Thursday, September 24, 2009

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Haazinu-Shuva-Yom Kippur 5770

שבת טעם החיים האזינו- תשובה-יום כיפור תש"ע
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Haazinu-Shuva-Yom Kippur 5770

Repentance is a state of joy
This week is referred to as Shabbos Shuva, Shabbos of Repentance. What is the association between Shabbos and repentance? It is said that the word Shabbos is derived from the word shav, return. Thus, on Shabbos, everything returns to its source. Yet, one must wonder, how this idea is connected to repentance?
Prohibition of reciting Avinu Malkeinu on Shabbos
The halacha is that we do not recite the prayer of Avinu Malkeinu on Shabbos. The Pinei Menachem cites one reason for this prohibition is that on Shabbos we do not supplicate HaShem for mundane matters such as sustenance. The difficulty with this interpretation is that on Shabbos we recite the supplication of bisefer chaim, where we request from HaShem to be inscribed in the Book of Repentance. For this reason the Levush writes that the text of Avinu Malkeinu is based on the middle blessings of Shemone Esrei which are related to mundane matters. Thus, when one of the Ten Days of Repentance occurs on Shabbos and we only recite seven blessings, we do not recite Avinu Malkeinu. The Pinei Menachem finds a difficulty with this interpretation as the halacha is that we do not recite Avinu Malkeinu in the Friday Mincha Shemone Esrei, and in that Shemone Esrei we recite even the blessings that pertain to mundane matters. The Pinei Menachem suggests an esoteric answer which is beyond the scope of this essay.
Crying on Shabbos for the purpose of Teshuva
Perhaps we can suggest an answer to this question based on an incident regarding the Chiddushei HaRim. A person was once crying on Shabbos and the Chiddushei HaRrim remarked that it is permitted for one to cry on Shabbos for the purpose of repentance. The Chiddushei HaRim cited as proof to this halacha that we find that removing the covering of the heart is referred to as milah, circumcision, and the mitzvah of milah, circumcising a male child on the eighth day overrides the prohibitions of Shabbos. Thus, removing the covering of the heart, i.e. repentance, is also permitted on Shabbos.
The distinction between crying and reciting Avinu Malkeinu on Shabbos
The permit to cry on Shabbos would seem to be in direct contradiction to the Halacha that we do not recite Avinu Malkeinu on Shabbos. Yet, upon further examination, we can see a distinction between the two halachos. One is normally forbidden to cry on Shabbos because this makes a person despondent, and on Shabbos one is required to be joyous. Thus, when the crying is for the purpose of repentance, it is understood that it is permitted because one who repents from his sins feels elated. The requests of Avinu Malkeinu, however, contain a sense of despondence. Examples of this are the requests to remember those who were martyred for the Name of HaShem and the request that HaShem favor us as we are lacking merits. The Halacha mandates that one should not feel despondent on Shabbos, and for that reason one is prohibited to recite Avinu Malkeinu on Shabbos.
The Shabbos connection
Bases on this distinction between the permit to cry on Shabbos for the purpose of Teshuva and the prohibition to recite Avinu Malkeinu, we can better understand why this Shabbos is referred to as Shabbos Shuva. On Shabbos one should be joyful when he is cognizant of HaShem’s Kingship. One who cries and is inspired to Teshuva will feel the requisite joy. Shabbos Shuva is essentially synonymous with Shabbos Simcha, a Shabbos of joy. Hashem should allow us to be inspired to true repentance and we, together with the entire Jewish People, should merit a Gmar Chasima Tova, to be sealed in HaShem’s Book of Life.
Shabbos Stories
There’s more to Yom Kippur than earning a livelihood
Rabbi Yissachar Frand writes: The Shemen HaTov tells of the following incident, which involved the grandfather of the present Belzer Rebbe. It was Yom Kippur in Belz. They had finished the Mincha prayer early, and the Chassidim went to take a rest or a walk before they began the Neilah prayer, the final prayer of Yom Kippur. Everyone left the Beis HaMedrash [Study Hall]. Like many others, one of the honorable and wealthy Chassidim left his Shtreimel [fur hat worn by Chassidim] at his seat. When he returned before Neilah, the Shtreimel was missing. Someone stole a Shtreimel from the Beis HaMedrash in Belz on Yom Kippur!
There was a great commotion. Who could do such a thing?! The Rebbe (unaware of what had happened) went to begin Neilah as scheduled. After Yom Kippur the Rebbe called over the Chassidim and asked them, “What was the big commotion before Neilah?” They told him, “Someone stole a Shtreimel.” The Rebbe told them to all to go and break their fast. Later, the Rebbe asked to see a certain chassid.
The chassid came to the Rebbe and the Rebbe told him, “You stole the Shtreimel.” The fellow denied it. The Rebbe persisted in the charge until finally the chassid broke down and confessed.
The next day in Belz, “For the Jews there was Light” [Esther 8:16]. Everyone proclaimed a miracle: “the Rebbe has Ruach HaKodesh [Divine Spirit].” However, the Rebbe explained that “It was not Ruach HaKodesh. The way that I knew who stole the Shtreimel was as follows. Before Yom Kippur, all of my Chassidim gave me a kvittel (a small written note with their prayer requests). Everyone had needs. This one asked to see nachas from his children, this one asked to marry off a daughter, all sorts of requests. One Chassid, however, asked only for Parnassah (livelihood). A Jew who can only think of Parnassah before Yom Kippur is the type of person who would steal a Shtreimel on Yom Kippur.” That is how the Rebbe knew.
If this is what Judaism is all about, I wish to be a part of it
Rabbi Frand tells a story that he heard from a Rabbi in Dallas, Texas.
One day a man walked into the office of his orthodox shul in Dallas. The man was obviously not an observant Jew. In fact, the Rabbi never saw him in the synagogue before.
“Rabbi,” he said, “I’d like to make a contribution.” . He proceeded to hand over a check for ten thousand dollars.
The rabbi was flabbergasted. He did not know this man, nor had the man ever seen the Rabbi. Yet, he just handed over a tremendous gift to the synagogue. “Please,” said the rabbi. “There must be a reason. After all, you are giving this donation to a rabbi whom you do not know and to a shul in which you do not participate. Please tell me the reason.”
The man answered very simply. “Not long ago I was in Israel. I went to the Wall. There I saw a man. He was obviously a very observant Jew. He was praying with such fervor, with unparalleled enthusiasm and feeling. I just stood there and listened. I heard his pleas and supplications, I saw him sway with all his might, I saw his outpouring of faith, love, and devotion all harmoniously blending as an offering to G-d. From the day I saw that man pray, I could not get him out of my mind. If this is Judaism, I want to be part of it. I want to help perpetuate it.” [Reprinted with permission from ]
These are G-d’s children, let them rejoice
A story is told about Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev. It was Kol Nidrei night and the people of Berditchev had gathered together to daven. Behind them was a year of hunger, privation, and torture. The Maggid of the city was invited to preach. This Maggid, as was the custom in those days, lashed out at the congregants, yelling at them for their sins and telling them the terrible punishments that they were going to be given.

As you can imagine, the people started crying and wailing. At that moment, R. Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev ascended the pulpit in anger, pushed aside the Maggid, called for silence, and shouted: “Stop your scolding. These are God’s holy children. This is a time for rejoicing.” He then ordered the Torahs to be taken from the Ark and he and his Hasidim danced with joy.
Shabbos and Yom Kippur even more so
Rebbe Shalom of Belz used to say the following on the eve of Yom Kippur: The Talmud says, (Shabbos 34a) “Three things a person must ask in his house the eve before Shabbos as it begins to get dark. 1. Asartem, did you take tithes? 2. Aravtem, did you make an Eruv? 3. hidlaktem as haNeros, did you light the Shabbos lights? If it is true that we should do this on the eve of Shabbos, than even more so on the eve of the Shabbos of Shabbasos [a reference to Yom Kippur] that we should say these three things.

Therefore, continued the Belzer Rebbe, ‘asartem?’ in a short amount of time the 10, eser, days of repentance will have passed. Aravtem? also the eve, erev, of Yom Kippur is ending. Hidlaktem, did you light the Shabbos lights? The lights of Yom Kippur are already lit, and still we have not returned, done teshuvah before HaShem.

The Rebbe used to add before Kol Nidrei in the big shul in Belz in a loud voice. ‘Oy, we have erred, we have wronged, and we have sinned.’ When the people heard this, they were all struck with fear and they started to become inspired to teshuvah. (Sefer Yerach HaAysanim, teachings of the Rebbes of Belz page 61)

Mother and Child
One Yom Kippur eve, when Chassidic master Rabbi Yaakov Yisroel of Kriminitz was granting the traditional blessing to his children, he noticed that one of his daughters, overcome by the emotion of the moment, was weeping softly. The young child in her arms was also crying.
“Why are you crying, my child,” asked the Rebbe of the tot.
“My mother is crying,” answered the child, “so I am also crying.”
In the synagogue that evening, the Rebbe ascended the podium and related what his young grandchild had said to him. Bursting into tears, he then said:
“A child who sees his mother weeping, weeps as well, even if he cannot comprehend the reason for her tears. Our mother, too, is weeping. Our sages tell us that the Shechinah ‘keens like a dove and cries: “Woe is to My children, that because of their sins I have destroyed My home, set fire to My sanctuary, and have exiled them among the nations.”’ “So even if we ourselves have become inured to the pain of the exile,” wept Rabbi Yaakov Yisroel, “at least we should cry because our mother is crying.”
Prayer By Example
In a small village in the backwoods of Eastern Europe, many hours’ journey from the nearest Jewish community, lived a Jewish family. Once a year, for the holy day of Yom Kippur, they would make the long trip to town in order to pray together with their fellow Jews.
One year, the villager woke bright and early on the day before Yom Kippur and readied himself for the journey. His sons, however, not quite as industrious as he, had slept in. Impatient to get on his way, he said to his family: “Listen, I’m going to set out on foot while you get yourselves together. I'll wait for you at the large oak at the crossroads."
Walking swiftly, the villager soon reached the tree and lay down in its shade to wait for the family wagon. Exhausted from several days of backbreaking labor, he fell asleep. Meanwhile, his family loaded up the wagon and set out. But in the excitement of the journey, they forgot all about their old father and drove right by the sleeping figure at the crossroads.
When the villager woke, evening had already fallen. Many miles away, the Kol Nidrei prayers were getting underway in the town's synagogue. Lifting his eyes to the heavens, the old man cried:
“Master of the Universe! My children have forgotten me. But they are my children, so I forgive them. You, too, should do the same for those of Your children who have abandoned You....”
“He’s Already There”
Those who arrived early at the village synagogue on Yom Kippur eve could not but notice the man sleeping in a corner. His soiled clothes, and the strong scent of alcohol that hovered about him, attested to the cause of his slumber at this early hour. A Jew drunk on the eve of the Holy Day? Several of the congregants even suggested that the man be expelled from the synagogue.
Soon the room filled to overflowing, mercifully concealing the sleeping drunk from all but those who stood in his immediate vicinity. As the sun made to dip below the horizon, a hush descended upon the crowd: the Rebbe entered the room and made his way to his place at the eastern wall. At a signal from the Rebbe, the ark was opened, and the gabbai began taking out the Torah scrolls in preparation for the Kol Nidrei service.
This was the moment that the drunk chose to rise from his slumber, climb the steps to the raised reading platform in the center of the room, pound on the reading table, and announce: “Ne’um attah horeissa!” The scene—the crowded room, Torah scrolls being carried out of the open ark—seen through a drunken haze, appeared to the man as the beginning of hakkafos on Simchas Torah! The drunk was confusing the most solemn and awesome moment of the year with its most joyous and high-spirited occasion.
The scandalized crowd was about to eject the man from the room when the Rebbe turned from the wall and said: “Let him be. For him, it’s already time for hakkafot. He’s there already.”
On the following evening, as the Rebbe sat with his chassidim at the festive meal that follows the fast, he related to them the story of Reb Shmuel, the Kol Nidrei drunk.
On the morning of the eve of the Holy Day, Reb Shmuel had heard of a Jew who, together with his wife and six small children, had been imprisoned for failing to pay the rent on the establishment he held on lease from the local nobleman. Reb Shmuel went to the nobleman to plead for their release, but the nobleman was adamant in his refusal. “Until I see every penny that is owed to me,” he swore, “the Jew and his family stay where they are. Now get out of here before I unleash my dogs on you.”
“I cannot allow a Jewish family to languish in a dungeon on Yom Kippur,” resolved Reb Shmuel and set out to raise the required sum, determined to achieve their release before sunset.
All day, he went from door to door. People gave generously to a fellow Jew in need, but by late afternoon Reb Shmuel was still 300 rubles short of the required sum. Where would he find such a large sum of money at this late hour? Then he passed a tavern and saw a group of well-dressed young men sitting and drinking. A card-game was underway, and a sizable pile of banknotes and gold and silver coins had already accumulated on the table.
At first he hesitated to approach them at all: what could one expect from Jews who spend the eve of the Holy Day drinking and gambling in a tavern? But realizing that they were his only hope, he approached their table and told them of the plight of the imprisoned family.
They were about to send him off empty-handed, when one of them had a jolly idea: wouldn’t it be great fun to get a pious Jew drunk on Yom Kippur? Signaling to a waiter, the man ordered a large glass of vodka. “Drink this down in one gulp,” he said to the Reb Shmuel, “and I’ll give you 100 rubles.”
Reb Shmuel looked from the glass that had been set before him to the sheaf of banknotes that the man held under his nose. Other than a sip of l’chayim on Shabbos and at weddings, Reb Shmuel drank only twice a year—on Purim and Simchas Torah, when every chassid fuels the holy joy of these days with generous helpings of inebriating drink so that the body should rejoice along with the soul. And the amount of vodka in this glass—actually, it more resembled a pitcher than a glass—was more than he would consume on both those occasions combined. Reb Shmuel lifted the glass and drank down its contents.
“Bravo!” cried the man, and handed him the 100 rubles. “But this is not enough,” said Reb Shmuel, his head already reeling from the strong drink. “I need another 200 rubles to get the poor family out of prison!”
“A deal’s a deal!” cried the merrymakers. “One hundred rubles per glass! Waiter! Please refill this glass for our drinking buddy!”
Two liters and two hundred rubles later, Reb Shmuel staggered out of the tavern. His alcohol-fogged mind was oblivious to all—the stares of his fellow villagers rushing about in their final preparations for the Holy Day, the ferocious barking of the nobleman’s dogs, the joyous tears and profusions of gratitude of the ransomed family—except to the task of handing over the money to the nobleman and finding his way to the synagogue. For he knew that if he first went home for something to eat before the fast, he would never make it to shul for Kol Nidrei.
“On Rosh HaShanah,” the Rebbe concluded his story, “we submitted to the sovereignty of Heaven and proclaimed G-d king of the universe. Today, we fasted, prayed and repented, laboring to translate our commitment to G-d into a refined past and an improved future. Now we are heading towards Sukkos, in which we actualize and rejoice over the attainments of the ‘Days of Awe’ through the special mitzvos of the festival—a joy that reaches its climax in the hakkafos of Simchas Torah. But Reb Shmuel is already there. When he announced the beginning of hakkafos at Kol Nidrei last night, this was no ‘mistake.’ For us, Yom Kippur was just beginning; for him, it was already Simchas Torah....”

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Haazinu-Shuva-Yom Kippur 5770
Is sponsored by Tzvi and Chana Sherizen
in honor of the Bar Mitzvah
of their dear son, Benyamin Gedalya.
May they have much nachas from Benyamin Gedalya and from all their children and grandchildren.
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Have a wonderful and delightful Shabbos and a Kesiva Vachasima Tova
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Monday, September 14, 2009

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Rosh HaShanah 5770

שבת טעם החיים ראש השנה תש"ע
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Rosh HaShanah 5770

Standing and Kingship
Last week’s parasha, Nitzavim, commences with the words (Devarim 29:9) atem nitzavim hayom kulchem lifnei HaShem Elokeichem rosheichem shivteichem zikneichem vishofteichem kol ish Yisroel¸ you are standing today, all of you, before HaShem, your G-d: the heads of your tribes, your elders, and your officers – all the men of Israel. The commentators write that this verse alludes to Rosh HaShanah, when the entire Jewish People stands before HaShem in judgment. It is noteworthy that the word nitzavim, standing, and the word hayom, today, allude to Rosh HaShanah. These words also appear in a different verse where it is said (Iyov 1:6) vayehi hayom vayavou binei haelohim lihisyatzeiv al HaShem vayavo gam hasatan bisocham, it happened one day; the angels came to stand before HaShem, and the Satan too came among them. The Zohar comments that this incident occurred on Rosh HaShanah. It appears that the word nitzav, standing, is associated with kingship. Proof of this association can be found in a verse (Melachim I 22:48) that states umelech ain beEdom nitzav melech, there was [still] no king in Edom; a commissioner [from Yehudah] ruled. We see that Scripture refers to a nitzav as a melech a king. What is the connection between standing to crowning HaShem as King of the universe?
Does it say malkichem or not?
It is told that a rabbi once commenced his sermon on the Shabbos of Parashas Nitzavim with the following question. It is said (Devarim 29:9) atem nitzavim hayom kulchem lifnei HaShem Elokeichem rosheichem shivteichem zikneichem vishofteichem malkichem kol ish Yisroel¸ you are standing today, all of you, before HaShem, your G-d: the heads of your tribes, your elders, your officers and your kings– all the men of Israel. The rabbi queried: how can the Torah state that Moshe was addressing the kings amongst the Jewish People when at that time in history there were no Jewish kings? One of the more astute members of the congregation interrupted the rabbi, declaring, “Rabbi, forgive me for contradicting you, but the verse does not mention kings.” The rabbi smiled at the congregant and said, “Sam, that is one approach to answering this question. Now listen to my suggestion of how to resolve this difficulty.”
Standing together to crown HaShem
While this incident may be more of a legend and is certainly on the humorous side, there is some truth to the rabbi’s query. Moshe had summoned the Jewish People to stand together and accept HaShem’s covenant. Incorporated in their acknowledgment was the necessity to crown HaShem as their king. Similarly, on Rosh HaShanah, we stand together before HaShem in judgment, and the purpose of our unity is to accept HaShem as our king.
Nitzav has a converse dimension
It is noteworthy that this association of the word nitzav and kingship has another dimension. It is said (Bamidbar 16:27) viDasan viAviram yatzu nitzavim, and Dasan and Aviram went out erect. These two people were infamous for agitating Moshe in the Wilderness. Nitzavim in this context is interpreted to mean blasphemy, as Dasan and Aviram disputed the leadership of Moshe. This converse of the word nitzav is related to Rosh HaShanah. We have seen from the previously mentioned verse in Iyov that on Rosh HaShanah, in addition to the angels, the Satan also comes lihisyatzeiv al HaShem, to stand before HaShem. The Satan, who is the prosecutor of the Jewish People, is normally perceived as blasphemous. Yet, on Rosh HaShanah, even the Satan is compelled to acknowledge HaShem’s kingship over the world. This idea should arouse us to true repentance. The most blasphemous being in creation acknowledges HaShem as king on Rosh HaShanah. The Jewish People, HaShem’s beloved nation, can certainly come to this recognition.
The Shabbos connection
Throughout the week we struggle with the idea of submitting our will to HaShem. With the onset Shabbos, when we proclaim HaShem as king, we can easily submit our will to HaShem. On Shabbos, all harsh judgments depart, and even the evil angel is coerced to answer Amen. It is noteworthy that Rosh HaShanah is at the beginning of the seventh month in the Jewish calendar. Thus, Shabbos, the seventh day of the week, reflects the acceptance of HaShem’s kingship on Rosh HaShanah. HaShem should allow us to observe His Holy Shabbos and all of His festival, with awe and with great love.
Leave it Up to the King
Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffman writes: One of the anomalies pointed out by the commentators regarding Rosh HaShanah is that nowhere in the Torah is Rosh HaShanah ever mentioned in connection with Yom Hadin/A Day of Judgment; Scripture speaks only of a Yom Teruah/Day of Blowing the Shofar. It is only through the oral tradition of our Sages that we know that on the Universe's anniversary, its Creator takes stock and makes His allocations and allotments for the coming year. Why does the Torah seemingly go out of its way to conceal the concept of Judgment? And why is it specifically the theme of the Shofar that receives the overwhelming focus in the Torah's description of this day, when in fact the sounding of the Shofar is but a small, if very important, ingredient in the overall scheme of Rosh HaShanah?
In the book of Nechemiah (8) we find a description of an ancient Rosh HaShanah:
Then all the people gathered together as one man at the plaza before the Water Gate, and they asked Ezra the scribe to bring the Torah scroll of Moshe, which HaShem had commanded Israel. So Ezra the Kohen brought the Torah before the congregation... on the first day of the seventh month. He read from it... from first light until midday, and the ears of all the people were attentive to the Torah scroll. They read in the scroll, in G-d’s Torah, clearly, appreciating the wisdom; they helped the people understand the reading. Then Nechemiah, Ezra the scribe, and the Leviim who were helping the people understand, said to all the people - who were weeping as they heard the words of the Torah – “Today is sacred to HaShem, your G-d; do not mourn and do not weep. Go eat rich foods, and drink sweet beverages, and send portions to those who have not prepared - for today is sacred to our Lord. Do not be sad – HaShem’s pleasure is your strength!”
When the people listened to the HaShem’s word being read to them, they were overwhelmed by feelings of remorse and inadequacy, and began to weep. At first glance, this would seem to be most appropriate and praiseworthy - something we might all strive for on the most serious and introspective of days. Yet they are rebuffed. Rather, they are told to go eat lavish meals, because “HaShem’s pleasure is their strength.” We are left wondering what indeed is HaShem’s pleasure - from which they are to derive strength - if not their sincere reaction to hearing the Torah?
The Tur (Orach Chaim 581) describes a Jew’s preparation for the Day of Judgment:
Normally, a person who knows he is to be judged, dons black clothing, lets his beard grow unkempt, and doesn't cut his nails. [He does so because he is overcome with anxiety] over not knowing the outcome of his judgment. Yet [before Rosh HaShanah] we don't do so. We don white clothing, trim our hair, and cut our nails. On Rosh HaShanah, we eat, drink, and are happy, for we know that the Almighty will perform miracles with us...
Why shouldn't we stand in trepidation before the mighty Yom Ha-din - instead of running around getting haircuts and preparing luxurious meals? What is the source of our assuredness that we will merit a good verdict - all the more so if we approach the Day of Judgment with such seeming nonchalance?
The holy Zohar (see Tikkunei Zohar 22a regarding Yom Kippur) criticizes those who cry out on the Days of Judgment, pleading for their needs. “Give! Give!” they cry, “like a dog begging for food.” What is so wrong if, recognizing the seriousness and imminence of the day’s judgment, we plead for our needs?
Perhaps we can understand the correct approach to Rosh HaShanah with a parable:
A great and mighty king let it be known that on a given day, he would be passing through a certain city. During his stay, he would grace the inhabitants with an audience, during which he would deliver a royal address. He would then entertain requests and supplications from his subjects. Those who wished were to prepare their requests on the highest quality parchment, upon which they should write what it is they were asking of the king, and why they felt the magnanimous king should grant their wishes. They could ask for up to three things.
The city’s inhabitants busily went about preparing a royal welcome. Of course there was also much excitement about the prospect of a private audience, and the possibility of one’s most-longed-for dreams being granted by the king himself. The king arrived amidst much pomp and circumstance, and was duly impressed by the extravagant preparations made on his behalf. After delivering his royal address, a huge line formed in front of him. Each person held in his hand a carefully written parchment to present to the king, with the hope that his dreams would be granted.
The king was indeed magnanimous, and graced his subjects by granting any and all reasonable requests. One by one the people had their turn and made leave of the king's presence, all with the satisfied looks of one whose dreams have come true.
The entire time, the king had been observing that one lone maidservant stood at the back of the palace, modestly observing the goings-on, yet never approaching the line. Even now as the line was already empty, she still did not approach. Intrigued, the king had her called before him.
“Tell me,” he said, “why is it that you stand there quietly, while all your townsmen come and go, each of them having their wishes granted in a most generous manner? Do you not trust that I have the ability to grant your desires?”
“Oh no,” she said sharply to the king. “It’s just that - well - I simply didn't have the time to prepare a parchment with my requests. You see, when I heard the king would be visiting, I immediately became preoccupied with making sure everything would be ready to receive the king. Draperies needed to be sewn, rugs weaved, floors cleaned, swept, and polished... There was so much to do to make sure the city was ready for the king's arrival, and I so busy, that I simply never got around to preparing my wish-list. Today, as I stood before the king, I realized it was already too late. Instead, I chose to spend by time in the presence of your highness, as he graciously dealt with his subjects.”
The king’s face now glowed with a radiance that awed the simple maidservant. “My dearest maiden,” the king said, “if there is anyone who is truly deserving of having their wishes granted, it must surely be you, who have put my honor before all else. I will not trouble you to ask, for in your modesty your requests would likely be simple ones. Rather, I will grant you the blessings of my hand - the royal hand. I have no doubt they will satisfy you beyond your wildest dreams.”
In the weeks and days before Rosh HaShanah, Jews are busy cleaning up (Teshuvah cleanses sins), and preparing ourselves to receive the King of Kings. Although of course HaShem is our King all year long, on Rosh HaShanah His dominion is underscored by the fact that it is then that He sits upon the Throne of Judgment and judges the world. It is on Rosh HaShanah that HaShem says, “Call out before Me with the blast of the Shofar - to demonstrate your acceptance of Me as your King (Mishnah Rosh HaShanah 4:5),” like the king who enters the palace amidst trumpet blasts.
The Torah stresses the theme of Rosh HaShanah as being a day of Shofar blasts, and down-plays the aspect of judgment, in order to keep us focused. The nature of a man being judged is to become self-absorbed; his mind is consumed with thoughts of what he can do to assure himself a favorable verdict. Or, if he feels there is no hope, he falls into self- pity and stops caring. Either way, all he’s thinking about is himself, and that misses the whole point of the day. Our focus on Rosh HaShanah should not be on “what’s in it for us” and “how’s this going to turn out for me” but rather on accepting HaShem as our King, and being the best servants we can.
That’s why, when the people began mourning and crying, they were told to stop. It’s good that they were aroused by the reading of the Torah, but the Navi (Prophet) guided them to take that arousal and use it to celebrate the day that HaShem brought the world into being, thereby becoming its King, and on which He renews its lease each year.
With what will they merit a good judgment? Why are we so self-assured that we will be judged favorably that we get dressed up in our finest clothing, and, as the Zohar suggests, we spend the day celebrating rather than groveling before HaShem to forgive our sins and grant our wishes? It’s not because we arrogantly believe we deserve it, but because of what we're doing instead. As HaShem sits upon His throne to judge the world, He finds us in the synagogues, listening to the Shofar and reciting the prayers whose focus is that we accept HaShem as our King, and pray that one day the entire world will also recognize His dominion. We’re too “busy” to even take the time to contemplate where we fit in the picture, and what HaShem has in store for us. Seeing this, HaShem’s countenance glows, and no doubt He inscribes all His faithful servants in the Book of Life and the Righteous, that they may indeed merit another year of health and prosperity. And He bestows upon them blessings far more numerous and generous than they ever could have thought to ask for. [Reprinted with permission from]

Rosh HaShanah Stories
A Novel Audit
With the approach of Rosh HaShanah as we close the past year and welcome the new, what better time for auditing our experiences in the past year so that we can better them in the year to come. Each one of us does so in our own personal way. Yet, there is something we can all learn from Moshe the innkeeper who employed a unique method of accounting.
The Baal Shem Tov’s students once asked how to prepare for the High Holidays. He sent them to observe the simple innkeeper, Moshe. The students took a room in his inn, and waited to discover the answer to their question. At midnight before Rosh HaShanah they heard Moshe rustling about in the front room. They peeked out and saw Moshe taking down two large notebooks from the shelf. He sat down on a small stool, lit a candle, and began reading from one notebook.
The notebook was a diary of all the misdeeds and transgressions the innkeeper had committed in the course of the year-the date, time and circumstance of each scrupulously noted. His “sins” were quite benign - a word of gossip one day, oversleeping the time for prayer on another, neglecting to give his daily coin to charity on a third - but by the time Moshe had read through the first few pages, his face was bathed in tears. For more than an hour Moshe read and wept, until the last page had been turned.
He then opened up the second notebook. This, too, was a diary - of all the troubles and misfortunes that had befallen him in the course of the year. On this day Moshe was beaten by a gang of peasants, on that day his child fell ill; once, in the dead of winter, the family had frozen for several nights for lack of firewood; another time their cow had died, and there was no milk until enough pennies had been saved to buy another.
When he had finished reading the second notebook, the tavern keeper lifted his eyes heavenward and said: “So you see, dear Father in Heaven, I have sinned against You. Last year I repented and promised to fulfill Your commandments, but I repeatedly succumbed to my evil inclination. But last year I also prayed and begged You for a year of health and prosperity, and I trusted in You that it would indeed be this way.
“Dear Father, today is the eve of Rosh HaShanah, when everyone forgives and is forgiven. Let us put the past behind us. I didn’t always do what was asked of me and You didn't always do what was asked of You. I forgive you and you forgive me, and we’ll call it even.”
Legal Defense
One year, when the first day of Rosh HaShanah occurred on Shabbos, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev ascended the podium in the center of his synagogue and addressed the heavens:
“Master of the Universe! Today, all Your creatures pass before You like a flock of sheep, and You pass judgment upon them. Two great books lie open before You, the book of life and the book of death. The righteous are inscribed in the book of life, and the transgressors are written in the book of death, G-d forbid.
“But today is Shabbos. Did You not command in Your holy Torah that is forbidden to write on Shabbos? True, it is permitted to violate Shabbos in order to preserve a life, so You are permitted to inscribe the righteous in the book of life. But no such clause permits inscribing those who have transgressed Your will in the book of death. I therefore inform You, dear Father in Heaven, that according to the law of the Torah, You must inscribe all Your children for a year of life, health and prosperity!”
The Waiting King
HaMelech (“the King”) is an oft-occurring word in the Rosh HaShanah prayers, whose dominant theme is our coronation of G-d as king of the universe and submission to His sovereignty. Indeed, this is the first word chanted by the cantor on Rosh HaShanah morning, as he opens the Shacharis prayers with an awe-inspiring melody that climaxes with a sonorous Ha-Me-lech!
One Rosh HaShanah morning, the great Chassidic master Rabbi Aaron of Karlin fainted when he came to the word HaMelech. He later explained that he recalled the Talmudic passage that describes Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai’s encounter with Vespasian. Rabbi Yochanan had himself smuggled out of the besieged city of Jerusalem to plead with the Roman general to spare the Torah center of Yavneh. When Rabbi Yochanan entered Vespasian’s tent, he addressed him as “Your Majesty.”
“You are deserving of death on two accounts,” said Vespasian. “First of all, I am not the king, only His Majesty’s general. Secondly, if I am indeed king, why did you not come to me until now?”
“I thought to myself,” said the Rebbe of Karlin, “if we address the Almighty as ‘King,’ does this not invite the question, ‘If I am indeed your king, why did you not come to me until now?’ What can we answer to that?”
One merit with which to blow Shofar
Reb Yissachar Dov of Radoshitz took longer than usual on Rosh HaShanah to join the congregants for the blowing of the shofar. When he finally came out of his room, he told his Chasidim the following:
"Let me tell you a story about my Rebbe, the Chozeh (Seer) of Lublin.
“One Rosh HaShanah the Chozeh remained an extra long time in his study. He felt unable to leave and join his Chasidim for the blowing of the shofar; he was heartbroken at the thought that he had to his credit no single merit which would give him the strength to go ahead this special mitzvah. Finally he remembered that he had, in fact, one merit in his favor: in the course of the previous year he had not spoken one angry word.
“On one occasion, it almost happened that he lost his temper. His attendant had forgotten to prepare water next to his bed so that he would be able to wash his hands in the prescribed manner in the morning. He had decided to reprimand the attendant for his negligence -- until the Chozeh recalled the warning of the Sages, “He who is angry, it is as if he worshipped idols.”
The Chozeh thought to himself, “For the sake of the mitzvah of washing my hands in the morning I am going to allow myself, G-d forbid, to become an idolater?” He had therefore said nothing.
“When the Chozeh reminded himself that he had this one merit to his credit, he went ahead with the blowing of the shofar.”
Upon completing the telling of this story, Reb Yissachar Dov proceeded to lead his own congregation in reading Psalm 47 which speaks of the majesty of the Creator and which serves as the introduction to the blasts of the shofar.

Getting the job done
Reb Tzvi of Portziva used to lead the Mussaf prayer on Rosh HaShanah in the synagogue of Reb Yosele of Torchin, the Chozeh of Lublin’s son.
He was once asked by Reb Yitzchak Meir of Ger: “Perhaps you could repeat for me a teaching which you heard from Reb Yosele?”
“I do not recall any words of Torah,” said Reb Tzvi, “but I do remember a story. One Rosh HaShanah, just before the blowing of the shofar, Reb Yosele entered the shul and told his Chasidim, some of whom were undoubtedly thinking at that moment of their own requests to the Almighty for the coming year, ‘I am not going to rebuke you, nor am I going to teach you Torah. I am only going tell you a story.’
In a certain city a learned and wealthy wine-merchant lived who was honored one day by a visit from the local rabbi. The host went out of his way to show the rabbi great respect. The merchant quickly sent his servant down to the cellar, where he was to fill a bottle of wine from the middle barrel of the third row - for this was the best wine he owned. All the while, he engaged in a scholarly conversation with his distinguished guest.
When the merchant had waited quite a while for his servant to return, he excused himself and quickly descended to the cellar to find out what had happened. He was shocked at what he saw there. Some of the barrels were uncovered; others were being drained as their taps had been left open; broken bottle were lying in the puddles of wine on the floor; and the servant was nowhere to be seen.
The merchant returned upstairs, very upset at the serious damage which his servant had caused him. He began to look for the servant, calling him by name. The servant finally answered, from a comfortable place over the fireplace, where he was sprawled at his leisure. From up there, the servant called out to his master, ‘Listen here! I want you to increase my salary by so and so much. It isn’t nearly high enough...’”
Reb Yitzchak Meir of Ger thanked Reb Tzvi warmly.
“Now that is what I call a fine parable!” he exclaimed.
Rav Eliyahu Chaim Meisel - The Best Book That Wasn’t A Bestseller
Rav Eliyahu Chaim Meisel, z”tl was the Rav of Lodz and one of the Gedolei Hador in the second half of the nineteenth century. In addition to his gadlus in Torah, he was a gadol in chessed. He spent much effort easing the plight of those who were less fortunate. It was common at the time that poor Jewish children were kidnapped and conscripted into the Russian army, but this never happened under his jurisdiction.
Once, Rav Meisel met with Rav Chaim Ozer, z”tl, and Rav Meisel praised the Sefer Achiezer which R’ Chaim Ozer had recently published. R’ Chaim Ozer asked R’ Meisel, “When we will see a sefer from you?” Rav Meisel responded by emptying his pockets of little folded pieces of paper. They were promissory notes from loans he had signed to enable him to aid widows and orphans. He said, “This is my sefer. I am so busy with problems of this nature that I don’t the time to complete a sefer.” Rav Chaim Ozer responded, “My sefer pales in comparison to your sefer.” (Sidras Tikkun Hamiddos)

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach - All I Can Do For You Is Cry
The family of Reb Shlomo Zalman Auerbach z”tl recounted a story that occurred one night at a very late hour. A knock was heard on the door of their household in Shaarei Chessed. A chassan and kallah entered, both of whom were baalei teshuvah, with a difficult question. Their wedding was a week away, and it had suddenly been revealed that the kallah was passul for marriage, and it was forbidden for them to marry.
They imploringly questioned Reb Shlomo Zalman, “What should we do?” The Posek Hador heard their question, and gestured with his hands that there was nothing he could do. Then he turned to the chassan and kallah and said, “You’re asking me what to do, and I know that there’s nothing to be done; can I provide a heter for someone forbidden to marry? However, there is something in my power to do for you. I can cry.”
The Gaon took all his Torah which he learned his entire lifetime, all the kedushah of his heart, and the taharah of his soul, and burst out in heart-rending weeping. Twenty-four hours had not yet passed, and the chassan and kallah returned to Reb Shlomo Zalman’s house. They told him that a man had suddenly arrived from Argentina who knew the kallah’s family well. He testified that the kallah is not forbidden to marry, and the information they had received previously was false. (Aleinu Lishabeiach) [Reprinted with permission from]

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim
Rosh HaShanah 5770
Is sponsored by Ephraim and Devorah Rich
in loving memory
of Ephraim’s grandmother, Pearl Cohen
Peryl bas Shmuel, niftarah 2 Tishrei.

Have a wonderful and delightful Shabbos and a Kesiva Vachasima Tova. HaShem should answer all of Klal Yisroel’s Tefillos and bring us a Shenas Geulah ViYeshuah
Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler.
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Sunday, September 6, 2009

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Parashas Nitzavim-Vayeilech 5769

שבת טעם החיים פרשת נצבים-וילך תשס"ט
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Parashas Nitzavim-Vayeilech 5769

Teshuvah is right around the corner
In this week’s parasha, Nitzavim, it is said (Devarim 30:11-14) ki hamitzvah hazos asher anochi mitzavecho hayom lo nifleis hi mimcho vilo richokah hi lo vashamayim hi leimor mi yaaleh lanu hashamaymah viyikacheho lanu viyashmieinu osah vinaasenah vilo meiever layam hi leimor mi yaavar lanu el eiver hayam viyikacheha lanu viyashmieinu osah vinaasenah ki karov eilecho hadavar meod bificha uvilvacho laasoso, for this commandment that I command you today – It is not hidden from you and it is not distant. It is not in heaven, [for you] to say, “Who can send to the heaven for us and take it for us, so that we can listen to it and perform it?” Nor is it across the sea, [for you] to say, “Who can across to the other side of the sea for us and take it for us, so that we can listen to it and perform it?” Rather, the matter is very near to you – in your mouth and your heart – to perform it. The Ramban understands that these verses refer to the mitzvah of Teshuvah, repentance. Thus, the Torah is informing us that this mitzvah is not beyond our capabilities. Rather, one can perform the mitzvah of Teshuvah in any place and at any time.
Teshuvah should be as simple as repenting
One must wonder why the Torah needs to elaborate on the mitzvah of Teshuvah by stating that the mitzvah is not distant, is not in the heavens and is not on the other side of the sea. Would it not have been sufficient to state that one should repent and that it is simple to do so? Why is it necessary for the Torah to dramatize the difficulties that one may face when attempting to perform the mitzvah of Teshuvah?
A grandfather’s prayers help his grandson return
The story is told that a non-religious man was once walking in Tel-Aviv when he was approached by a religious man who was seeking a tenth man to complete a minyan, a quorum for prayer. The man kept walking, but the religious man ran after him, pestering him to help out until the non-religious man finally acquiesced. Upon entering the shul, the non-religious man watched with fascination as the men recited Ashrei and Kaddish, and then all the men began swaying back and forth while reciting the Shemone Esrei. The man, who had never witnessed such behavior before, was fascinated by what he saw, and eventually became religious. The friends of his non-religious father heard about the son who had returned to the ways of his forefathers and they sought to confirm the incident with the father. The father of the newly religious man confessed that there was more to the story than met the eye. “The truth is,” said the father, “my father was religious back in Europe and had subsequently made his way to Tel-Aviv. I, however, left the path of my father and raised my son in a non-religious atmosphere. The shul where my son entered for the very first time in his life was the very same shul that my father used to pray in. I honestly believe that it was in the merit of my father’s prayers that my son was drawn back there, and that is what allowed him to return to the ways of his grandfather.” (See full story from Rabbi Frand below)
Teshuvah can occur through a miracle
Perhaps the Torah is teaching us that from a logical perspective one may find the concept of Teshuvah daunting. Thus, one may never imagine it possible to repent, as the environmental obstacles may indeed appear to be insurmountable. Nonetheless, he should know that HaShem can allow for a miracle to occur, and Teshuvah will literally be right around the corner. HaShem should grant us the opportunity this year to find an easy path to repentance, so that we can serve Him wholeheartedly.
The Shabbos connection
The entire week we struggle with the biggest enemy of all, the Evil Inclination. At times we may feel we are winning the battle, but it is only with the onset of Shabbos that we know for certain the struggle is over. The next week the struggle begins anew. we must then rely on the holiness and purity of Shabbos to provide us with spiritual sustenance. The infusion of Shabbos into the mundane weekday will give us the strength to withstand the machinations of the Evil Inclination. HaShem should allow us to merit overcoming our struggle with the foreign influences that confront us. We should also merit observing the Shabbos properly and meriting a Happy and Healthy New Year.

Shabbos Stories
We have these children
Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky writes: Rabbi Berel Wein relates the story of Chief Rabbi Isaac Herzog’s visit to Chicago, Illinois following World War II. The entire Torah-revering community gathered at the airport. All the day schools and Yeshivos sent their students to greet the Rabbi, and many prominent lay leaders left their businesses to join as well.
Rabbi Herzog, his distinguished frame, unbent from the enduring pain of the plight of his brothers and sisters, in Europe and Palestine, walked upstanding and tall down the silver airplane steps, his silver tipped cane in one hand, his head majestically adorned with his signature top hat.
He was led to a podium from which he delivered a lecture on a complicated portion of the Talmud.
When he finished, his face immediately lost its radiance, and became somber and staid.
“I come not from Jerusalem,” he told the assembled, “I come from Rome. I have just met with Pope Pious.
During the terrible war, many children were sheltered in monasteries across Europe. The kind Christians saved them from the Nazis. I asked him to release those children, back to their heritage. Let them be raised as Jews.” Suddenly, to the shock of the children and the awe of the adults, the Rabbi began to cry.
“The Pope did not acquiesce. He said that once a child is baptized, he can never be returned.”
Rabbi Herzog trembled as he continued to sob uncontrollably. He looked at the assembled children
“My dear children,” he wailed, “We lost them! Then his demeanor changed, as a ray of hope sparkled from his eyes. "We lost them," he repeated, “but,” he continued, as he locked his eyes at the young faces, who stared directly at his teary eyes, “WE HAVE YOU! WE HAVE YOU!”
A Grandfather’s prayers
Rabbi Frand writes: There was a non-religious Jew in Tel Aviv, who had absolutely no interest in anything related to Judaism. Outreach workers who met this fellow would try to have some kind of effect on him, all to no avail. One day he was walking down a street in Tel Aviv. He passed a shul and there was a Jew standing outside the shul yelling “Mincha! Mincha!” The fellow continued walking. The Jew ran after him and explained that they needed a tenth man for the minyan. He replied, “I’m not interested.” But the Jew was persistent... “Perhaps he had Yahrtzeit...” He kept begging and begging, until finally against his better judgment, the non-religious fellow allowed himself to be pulled into the synagogue for the afternoon prayer service.
As painful as this is for us to think about, unfortunately, there are many Jews in Eretz Yisroel who have never witnessed, let alone, participated in a minyan - never even witnessed other people praying. There are unfortunately people in Eretz Yisroel who do not know what “Shema Yisroel” is all about.
The fellow sat in shul watching people say Ashrei, say Kaddish, and then everyone stood up to daven Shemone Esrei. Those raised in observant families have seen this all our lives, and think that it is no big deal to see people standing, “shuckling” (rocking back and forth), quietly reciting the standing prayer. But the first time a person sees that in his life, it can be an amazing sight.
[I similarly heard after the Siyum HaShas, the ceremony upon completion of study of the Talmud -- which, for the tens of thousands studying a page per day according to the “Daf Yomi” cycle, was a public gathering held in multiple locations -- that the part of the event that made the biggest impression on the non-Jewish ushers at Madison Square Garden was the silence of the tens of thousands of people during the silent Shemone Esrei of Maariv. Everyone was seemingly in a different world. It was an amazing sight even for the Jews who were there, how much more so for the non-Jews who were seeing this for the first time.]
This Israeli was taken aback by what he saw during those 15 minutes of observing Mincha in the Tel Aviv shul. He left the synagogue immediately after Mincha, but he decided that he would have to look into the matter further. He went back to the Kiruv workers from Lev Leachim who had pestered him before. To make a long story short, he became interested in Judaism and became a Baal Teshuvah.
When the friends of his non-religious father heard that the son became a Baal Teshuvah, they started asking the father what happened. They heard rumors that he was invited to daven one Mincha and from that he overturned his life. They wanted a confirmation of this incredible story.
The father confessed that there was more to the story than the single Mincha. The father admitted that his own father, the boy’s grandfather, was a religious European Jew. His father came to Tel Aviv many years earlier, but he -– the son of this European Jew -– left the fold and raised his son totally without religion, until the son now returned.
The grandfather always used to daven in a specific shul in Tel Aviv. It was the very shul that was lacking the minyan for Mincha the day his grandson passed by and was pulled in to be the tenth man.
The father said that he firmly believed that it was the prayers of his own father who called his grandson back, and those prayers were answered. [Reprinted with permission from ]
Saved by the dead
The son of the Rizhiner Rebbe, R’ Avraham Yaacov of Sadigora, once told this story. One Erev Shabbos the Baal Shem Tov appeared in a town unexpectedly. Declining invitations from all the locals, the Baal Shem Tov elected to remain alone in the Shul after Shabbos evening davening. The wonder of the residents turned to alarm when they saw the Baal Shem Tov’s fervent Tefillah and Tehillim continue the whole night long. The townsfolk assumed that something was surely the matter. In the morning, however, the Baal Shem Tov appeared relaxed and joyful, and he accepted the invitation of one of the locals for the morning Shabbos meal.
Naturally, all of the townspeople crowded into the house of the host to see the Holy Baal Shem Tov. As they were sitting at the table, a local peasant came around looking for a drink of vodka. The people were about to drive the peasant away when the Baal Shem Tov called out that he should be brought in, and provided with a generous glass of vodka. The Baal Shem Tov then proceeded to ask the peasant to tell what he had seen in the mansion of the Poritz (wealthy Polish estate owner) the previous night. The peasant’s tongue, loosened by the vodka, related that the Poritz believed that he had been cheated in a business deal by a Jewish merchant. The Poritz therefore decided to assemble his peasants and arm them with knives and hatchets, telling them to be on the ready to avenge themselves on the Jews at his command. The peasants would then be able to liberate their stolen riches from the Jews.
“The whole night we waited for the command,” the peasant related. “The Poritz, however, had closeted himself in his office with an unexpected visitor, an old friend that he hadn’t seen for forty years! Finally, the Poritz emerged and instructed us all to go home. The Poritz then declared that the Jews were upright and honest people and nobody should dare lay a hand on them. We all went home and that’s the whole story!”
“This old friend,” explained the Sadigorer Rebbe, “had been dead for decades. The Baal Shem Tov had dragged him from the grave to influence his friend the Poritz.”
The Sadigorer Rebbe then concluded his tale with a question. “I always wondered why the Baal Shem Tov had to travel all the way to that town for Shabbos to avert the decree. Could the Baal Shem Tov have not just as well have remained in his hometown of Medzibuz?”
“Now,” said the Rebbe, I understand the motives of the Baal Shem Tov. The Baal Shem Tov said to himself, ‘if I can succeed in saving the town, fine...but if not, then I will perish together with them’!”
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim
Parashas Nitzavim-Vayeilech 5769

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