Hashem as being lenient and forgiving.
If we emulate these Attributes of Hashem, then we will certainly be forgiven. Because the Talmud teaches, "Anyone who is lenient and forgiving, the Heavenly Tribunal forgives him for all his sins" (Rosh Hashanah 17a). This is because Hashem treats us "MEASURE FOR MEASURE".
Once we emulate Hashem's attributes that are described in Shemot 34:6-7, "compassionate and gracious, slow to anger… forgiver of iniquity, transgression and sin", and we become lenient and forgiving, we will be forgiven, since Hashem treats us similarly.
Therefore, the Talmud in Rosh Hashanah quoted above teaches, that we can attain forgiveness by PERFORMING and NOT just reciting the 13 Attributes of Mercy.
I wanted to reiterate the beautiful message from Rabbi Sprecher, since it is the same message that I have been saying for the past 66 months. I mentioned that prayer works, not as lip-service just saying the words, but as sincere feelings of turning to Hashem to improve ourselves. I mentioned many times that doing Teshuvah, repentance is not empty words, but actions (performance) in improving our ways. I mentioned that coming close to Hashem is not just saying things, but meaning what we say and following-up with change in our lives, growth in our Judaism. Everything is measure for measure; what we put into it is what we get out of it. Positive actions to come closer to Hashem works, and make us much happier and successful in this life and for all eternity.
Another message of great importance:
We have been receiving many messages recently that this is the end, and that all Jews should be in Israel (the hurricanes, the increase in earthquakes, the increase in volcanic eruptions, the crazy weather, the flooding, the fires, etc, etc, etc). None of these so-called natural disasters are occurring in Israel, and it is so obvious why.
I am not going to write about my dot-connecting findings, but I see a good possibility that today, 911, will be very significant in the US, possibly another 911 attack (another false flag operation being talked about from unconfirmed sources, but very different from the events of 911).
I see something in this week's Torah portion and the Haftarah that may be very positive for the Jews outside of Israel as a result. I will not write about it since, if I do, I will probably be blamed for it. I will know more after today.
The biggest reason that I am writing this is to tell you, if you do live in the US, to make sure you have available plenty of drinking water, canned food, food that does not require refrigeration, first aid supplies, candles and matches and, of course, your Siddur. Prepare for an extended time without any electricity or even electronics (this may be my last blog post).
But, also know that Hashem loves you and wants to help you; just turn to Him in prayer and repentance and all will be good. It is the only way to save yourself and your loved ones.
The Chesed Fund