Our Rosh Hashana 5781 Vort is being sponsored by Avraham and Miriam Deutsch of Efrat wth Special ’Shana Tova wishes for our brethren, the former residents of Gush Katif, as well as wishing Zahal and Kol Am Yisrael L’Shana Tova! To the Deutsch family, many thanks for your continued kindnesses. Avraham and Miriam, may you know only simcha, success, good health, nachas from your children, and only good things in the year to come and in all years to at least 120!
You can celebrate a Simcha — a birth, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a Chassuna or other Simcha event in your life, or commemorate a Yahrtzeit of a loved one, or for whatever other reason by sponsoring a Parshat HaShevua.
Please forward to your relatives and friends and encourage them to sponsor a Parshat HaShevua. And please be in contact with me with any questions, or for further details.
How is this Rosh Hashana different from all previous Rosh Hashanas in our lifetimes, and perhaps unique in our history?
For one thing, the first day of Rosh Hashana turns out to be on Shabbos. This occurs every so often — the last time being in the year 5769.
On Rosh Hashana, we have dual feelings; of Simcha for the annual coronation, or re-coronation of Hashem as our Melech, the King and Creator of the World in all of its aspects.
But this Rosh Hashana, as if it wasn’t enough that the first day comes out to be on Shabbos, such that the Shofar is not blown on that day and Satan pursues his case against Am Yisrael seemingly unencumbered, it now appears that this Rosh Hashana we may well be denied the opportunity to Daven and Coronate Hashem, HaMelech, as full kehillot due to the Chinese corona virus pandemic.
This author ponders, How is it possible to coronate HaMelech properly by many, particularly senior citizens, such as himself, davening at home Yechidut?
The Sochaczever Rebbi, Rabbi Shmuel Bornstein, z”l, provides citings in his Sefer, “Shem Mishmuel” (rendered to English by Rabbi Zvi Belovski, pages 429-432):
The central part of our service on Rosh Hashana is, of course the blowing of the Shofar….
The following gemara will give us a new insight into the meaning of blowing the Shofar.
Rabbi Yaakov Dromya said, “Why do they blow horns? It is as if to say: Consider us as animals bellowing before You.” (Shem Mishmuel citing Yerushalmi, Ta’anis 2:1)
What lies behind this statement? Chazal tell us
Man and beast you save, Hashem! (Shem Mishmuel citing Tehillim 36:7) — Rabbi Yehudah said in the name of Rav, “These are the people who are humble in their understanding and set themselves like animals.” (Shem Mishmuel citing Chullin 5b)
Who are humble in their understanding — ,,,who are of a crushed spirit. (Shem Mishmuel citing Rashi loc. cit.)
“Shem Mishmuel” goes on to write (ibid):
The symbolism here is potent. A most committed expression of submission to the will of Hashem occurs when one performs his will without understanding the reason for it. But there is a greater level, which is described by this gemara [seeming to indicate Chullin 5b], in which one makes himself like an animal: whether or not one understands the reason for a particular Mitzvah, one performs it purely because it is the will of Hashem.
This leads us back to the basic function of the Shofar. We learn:
Rabbi Yitzchak said, “Why do we blow on Rosh Hashana?” Why do we blow? The Torah says, Blow! (Shem Mishmuel citing Rosh Hashana 16a)
Despite all of the reasons we may propose, we must blow the Shofar solely because Hashem tells us to do so. This is the greatest level of Divine service which we can achieve…. When we cry out to Hashem for salvation from evil, do teshuvah, and renew our connection with Him, we should blow the Shofar, for this expresses our true desire — to serve Hashem like animals, bellowing before Him.
We now realize that the main part of accepting Hashem’s rule over our lives is achieved through the symbolism of the Shofar — following Him like an animal wherever He leads us.
Eighteen years ago, in 5763, the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation published an article in their weekly “Chosen Words” flier entitled, “The Satan’s Secret’:
….When the Shofar blows, the purpose is not to recall the birthday of the world [now 5781] years ago, but to accomplish something in the present. One of these accomplishments, the Talmud teaches, is to confuse the Satan. As he opens his prosecution of Am Yisrael on this Day of Judgement, the Shofar blast is meant to throw him into a panic. The sound, he believes could mean only one thing — Moshiach is coming, and Satan’s days are finished.
But is this a real-time drama, or a historical re-enactment? Could the Satan possibly be fooled every year? He is an agent of Hashem; to do His work, he has to be an exceedingly clever and insightful being. Could his orderly, well-planned prosecution be scrambled every year through the same ruse? Even the earth-bound human beings standing before the Shofar know that it is not announcing the coming of Moshiach.
The Satan’s confusion comes not from naivete’, but from higher knowledge. From his vantage-point, he sees how very close to Moshiach the world has moved….
…The Chofetz Chaim explains that the merits of the Jews are collective and cumulative. Every year of Teshuvah of every Jew who has ever lived flows together in a rushing river that carries us ever closer to the final redemption. From Heaven, the Satan can see how close we are. If we could glimpse his view, we would surely add that little bit of momentum that would bring us all the way.
But we find that the Halachot of Shabbos override blowing Shofar on Shabbos lest someone in even the most remote Shul carry the Shofar in the public domain.
Be that as it may, the Manchester Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Yehudah Zev Segal, z”l wrote regarding the Shofar in his Sefer, “Inspiration and Insight,” Volume ll (pages 80-81):
On this day, we ponder our spiritual successes and failures in the previous year. Hashem has tested each of us in a variety of ways. One can rest assured that every effort he expended in his struggles with his yetzer hara is an immeasureable source of merit. And what of our failures? This awesome Day of Judgement is a time when we can and must strive for improvement. The Shofar blasts themselves inspire us toward this end. As Rambam writes:
Although the blowing of the Shofar on Rosh Hashana is a Scriptural decree [and must therefore be observed whether or not one knows the reason for it], there is an allusion to it: “Awake, O sleepers, from your sleep! Arouse yourselves, O slumberers, from your slumber! Scrutinize your deeds! Return with contrition! Remember your Creator! Those of you who forget the truth in the futilities of the times and let your years elapse in futility and emptiness… peer into your souls, improve your ways and your deeds. Each of you should abandon his evil way and his bad thoughts.” (ibid, citing Hilchos Teshuvah 3:4)
On Rosh Hashana, one should be forever cognizant of what is transpiring Above… As Rambam writes in the same chapter:
Just as a person’s merits and sins are weighed at the time of his death, so, too, are the merits and sins of all who enter this world weighed each year on Rosh Hashana. One who is found to be righteous is sealed for life. One who is deemed wicked is sealed for death. As for one who is evenly balanced pbetween good and bad deeds], his fate is suspended until Yom Kippur. If he repents he is sealed for life and if not he is sealed for death. (ibid, citing Hilchos Teshuvah 3)
Rabbi A. Henach Leibowitz refers to the Satan when he writes in his sefer “Majesty of Man” (pages 28-29):
We do not have the perspective of the Satan to know exactly how close we are to redemption. But we must bear in mind that every little bit of extra effort on our part could be the Teshuvah which tips the Heavenly scale to the side of merit for ourselves, and for all of Jewry. It is within our grasp — we need only to reach for it.
So, how does Rosh Hashana ritual and spirituality work in this unique and distressing period of the corona pandemic?
Here are excerpts from an article written by Rabbi Benjamin Blech of Aish HaTorah in March, 2020 entitled “God and the Coronavirus”:
…The ultimate decision of life or death remains, as we make clear every year on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur when our fate is sealed, with the Almighty.
That is why I’m amazed that of the countless suggestions for how to counter and to cope with the coronavirus we hear so little of the word God and the possibility that this global pandemic brings with it a profound divine message.
The 10 Commandments are the biblical source of the most basic system of ethical and moral behavior. They represent the primary justification for our continued existence on earth. And the commentators took note of a remarkable number. In the original Hebrew, the language in which the commandments were inscribed by God on the two tablets, there are exactly 620 letters.
620 would seem to be a number with no particular theological significance. It would’ve been perfect and readily comprehensible if there were exactly 613 letters in the 10 Commandments. Those are the numbers of mitzvot given to the Jewish people in the Torah. The 10 Commandments are the principles inherent in all of Jewish law. But what is the meaning of 620 letters? The rabbis explained. While the number of mitzvot for Jews is 613, the number seven represents universal law – what is commonly referred to as the seven laws of the descendants of Noah, required as a minimum for all of mankind. And 620 of course is the sum of 613 and seven, the totality of divine guidance for both Jews as well as the rest of the world.
The word corona – as in coronavirus – comes from the Latin word for crown.
The commentary does not end there. 620 is the gematria, the numerical value, of an important Hebrew word, keter, which means crown. A keter – a crown – is placed on top of every Torah scroll. The symbolism is obvious. The crown above the Torah demonstrates the relationship of the 10 Commandments to the rest of the Torah. From the 10 – in number of letters 620 – we have the principles which subsequently found expression in the entirety of the Torah.
The keter – the crown – is the most powerful symbol of our connection with God.
The word corona – as in coronavirus – comes from the Latin word for crown.
Perhaps we need to consider the world’s present affliction not just in the context of a disease caused by pathogens but as a divine message reminding us that we have been given our lives to invest them with meaning and virtue as defined by God’s 10 Commandments.
To return to the theme expressed in the title of this Rosh Hashana Vort, these questions are raised:
1/ Does the lack of Shofar blowing on Shabbos, and the inability to daven as Kehillos, or even a complete Chazzarat HaShatz in yechidut, actually have intense meaning and value if we approach it as submission to Hashem’s will, not just the result of circumstance?
2/ Does accepting these circumstances willingly actually take the coronation to entirely new and higher level? Do these circumstances make this year’s coronation actually greater than in other years–perhaps the greatest of our lives?
(Many thanks to Rabbi Binyamin Jacobson for his feedback here.)
This author anticipates an extraordinarily difficult Davening, perhaps Yechidut, this Rosh Hashana. And what about hearing the Shofar blown on the second day of Rosh Hashana? Here’s hoping that this, and all senior citizens who are home-bound due to the corona pandemic will not be forgotten by the Shofar blower and will be able to hear the Shofar blown.
Rabbi Leibowitz provides what this author sees as the perfect close to this Rosh Hashana vort, writing (sefer “Majesty of Man,” page 29):
May this be the year in which the Satan’s fears, and our hopes and prayers, are realized.
May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them and that the thrice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. May our dear brother Jonathan Pollard be liberated and truly free, as Naama Issachar is now free and home — which can only occur when Jonathan is home in Israel and carrying for his ill wife Esther Yocheved bat Rayzl Bracha, and that the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem — as with the return in April, 2019, via Russia, of the remains of Zachariah Baumel, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of five and a half years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!
L’Shana Tova and Good Shabbos! May You, All of My Brothers and Sisters, be Inscribed and Sealed for another Year of Life… Now and always!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.