Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Nitzavim 5772 Rosh HaShanah 5773

שבת טעם החיים נצבים- תשע”ב ראש השנה תשע”ג

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Nitzavim 5772 Rosh HaShanah 5773

Five Questions and Answers


  1. Rosh HaShanah. New year, head of year. What is the goal of Rosh HaShanah?


  1. Fish head, dipping the apple in the honey, pomegranate, dates and other sweet (and not so sweet) foods. Why do we eat them and how do they connect to the essence of Rosh HaShanah?


  1. Praying for hours. Why do we need to pray for so long? If the message is that HaShem is our king, is it not sufficient to just declare Him as king and sit and study Torah?


  1. Shofar blowing. We know that Shofar is a mitzvah like any other, but its ultimate purpose is to arouse us to repentance. Why, then, do we blow Tekios, straight sounds, which are just like trumpet blasts. The Tekios are reminiscent of heralding the arrival of the king, not wails of remorse.


  1. We recite Tashlich at the river. On Rosh HaSshana we are careful to avoid any mention of sin. Why, then, are we casting our sins into the river?






  1. Everything we do in Judaism is symbolic. No act or thought passes under the radar, and everything we do has enormous significance in the world down here and in the cosmos. We need to gain a better understanding of what we are accomplishing on Rosh HaShanah in this world and then we can appreciate more what is happening in the worlds above. Rosh HaShanah is when we begin the year anew and we have the opportunity to wipe the slate clean.  We take the head of the fish and we declare that we should be the head and not the tail. Why do we need to do this with the head of a fish or the head of a lamb as is the custom amongst certain communities? Can we not suffice with a battle cry declaring, “We’re going to win this one?” Why is it necessary to eat a fish head on Rosh HaShanah? The answer to this question is that on Rosh HaShanah we are focused on greatness. This refers to the greatness of HaShem and the greatness of His Chosen Nation. Yet, HaShem’s greatness, the Gemara (Megillah 31a) teaches us, is in His humility. HaShem wants us to take a lowly fish and eat its head as a sign that we also need to keep a low profile. The Medrash states that Yaakov bestowed Yosef with a blessing that his descendants should be like fish, concealed from the eye. We also eat the fish on Rosh HaShanah as s a symbol of this idea, that while we desire to be at the head of the class, we can only accomplish this through humility.


  1. The Gemara (Rosh HaShanah 16a) states that a year that is poor in the beginning will be wealthy at the end. Rashi explains that this means that the Jewish People make themselves like paupers on Rosh HaShanah to recite supplications and prayers. Eating the head of the fish, and dipping the apple in honey are symbols of humility. Are we so deserving to ask for a sweet new year? What did we do the past year that warrants such a wonderful blessing? The answer is that we are dipping the apple in the honey, submerging the apple in sweetness. We are demonstrating to HaShem that despite our faults and our deficiencies, we are prepared to be submerged in goodness and sweetness. The Torahs’ ways are sweet and we wish to be beneficiaries of that sweetness. The sweetest people in the world are usually those who don’t stand out in the crowd, they walk humbly and stay out of the limelight. We also desire this mode of life, the life of the downtrodden and impoverished.


  1. Our prayers on Rosh HaShanah are unlike the rest of the year. The more we talk about HaShem’s greatness, the more we realize how we are insignificant compared to His greatness. We cannot accomplish this with a one-minute declaration. Many congregations pray on Rosh HaShanah until close to sunset, as Rosh HaShanah is when we come before HaShem like a pauper, declaring, “I have nothing, but let me in to declare Your glory.” Rosh HaShanah is aptly referred to as יומא אריכתא, a long day, because we are engaged in prayer all day on Rosh HaShanah.


  1. We know that the Shevarim and the Teruah sounds are reminiscent of a person’s cries, wailing and bemoaning his misfortune and his plea for help. The Tekiah, however, is a straight sound, and precedes the Shevarim and the Teruah. The Halacha states that although Rosh HaShanah is Yom HaDin, a Day of Judgment, we still prepare ourselves in a festive manner as a sign that we are certain of being vindicated in our judgment. The Tekiah sounds reflect this idea, as they precede and follow the Shevarim and Teruah sounds. While we wail and plea to HaShem for forgiveness and for a good year, we also sound straight sounds, reflecting our hopes that HaShem will inscribe all of us in the Book of the living and the righteous.


  1. On Rosh HaShanah we specifically go to a river to recite Tashlich, where we symbolically cast our sins into the river. The Days of Awe are a reflection of HaShem’s great love for us. The month of Elul reflected how HaShem reciprocated our love to Him, and Rosh HaShanah, the Ten Days of Repentance and Yom Kippur reflect that love that HaShem has for his Beloved Nation. It is said (Mishlei 10:12)וְעַל כָּל-פְּשָׁעִים, תְּכַסֶּה אַהֲבָה, and on all our iniquities You cover with love. While we know that on Rosh HaShanah we are being judged, we cast our sins into the depths of the water to demonstrate that HaShem will cover over our sins with love. HaShem should grant us a Ksiva Vachasima Tova, a good written and sealed judgment. The writing is the judgment and the seal is the sign that HaShem will cover our sins and seal us in the Book of the living and the righteous.

Shabbos Zemiros Elucidated

מַה יְּדִידוּת מְנוּחָתֵךְ authored by Menachem over four hundred years ago

וְלַעֲרֹךְ כַּמָּה מִינִים, שְׁתוֹת יֵינוֹת מְבֻשָּׂמִים, to arrange on it many varieties- drinking of scented wines. The Gemara () states that wine was only created in this world to punish the wicked and comfort the mourners. Why does the Gemara not state that we use wine to recite Kiddush and for other joyous events? The word מְבֻשָּׂמִים in מספר קטן equals 18, and 1+8=9. The word שבת in מספר קטן also equals 9. The Gemara (Brachos) states that Shabbos is a semblance of the World to Come. Perhaps the zemer is teaching us that when we drink wine on Shabbos, we are living in the world of truth, and in the world of truth, we can drink all types of wine without being negatively affected.

Shabbos Stories

Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank Watches Rav Yisroel Salanter Faint

Every year when the month of Elul arrived, the Rav of Yerushalayim of past years, Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank, z’’l, used to relate a childhood memory from when he was still living in the city of Kovno.  Rav Yisrael Salanter was also a resident of Kovno, and Rav Tzvi Pesach retained a vivid memory about Rav Yisrael one Elul when he was eight years old

A sign had been posted in the main shul of Kovno that Rav Yisrael Salanter would be giving a drasha in the afternoon of Shabbos Mevarchim Elul.

“I went to shul at the designated time,” said Rav Tzvi Pesach, “and I couldn’t find a place to sit.  With the innocence of a child, I decided to sit on the steps leading up to the aron kodesh.  A few minutes later, Rav Yisrael entered the shul and walked past the aron kodesh to speak. He called out, ‘Rabbosai, we have already bentched Chodesh Elul.'”

“At the moment that Rav Yisrael cried out the word “Elul”, he actually fell and fainted from the fear of Din, and lay in a faint next to me.  Everybody in the shul stood up in shock, and brought water to revive Rav Yisrael from his faint.”

Rav Tzvi Pesach added, “I was only a boy of eight when this happened, but the sight of Rav Yisrael’s fear of din to the point of fainting a full month before Rosh Hashanah left a deep impression on me and changed my life.  Until this day, it still affects my Yiras Shamayim.”   (Shlomo Kook) (

The holy Ba’al Shem Tov was once walking in the street when he met up with Chaikel, the water carrier. “Chaikel, Shalom Aleichem, how are you?” the Ba’al Shem Tov inquired.

“Rebbe,” he said, “things are not good. All my life I have earned an honest living carrying water, but now, as I get older, my body just isn’t as strong as it once was. I come home in the evening exhausted. And besides, a person hopes to be able to retire when he gets older, yet here I am working just as hard, or harder, than I ever have. And how much do you think I bring home? Barely enough to make ends meet! Things just aren’t as I might have liked them to be.”

The Ba’al Shem Tov gave Chaikel his blessings that things should improve for him, and they parted ways.

A few weeks later, the two met once again in the street. “So Chaikel,” the Ba’al Shem Tov inquired, “how have things been going lately?”

“Rebbe, Baruch Hashem, I can’t complain. After all, all my life I’ve managed to live comfortably, if not richly, by the work of my hands. We’ve never needed to borrow money from anyone, and we’ve never gone hungry. Even as I age, Hashem still gives me the strength to continue my work, which is exceptional considering my age and the weight of the cans I carry. Thank G-d, I have much to be grateful for. May Hashem only give me the strength to live out my remaining years in such health and good fortune.”

The Ba’al Shem Tov turned to his disciples, who had accompanied him on each of his encounters with Chaikel. “Reb Chaikel just helped us to understand the meaning of the Gemara, which quotes one opinion that man is judged on Rosh Hashana, yet later cites opinions that we are judged every day and every moment. In fact, on Rosh Hashana we are assigned our allotted portions – the blessings of sustenance we will receive over the coming year. But during the rest of the year, there is a constant judgment as to how we will accept and perceive those blessings. One who merits will find himself constantly aware of Hashem’s blessings in his life, and will rejoice in the opportunity to spend another day on earth enjoying Hashem’s grace and kindness. At times, though, our hourly judgment goes awry. When we are in such a state, even the sweetest blessings and the greatest wealth fail to satisfy. On Rosh Hashana we ask Hashem that we should be blessed. And the rest of the year, we should pray that He give us the ability to feel it.”

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Nitzavim 5772 Rosh HaShanah 5773

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Have a wonderful and delightful Shabbos and a Ksiva Vacahsima Tova

Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler

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