Thursday, September 21, 2006

Avinu Malkeinu

By Ben Adler

Our Father, our King, erase through Your abundant compassion all records of our guilt

If we have asked Hashem to forgive and wipe away our sins, why do we now beseech Him to erase through His abundant compassion all records of our guilt?

This question can be answered as follows: The commentaries wonder why Yaakov rebuked Reuven for his sin of switching his mother’s bed, if Reuven had already repented. The Ohr Hachaim[1] and Reb Elya Lapian[2] answer that although Reuven had repented from his sin, the impression of his action was still evident, and Yaakov chastised Reuven on his middah of being haste. [This may be comparable to one who received a speeding ticket and is absolved from paying the fine, but earns a point on his record. The point reflects his driving habits, and to feel truly innocent, one would ask to have the points removed from his record.] In this vein we can explain our request here. Although You have forgiven our sins and wiped away and removed our willful sins and errors, we are still concerned with our records of our guilt. Therefore we ask Hashem to erase our records of guilt entirely, so even the impression of sin is obliterated.

Our Father, our King, [remember us for merit] inscribe us in the book of merits

What does it mean to be remembered for merit? The Chofetz Chaim asks regarding the supplication that we recite during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah, Avinu Malkeinu kasveinu b’seifer zechuyos, Our Father, our King, inscribe us in the book of merits. If we are meritorious, then we do not need to be inscribed in the book of merits. If we are not meritorious, then of what benefit is it to be inscribed in the book of merits? Let us examine the word zechuyos, merits. The Sefarim write that the word zechus is derived from the word zach, pure. We ask Hashem to remember us for merits, and essentially we are requesting that Hashem purify us, because Hashem is the Only One Who can judge us as meritorious. Similarly, during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah, we ask Hashem to inscribe us in the book of merits, because we were judged on Rosh Hashanah, but we do not know the outcome of the judgment. Therefore we ask Hashem to purify us, and then we can be inscribed for life and merits together with the righteous.

[1] Breishis 49:4

[2] Lev Eliyahu Ibid

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Why Apples?

Rabbi Jay Spero

Why do we eat an apple on Rosh Hashana? Sure an apple is sweet, but so are grapes. What is special about the apple?

When Yakov came in to receive the brocha from Yitzchok, Yitzchok smelled
the scent of Yakov's clothing, and said, "see the smell of my son is
like the smell of a field" (Toldos 27:27). Rashi quotes the Gemara in Ta'anis that says that Yaakov smelled like an apple orchard. The Shelah writes that this is why we use on apple on Rosh Hashana.

What is the significance of a Tzadik (Yaakov Aveinu) smelling like an
apple orchard? What is the reasoning behind the Shelah's comment?
The Gemara in Shabbos (88a) asks what is the meaning of the posuk in Shir
Hashirim (2:3): "Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest"? The
Gemara answers that this refers to the Jewish people, that just as an
apple tree is unique in that its fruit comes before its leaves (unlike
other trees whose leaves come before its fruit), so too the Jewish
people, who said "we will do and we will listen" (na'aseh v'nishma) are
unique-- unlike other nations who want to know what they are accepting
before they accept it.

Tosfos questions the Gemara and states that this posuk in Shir Hashirim
is not referring to the Jewish people, but to Hashem ? Tosfos does not offer
an answer (but suggests a different posuk in Shir Hashirim).

However, the Nefesh Hachaim gives a beautiful answer. Shir Hashirim is a
series of dialogues between the Jewish people and the Hashem. The Nefesh
Hachaim explains that if the Jewish people perceived Hashem to be similar
to an apple tree, that is because the Jewish people are similar to an apple
tree. The Gemara in Brochos (6a) explains that just as we wear Tefilin
that expound on the oneness of Hashem (Shema Yisroel Hashem Elokeinu
Hashem Echad), so does Hashem wear Tefilin that expounds on the oneness
of His beloved nation (Who is like Yisroel, a unique nation in the world;
Divre Hayamim 1). This shows that Hashem gave us a tremendous gift: the
ability to have a reciprocal relationship with Him. That is how we have
the awesome responsibility on Rosh Hashana to crown Hashem as King.

And when Hashem sings our praises and says we are special,because we had
so much trust in Him that even before we knew what was in the Torah we
were willing to accept it, what is the reciprocal side of this? When
Hashem was willing to give us the Torah based on our acceptance, even
before there was act, because He had trust in us. This illuminates the
special relationship we have with Hashem, and when we eat the apple
this Friday night, we must contemplate while eating the apple the
uniqueness of this relationship.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Not for our Welfare

Tefillah on Rosh Hashanah
is not for our Welfare

The Yesod V’Shoresh Ha’avodah writes that all the Tefillos that we recite on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is that the Name of Hashem should be sanctified amongst the nations and throughout the whole world. One should be distressed and cry on this Day of Judgment, as we are praying regarding the desecration of Hashem’s great name. One should pray with this intention regarding Hashem’s Name even more than the intentions that he has concerning his own welfare. In exile, one should always cry and be distressed on the desecration of Hashem’s Name amongst the nations who worship wood and stone, the handiwork of man. The nations taunt us and wonder, “where is your G-d, let Him stand and help you.”

The strategy that one must adopt to awaken his heart to crying is by reciting the words of the Tefillos with deliberation, and he should pause wherever there is a break in the recital, and this will arouse him to weeping. For example, when reciting u’vchen ten pachdecha Hashem Elokeinu al kol maassecha, he should have in mind the following: “until when will Your great Name be desecrated amongst the nations, and for this reason instill Your awe upon all Your works, that they should all recognize that there is no G-d other than You, and Your Name will grow exalted amongst the nations.” These are the intentions that one should have with great weeping and tremendous distress. Similarly, when reciting the words v’aimascho al kol mah shebarasa…. v’yeiasu kulam agudah echos… one should weep with the same intention mentioned previously.

When one recited the words u’vchen ten kavod Hashem le’amecha, he should have the following intention: “grant honor to Your people, not for our sake, rather for Your great Name that will grow exalted and sanctified amongst the nations, because now, we, the Holy Nation, are at a low and in great disgrace, and the nations scorn us and wonder, “where is your G-d?” The same intentions apply to the rest of the bracha, specifically the words: V’simloch atah Hashem levadecha Then You, Hashem, will reign alone over all Your works. One should have kavanah when reciting these words, and he should weep and be in great distress.

Keep Davening in “Mar-Cheshvan”

Daven in Tishrei,
Keep Davening in “Mar-Cheshvan”

Rav Shimshon Pinkus writes that whenever Elul comes, people wonder what is required of them during the forty-day period from Rosh Chodesh Elul through Yom Kippur. In truth, there is a unique idea that is reflected during this time period. The month of Cheshvan is referred to as Mar Cheshvan. This alludes to the idea that Cheshvan is a month where meracshin sifevovasei, the lips stir and are in motion. Once the month of Elul has passed, and we then proceed to Rosh Hashanah, Aseres Yemei Teshuvah, and Yom Kippur with the selichos and Tefillos that we recite, we conclude with Sukkos, Hoshanah Rabbah, and Simchas Torah. We have become so accustomed to reciting Tefillos and praises to Hashem in those two months of Elul and Tishrei, when we enter into the month of Cheshvan, our lips are still moving and reciting the Tefillos and offering praises to Hashem.
The concept that the lips can move subconsciously only exists when the words that we recite are internalized in the very depths of our hearts. Normal speech emanates from the brain that decides what words a person should utter. When the lips move by themselves, however, this is a sign that there are thoughts in the deep recesses of ones consciousness that he may not even be aware of, and at any particular moment these thoughts are expressed on their own. The reason for this phenomenon is due to the tremendous impact that the recital of the words had on the person.

This essentially is the goal of this time period, in which one should acquire such an intensity of Torah study, prayer, and fear of heaven, that the words should penetrate to the very depth of his heart, and they should descend to the depths of his soul. Even when the Days of Awe have passed, in the month of Cheshvan the lips should still be uttering the words of the living G-d on their own accord. This process should continue until Elul of the following year. This is the time when one should fill up his spiritual storehouses for the upcoming year that will be upon us for the good.

Praying in a State of Awe

Rabbi Yitzchok Margareten

The Medrash states that Hashem told Adam Harishon after he sinned and repented, “just like you were judged and were vindicated on Rosh Hashanah, so too your children in the future will be judged on Rosh Hashanah and they will be vindicated. It is interesting to note that when Adam Harishon responded to Hashem’s question , “Where are you?” Adam did not express any form of regret. In fact, Adam placed the blame for his violation of Hashem’s command on Chava, claiming , “Haisha asher nasata imadi hi nasna li min haeitz v’ochel, the woman whom You gave to be with me-she gave me of the tree and I ate.” Why then is our judgment on Rosh Hashanah considered to be a replica of Adam’s situation, when Adam denied his complicity in the eating from forbidden fruit?

Although not apparent from the narrative recorded in the Torah, Adam expressed acknowledgement of his sin by stating , “Es kolcha shamati bagan v’ira ki eirom anochi v’aeichavei I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I am naked, so I hid. Essentially, Adam was declaring that he had achieved a level of Yiras Shamayim, fear of heaven, and this earned him vindication. The lesson for future generations is that on Rosh Hashanah we should realize that we are standing in front of the Melech Malchei Hamelochim, the King of all kings. This recognition will surely instill fear of heaven in us, and then we too can be zoche badin, be vindicated in judgment.

We find a similar lesson in the blowing of the Shofar. It is said: Im yitaka Shofar ba’ir v’am lo yecheradu, is the Shofar ever sounded in a city and the people not tremble? The very essence of hearing the Shofar blasts inspires fear. Once we are instilled with fear of heaven, we can proceed with the correct protocol of Teshuvah and earn atonement.

There are two aspects to Shofar blowing. One idea is that we use the Shofar of a ram to merit the act of Akeidas Yitzchak, the binding of Yitzchak on the altar. The second aspect is that we use a Shofar that is bent, and this reflects our hearts that are bent towards serving Hashem. The question is, if one has a choice of using a straight Shofar of a ram or a bent Shofar of a different kosher animal, which Shofar is the preferred one? The Ritva writes that it is more important to blow from a bent Shofar. We see that the essence of our Tefillos on Rosh Hashanah and the blowing of the Shofar is that we should be humbled and in awe of Hashem.

Further proof of this idea that we can only recognize Hashem as our King through Yiras Shamayim can be found in the words of the Medrash . It is said: todieini orach chaim You will make known to me the way of life. Dovid HaMelech said to Hashem: “Show me the way of life.” Hashem responded, “Dovid, you ask for life? Anticipate yirah, fear of heaven, as it is said: Yiras Hashem tosif yamim the fear of Hashem will increase days. Reb Noson Vachtfogel explains that the theme of malchiyus, kingship of Hashem, can be found in the verse: Ben yechabed av v’eved adonav v’im av ani ayeih kevodi v’im adonim ani ayeih moraii a son will honor his father and a servant his master. If I am a Father where is My honor? And if I am a Master where is My fear? In order to have a connection to the King, one must have Yiras Shamayim, fear of heaven. If we discover that we are not afraid of the Day of Judgment, it is because we do not have Yiras Shamayim instilled in ourselves.

Similarly, the Medrash states regarding the verse: Vayecherad Yitzchak charada gedolah ad meod then Yitzchak trembled in very great perplexity, that the fear that Yitzchak experienced upon realizing that he had given Yaakov the brachos was a greater fear than he felt when he had been offered up by Avraham at the akeidah. The Medrash states that by the akeidah, Yitzchak’s soul left his body. What distinguished the fear by the brachos where Yitzchak’s soul did not leave his body with the fear of the akeidah? Reb Noson answers that at the akeidah, Yitzchak felt the fear of death upon him, and this was the vehicle for his soul to exit his body. By the brachos, Yitzchak was overcome with Yiras Shamayim, as he had erred regarding to whom he should have proffered the brachos. Based on the verse: Yiras Hashem tosif yamim the fear of Hashem will increase days, it follows that Yitzchak’s Yiras Shamayim would not be the cause for his soul to leave his body, which is a form of death. Similarly, when we pray on Rosh Hashanah and experience true Yiras Shamayim, we will be filled with joy and this gives us strength and allows us to ascend on the spiritual ladder.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Elul by Ben

The Baal HaTurim writes that the words לולא האמנתי are a רמז to Elul, as the word לולא spells out אלול. It is said regarding bringing Binyomin going down to Mitzrayim כי לולא התמהמנו כי עתה שבנו זה פעמים, for had we not delayed, by now we could have returned twice. Following the style of the Baal HaTurim, this verse can be interpreted homiletically in two manners. One is that the Gemara states , אחרי הארי ולא אחרי האשה it is preferable to follow a lion than to follow a woman. The sefarim write that this alludes to the idea that the month of אב is represented by the מזל אריה, and the month of אלול is represented by the מזל בתולה. Thus, the Gemara is exhorting us to repent after the month of the ארי, i.e. the month of אב, rather than to repent after the אשה, i.e. the month of אלול. This is alluded to in the verse that states כי לולא התמהמנו כי עתה שבנו זה פעמים. If one had not delayed until לולא, which spells out אלול, one could have repented twice, i.e. after the month of אלול and after the month of אב. Alternatively, this verse can be explained by citing the famous contradiction. On the one hand it is said השיבנו ה' אליך ונשובה, where we ask HaShem, bring us back to You, HaShem, and we shall return. Yet a different verse states שובו אלי ואשובה אליכם, return to Me and I will return to you. Apparently we need both approaches, as we need HaShem to return to us so that we can return to HaShem. This is also alluded to in the above-mentioned verse. If we had not delayed, we could have returned “twice,” i.e. HaShem would have returned us and we would have then returned to Him. Let us merit that we do not delay any further and that we repent our ways and return to HaShem, and may we all merit being inscribed immediately in the Book of Life.