Sunday, September 17, 2006

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.

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