THE SERVICE OF ROSH HASHANAH
(based on sections from the sefer "Nesivos Shalom", by the Slonimer Rebbe Shlita)


What is the Avodah of Rosh HaShanah?


How ought one conduct himself on Rosh HaShanah?

If one takes a look at some of the some source materials, there seems to be contradiction. On one hand, we know that Rosh HaShanah is the Yom HaDin, the day of Judgment. The scales are poised. Each person is judged according to his deeds (or lack of them). The Tzaddikim are signed and sealed immediately for a good life in the coming year. The bad guys are inscribed and sealed for an immediate demise in the coming year. Those who didn't tip the scales to either side, receive a suspended sentence; they have until Yom Kippur (or until Hoshana Rabba) to repair their ways.

Look also at some excerpts from the Rosh HaShanah prayers: "It is a frightful and awesome day. All of creation and their deeds are brought for inspection before (Hashem)." In this lies one of the foundations of Jewish belief, that the Creator exacts punishment from the ones who defy his will and is beneficent to the ones who keep the Mitzvos. (see the Rambam's 13 Principals of Faith #11)

The Holy Arizal said that with all this in mind, if a person doesn't manage to shed a few tears during these Days of Awe, it is a clear sign that his soul is lacking something.


On the other hand we have the verses in Chapter 8 of the book of the prophet Nechemia. On Rosh HaShanah, the people gathered in Yerushalayim, and Ezra the scribe read to them from the Torah and explained to them what it's meaning. When the people heard and realized that they had been so delinquent in their service, that they began to weep and lament. Nechemia said to them, (v. 9-10), ". . . for today is Holy to your G-d; do not mourn and do not weep. . . go home, eat good food and drink sweet wine, and send portions to those who did not prepare anything; today is Holy to our G-d, and the joy of Hashem is your strength."

The Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Rosh HaShanah (1:3), quoted this verse (Deut. 4:8), "For what nation is there that is so great, that has such righteous statutes and judgments as all this Torah?" Talmud then goes on to explain that most people, would they be involved in a court case where their life was on the line, would dress all in black and walk around sorrowfully. But Yisrael, are not like that. They put on white festive garments, wash, cut their hair, eat, drink and rejoice knowing that Hashem will make a miracle for them."

From here we see that they remove all the worries of the impending judgment and instead throw their trust totally upon Hashem; confident of the impending verdict.

The Lecivitzer Rav used to explain: ". . . and the joy of Hashem is your strength", the joy of Hashem is that you put your total trust in Him. That is your strength.

It is further brought in the sefer Toras Avos, from the Kobriner Rebbe, that the month of Elul is the appropriate time for the Teshuva and Tikkunim a person needs to do. When the month of Tishrey comes, the service is different. The service of Tishrey and Rosh HaShanah is to declare the sovereignty of Hashem over us, to re-crown Him as King and to nullify our will before His.


Now, with the above ideas, we can solve the apparent contradiction in the nature of the service of Rosh HaShanah.

On Rosh HaShanah the people were crying when they realized how deficient their Torah observance was. Nechemia said to them, "No! Crying doesn't help. The Shechina cannot dwell in a place where there is sorrow. One can only attach himself to Hashem through Simchah (joy). Despair only drives away the Divine Presence. Therefore, "do not weep. . . go home, eat good food and drink sweet wine". Then you will be joyful and then you will be able to draw closer to the Creator. For this is the service of Rosh HaShanah, to draw oneself close to Hashem in d'veykus.

If we are to go home to rejoice instead of weep, what did the Arizal mean when when he stated that one who doesn't shed a tear during the Days of Awe has something lacking in his neshomo (soul)? Where is there a place for weeping?

The Arizal was not speaking about tears of sadness. He was referring rather to tears of longing and desire for closeness to Hashem. One who doesn't shed these tears is certainly suspect.

Nevertheless, it is difficult to turn around so easily, leaving the past behind. Without Simcha to propel us forward, there is almost no chance of achieving any level of d'veykus.

This can be understood by a parable. A soldier was assigned a post, to guard a certain bridge over which the King of his country was to pass and to salute him as he passed. The soldier waited and waited for the King to come, but still he didn't appear. Since the King didn't yet show, he decide to take a quick dip in the waters of the river below. Suddenly, when he was in the water and completely naked, the entourage of the King arrived. The soldier was not at his post. He was in a dilemna. Given his current situation, should he hide from the King and not acknowledge his presence, or appear before to offer his salute even as he was, without any clothes on?

In an instant he decided, how could it be that his beloved King was right there and he would not greet him and honor him? Therefore, he stood up as he was before the King, at full attention, and gave his salute. The King, being wise and benevolent, immediately understood what had occurred. The soldier received a medal of Honor for his self sacrifice in service of the King.

The meaning of the parable is clear. A Jew, when he must appear before Hashem may well be completely naked, without z'cusim (merits). Nevertheless, how could a Jew not come before his King. There is no choice but to acknowledge the Holiness of the day, raise his voice in joyful prayer, and rely on the kindness and benevolence of the King, pleading for divine mercy despite his spiritual nakedness.


A THOUGHT ABOUT TESHUVA

It is brought in the sefer Pri Haaretz, from Reb Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk (Parshas Ki Savo), that in the upper worlds time has no meaning. What then is is the meaning of Rosh HaShanah (a new year), or Rosh Chodesh (a new month)?

He explains that Shanah means shinui (change), and Chodesh means chiddush (renewal). The service of Tishrey is to make real changes in ourselves not just cosmetic ones and to create a new reality in our relationship with Hashem.

That is the sign of genuine Teshuva as described in the Rambam's Laws of Teshuva. When a person finds himself in the same situation, in the same time and place, yet this time responds according to the Torah, then he has demonstrated that he is a genuine Ba'al Teshuva, his changes are real.


There will be no Parsha Insights for Parshas Ha'azinu, our apologies.


To everybody:

L'Shana Tova, T'kasaivu V'Saichsaimu, L'Alter L'Chayim Tovim Ul'shalom!!

May you all be inscribed in the Book of Life for a Good and Peaceful Year!!

May it be a year in which we all see the material as well as spiritual blessing of Peace and Prosperity. May everyone have a year of Spiritual growth and renewed closeness to the Creator. Amen Selah!

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Look for: "The Customs of Chodesh Tishrey"
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