שבת טעם החיים נצבים-וילך-ראש השנה תש”ע-תשע”א
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Nitzavim-Vayeilech-Rosh HaShanah 5770-5771
Rosh HaShanah: Sheep and Friends
אתם נצבים היום כלכם לפני ה’ אלקיכם, you are standing today, all of you, before HaShem, your G-d. (Devarim 26:2)
One of the dominant themes of Rosh HaShanah is that we are like sheep that pass before the shepherd. This idea is reflected in the Mishnah that describes the various days of judgment throughout the year. The Mishnah (Rosh HaShanah 16a) states that the world is judged four times a year. On Pesach the world is judged regarding produce, on Shavuos regarding the fruits of the tree and on Rosh HaShanah the entire world passes before HaShem like sheep, as it is said (Tehillim 33:15) hayotzeir yachad libam hameivin el kol maaseihem, He Who fashions their hearts together, Who comprehends all their deeds. On Sukkos the world is judged regarding water. In the moving Piyut of Unsenaeh Tokef we recite the words kivakaras roeh edro maavir tzono tachas shivto, like a shepherd inspecting his flock, making sheep pass under his staff. Why is Rosh HaShanah associated with sheep?
Tending sheep is a spiritual pursuit
There is a thesis that the first time something appears in the Torah, that is the source for any subsequent ideas regarding that matter. The first time that the Torah mentions sheep is when it is said (Bereishis 4:2) vatosef laledes es achiv es Havel vayehi Hevel roei tzon viKayin hayah oveid adamah, and additionally she bore his brother Hevel. Hevel became a shepherd, and Kayin became a tiller of the ground. The Torah describes a struggle between Kayin and Hevel, the two sons of Adam. They argued with each other until Kayin decided to kill Hevel. Rav Shamshon Rafael Hirsch notes that the Hebrew word ratzon, which means will and favor, is translated in Aramaic as roah, which is the same word as shepherd in Hebrew. The Torah states that Hevel brought HaShem offerings from the firstlings of his flock and from their choicest, whereas Kayin offered HaShem the fruits of the ground. HaShem accepted Hevel’s offering and rejected Kayin’s offering. Based on Rav Hirsch’s exposition of the word roah we can understand why HaShem favored Hevel over Kayin. Rav Hirsch writes further that a farmer becomes attached to the ground and the wealth that he earns from it, whereas a shepherd does not become attached to his sheep, which are living beings. Thus, in contrast to farming the land, sheep reflect a more spiritual pursuit which is the pursuit of the Jewish People.
Blowing Shofar reflects our friendship with our fellow Jews
Taking this idea one step further, we can suggest that the Torah refers to Rosh HaShanah as Yom Teruah, the day of Shofar blasts. The word teruah is similar to the word roah, shepherd and friendship. The Torah is teaching us that the essence of Rosh HaShanah is that we find favor in HaShem’s eyes, and we can do this by seeking out the welfare of our fellow Jew and becoming friends. This idea is reflected in the verse that states (Devarim 33:5) vayehi viYeshurun melech bishaseif rashei am yachad shivtei Yisroel, He became King over Yeshurun when the numbers of the nation gathered – the tribes of Israel in unity. Rashi (Ibid) writes that only when the Jews are united can HaShem be their King. We can now understand why the Mishnah states that on Rosh HaShanah we are likened to sheep. Sheep live in a herd, and we also are instructed to live peacefully with our fellow Jew. In this manner we can crown Hashem as our King.
Rosh HaShanah is when we are all united
Based on this premise that Rosh HaShanah reflects our unity we can understand why we read the parasha of Nitzavim prior to Rosh HaShanah. The parasha begins with the words (Devarim 29:9) atem nitzavim hayom kulchem lifnei HaShem Elokeichem, you are standing today, all of you, before HaShem, your G-d. The commentators (Chasam Sofer, Likutei Torah from Chernobyl) write that the word hayom, today, alludes to Rosh HaShanah. It is specifically on Rosh HaShanah that we all stand before Hashem, united in our purpose and our mission.
The Shabbos connection
Shabbos is referred to by the Zohar as raza diechod, the secret of Oneness. This year, Shabbos occurs immediately after Rosh HaShanah. Hashem should bless us with a sweet new year where we can attain unity amongst the Jewish People and then we will merit declaring HaShem as our King.
Praying for your life
Once, the mysterious Rabbi, Reb Yehudah Tzvi of Stretyn after the long and ecstatic prayers of Rosh Hashanah made an enigmatic statement to his Chasidim. It was during Kiddush and the Stretyner turned to his followers: “When Chanukah comes, during the lighting of the fifth candle if you will remind me at that moment, I will prepare a banquet for everyone!”
The Chasidim looked at their master perplexed and thought to themselves, “What is the connection between Rosh Hashanah and Chanukah?” And others thought, “Why a banquet only on the fifth night? Why not every night!?”
The fifth night of Chanukah came and the Chasidim reminded their rebbe of his promise made on Rosh Hashanah. His face lit up and he immediately ordered a banquet prepared for all the guests. After many L’chaim’s were offered someone stood up courageously and asked, “Rebbe, so what’s the occasion of the banquet?”
The Rebbe began talking in hushed tones, “I saw during the sacred prayers of Rosh Hashanah that a tzaddik of our generation would be appointed one of the judges of the heavenly court. I knew there were three possibilities. Either myself, the Rebbe of Butchatch or the Holy Rebbe, Reb Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov (The Dinover). I prayed with all my heart to the creator that I wasn’t worthy to be a judge of the heavenly court. It wasn’t clear to me what the heavenly decision would be until this moment. For as you all know Chanukah is the final seal of whatever happened on Rosh Hashanah. Now I know that I wouldn’t be chosen. That is why I have made this banquet.”
The Chassidim were awestruck by this revelation. Soon thereafter the news spread that the Holy Dinover had been chosen to be a judge of the heavenly court. He passed away on the 18th of Tevet.
(Degel Machaneh Yehudah p. 12 #32)
From the Depths of the Heart
I have heard from my father the Holy Komarna. One time a Jewish peasant boy came to the big town to celebrate Rosh Hashanah. He didn’t know how to pray. He could not even read the letter Alef. He only saw that everyone was traveling to the synagogues to participate in the holy prayers. He thought, “If everybody is going to town I must go too!”
He arrived at the town synagogue with his father and watched the congregants crying and singing together swaying to and fro. He turned to his father and asked, “Father, what is this all about?”
His father turned to him and said, “The Holy One blessed be sits enthroned in the heavens and we pray all year long to Him. We especially pray during these two days of Rosh Hashanah when the whole world is being judged and each person is being judged for the rest of the year.”
The son responded, “Father, what am I to do since I do not know how to pray?”
His father quickly said to him condescendingly, “All you have to do is be quiet and listen to the other Jews praying. That is enough for you.”
“But Father, if I don’t know what these people are saying how is that going to affect God’s decision? How is being silent going to help me?”
His father became unnerved and blurted out, “Listen, you should be quiet so no one will know you’re an ignorant peasant!”
The son stood still for a couple of minutes as his father and the rest of the congregation continued praying and then – the young boy stood up and spoke loudly.
“I am going to pray to God in the way I know best. I will whistle to God as I whistle to my flock of sheep.”
He began whistling the sweet calling as most shepherds know. His father was enraged. The boy continued whistling with all his might not caring what other people thought.
Now, it happened to be, that this particular Rosh Hashanah, all the heavenly gates were shut and suddenly because of this pure whistling of the heart, all the gates burst open. The prayers of Israel were finally heard.
(Nachlei Binah P. 317 #632 Tehillim Ben Beiti, Rabbi Eliezer of Komarna) (http://www.hasidicstories.com/Stories/Later_Rebbes/rosh.html)
All the King’s Men
A long time ago in the time of King Solomon, there was a boy named Shama who grew up on a small island in the Red Sea. His father was stationed there to signal the approach of ships to the distant mainland by flashing mirrors in the day and by fires at night. Shama had not been to the mainland since he was small. He did not know any people apart from his parents and the few sailors who brought their supplies.
But the time came when a relief arrived and the family was taken to Eilat.
There Shama saw many new things. There were sailors and fishermen, porters and shipbuilders all working very hard in the hot sun, while other men in clean clothes did nothing but supervise them.
The same day his father took him along to the splendid residence of the governor, to whom he had to make a report, and Shama wondered why the king gave power and riches to some men and hard work to others.
The next day the family set out for Jerusalem, where the father had to report at court. Just before they came to the Dead Sea where they were to board another boat, they met a gang of many men who were chained together and forced to drag huge blocks of stone. His father told him that these were the king’s prisoners, building a new fortress, and Shama was frightened of a king who punished people so hard. He wished they did not have to go to his court — who knew what might happen to them if he got angry!
But when they had arrived in Jerusalem his father insisted that he must come along, saying, “This might be your only chance of ever seeing the inside of the palace.” So Shama was washed and dressed in his best, and was even allowed to go with his father to the public audience in the throne room where everything glittered with gold and rare stones. But when the king entered he noticed the boy, and when he found out who he was, commanded that he come before him.
Shama was trembling when he was being led to the foot of the steps flanked by gold lions, but Solomon spoke to him kindly: “My son, you have just seen our country for the first time, and I want you to tell me what was the strangest thing of all you have seen.” When Shama hesitated, Solomon continued, “Do not fear! Tell me truly, for he who wishes to be wise must hear everyone.”
Shama mustered all his courage and said: “Your Majesty, I have seen many of your servants. Why do some of them live in palaces and others have to work so hard on the ships — and others still wear chains and do very hard labor in the desert? Would it not be more just to treat them all alike?”
Solomon smiled at the boy and answered: “You are right and brave to ask what puzzles you, for only by asking can you learn. All the men you saw are working for me while I myself am only another overseer, for we all work for God and for each other. But I and my ministers have to give each man the work he can do best. The sailor would not be able to be a governor, and the governor would do a poor job on a ship. We also have to give each man what he needs, and the governor must have a palace so that the people and he himself should realize his importance and responsibility. As for the prisoners, they are men who disobeyed orders and have to team and show the others that they cannot avoid serving their king and their people. Do you understand it now, or is there anything you want to ask?”
Seeing the king so kind, Shama asked: “And why did my parents have to spend all these years on a rocky island, and I also, when others can live at home? Have we done anything wrong to deserve this?”
“Your father,” replied the King, “is a brave and loyal man who has done a hard and important task willingly and well. Now he goes home to the farm his brother has been looking after and takes with him this purse of gold to reward his long and loyal service. But you who ask so cleverly and bravely shall stay in Jerusalem and receive all the teaching you have missed. In five years we shall see what task can be entrusted to you.”
Rosh HaShanah Message
Like Shama, we come into this world and see many strange and frightening things. We see some people ill and others well, some rich and others poor, and we get frightened about what may happen to us.
But on Rosh Hashanah, we come before the King of Kings and learn that these things come not by accident, but by His judgment. On Rosh Hashanah, God assigns each of us his special task that cannot be done by anyone else, whether it be one of power and responsibility like the governor’s, or the hard and lonely work of Shama’s father, or just the daily labor of ordinary men. We only pray that we shall not be like the prisoners who do the king’s work against their will.
But God is merciful as well as just, and if we ask Him, He will help us to find our faults and to remove them. And when we really try to do better, He forgives our past mistakes and helps us to carry out the task He sets for us.
The Long Grocery Line
This story is actually quite simple, but the full implications of the fine deed that was done will probably never be known. What makes this story so powerful is that most people who read it will realize that they too have been in a similar situation. But how many of us have reacted in the manner in which the hero of our story did? Above all else, this story will teach us that one may never know the far-reaching results of an act of kindness.
Stern’s Kosher Market is a unique type of store. Not a day goes by when the large full-scale supermarket is not frequented by hundreds of residents of the local Jewish community. All types of people enjoy the full service that the store offers. They have a fresh-fish section that always supplies a nice selection of that day’s catch. There is a tremendous assortment of cut meats, chickens and other poultry, as well as a full bakery, and food section. Thus it attracted everyone…
But there are a few times a year when one would do anything NOT to go to Stern’s; on the days before every Yom Tov holiday, shopping in Stern’s is a harrowing experience. Not only do the crowds empty the normally well-stocked shelves, but the number of patrons is too great for the check-out lines. And it is then that the patrons begin to experience the pre-Yom Tov traffic jams that are notorious at Stern’s a few times a year.
One year, on Erev Rosh Hashanah, as usual, nearly everyone there wanted to be elsewhere. But they had all been sent there to do last-minute Yom Tov shopping. As Naftali Brownstein, a 70-year-old youthful zeidy who had moved to the town two years before, was standing in line, he looked around to see if there was perhaps a shorter line. But keeping in mind Murphy’s Law, he knew that whichever line he might switch to would all of a sudden start moving slower. So he stayed put and hoped that his line would move a little quicker. But it didn’t.
There must have been nine or ten people ahead of him. But Naftali moved along patiently with the rest of the line. While he remained patient, the rest of his line did not, and the closer he moved toward the front of the line the longer the line in back of him grew.
It took approximately a half-hour and finally he reached the front of the line. He unloaded his groceries and was quite thankful that he had finally made it to the front. He was tired and really needed to get home. The cashier rang him up and after a few minutes announced, “That will be $230.43, please.”
The cashier’s loud voice rang clear and Naftali reached into his pocket to get his credit card out of his wallet. But ― it wasn’t there.
He checked his other pockets as well but he already knew the distressing truth. He had forgotten his wallet at home. Normally that is not such a problem. Either he could have made the short trip back to his apartment a few blocks away, or he could have asked the cashier to void the transaction and return the groceries to the shelves. But as he thought for a minute about how to resolve this sticky situation, he began to hear grumbling from the hostile crowd behind him…
“Come on. What’s the problem?”
“Hurry up. Move along.”
The comments kept on coming and Naftali did not know what to do. Soon nearly the entire store was in an uproar. Naftali was mortified. Suddenly a young man stepped forward. He was a rabbi in one of the local yeshivas, clearly not a person of financial means, but he said, “Here, take my credit card. I’ll pay the bill.”
Naftali turned around in surprise ― he had no idea who this man was. He had never seen him nor did the young man seem to know him. As he looked around he noticed that all those who had been somehow enjoying the commotion were now suddenly hiding their faces in shame, as if to say, “Why didn’t we do that? It was such a simple thing and would have saved this man from so much embarrassment.” But they hadn’t. Not one of them. Not one person out of the 50 or so who had witnessed the incident had stepped forward to offer to lend the man the money.
One person was sharp enough to call out, “At least someone realizes that it’s Rosh Hashanah tomorrow.”
The young rabbi helped the man with his bags. The wealthy women still on line behind him, with their Gucci bags dangling so fashionably from their arms, could not afford to lend this disgraced man a few hundred dollars. They couldn’t even have let it go for a moment. And now they quietly held their heads in shame.
The rabbi told Naftali that he was in no rush to get the money and that whenever he had a chance he could pay him back. But Naftali insisted on getting his address and later that day, a few hours before Rosh Hashanah, he pulled up to the rabbi’s house with a plate of cookies that his wife had baked. The rabbi’s children ran to the door. “Daddy, someone’s here to see you.”
The rabbi came to the door with his small children buzzing around him. He welcomed Naftali and thanked him for coming so promptly. Naftali then spoke, “I want to thank you. You don’t know who I am, but I moved here two years ago with my wife to be closer to our children. But we have not felt at home here and have not found our place. In fact we were planning on moving back to our old home after Sukkot. That is, before you came along. I told my wife when I got home that if people like you live in this town, then I don’t want to move anywhere else.”
The rabbi smiled. So did his children. They were quite proud that he was their father. But he had to hurry.
Rosh Hashanah was beginning.
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Nitzavim-Vayeilech-Rosh HaShanah 5770-5771
Have a wonderful and delightful Shabbos and a Shanah Tovah Umvoreches
Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler
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