Toras Chessed Al Leshona

“The Torah has at its beginning chessed and at its end chessed. At the beginning Hashem gave clothes to Odom and Chava and at the end He buried Moshe Rabbeinu.” (Sotah 14a). Chazal’s statement not only connects the end of the Torah with its beginning, which is always a theme of darshanim at this time of the year, but also indicates the theme of the whole Torah – chessed.

Although clothing Odom and Chava is the example which Chazal gave for chessed at the beginning of the Torah, it is not the earliest example. The first posuk of the Torah is already an act of chessed. Bereishis bara Elokim eis hashomayim v’eis ho’oretz.” Why did Hashem create the Heaven and Earth? Did He need them – or us? But as the Mesilas Yesharim says, “Man was created to enjoy being close to Hashem and to benefit from the lustre of His Shechina. He created this world which has all that we require to gain entry, after our lives, to the World to Come which is the place of the greatest pleasure which can possibly exist.” We see that the creation of the world was pure chessed by Hashem.

Every detail of the creation was and is an act of chessed. Water and air are in plentiful supply; vegetation has both nutritional and medicinal value and is pleasing to look at. The sun provides us with sufficient heat and light and helps create oxygen for us to breathe, through photosynthesis. The moon stabilizes the Earths’s axis, controlling the climate and, through its gravitational pull, prevents catastrophic flooding in the North and South of the globe. (Scientific American). The division of time into periods of twenty-four hours makes it much easier to manage our lives. According to Rosh Hashana 31a, birds and fish are for us to admire and enjoy. The animal kingdom contributes in many ways to our ability to live productively and successfully in the world.

Arguably the greatest chessed is mentioned in perek 2, posuk 7. “Vayipach b’apov nishmas chaim.” Hashem gave us a neshama. Without our neshama we would be totally controlled by our natural instincts. Our sole pre-occupation would be finding food to eat and satisfying our natural drives. Our “philosophy” would be “survival of the fittest” with no aspirations to share with others and certainly not to put ourselves out for them. We would have no ambition to improve ourselves spiritually. No thoughts of “walking in the ways of Hashem” would enter our minds. And our end would be somebody else’s hand bag or leather shoes, if not his supper. As we say in ‘Modim’, “We thank You Hashem for our lives and our neshamos which are totally dependent on You. (Iyun Tefila).

Avrohom Ovinu, later, noticed all this. He saw the constant chassdei Hashem and felt that the correct way to honor such a Creator would be to emulate His ways, particularly in doing chessed with other people. And we, as Hashem’s creatures as well as talmidim of Avrohom Ovinu also try to lead a life in which we consider the needs of others.

Chessed as a way of life should not be thought of as “basic” or “natural” morality – the obvious way to live. It is a chiddush taught through our Torah to mankind. An African leader once confessed to a rabbi that before religious influences reached his country, the different tribes would be regularly at war with each other, the winners eating the losers!

We all try to follow the ways of the Torah in considering the needs of others, but some people excel and invest heroic efforts on behalf of others. These people inspire us to do more in our own lives. One example is the late Mrs Recha Sternbuch whose bravery is described in the recent biography of Rav Aaron Leib Steinman[1] which I have just read, who lived for a time in Switzerland at the same time as Mrs Sternbuch. Mrs Sternbuch was heavily involved in rescue efforts during World War II.

“One night, Mrs Sternbuch was waiting near a forested area by the Swiss-German border for twelve refugees she was supposed to meet. Unfortunately all twelve refugees were captured by the Nazis. Fearlessly and without her guide who refused to go, she entered the no-man’s land between Germany and Switzerland to negotiate their release. She came face to face with German guards who had ferocious dogs straining at their leashes. With unbelievable bravery she stood there and argued with the commander that she had twelve passports for the twelve refugees, (which was not true), rendering them Swiss citizens. The commander threatened to behead her for her audacity. However she continued and threatened that if the refugees were not released, the commander would be in violation of international law. Despite the ferocious dogs barking and threatening her, she maintained her calm and convinced the commander to release the refugees whom she managed to bring back with her to Switzerland.”

The late Rav Yisroel Belsky was once taken to a hospital for an emergency operation and a senior surgeon was called in. However news came through that a more senior surgeon in another hospitable was available and perhaps Rav Belski would like to move to that hospital so that he could have the best possible care. He would not hear of it. “Whether I live or not is in the hands of Hashem. How can I cause any embarrassment to the surgeon who is already here by suddenly going to someone else?”

Also in the biography of Reb Aaron Leib, the following question that he was asked, is quoted. A father of a bride had managed to find an apartment in Bnei Brak at a cheaper than average price for the young couple. However, despite the apparent lack of alternative accommodation and despite the fact the wedding was shortly to take place, the bride did not want that apartment. Her reason was that she knew that in that building a friend of hers lived and she had an elder sister who was not yet married. She felt that this elder unmarried sister might feel uncomfortable seeing her younger sister’s friend, married and living in the same building. “What should I do?” asked the father of the bride. Reb Aaron Leib was very impressed by the bride’s sensitivity and blessed her that she should merit to build a beautiful Jewish home. As to the question, with his classic down-to-earth wisdom, Reb Aaron Leib told the father to buy this apartment for his daughter but rent it out first to someone else until the older girl married – which indeed happened a few months later.

The Torah begins with chessed and ends with chessed as we quoted before. We learn that “Olom chessed yiboneh” – the very foundation of the world is chessed. (Tehilim 89:3). “Toras chessed al leshona – The teaching of kindness is on her (the Torah’s) tongue” (Mishlei 31:26). How sad and self-destructive the world would be without it. How beautiful it is with it and how inspiring are those who practice it.

[1] Reb Aharon Leib. Mesorah Publications Ltd. There is also an older book, by Mesorah Publications, all about Mrs Sternbuch called The Heroine of Rescue

Jewish Oxygen

Both Shevuos and Simchas Hatorah celebrate our connection with, or better, love, for the Torah. Two explanations differentiate between them. One is the Dubner Maggid’s well-known mashal of the young man who agreed to marry the king’s daughter without having seen her. Once he found out how beautiful and intelligent the princess was, he asked the king to make a second party. Similarly, we accepted the Torah on Shevuos without knowing what was in it. Within a few months we came to appreciate how much wisdom is in it. Therefore we celebrate a second time on Simchas Torah. Another explanation is based on the two reasons we appreciate a gift. One is its value; the other is the importance of the giver. On Shevuos we celebrate because we have received the most wonderful gift of the Torah. Then on Simchas Torah we celebrate because of the Giver of the Torah is the Creator of the World, Himself. That He gave us the Torah is a very great honor and source of great simcha for us. All this, coming after the beautiful festival of Sukkos, makes it truly a zman simchaseinu – a time of great spiritual and physical elation.

A dilemma I had this year was based on a halocho in the first section of Shulchan Aruch (1:3). “It is correct for all G-d-fearing people to be distressed by the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash.Mishna Berura (1:9) discusses the importance of saying Tikun Chatzos, the special supplications for the speedy rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash. Pious Jews wake up shortly before midnight to bewail the Churban HaBayis. We break a glass at every chuppa in memory of the Beis Hamikdash in fulfillment of the promise of Tehilim (137:6) that we shall never forget Yerusholayim, even and especially at our most joyous moments. Simchas Torah is so joyful with apparently unrestrained dancing and celebrations that I wondered how to fulfill this contrasting obligation at the same time – mourning over the destroyed Beis Hamikdash. Am I supposed to be thinking about Galus as I’m dancing with a Sefer Torah?

We have a parallel, if contrasting, conundrum at another time of the year. Tisha B’Av is a day of mourning devoted to pleading with Hashem to bring us out of Golus and to rebuilding the Beis Hamikdash. If we can’t cry on Tisha B’Av because of the Churban Habayis and our long painful exile, we should cry that we are not crying. About our two most serious days of fasting, Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av, it was once said that on Yom Kippur “We haven’t got time to eat” and on Tisha B’Av, “Who wants to eat?” And yet we have a mitzva to be b’simcha, every day. “Ivdu es Hashem b’simcha“ makes no mention of Tisha B’Av being an exception. The famous statement of Chazal is that “From the beginning of Av we have to reduce our simcha.” It does not say that we should have no simcha at all. But what room is there for simcha on such a day of mourning?

Kiddushin 31b helps us in this second conundrum in. There we learn that while Avimi was waiting for his elderly father Rav Abohu to wake up so he could give him the drink he had requested, he had an insight into Tehilim: “A song of Asaf. G-d, the nations have come into Your inheritance. They have impurified Your holy Temple.” [79:1] How can this be a song? Surely it was a great tragedy. A dirge of Asaf would seem to be more appropriate. In the merit of the mitzva of honoring his father, Avimi suddenly realized the answer to this question which Rashi explains. Hashem poured out his wrath on wood and stones. The Jewish People were not worthy of the Beis Hamikdash. Had Hashem not destroyed it, He would have had to destroy them. Hashem, in His mercy, decided to keep the Jewish People alive and give them a chance to improve their behavior. Therefore the Beis Hamikdash had to be destroyed instead. Asaf thought of this positive aspect of the destruction when he wrote, “A song of Asaf.” This can also be in our minds even as we mourn the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash on Tisha B’Av. We can be b’simcha even as we mourn. “He poured out His wrath on wood and stones.”

But our first conundrum remains. How can we remember the destroyed Beis Hamikdash as we dance on Simchas Torah?

My colleague and co-writer Rabbi Yitzchok Rubin of Manchester once wrote about a tiny Sefer Torah in a small shtiebel in Brooklyn. What was the history of this Sefer Torah and how did it end up in this particular stiebel? An elderly Jew, a Holocaust survivor, would explain to anyone who asked, that he was amongst thousands of barely living Jews in a concentration camp. He heard that a fellow inmate who had a trade was allowed to return to his town from time to time. He implored him to do a great favor and rescue a tiny Sefer Torah which he hoped was still in his home. Amazingly this Jew risked his life and hid the minuscule Sefer Torah under his clothes when he returned to the camp and secretly gave it to the first Jew. Equally miraculously, the Sefer Torah was never discovered and it brought comfort, hope and strength to its owner and all others who were aware of its existence. This Jew survived and came to live in Brooklyn, bringing the Sefer Torah with him. He donated it to the stiebel where he davened. This Sefer Torah, now in the Aron Hakodesh of the stiebel, literally gave many Jews in the camp the will to survive and with it, life itself.

Not just during the Holocaust but throughout our long exile, the Sefer Torah and what it represents have given us life, both spiritually and physically. Even if, on occasions, our enemies managed to destroy scrolls of our Torah, “the letters flew in the sky.” It was our ‘oxygen’ whenever we were forced to flee. There were rings on the sides of the Aron Hakodesh in the Mishkan, with poles placed through them for easy transport. These poles were never allowed to be removed,(Shemos 25:15) symbolizing that even if we have to flee, we must take the Sefer Torah with us to ensure our survival.

Therefore, in the midst of the celebration of Simchas Torah, holding a Sefer Torah adds greatly to our simcha because we grasp its wisdom and beauty and that it was given to us by the Creator of the World. At the same time, however, we remember the destroyed Beis Hamikdash because it is precisely the Sefer Torah and what it represents which has enabled us to survive our long Galus.

Extracts of “Do You Know Hilchos Chol Hamoed?”


1.      Q. If melachos are necessary for Yom Tov but not for food or other personal needs are they allowed?

A.      They are allowed but only if they do not involve skilled or heavy work, and you did not deliberately wait until Chol Hamoed to do them. If a melacha will probably be needed over Yom Tov but not definitely, it is also allowed. Also there has to be a need, not just a whim. If the melacha is done in public, it should be clear that it is for the purpose of Yom Tov. If the melacha is purely to benefit a non-Jew, it is not allowed unless this would cause a chillul Hashem.


2.      Q.  So there is no problem washing the floors or vacuuming the carpet?

A.      Correct, assuming you do it usually at least once a week or when it’s necessary.


3.      Q. And changing a light bulb?

A.      Also permitted, if it’s needed.


4.      Q. And spraying insecticide on wasps which are troubling us?

A.      Yes. These are good examples of melachos which are not allowed on Yom Tov but are allowed on Chol Hamoed  if they are needed and are not skilled jobs.


5.      Q. We have a new picture of the grandchildren. May we hang it on the wall?

A.      That’s really nice and I wish you much nachas but the issue of knocking in a nail in a wall to hang up a picture is controversial. Is it a Yom Tov need or not? Does it make enough of a difference to the beauty of the house to permit it?  Whether a picture adds to the beauty of a house is subjective. In a house where there are already twenty pictures on the wall, it is doubtful whether one more will make a difference. If there is a bare wall and you suddenly obtain a beautiful new picture, it could make a difference.  So if this is your first picture of your grandchildren and you can’t just put the picture on a sideboard for now, and you’re like most grandparents who get a lot of joy looking at their grandchildren, you can put it up.

6.         Q. Does the same apply to putting up pictures in the Succah?

A.      Putting up nice pictures in a Succah fulfills the mitzvah of zeh keili v’anveihu – beautifying a mitzvah and is definitely allowed. Making decorations is also allowed as long as they aren’t on a professional standard.



7.       Q. What about ironing?

A.      If it wasn’t deliberately left until Chol Hamoed, normal domestic ironing to remove creases from clothes which are needed on Yom Tov, is allowed. Pleating is regarded as a skilled job and is not allowed.



8.           Q. My kids love baking even though we don’t need any more cakes. Can they bake?

A.      Seeing that they enjoy baking it is considered a Yom Tov need and permitted. It is better that their cakes be eaten during Yom Tov. The same applies to children writing and drawing because they enjoy it.


9.      Q. Is there any question in going to fetch Bubby and Zeidy in the car?

A.There are some questions about driving a car if there is no need, but to fetch old people is certainly allowed.


10.   Q. What is the halacha about driving a short, perfectly walkable, distance?

A.      Fortunately for the less active amongst us, Rav Moshe Feinstein said that today we are used to going even short distances by car even if we could walk, so it’s considered a “need.”

Having said that, I would still encourage people to consider the fact that doing melachos on Chol Hamoed even if, strictly speaking, they are allowed, takes away from the Yom Tov atmosphere. It may be worth making the effort to walk and it may be very enjoyable, especially if we walk with our family. The very fact that we have made the effort to do something differently from a weekday helps us feel more yomtovdik.

11.    Q. According to what you have said, we shouldn’t use a lift if it’s not necessary. Is that so?

A.      Good point. To go up a few floors in a lift instead of walking is allowed. Someone who is old or weak can certainly use a lift, even to go up or down a single floor. But for a healthy person to take a lift to go up one floor or to walk down a few floors is not a problem, so in these cases it is not allowed. If he is carrying something heavy, it will be allowed.



12.  Q. What happens if the car breaks down?

A.      Repairing a car is probably a maaseh uman which is only permitted for food, other personal needs and to avoid a loss. Therefore if a journey is important and you’ll have to hire a car, repairing the car would be permitted to save you the loss of money. If use of the car would just be helpful, but not strictly necessary, only a simple repair like changing a tyre would be allowed.

13.  Q.  Is fixing a flat tyre is a skilled job?

A.      Fixing a car tyre is a skilled job but fixing a bicycle tyre is not.


14.  Q. I think my smartphone needs a service. I can’t ask my rav because he says I shouldn’t have one in the first place. So what do I do?

A.      If your rav says you shouldn’t have a smartphone, how can I give you any leniency to so that you can use it? However in case someone is reading this whose rav has allowed him to use a smartphone or a laptop or desktop computer for parnoso purposes with suitable filters, I can give an answer. First of all there has to be a Yom Tov need. Browsing the internet, even on permitted sites, is not a need unless you are so hooked that you can’t manage without the internet, in which case you certainly shouldn’t have it. But as we have learned, even if there is a need, only a non-professional job would be allowed. If not using your computer would cause you a loss, for instance you need it for work and you can’t take time off as discussed in the next chapter you could fix it, even if it required a skilled job.

15.       Q. Unfortunately, my cousins know nothing about Judaism and are therefore totally unobservant. May I invite them over to my Succah during Chol Hamoed and cook a meal for them?

A.      Although we said that we may not do a melacha for a non-Jew on Chol Hamoed and a Jew who has totally rejected the Torah has the same halacha as a non-Jew for this purpose, seeing that your cousins have clearly never had a Jewish education, you may do melachos for them if necessary. You are probably hoping that you can use this invitation to introduce them to the beauty of the Torah and therefore it is certainly permitted. Hatzlacha.

The whole sefer, Do You Know Hilchos Chol Hamoed? is available your local sefarim shop.

Until Fatigue Overcomes Us

Some years Parshas Ha’azinu falls on Shabbos Shuva when we are preparing for Yom Kippur. If we are beinonim, neither complete tzaddikim nor complete rashaim, our lives are in the balance during those days. We may be written in the Book of Life on Yom Kippur if our teshuva is accepted, but we cannot be sure. Our trepidation will be palpable. Our davening will be intense –the posuk says about these ten days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur that, “Dirshu Hashem behimatzu – Seek Hashem when He can be found,” as the Rambam brings in Hilchos Teshuva. (2:6) With this in mind, we will concentrate on the warnings in Ha’azinu about improving our behavior, beginning with the first posuk – ‘Ha’azinu hashomayim va’adabeira vesishma ho’oretz imrei fi – Listen Heavens and I will speak, may the earth hear the words of my mouth.” Rashi comments, “Moshe said, I am flesh and blood. Tomorrow I will be dead. If the Jewish People will deny having made a covenant with Hashem, who will contradict them? Therefore he made the Heavens and Earth to be witnesses to testify that the Jewish People had indeed committed themselves to a covenant with Hashem. If we keep the mitzvos they will reward us by giving us dew, fruit and other produce but if we don’t keep the mitzvos, the Heavens will punish us by denying the rain, and the Earth will punish us by not growing its produce. Furthermore we will be liable to be exiled from Eretz Yisroel by idol worshippers.”

However, when Haa’azinu falls after Yom Kippur the atmosphere is different. We are confident that we have been written for life, that Hashem has accepted our teshuva and forgiven our sins. We ponder the amazing gift Hashem gave us in creating the concept of teshuva before he even created the world. “There is no tzaddik in the world who does only good and does not sin” (Koheles 7:20) That includes all of us. So without teshuva we could never start again with a clean slate. We would always have our sinful baggage with us. With Hashem’s gift of teshuva, if we are sincere, we can uproot our sins retrospectively. Amazingly, if we do teshuva out of love of Hashem, not out of fear of punishment, our aveiros become mitzvos. We begin again with our new ‘mitzvos’ to help us on our way.

We look at Ha’azinu with newly optimistic and joyful eyes. Hashem’s teachings are like rain which gives us life, like dew which delights everybody ; like wind on grass which enables it to grow and like drops of rain which strengthen each individual blade.(Rashi) In the Beis Hamikdash, Ha’azinu was read every Shabbos(Rosh Hashana 31a) because it strengthens our emuna. It describes the history of the world, dividing it into different eras. First we are told how Hashem brought us lovingly out of Mitzrayim as an eagle loves her young. He carried us out as on eagle’s wings, protecting us from the pursuing Egyptian army. He brought us into Eretz Yisroel where we enjoyed delicious fruit and honey, with meat in abundance. Unfortunately we failed to live up to the standards required and Hashem had to discipline us. A period of exile followed when Hashem will appear to have hidden His face but this too will come to an end when the nations of the world will be punished for their cruelty. How can we lose emuna even in golus when we see that it is all forecast, including the joyous end?

This brings us into Succos, Zeman Simchaseinu. Hashem’s great love empowers us. Our flimsy succah, vulnerable to the elements, represents our understanding that our survival is impossible, from a natural point of view. It is only through Hashem’s love for us, and guidance that we have survived throughout history, despite it seeming at times that He has hidden His face. We rejoice in the presence of the Shechina and strengthen our determination to be loyal to Him and love Him. And on Simchas Torah we will dance with the Torah either with our feet or in our hearts until fatigue overcomes us and we start the cycle of the Chumash yet again.

Manny Fekete’s Dvar Torah

In chapter 32 verse 48, Hashem tells Moshe to go up onto the mountain to die. Why are we ending off the Torah with something so sad?

The answer can be found in these words:

וַיְדַבֵּ֤ר יְהוָה֙ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֔ה בְּעֶ֛צֶם הַיּ֥וֹם הַזֶּ֖ה לֵאמֹֽר׃

That very day the LORD spoke to Moses.

Rashi says that this phrase is only found in three other places: In the description of the people who went onto Noach’s Ark, when Avraham had his bris, and when the Jews left Mitzrayim.

The link between these 4 moments is that they all end one chapter in Jewish history and start another. We could translate “בְּעֶ֛צֶם הַיּ֥וֹם הַזֶּ֖ה” as “on that momentous day” or “on that fateful day”. The phrase is used to tell us about moshe dying because it’s the end of one chapter, but at the same time the beginning of something incredible, we’re going into the Land of Israel! It is the perfect way to finish the torah.

We’re coming to the end of the torah, but we’re also celebrating the start of a new Jewish year and a new school year, so we have a new opportunity for learning torah, and working hard.


A Holy People

In Pirkei Avos (3:1) we learn: Akavya ben Mehalalel says: “Consider three things and you will not come to sin: know where you came from, where you are going to and in front of Whom you will have to give a reckoning. You came from a putrid drop; you are going to a place of dust, worms and maggots and you are going to give a reckoning before the King of Kings, the Holy One Blessed be He.”

Akavya ben Mehalalel’s sharp directive to consider one’s very inauspicious origins will bring a person to humility, which is a prerequisite to acquiring yiras shomayim and sanctity according to the famous Braisa of Reb Pinchas ben Yair quoted by the Mesilas Yesharim. Likewise the prospect that one’s physical destination will be in a place of dust, worms and maggots should dispel any vestige of pride. And the knowledge that we will have to give a reckoning in front of the King of Kings should make us afraid to sin.

A later mishna (3:18) quotes Rebbe Akiva. ‘He used to say: “Beloved is man because he was created in Hashem’s image. It shows a greater love that he was told that he was created in Hashem’s image. Beloved are the Jewish people who are called the children of the Omnipresent. It shows a greater love that they were told that they are called the children of the Omnipresent. Beloved are the People Israel who were given a precious utensil (the Torah). It shows a greater love that they were told that they were given a precious utensil.”

This Mishna make a person feel his own importance. “I am created in the image of Hashem. I am from a People who are children of Hashem and we were given the Torah, the precious utensil of Hashem. This is strange. Was Rebbe Akiva unaware of the evils of pride, alluded to by Akavya ben Mehalalel in the first mishna? Or that humility is the prerequisite to sanctity? It is even stranger because it was precisely Rebbe Akiva’s humility which enabled him to become so great as a previous essay explained.

In his commentary on Pirkei Avos, the Abarbanel explains that there is a dispute between the two mishnas. Akavya ben Mehalalel felt that the best way to avoid sin is by encouraging extreme humility. We should know our gross origins, our disgraceful physical destination and that each puny man, is going to have to stand up in front of the King of Kings to give a reckoning. Without a shred of pride we should inevitably become obedient and G-d-fearing. This view is borne out by the behaviour of the young nazir from the south, described in Nedarim 9b who defeated his yetzer hora by telling him “Why are you so proud in a world which is not yours; in one who is going to become insects and worms?”

However Rebbe Akiva felt that this approach may work for some people including himself but many other people will respond negatively. They will be unmoved by such a warning and are more likely to say “Let’s eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (Yeshaya 22:13). He held that it is more effective to show people how great they are and what good stock they come from. ‘Tell them that they are aristocracy, Hashem’s children and then they won’t want to sin.’ And Rebbe Akiva could bring a precedent for this attitude from the words of Yirmiyahu Hanavi, when he had to rebuke the people and tell them to do teshuva. He prefaced his words with the most beautiful praise of the people. “Zocharti lach chesed ne’urayich… I remember the kindness of your youth, and the love you showed to Me by coming after Me into the wilderness, a desolate and unsown land.” (Yirmiyahu 2:1). Yirmiyahu clearly felt that if the people were to improve they must think positively. They come from such good stock ‑‑ it is such a shame that they are sinning. Their sins are only skin deep. Such a great people who showed such faith in Hashem earlier will surely want to reclaim their noble heritage and their loving closeness to Hashem so they will do teshuva without delay. My late rebbe, Reb Moshe Schwab זצ”ל of Gateshead Yeshiva said that today we have to use the approach of Rebbe Akiva.

Yom Kippur is the day for teshuva from all our aveiros bein adam l’Makom and bein adam l’chaveiro. Amongst those who are shomer Torah umitzvos most aveiros are from the bein adam l’chaveiro category – between man and his neighbor. It has been said that most of those aveiros are between spouses. Within a marriage the possibilities of not honoring each other, not being always sensitive to each other abound. Sometimes a facial expression can upset a spouse. We may be tired or pre-occupied and we don’t always listen to each other as well as we should. These are all aveiros bein adam l’chaveiro for which we have to ask forgiveness and do teshuva.

This itself is remarkable and a source of pride. At a time when murder and cruelty are so common that they are not even reported in the newspaper, when even mass murder only gets a few lines on the back pages, we are doing teshuva for a lack of sensitivity to another human being! Who is like Your people, Israel? A unique nation on Earth. But this is our heritage.

The Gemara in Taanis 10b says that a person who goes from a place where they are not fasting to a place where they are fasting, in response to a local danger, has to fast with them. It may not concern him personally but he should empathise and fast with those at risk. Besides, it would show a lack of sensitivity to eat in front of others who are hungry. The Gemara goes on to say that if a resident of a town which was fasting forgot and ate, he should not join the other residents of that town for the rest of the fast. Why not? It is not derech eretz. People who are feeling weak and hungry will feel worse, when they see this one who looks and feels well because he has eaten. The Gemara says that Yaakov Avinu had enough food for his family even during the famine. But if the Canaanites were suffering from hunger and they had to go to Egypt to buy food, it would distress them if Yaakov’s family did not go as well. So he sent his sons to Egypt, even though was no real need, and despite the danger, to prevent any extra anguish to the local population. The Gemara also says that in a famine one should eat the minimum even if one has ample food. We have to feel the pain of others. Even though those other people are unaware of what we are doing, the Torah teaches us to train ourselves to suffer if others are suffering. To do otherwise reflects a lack of concern for another person’s plight and is unacceptable.

Chavivin Yisroel shenikra’u banim l’Makom, shenitan lohem kli chemda – how beloved are the Jewish people that we are called the children of the Omnipresent and that we were given this precious gift of the holy Torah. We have such wonderful sources to learn from and be inspired by. We have such high standards to aspire to. We want to try harder. We want to increase our bein adam l’chaveiro and the place to start is in our own homes with those nearest and dearest to us. This will inevitably lead to greater sensitivity to others, even strangers.

Rebbe Akiva said, “Ashreichem Yisroel …In front of whom are you becoming pure and who is purifying you? Our Father in heaven, as it says, “And I will sprinkle on you pure water and you will become pure.” (Yechezkel 36:25) and it says, “Hashem is the mikve of the Jewish people. Just as a mikve purifies the impure, so does Hashem purify the Jewish People

A No-Brainer

One of the key points of the machzor on both Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is Unesaneh Tokef followed by BeRosh Hashana yekoseivun BeYom Tzom Kippur yechoseimun. Tears flow as we contemplate whether we will be among those who will be written down for life or, chas vesholom, among those who will not survive the year. Some will die at their predestined time, others sooner. We are under no illusions that such things ‘never happen’ because we all know of people who have unexpectedly died of illnesses, in accidents or even at the hand of criminals or terrorists. We daven to be written in the Book of Life but there are no guarantees. However there is a way to ensure that we will be written down in the Book of Life? Do you want to discover the secret? Read on.

I must admit to having a particular interest in cats. I don’t own one but do see them regularly in the streets of Ramat Beit Shemesh. At any time of the day or night you’ll see one crossing the road, emerging from under a parked car or occasionally making an emergency exit from a trash bin after being surprised when someone tosses in a bag. What was the cat doing in there? Presumably looking for some discarded fish or some other edible item which would have kept it going until its next hunger pangs. All in all, cats do not enjoy a particularly intellectually stimulating or satisfying existence.

A dog doesn’t fare much better. If it is not looked after by some friendly human, it roams the streets, usually at the dead of night, looking for discarded bones. And if it gets reported, it might find itself caught by the municipal dog catcher who will take it out of our way to the nearest kennels to be disposed of.

The lives of cows, sheep and goats are much the same. They munch grass and provide us with milk, leather or wool but is this a life? At least cows can be happy that they don’t have to plow anymore but they probably never spoke to their bobbies and zeidies to realize their good fortune. If a person chances on a lion’s den, he might well live to tell the tale according to Yevomos (121a) because lions only go back to their den to sleep, waking when they feel hungry again to look for supper. So lions look for food, eat and sleep, look for food, eat and sleep and so on ad nauseam. Monkeys enjoy swinging from branch to branch –give them a banana and they are happy. But I don’t envy them. I don’t even envy their slightly more advanced cousins, the chimpanzee or gorilla. We see them in the zoo pacing their enclosures. In the wild, I’m told that they sleep about thirteen hours a day and eat for another six hours, after they searched and found some food. What a life! Nebuch for them.

Now let’s think about humans. Hashem gave us a neshomo as well as a body. Our body wants to do exactly the same as the animals – look for food, eat, look for other physical pleasures, enjoy them temporarily and go to sleep until the next day when the same program is repeated — look or work for food, enjoy eating and other physical pleasures and then go to sleep until the next day etc. etc. True, we have a neshomo and can choose to pursue spiritual and other worthwhile pursuits, but our physical urges are strong and it’s tempting to just surrender to them. The problem is that if we do so, our lives become as humdrum and meaningless as that of our animal cousins. Eating, sleeping, eating, sleeping in just a slightly more sophisticated form than that of animals. And at the end of the day our satisfaction with life will be less than that of animals because they are programmed to feel satisfied when they have had enough but we are always looking for even more tasty foods, even more enjoyable physical pleasures. If we would succeed, it would be only a halbe tzara but we don’t succeed; we are never satisfied. We quickly get used to whatever we have and look for more, leaving us dissatisfied. We are never satisfied because the neshama part of us is not interested in physical pleasures. It needs us to be alive, so we have to eat and sleep but it wants so much more. It wants a connection to its spiritual source. A pizza or hot dog just doesn’t achieve that. And forbidden pleasures take us even further from our spiritual source.

Chazal have a strong word for this kind of glorified animal existence, They call it death. “The wicked even during their lifetime are called dead.”(Medresh Tanchuma). The posuk (Yirmiya 2:14) spells it out. “You have deserted Me, your source of fresh water, for broken vessels which can’t even contain water.” A posuk in Tehilim is equally dismissive. “I said that you are gods and the sons of the Most High but you shall die as men do and fall like any prince.” (82:5-6) We could have lived a neshama-centered existence – connecting with Hashem, the source of life, but we lived a life of an overgrown monkey. How sad. What a waste.

The posuk spelled it out: “I have given you a choice – life or death, good or evil.” We have the option and mitzvah of clinging to Hashem (Devarim 10:20) — learning His Torah, keeping His mitzvos, walking in His ways. This is life in the true sense. This provides us with spiritual, meaningful and eternal satisfaction. “The righteous, even in death are called alive.”(Medresh Tanchuma ibid).

We look for inspiration to do teshuva before Yom Kippur. Isn’t it obvious? Do we want to live the life of cats, dogs and other animals whose concern extends no further than satisfying physical urges? Or do we want to live on a more elevated level, looking to Hashem and clinging to Him? Is it even a question? It’s a no-brainer.

Yes, we have the power to inscribe ourselves in the Book of Life. No matter how much time we will still be granted in this world, we can write ourselves in the Book of Life, living in the image of Hashem. As the posuk says, “You, who are clinging to the L-rd your G-d, are all alive today.” (Devarim 4:4).

The “Accident” Which Saved the World

The posuk in parshas Vayelech, (Devarim 31:18) “ I will hide My face on that day,” forces us to remember the Holocaust which took place nearly eighty years ago, what happened and what could have happened.

Shortly before the Second World War began, a young talmid chochom learning in the Brisk Yeshiva in Europe was threatened with conscription to the Polish army. He had great potential; how could he waste time in the army? Every legal method was attempted to earn him an exemption . Although these efforts bought some time, they were not permanent solutions and the draft still loomed over him. The only possible loophole was to get married. With the deadline approaching, a shidduch was sought for this young man. A suitable match was suggested — but for some inexplicable reason the shidduch did not go through. Then, just a few days before the deadline, the young man was recommended for a job in a Yeshiva in Switzerland. With bittersweet emotions, he left his whole family and became a rebbe in a Swiss yeshiva. He could well have thought of the great shame that the shidduch did not go through, causing him to go into virtual exile. However he soon saw Hashem’s hashgacha. The Holocaust claimed the lives of the rest of his family and so many more. He was the sole survivor from his family. The name of this young talmid chochom with great potential was Aaron Leib Steinman zt”l who became a leading Godol and guiding light for Klal Yisroel over his long life.

About the same time another young rav was on a ship which sailed from Europe towards Eretz Yisroel. The British authorities refused the ship permission to dock in the Haifa port. The captain directed the ship southwards along the coastline, but there was no safe landing- place. The ship was low on fuel, the captain said, and told his passengers there was nothing he could do to help them. Their only hope was to attempt to swim to the shore, a considerable distance away. Only six people made it to the beach, including this young rav and his wife. His name was Rav Shmuel Wosner, another great Godol and guiding light for Klal Yisroel over many decades. Both these Gedolim, who were a hairsbreadth from death, lived over a hundred years.

At Mincha of Yom Kippur the haftora is Sefer Yona, about another survivor. He was thrown into the sea and was swallowed by a great fish but miraculously remained alive in the stomach of the fish until Hashem instructed the fish to spit Yona out on to dry land. The commentators say that Yona’s survival was not assured until he said that, if he lived, he would bring korbonos to Hashem (2:10) implying that he would henceforth follow Hashem’s command and rebuke the people of Nineveh. After a life-saving miracle what response is there but to devote the rest of one’s life to Hashem, as done by these Gedolim?

Bamidbar (8:17) shows that a recipient of a miracle has to devote himself to Hashem as a payment for that miracle. “All the Jewish firstborn, since the day that I smote the Egyptian firstborn, are mine.” Rashi explains: “Since I protected the Jewish firstborn that they weren’t smitten with the Egyptian firstborn, they are mine by right.”

Having been born in Manchester, England to English-born parents, I never considered myself to have been involved in the Holocaust, let alone to be regarded as a survivor; now I realize that my understanding was flawed. This month is the 78th anniversary of the day that the Germans were to have invaded Britain. The plan was that British air defences were to be destroyed and then German ground forces would invade and conquer the country with the same speed that they had already conquered Poland, Czechoslovakia, Belgium and France. Their headquarters were to be set up in Manchester where the self-styled English Nazi leader, Oswald Mosley had managed to form his strongest base of local sympathisers. In the summer of 1940, the Battle of Britain began. The Luftwaffe attacked the RAF’s airfields and by the end of August seemed to be on the verge of victory. But in early September 1940, a German aircraft was short of fuel and needed to return to Germany. The pilot wanted to jettison his bombs to reduce the plane’s weight and quite by “accident” the bombs landed on London, which had been studiously avoided up until then. Churchill reacted by bombing Berlin. Hitler was so annoyed that, with tactical stupidity, he stopped attacking the English airfields and started attacking English cities. This gave the battered British air force enough respite to regroup and eventually take command of the skies. What I now realize is that if it weren’t for that ‘accident,’ Mosley’s Blackshirts based in Manchester would have quickly rounded up my grandparents and other Jewish Mancunians and this essay would probably have never been written. I am, together with the rest of Anglo-Jewry, therefore, also a survivor with all the responsibility that that status brings with it. Also, if Britain would have been conquered, the allied invasion of Europe in 1944 , could not have taken place and Nazi rule could well have continued unopposed. Therefore this “accident” can be said to have saved Europe and much of the free world. Even American Jews, many of whom, or their parents, had also not long before immigrated from Europe can also consider themselves survivors. So we, the post-Holocaust world Jewish community, are all survivors and as survivors, we have responsibilities.

This is yet another moral imperative for us to do teshuva before Shabbos Shuva and Yom Kippur. After being saved by Hashem’s hidden hand, how can we focus our lives on our personal successes or our material achievements? Is this why Hashem saved us? Rather, we have to focus on Hashem’s priorities. What can we do to bring honor to Hashem? What can we do to rebuild the Jewish people? Yom Kippur can bring about a realignment of our priorities; to accept upon ourselves our responsibilities, the responsibilities of survivors. No less than the Jewish firstborn in Mitzrayim, we all owe our continued existence to Hashem.

On Our Way To Be Inscribed in the Sefer Hachaim

Ten Short Essays in Preparation For Rosh Hashana

Copyright: Rabbi Michoel Fletcher
Comments: [email protected]


Passiflora, otherwise known as passion fruit, grows in our neighbour’s garden in Ramat Bet Shemesh. It has grown and grown until it reached the first floor, where we live. It ‘spotted’ our balcony and climbed on to the railings around the top. It never stops growing. Once it has attached itself to one bar it sends out ‘feelers’ in different directions until it finds another bar to attach itself to. My wife and I enjoy the pretty greenery which gives our balcony some privacy, not to mention the delicious fruit which in shemitta year is hefker. With a bit of encouragement from us, it has even wound itself around a corner and it is still growing. When will it stop? After all it must be at least a hundred yards long by now but no. It is never satisfied. It grows, grows and grows some more. As Elul began this year, I realised what the passiflora can teach us.

The minhag to say L’David Hashem Ori twice a day from Rosh Chodesh Elul is clearly designed to guide us during this month of preparation for the Yamim Nora’im. What is the theme of this mizmor?

The first section sounds rather warlike. “ Hashem is my light and salvation. Whom shall I be afraid of? Hashem is the strength of my life. Whom shall I fear? When the evildoers are advancing towards me to devour my flesh, these are my enemies, they will stumble and fall. If a troop is encamped against me, my heart will not fear. Even if they wage war against me, I will put my trust in this.”

How does it relate to us ordinary Jews, who are not facing our enemies on the battlefield? Why is this a preparation for Rosh Hashana? Did Dovid Hamelech really feel no fear when he faced his enemies? A few quotations from Nach should at least answer the third question.

In Shmuel Alef (17) we find a giant from the Pelishtim, Golios taunting the Jewish army asking for any Jew to fight with him and if Golios would vanquish the Jew, the Jews would be slaves to the Pelishtim. If the Jew would vanquish Golios, the Pelishtim would be slaves to the Jews. However all the Jews were afraid and no-one volunteered to fight Golios. Eventually young Dovid, not even a soldier, stepped forward. When Golios saw Dovid, he mocked him and invited him to come towards him so that he could offer Dovid’s flesh to the fowl of the heavens and the beast of the field. Dovid replied,(17:45) “You come to me with a sword, spear and javelin but I come to you in the name of Hashem….On this day, Hashem will deliver you into my hand ….and I shall offer the carcass of the Philistine camp to the fowl of the heavens and the beast of the field.” And, of course, that is exactly what miraculously happened.

Another, lesser- known event, gives even more clarity in Dovid’s attitude to his enemies. Shmuel                                                                                                                    Alef (21:13) tells that Dovid was captured by Achish, king of Gat and was at his mercy. Dovid feigned madness and the king was convinced that he was a mentally ill person who merely looked like Dovid, and let him go. What was Dovid thinking when he stood defenceless in front of a sworn enemy? A pasuk in Tehilim reveals Dovid’s inner thoughts at that moment. “By Dovid, a michtam when the Pelishtim seized him in Gat. In Hashem … I have trusted. I shall not fear. What can mortal flesh do to me? (Tehilim 56:5) The lashon hakodesh is even more direct, even derisive. “Ma ya’aseh basar li? For Dovid there wasn’t even a question. Whatever Hashem decides, that’s what will happen. Achish, king of Gat, with all his armed soldiers, was a mere mortal. Dovid focussed entirely on intense tefila even as he did his hishtadlus and escaped unharmed.

We asked earlier what we ordinary Jews who are not fighting on the battlefield, can learn from these first pesukim in L’Dovid Hashem Ori and how it is a preparation for Rosh Hashono. The answer is that it can transform our davening completely. When we say hagibor in the beginning of the Shemone Esre, what are we really thinking? We can say the word gibor, thinking of a powerful king. Or we can learn from Dovid Hamelech that Hashem is the ultimate unstoppable power. Nothing stands in the way of His will. A powerful king is still only human. Even powerful kings and dictators are sometimes overthrown. But Hashem is in a league of His own. No mortal can lift a finger against the will of Hashem, never could do and never will do. We may ‘know’ this. If asked, we believing Jews, would all say that Hashem is all powerful. But do we feel it? Do we live it? Do we really think it as we are saying the word gibor? If we would do this, our Shemone Esre would be much more intense.When we make our requests in the intermediate Brachos we would’t just mouth the words.We would appeal to Hashem from the depths of our hearts. Please Hashem. If You agree to do as I ask, nothing can stand in Your way. Shema Koleinu.Listen to our voice, our prayers and our supplications.

Kol hachoshvim olai ra’a, meheira hafer atzasam vekalkel machshevosam – Annul the plans of all those who are planning evil against me.

One of our challenges every Elul is, what can I do to prepare for Rosh Hashono? We are shomrei Toah umitzvos, we keep Shabbos, we daven, we do chesed. What extra can I do? The answer is that we can learn from the passiflora. It is already long, very long. But it continues to grow. We too can always grow in our shemiras hamitzvos, our tefila, our madreiga. The lesson we are learning here about Hashem’s gevura is only one of many. But realising the depth of every word in our tefilos can be a springboard for increased kavana in our tefilos. A meaningful tefila brings us closer to Hashem which in turn strengthens our resolve in general shemiras hamitzvos. There is always room to improve and grow. After all, should we less determined than our passiflora?


Recently in Beit Shemesh, a wild dog somehow found its way into a block of flats near the edge of the town. The residents were petrified. No-one could get in or out. The dog wasn’t even barking but no-one was prepared to challenge it. Maybe it hadn’t eaten supper yet! Frantic calls were made to the municipal authorities to send the official dog-catcher. Yishai arrived eventually and calmly captured and removed the animal, to the cheers of the residents. Was this an incident best forgotten or can we learn something from it?

The later sections of Mesilas Yesharim discuss aspects of avodas Hashem which are way beyond the spiritual level of most of us, in the area of fear of Hashem and in particular fear of sin. This applies both to the past and to the future. We find that some of our greatest ancestors were never satisfied with their level of avodas Hashem, thinking that perhaps they had fallen short in some way. This section about fear of the past is probably not for us at all. We would be continuously worried and would not achieve simchas chaim which is so necessary for us and our children. However, we can aspire to the concept of fear of sin in the future, even if we don’t reach the highest levels.

Let’s talk about the ideal first and then discuss some practical ramifications for our lives. The concept of sinning against Hashem should be abhorrent to us. After all, He provides us with everything; how can we possibly think of going against Him? Our vulnerability is clear. He can turn off the supply of blessings in a moment and then where would we be? To challenge Him would be akin to an ant defying a human. We can blot out its life in a moment. It is laughable even to think of defying the Source of our life. The stupidity of challenging our Creator is multiplied much more if we think of the punishment we could incur. An ant might die instantly and that is the end of its existence. But Hashem can punish us in this world or the next while we continue to exist. We could be liable to severe punishments in untold ways. With this in mind, logic would tell us to run a mile from any risk of sin.

How can we bring this concept to life? We could imagine meeting a wild animal in the street. How terrified we would be. Running away is not an option but if there was a chance of taking refuge in a nearby building, what a sigh of relief we would give, especially if there was a door we could lock behind us.

To really feel such horror at the possibility of sinning may be a high madreiga. But we should at least feel the importance of avoiding coming close to sinning. If we know that a certain group of people are constant loshon hora speakers, we should look for another circle of friends. Another group discuss politics bein gavra l’gavra. We should move to another part of the shul or maybe a different shul altogether. It is natural to want to be one of the crowd. One who fears sin may have to consider changing his or her crowd.

Clear sources in the Torah warn us to stay far away from the possibility of sin. A nazir who is forbidden to drink wine may not even go near a vineyard. (Shabbos 13a). Tzitzis are supposed to remind us to keep all the other mitzvos of the Torah. (Bamidbar 15:39). The posuk says (Vayikra 18:6) “Do not come close to immorality.” Hilchos Yichud forbid a man to be alone with a woman who is not his wife. This is a vital fence against immorality. Although there are certain leniencies in halacha, they should only be used in emergencies and with the guidance of a rav. Parents should warn their daughters, who may not realise how vulnerable they are, never to be alone with a man other than a father or brother.

The residents of the block of flats in Beit Shemesh who felt up close the fear of a wild dog can use the experience to strive towards feeling the same fear when they are close to sinning. One must escape and lock the door securely, to make sure to keep far from sin even if others are unfortunately succumbing. And the rest of us, who just read about it, can also imagine the fear of being there, in order to strive towards this madreiga of yiras cheit. For Jews, no experience should be wasted – not even an encounter with a mad dog.


We all want Hashem’s blessings. We all want to be inscribed in the Book of Life this coming Rosh Hashono. We wouldn’t claim to be tzaddikim gemurim who are written immediately in the Book of Life. On the other hand we are not resho’im gemurim. We’re somewhere in the middle. Are there any short cuts to meriting a good outcome this Rosh Hashono? Is there a hint or a clue as to what finds particular favour in Hashem’s eyes that will earn us a place in the ‘right’ Book even though we’re not tzaddikim gemurim?

In Parshas Re’eh (15:7-10) we read, “If there be a destitute person among you, of one of your brothers in any of your cities, in your land that Hashem your G-d gives you, you shall not harden your heart nor shall you close your hand against your destitute brother. Rather you shall open your hand to him and give to him whatever he needs. Beware lest a wicked thought comes into your heart saying that the seventh year is approaching and therefore you do not want to give to him. He will call out to Hashem and you will be deemed to have sinned. You shall give to him and not feel bad when you give to him because on account of this, Hashem will bless you in all your deeds and in all your undertakings.”

The background to this warning not to be reluctant to lend to the poor when the seventh year is approaching is because the Jewish calendar is divided into cycles of seven years. Every seventh year is the shmitta year. During this year not only is it forbidden to cultivate the Land of Israel but any loans which are outstanding at the end of the year are cancelled. Therefore if a person lends money just before the shmitta and the borrower is unable to repay on time the lender is liable to lose his money. Hence a possible reluctance to lend at this time and it is against this ‘evil’ thought that the Torah warns us.

The question is asked why this would be such an evil thought. A person may have enough money to lend but not to give outright. It can happen that a borrower is late in repaying. So why is it so wrong to be reluctant to lend at this time. Isn’t a wise man ro’eh es hanolad (anticipates the future)?

In the Sefer Hachinuch ‘s explanation of this prohibition of the Torah, he mentions a detail which makes the question less strong. He says that the Torah is talking about a lender who is reluctant because he is afraid that some unforeseen event might prevent a timely repayment. The Torah is not talking about about someone who admits that he has no way of returning the loan. He is hoping that a miracle will occur and he will acquire the means to repay. It may well be that a person is not even allowed to borrow under such circumstances even for Shabbos needs (Shaar Hatziun 242:12) and certainly a person is not obliged to lend to him. The Torah is warning about being reluctant to lend to a person who in the normal course of events will have the means to repay but the lender is worrying that the borrower will suddenly, for some unforeseen reason, lose his ability to repay on time. This is even before the shmitta year has started, leaving over a year for the loan to be repaid and the lender has the money available and has no need of it. Further there is no prohibition of repaying a loan after the shmitta year (unlike the laws of interest). An honourable borrower will presumably repay even after the shmitta year. Therefore it is clearly a very uncharitable act to refuse this borrower a loan which he needs, possibly, very urgently.

But the Sefer Hachinuch then continues with a very powerful statement. “Anyone who has any knowledge of the Torah will know that Hashem judges a person according to his deeds and blesses a person according to how near he is to Him. An uncharitable person builds a mechitza shel barzel (an iron separation) between himself and Hashem’s blessings. A generous person is very close to Hashem and is very close to receiving Hashem’s blessings.”

This is, therefore, one direction we can be looking in as we approach Rosh Hashono; to train ourselves to be as generous as possible. Generosity, however, is not limited to the giving of Tzedoko or even lending money to a person in need. We can acquire generosity of spirit which includes thinking well of others, hoping for their success, rejoicing at their simchas, giving freely of our time to help others, looking for ways to bring pleasure to other people and more. In loshon hakodesh this is called nedivas lev , which also falls into the category of people who are close to Hashem and his blessings as described by the Sefer Hachinuch.

One form of nedivas lev is the ability and desire to see beyond another person’s actions and words to understand what the person is really ‘saying.’ Sometimes his words may seem harsh but really they reflect an inner hurt. He doesn’t mean to be confrontational but because he is upset, the words come out the way they do. Many an argument could be avoided if we would recognize this human characteristic. Someone with a generous spirit will have the patience and self-control not to react to another’s words but will dig deeper. “Why did he say that?” “Why did she say this?” At the very least we don’t react with similar confrontational words from which an argument can often escalate. The blessings of this form of nedivas lev do not have to wait until Rosh Hashono but will be immediately felt in enhanced sholom bayis in the home and more friendship with others outside.

Chazal say (Gittin 36b) “Those who are insulted but do not insult back are like ‘the sun as it rises with great strength.’ (Sefer Shoftim 5:31).” What does this comparison mean and what strength does the sun show when it rises? The answer could be based on another statement of Chazal (Nedorim 39b) that the sun does not want to rise in the morning because it knows that the sun-worshippers will immediately begin their avoda zoro. The sun does not want to initiate avoda zoro. However it does so because of the many Jews who rise early to daven vasikin. The sun looks at the positive and rejects the negative. Similarly, when we are insulted, our immediate reaction is to answer back in kind. If, with great inner strength, we can look at the positive by thinking that the person is in pain for some reason or simply by recalling that despite this fault he has many good points, we can be compared to the sun which overcomes its initial feelings and rises every morning.

Generosity of spirit is within reach for all of us. If we can take a step back during Ellul and consider the wonderful blessings we can acquire with it, as the Sefer Hachinuch says, we can be more confident that come Rosh Hashono we will indeed be written in the ‘right’ Book, the Book of Life.


In the parsha of Ki Sovo, we read about the vidui maaser, the declaration that one had observed the halachic requirements of mitzvos connected with tithing one’s produce.

“I have removed all the consecrated food from the house, I have given to the Levi, the stranger, the orphan and the widow….I have not transgressed Your commandments nor forgotten to praise You….I have done all You commanded me.” The next pasuk continues with a request. “Look down from Your Holy abode and bless Your People Israel and the Land which You gave us as You swore to our Fathers, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Devarim 26:13-15). Rashi comments on this last pasuk, “We have fulfilled our obligations, now You fulfill Your obligations as it says, “If you keep my statutes, I will provide rain in the right time.”

These pesukim and this Rashi are very difficult to understand. Who can stand before Hashem and declare “I have done all You commanded me?” And if this is not enough chutzpa, as Rashi said, we then come with demands on Hashem. “We’ve done our bit, now You do Yours.”

The Mesilas Yesharim in his chapter on humility, (Chapter 22), seems to warn us strongly against just such an attitude. No matter how much we achieve we should not forget that we have certainly not fulfilled all our obligations. Even what we have achieved has been only through the kindness of Hashem who gave us the means to do what have done. Pirkei Avos (2:8) says “If you have learnt much Torah, do not praise yourself for it because this is what you were created for.” There is never an excuse for arrogance. The Mesilas Yesharim brings the case of Nechemyiah ben Chachalya who was very successful in fighting intermarriage, Shabbos desecration and social injustice. Yet the Gemara Sanhedrin (93b) finds fault with Nechemyiah for the words which he said (Nechemyiah 5:19), “Remember in my favour, O my G-d, all that I have done for this People.”

We can perhaps lighten our question slightly with a comment by the late Rav Yosef Dunner zt”l the revered former Rav of the Addass Kehilla of London in his sefer Mikdash Levi. He points out that in the text of the Pasuk (26:14) “I have done what You commanded me” the wording is “osisi kechol asher tzivisani.” (not chol but kechol). Indeed, writes Rav Dunner, a person cannot say that he has done everything (chol) that he has been commanded but approximately everything (kechol). We are still astounded, however, by the brazenous and arrogance of making demands on Hashem based on our apparently faultless observance as brought in Rashi: “We have done what we are supposed to do, now You do what you are supposed to do.”A friend of mine from Ramat Beit Shemesh, Reb Yaakov Schoeman (n.y.) suggested the following possible answer.

There is a difference between the way we must look at ourselves and the way we should look at others. The Mesilas Yesharim is talking about the way we should look at ourselves, with humility. We should never think that our deeds are perfect. Surely we made mistakes, perhaps we could have done more. If we learnt Torah this is because Hashem has given us the possibility to do so in the form of our mental abilities, memory, a supportive enviroment etc. If we have given Tzedaka this is because Hashem gave us the means to do so and we have merely fulfilled our responsibilities. Good characteristics are probably inherited, we perform mitzvos because of the good education we received or good influences which we have been in proximity to, etc. We do not have to negate our achievements but we should put them in context.

However we should not look at other people’s achievements in this way. If they have learnt Torah we should try to be inspired by them, learn from their diligence. If they have good characteristics we should try to emulate them. Whatever others have achieved should be played up not down. Even if there are imperfections with others we should assume they are done by mistake. If we are not sure, we should give the benefit of the doubt, etc.

The Jew who asks Hashem for a blessing in the pasuk, is not talking about himself. Rashi uses the words “We have done what we should have done” Concerning himself he would have spoken with more humility. But he is looking at the achievements of the People as a whole. Concerning others, he sees only perfection. He sees Jews faithfully tithing their produce and bringing the first fruits to Yerusholayim. He sees Jews making sure that orphans and widows are looked after. He sees Jews rising early go to a shiur and learning again in the evening after a hard day’s work. He sees acts of kindness, bikur cholim, hatzala, chaveirim, misaskim. He sees Jews in the midst of serious challenges living with emuna and bitachon. He sees a Jewish People loyally keeping details of halacha despite a galus of two thousand years. He sees holiness. And that is enough reason to beseech Hashem, “We have done so much, we have continued to believe in You and to keep Your mitzvos despite persecutions, pogroms and a Holocaust. Now, please, keep the promises You wrote in the Torah and in the Prophets and bless the Land You gave us that it should flow with milk and honey. May all the wickedness disappear like smoke, may the Tzadikim see and rejoice, may You give honour to Your People

and may the time finally come to witness utzemichas keren l’Dovid Avdecho, bimhairo beyomeinu, omein.


Parsha of Nitzavim begins with Moshe Rabeinu talking to Bnei Yisroel. “You are all standing today before Hashem Elokeichem: the heads of your tribes, your elders and your officers, all the men of Israel, your children, your wives, the convert, from the hewer of your wood to the drawer of your water.” (Devarim 29:9-10) Nitzavim very often falls on the Shabbos before Rosh Hashono when all of us too stand before Hashem to be judged.

Rashi on posuk twelve brings an extraordinary medrash. “Why does the parsha of Nitzavim follow the ninety-eight curses mentioned in Parshas Ki Sovo? Because the people had heard these ninety-eight curses plus the forty-nine of parsha Bechukosai and their faces turned green. They said, “Who can possibly survive these?” Moshe Rabeinu attempted to calm them. “You have caused Hashem to be angry with you many times and still you all standing here today.” Reb Mattisyahu שליט”א once quoted Reb Elya Lapian זצ”ל who was amazed by this medrash. Was Moshe Rabeinu destroying the whole purpose of the warnings of the Torah? Surely the curses were to warn the people of the severe consequences of transgressing the Torah and the people were right to be terrified. Yet Moshe Rabeinu seems to be saying that their fear is unnecessary. They are standing here today despite their sins and they will apparently always survive, no matter what, so the people could heave a sigh of relief. Why should Moshe Rabeinu, Hashem’s most trusted servant, seem to negate the Torah’s warnings?

Reb Elya’s explanation is highly relevant for us. He says that Moshe Rabeinu saw that the people were terrified of Hashem’s judgment. The consequences of sin are a frightening threat. He reassured them, “You are standing here today with a fear of punishment. That is good. If you always have this fear of sin and punishment, you will always survive.”

We are optimistic on Rosh Hashono. We dip our challoh into honey hoping for a sweet year. The simonim express our hopes that all our enemies will disappear. Some French Jews eat bananas hoping for a bonne année. But nothing is guaranteed. We need to earn Hashem’s blessings. If we fear the consequences of our wrongdoings, we will live as we should and do teshuva for our aveiros. But if Rosh Hashono means no more than tasting the sweetest honey, luscious dates, the reddest apples, maybe bananas, and of course, pomegranates, but our lives continue as before, who knows what next year will bring?

One of the most shocking examples of Hashem’s punishment for sinful behaviour is found in Melochim Alef Chapter 21. “There was a vineyard belonging to Novos the Yizre’elite, next to the palace of Achov, King of Shomron. Achov spoke to Navos and said that he wanted to buy the land this vineyard occupied, for a vegetable garden.

However Navos refused. He said to Achov, “Far be it from me before Hashem that I should give you my ancestors’ heritage.” Achov’s wife Izevel then committed a heinous sin. She arranged for false witnesses to testify that Novos had “blessed” Hashem and Novos was duly stoned to death. Achov went down to the vineyard of his former neighbor and inherited it. “Problem solved,” he might have thought. Wrong. “Hashem sent Eliyohu Hanovi to tell Achov, You have murdered and now you inherit? Thus said Hashem, “In the place that the dogs licked up the blood of Novos, the dogs will lick up your blood as well.” Hashem spoke concerning Izevel. The dogs shall eat Izevel in the valley of Yizre’el. Anyone of the house of Achov who dies in the city, the dogs will eat. Anyone who dies in the field, the birds of the heavens will eat.” The posuk (22:37) tells us later this is what happened “…the dogs licked up Achov’s blood and immoral women bathed in it.” Achov the king who is described in Megila 11a as being one of three men, (the others were Nevuchadnetzar and Achashveirosh) who at one point ruled the whole world, came to an ignominious end. The day he walked into Novos’ vineyard, he might have been congratulating himself on the removal of someone who didn’t grovel before him. However Hashem made clear to him and us that sins have consequences. Incidentally, the Gemara in Shabbos 149b says that Novos the innocent victim, merited, in the World to Come, to be in the inner mechitza of Hashem. Everyone gets what is due to them.

There is a mitzvah never to forget Amolek. There is another mitzvah to destroy utterly all memory of Amolek. These two mitzvos seem mutually exclusive? However the Sefer Hachinuch explains that the mitzvah is not to remember Amolek himself but to remember that “anyone who does harm to the Jewish People is hated by Hashem. And according to the evil of his act so shall be his fall, as we see with Amolek who, because he did a great evil to Israel, Hashem commanded that he should be utterly destroyed.” Again, sins have consequences.

The Gemoro in Kesuvos 30a says that although there is no Sanhedrin to carry out capital punishment today, those who need to be punished, will be punished. Someone who would have been stoned to death will fall from a roof and die or an animal will crush him to death. Somebody who would have been burned to death will die in a fire or from a snake-bite. Someone who would have been beheaded, will be beheaded by a criminal or by the government. One who would have been strangled to death will die by drowning. This does NOT mean that somebody who has tragically died in one of these ways was guilty of any sin. There are many other reasons why such a tragedy might have occurred. But we have to know that just because there is no Sanhedrin or Beis Din to exact the punishments certain people deserve, it does not mean leis din veleis dayan – there is no judgment and no Judge.

Before Rosh Hashono, before Yom Kippur and throughout the year we should be afraid. Fear of sin and fear of Divine punishment will prod us to reflect on what we might have done wrong and encourage us to improve. If we have wronged someone we have to ask their forgiveness. Only if we do this can we be confident of what will be. Only if we are “nitzavim kulchem hayom” all standing here today with a fear of possible punishment can we optimistically look forward to a sweet year and a bonne année. Only then can we truly enjoy our pomegranates and bananas.


The best-known section of Ki Sovo is the Tochacha – warning us what will happen if we do not keep the mitzvos of the Torah. The low voice of the Baal Koreh hints to our trepidation of the fulfilment of the prophecies, many of which we have already witnessed. It would appear to be a timely preparation for Rosh Hashono, when we will again accept on ourselves ol malchus shomayim. The severe consequences of failing to keep Hashem’s commandments is surely the best incentive we could have to accept all our obligations. However, is this really the case?

Megila (31b) asks why Ezra arranged that we read Parshas Ki Savo before Rosh Hashana. Abaya answers, “Tichleh shana vekloloseho – that the year with its curses should end.” We want to look forward to a new year of blessings. Why didn’t Abaya answer that Ezra wanted us all to feel fearful of transgressing Hashem’s Torah and therefore be ready to accept Hashem’s kingship on Rosh Hashono?

The answer can be found on small cardboard boxes which we sometimes see. “SMOKING KILLS” is written in bold letters on every packet of cigarettes yet we see people, who presumably don’t want to die, calmly smoking cigarettes. Why do people still smoke? Why do so many of our teenagers begin smoking? The answer is because people say, “It won’t happen to me.” Hundreds of thousands of people die from lung cancer but “it won’t happen to me.” We can read the pesukim, hear the baal koreh reading the Tochacho, in hushed tones, we can know that such things have happened to others in our lifetime, but none of this impinges on our preparation for Rosh Hashono. Why? Because we say, “it won’t happen to me.”

What will make a difference? Perhaps a more positive approach – Tichle shana vekloloseho – May next year be full of blessings and not curses… Blessings encourage us. We like blessings

Perhaps concentrating on the section before the tochacha would be more effective. “If you will keep My mitzvos, you will be the foremost nation. You will be blessed in the city. You will be blessed in the field. I will bless your children, your cattle and your produce.” “Now this would be useful,” we think. “Our children certainly need a brocho. An increase in salary together with growth in our investments would help pay a few bills. And if everybody treated us with great respect when they see that we are members of the Jewish People, that would be the icing on the cake.” And if it costs me the effort to resist listening to some juicy loshon hora, it’s well worth it.

The concept of reward is a constant theme in Sefer Devorim. Parshas Ekev (7:12-16) speaks at length about the reward for even minor mitzvos and, again, later in the section which we read as part of our krias shema (11:13-15). In Parshas Re’eh (12:25) the pasuk says that we and our children will be greatly rewarded for not drinking blood. Rashi says that if we merit a great reward when we desist from drinking blood which we consider disgusting, how much more so if we desist from sins which we have a desire for. In Parshas Ki Teitzei (22:7) the pasuk says that if we send away the mother bird before taking the eggs, we will be blessed with long life. Rashi again expounds: If we receive a great reward for a mitzvah that costs us nothing, how much more so for more significant mitzvos. And in this week’s parsha of Ki Sovo, the section about reward precedes the section about punishment.

The reward of observing Hashem’s mitzvos is given to us both in this world and the next. The Rambam (Hilchos Teshuva 9:1) explains that the real reward is in the World to Come but, if we keep the mitzvos, Hashem will grant us an interim reward of peace, good health and financial security to enable us to keep more and more mitzvos. Thus we will earn more and more reward in the World to Come. And one hour of reward there is more pleasurable than all the pleasures of this world. (Pirkei Avos 4:17). Michtav M’Eliyahu (1:4) explains that this means that one moment of pleasure in the World to Come is greater than all the pleasures of this world compressed into a single moment.

Just think. For saying brochos with more care, for a friendly hello to a lonely stranger, for counting to ten and calming down rather than getting angry, the rewards are literally out of this world. It’s a no-brainer. Let’s go for it!

The currency of the interim reward may not be pounds, shillings and pence. It may come in the form of physical and mental health, a reasonable income and protection from people who would be happy to harm us, given half a chance. But these are just what we need to enable us to do more mitzvos. According to some mefarshim, the rewards mentioned in the Torah are physical forms of spiritual pleasures which we will enjoy in the World to Come. All in all, keeping mitzvos is the best investment we could possibly make.

Someone might argue that this acceptance of mitzvos is lo lishma – not for pure motives. Our response would be that firstly, we shouldn’t think we are wiser than Moshe Rabeinu who did encourage the Bnei Yisroel with promises of reward, as we have seen. And secondly, Chazal say, “Mitoch lo lishma ba lishma.” From doing mitzvos for insincere reasons one will come to do them for sincere reasons. So let’s put at least put one foot forward – towards a successful Rosh Hashono.


Nissan is commonly known as the month of redemption, but the Gemoro in Rosh Hashono (11a) brings another opinion that Tishrei is the month of redemption. This seems to be confirmed by the tefila on Rosh Hashono in which we plead with Hashem, “Ten pachdecho Hashem Elokeinu al kol maasecho” – Put fear of You on all the nations. We long for the final redemption, when Hashem will give due honour to His People, praise to those who fear him … speedily and in our days.

Rav Mattisyohu Salamon shlita asks in Matnas Chaim. Why should we focus on the subject of the Geula on Rosh Hashana? We can do this every day and we do. On Rosh Hashono there are other priorities. Our future is being decided on Rosh Hashono. Mi yichye, mi yomus – Who will live; who will die, who at his appointed time; who not at his appointed time. Beitza 15a says that our income for the year is fixed on Rosh Hashono. Surely, asks the Matnas Chaim, the main focus of our tefilos should be pleading for Hashem’s mercy for ourselves. Yet instead, we concentrate on accepting that Hashem is the King and on our hopes that soon everybody else will also accept Hashem as King. Our personal tefilos, zochreinu l’chaim etc are squeezed in at the beginning and end of the tefilos. Would not the reverse emphasis be more appropriate?

The Matnas Chaim answers with a parable. A king once employed a builder to build a magnificent palace for himself and his household. He wanted it to be ready as soon as possible and sent the contractor to the builders’ merchant for the bricks, timber, screws and all the supplies for the new palace. Knowing that there would be a queue, he wrote a note to the manager to give priority to this particular builder because he was working for the king. The other builders protested when he jumped the queue but the manager explained that they needed materials for their own needs but this builder is working for the king. He must be served first.

We all have our own needs, explains the Matnas Chaim. We all want to live and to enjoy good health and a comfortable income. If we want these things for our own benefit and enjoyment we will not receive preferential treatment. However, if we want health and strength in order to learn Torah, to do mitzvos, to sanctify Hashem’s name in the way we live our lives, we can hope for a better reception. If we argue that it is a chillul Hashem when resho’im who don’t even believe in Hashem seem to rule the world, our tefilos are even more likely to be accepted. And if we express our desire for a world where every person is G-d-fearing, so that Hashem’s name is magnified and sanctified, that we want the world to be a huge palace appropriate for the King of Kings, then like the royal contractor builder in the parable, we will move to the head of the queue. We all need life, health and material goods. But if we need them to build Hashem’s palace we will be granted priority in obtaining all the materials we need to do our job.

And if we realise that the day when Hashem’s glory is revealed and the whole world accepts Him as the Creator and King of the Universe is very close indeed, we will daven even harder. The Chofetz Chaim in Tzipiso LiYeshua says that we have already arrived at the stage of world history when the final redemption is imminent. He says that all the signs of the time of redemption mentioned in the last Mishna in Sotah have been fulfilled. “Chutzpa will be in abundance, truth will be lacking, those who fear sin will be despised, Jews will leave the way of the Torah.” The Chofetz Chaim asks, however, that the Mishna seems to contradict the pesukim in Parshas Nitzavim (30:1-3). There we read, “When all these things happen to you, the blessing and the curse … and you return to Hashem Elokecho with all your heart and with all your soul … Hashem will gather you from among all the peoples where He has scattered you.”(30:1-3) These pesukim indicate that the redemption will occur only after we do teshuva! The Chofetz Chaim answers that there will be two groups of Jews. One group will be as described in the Mishna in Sotah – lacking any fear of sin, ridiculing loyal Jews. The second group will be those Jews who despite everything still cling to the Torah. Even if they could enjoy an easier life elsewhere, they live in those places where they can best educate their children to Torah. It is precisely their determination despite all the challenges and mockery from anti-religious Jews and non-Jews, that Hashem will notice and consider this to be the best possible fulfillment of “Returning to Hashem, you and your children with all your heart and with all your soul.” The Chofetz Chaim says that the conditions for redemption, both in the pesukim and the Chumash are not contradictory but complementary. They have now all been fulfilled and the time of the redemption is imminent.

This is what we must remember as we daven on Rosh Hashono. Our deepest desire is to devote our lives to building “Hashem’s palace.” This is why we need all the materials necessary such as life, good health etc. And this new epoch in world history may already be within a hairsbreadth of happening. Our sincere and heartfelt davening might just make the difference so that it will be during this New Year of 5779 that the “Tzaddikim will see and rejoice, the Yeshorim will exult and the Chassidim will sing in joy” and Hashem’s will rejoice with all of us as He rejoiced with our fathers as written in our parsha. (ibid :9).


In every shul in the Jewish world, at one of the most sublime moments of the Rosh Hashono service after the blowing of the shofar during Musaf, we all sing the following paragraph with great intensity each shul according to its custom.

Hayom haras olom, hayom yaamid bamishpot…..

“ Today is the birthday of the World. Today all creatures of the World stand in judgment whether as Your children or Your servants. If we stand before You as Your children, may You have mercy upon us like a father has mercy on his children. If as Your servants, our eyes look toward You until You will be gracious to us and judge us favourably, O Awesome and Holy One.”

It seems that there are two possibilities: to be judged like children or servants. But there is a huge difference between the two possibilities. The chances of a favorable verdict are clearly much higher if we’re judged like children. We can look forward to love and mercy. Kerachem av al bonim- like a father has mercy for his children. But if we’re judged like servants, we will be judged with midas hadin – strict judgment. Is there any way we can opt for one option rather than the other? Is there a way that we can ensure that we will be judged like children to increase the chance of a favourable outcome?

Our desire to be judged like children takes on even more urgency if we look at Gemoro Taanis (23a). The Gemoro is discussing the famous Choni Hame’agel who, in a time of famine, made a circle round himself and swore that he wouldn’t move from the circle until Hashem sent rain. When a few drops came down he argued that it wasn’t enough. When torrential rain began, he complained that it was too much until Hashem sent gishmei bracha. Reb Shimon ben Shetach was not pleased with Choni.

“ If you weren’t Choni, I would have put you in nidui but what can I do, since you are like a ben bayis of Hashem. He has mercy on you like a father for a son. If a son says to his father, “Wash me in hot water, wash me in cold water, give me nuts, almonds, peaches, pomegranates, the father gives him…

If this is how we would be treated if we are judged like children, it’s imperative to be judged this way. Our year and our whole future may depend on it.

We’ll be delighted to discover that indeed we ourselves can choose how Hashem will be judging us this Rosh Hashono. It’s up to us. But what do we have to do?

Let us consider the following. What is the difference between how a child responds to a request from his parents and how a servant responds to his master? If parents ask their child for a drink the child jumps up, only too happy to help. They ask “ Do you want a cold drink, a hot drink, with sugar, milk?” They serve it with a smile and enthusiasm, full of love for their father and mother. When a master asks his servant for a drink, he’s likely to respond grudgingly, knowing that he has no choice. In fact he was hoping that the master would have asked another servant. He really can’t be bothered. But he wants to escape without a wipping and he brings the drink.

When we have a mitzva to do, maybe getting up early for selichos, learning, Shabbos, kashrus, do we comply because we have to, because we’re afraid of eternal punishment etc or is it with simcha? “Baruch Hashem, I have the opportunity to do another mitzva” The first response is to be expected from somebody who is serving Hashem like a servant serves his master whose only interest is to receive reward and avoid punishment. The second response is to be expected from someone who is serving Hashem out of love.

Of course we are warned by the Tana in Pirkei Avos not to serve Hashem like a servant who serves his master for the purpose of receiving a reward.

The Gemoro in Brochos (29b) says that our prayers should not be like a burden and Rashi explains that this means that a person should not think as he davens that he is just fulfilling his obligation. The Mesilas Yeshorim (Chapter 7) extends this to all mitzvos. “When we are fulfilling any mitzva, we should not try to finish it as soon as possible as if we were carrying a heavy burden”. Rather our attitude should be like Dovid Hamelech said in Tehilim (42) K’ayol taarog al afikei moyim, kein nafshi saarog eilecho, Elokim.Tzomo nafshi lelokim, lekail choi, mosai v’eroeh pnai Elokim. Like a hart yearns for streams of water, so my soul yearns for you, Hashem. My soul thirsts for you, Hashem, the living G-d. When will I merit to see the face of Hashem.”

If our attitude to mitzvos is that we do them because we have to and we try to finish them as quickly as possible as if they are a heavy burden, our relationship to Hashem is like a servant to a Master and we’ll be judged accordingly – with midas hadin. We can can only hope, in the words of the machzor, that Hashem will be gracious to us and judge us favourably.

But if we are really happy to do our avodas Hashem, and we try to do it in the best possible way, like a hart yearns for streams of water, so our soul yearns for Hashem, our relationship with Hashem is like a child to a parent and we’ll be judged with love and mercy, kerachem av al bonim,like a father has mercy on his children. We can even ask for nuts, almonds, peaches and pomegranates and b’ezras Hashem, He’ll give them to us.


We can’t say we weren’t warned. The shofar has been reminding us loud and clear that Rosh Hashana is coming. It is another of Hashem’s great chassodim that we know about the Day of Judgment. At least we can prepare. We can be ready to re-accept Hashem as the King of the Universe, hopefully on a higher level than last year. And we can prepare our request list for the next year; what we are hoping to achieve and how to approach Hashem with our requests. We all know the value of preparing for a job interview — what to say and how to say it. The results of our ‘interview’ with Hashem are not just going to affect one detail of our life like whether we get a particular job but every aspect of life; in fact life itself. Are we going to be alive this time next year? We are optimistic that we will be blessed, but it still depends on how this Rosh Hashana goes. As the famous response to being asked how Rosh Hashana was, goes, “I’ll tell you next year.”

Do we really have confidence that our judgment will be favorable or is it just bravado? Let’s follow the Jewish custom of answering a question with another question. “Is there a mitzva of simcha on the Yom Tov of Rosh Hashana?” The Shulchan Aruch (597:1) says there is: “On Rosh Hashana we eat and drink and rejoice.” But isn’t this inappropriate on days when we are being judged? Mishna Berura (581:25) on the statement in the Shulchan Aruch that we prepare clean clothes and have a haircut on erev Rosh Hashana comments: “We are confident that Hashem in His kindness will find us to be righteous in our judgment.” “Nevertheless,” adds the Mishna Berura, “we shouldn’t wear our most elegant clothes on Rosh Hashana because we should be in fear of judgement.” Isn’t this a contradiction? We are confident about our judgment and yet we should be in fear of our judgment. How do these two statements fit together?

A posuk in Tehilim ( 2:11 ) is equally perplexing. “Gilu b’raada – Rejoice in fear.” Rejoicing and fear would appear to be incompatible. Yet this is precisely how we are supposed to daven according to Brachos 30b . What does the posuk mean?

A look at the mizmor we say during Elul, L’Dovid Hashem Ori, also reveals yet another apparent contradiction, this time between the first half and the second. Dovid Hamelech apparently starts with total confidence. “Hashem is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? Hashem is the strength of my life, whom shall I dread? When evildoers approach me to devour my flesh, my tormentors and my foes against me – it is they who will stumble and fall. Though an army would besiege me, my heart would not fear, though war would arise against me, in this I trust.” However later, a different tone emerges. “Hashem, hear my voice when I call. Be gracious to me and answer me. Do not hide Your presence from me, do not turn Your servant away in anger…do not abandon me, do not forsake me.” How can we account for this change in Dovid Hamelech’s attitude, from confidence to apparent fear?

The Chumash tells us, “Eretz Yisroel is a land that the eyes of Hashem are continually fixed on from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.” (Devarim 11:12) Rosh Hashana (16a) points out that the word for the beginning of the year, “reishis” is spelt, in the Torah, without the letter aleph at the beginning which hints to the word rash —a poor man. This indicates, says the Gemara, that every year that we begin like a poor person we will be like a rich man by the end. Rashi explains that the Gemara is not referring to lack of money. One should approach Hashem like a poor man approaching a potential benefactor as we learn in Mishlei 18. “Tachanunim yedaber rash.” A poor man speaks to a potential benefactor with great humility. He cannot demand; he just appeals with great self-effacement. “Similarly,” says Rashi, “the Jewish people daven on Rosh Hashana standing humbly in front of Hashem, making no demands, just appealing that Hashem should look kindly at our requests. We have not done enough good deeds to feel that Hashem is somehow obliged to answer our tefilos as we would like. Even if last year Hashem blessed us, this does not mean that He needs to do so this year. An oni knocks on the door of the oshir hoping that he will have some success but realizing that the baal habayis could just as easily totally reject him. He might hope to make eye contact in the hope that the oshir will have rachmonus on him. Similarly we have to stand in front of Hashem on Rosh Hashana hoping that Hashem who is– “rachamov al kol maasav” will have mercy on us. With this attitude at the beginning of the year, of being like a rash – poor man, Chazal tell us, we will be blessed at the end by being like a rich man at the end, with our requests having been accepted.

This way of davening, of making humble supplications rather than demands, is a requirement not just on Rosh Hashana but every day. The Shulchan Aruch (98:3) says explicitly: “A person should speak to Hashem as a poor man speaks at the door of a potential benefactor, hoping to be shown mercy.” The Shaarei Teshuva brings from the Ari that a person should think of this when he says the words “ozer dalim” just before the beginning of the Shemone Esre. Perhaps we can have that same intention when we say the words of Anim Zemiros,           Tikar shirash rosh be’einecho k’shir yushar al korbonecho – May the song of the poor man be as precious to You as a song sung over Your korban.

There is no contradiction between the two halves of L’Dovid Hashem Ori. In the first section Dovid Hamelech is expressing his complete trust in Hashem. Dovid Hamelech was not afraid of his enemies. “They trust their cavalry and their horses but we put our trust in Hashem.” (Tehilim 20:8 ) The whole of the Egyptian army is like one horse to Hashem. (Shemos 14:23, Rashi). In a moment Hashem can destroy an army as He did at the time of krias Yam Suf, with the army of Sancheriv and on many other occasions. Even though success is not always guaranteed, “Habote’ach b’Hashem, chessed yesovevenu, – one who puts his trust in Hashem, will be enveloped by Hashem’s kindness.” (Tehilim 32:10)

But in the second half, Dovid Hamelech is davening to Hashem, “Hashem, hear my voice, do not hide Your face from me … like a poor person at the door of his potential benefactor with humility, begging for mercy. This is how everyone should daven, rich and poor.

On Rosh Hashana we have to show eimas hadin –fear of judgment. We have to be subdued. It is not appropriate to appear in our most festive clothes. We are appealing for Hashem’s mercy. But we are quietly optimistic. If we approach Hashem with humility, conscious of our imperfections, with true acceptance of Him as our Ruler and the Ruler of the whole universe, we have confidence that He will indeed look favourably upon us, extend His great kindness and send His blessings to us for a successful year ahead. And we can even be b’simcha as the posuk tells us – Gilu b’raada – Rejoice in fear.


One of the most dramatic and soul-stirring moments of Rosh Hashana is when the Baal Shacharis calls out with great emotion, “Hamelech,” and continues in the traditional tune “yoshev al kisei rom venisa – who sits on His most high and exalted throne.” We have prepared for at least a month for this moment, blowing the shofar throughout Ellul in anticipation of crowning Hashem as our King on Rosh Hashana. Our eyes water with emotion, our neshomos expand at this most moving acceptance of Hashem’s Kingship. Questions that troubled us during the previous year, when life did not proceed as smoothly as we had anticipated are all forgotten as we announce that Hashem is the King who knows what is right for each one of us. And at the same instant we relive the blessings received during the previous year, bestowed generously and mercifully by our Almighty King, Ruler of Heaven and Earth and the source of everything. But at this pivotal moment, perhaps another thought enters our minds. What could it be?

Every morning and evening when we say the Shema, we accept upon ourselves ol malchus shomayim – the yoke of the kingdom of Heaven. That is why, according to the Mishna in Brachos ( ), we say the first paragraph of the Shema and then the second. First we accept Hashem’s kingdom and His mitzvos, then we read of the reward for keeping the mitzvos and the punishment for transgressing them. But one difficulty is the very first mitzva mentioned, “You shall love the L-rd your G-d with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength.” Why this mitzva? Surely we should be first told about more down to earth mitzvos like learning Torah, wearing Tefilin and fixing a mezuza. Why put what is arguablythe most difficult mitzva first?

In Parshas Vayishlach we read of one the most upsetting episodes of the Chumash—the violation and abduction of Dina the daughterof Yaakov. We read how Shechem the son of Chamor was infatuated with Dina. The pasuk says that his soul clung to Dina, he loved her and wanted desperately to marry her. Thereafter negotiations began between Shechem and his family and Yaakov Ovinu and his sons whether such a marriage could be agreed by both sides. Why bring in this gruesome and distressing episode into our Rosh Hashana preparations?

Henry Smith is a politically aware citizen and he supports a particular candidate for president of his country. This candidate seems to be more capable than the rest and so, on election day he gets up and casts his vote for this candidate who is duly elected. Henry then concentrates on his own affairs and doesn’t involve himself in politics for the next four years. Another person is slightly more involved and wanting to make some kind of contribution, becomes a member of the party and pays his annual dues of $50. Another person is quite enamored by the president and becomes a donor to the party but still devotes most of his time to his own projects unconnected to politics. Another person is even more supportive; he speaks to his friends about how good the president is and why they should consider joining the party. Another person even arranges occasional evenings to bring in new supporters for the president. Another person is so supportive that he applies for a full time job in the party so that he can devote much more time to enlarging the president’s voter base. He is busy from 9.00 am to 5.00 pm working for the good of the president. Of course after 5.00 pm he is involved in other matters, sport and entertainment. Another person has largely given up other pursuits and even after 5.00 pm he spends his evenings speaking in front of large audiences in praise of the president hoping that his enthusiastic support will rub off on others. But another person still is as supportive as anyone could possibly be. He loves this president and spends all his time, all his thoughts, trying to think of ways that will increase people’s honor for the president so that other people will also begin to love and honor him. Both he and Henry Smith, come election day, support the president and cast their vote for him but there is a huge difference between the two.

When we say the Shema and accept the kingship of Hashem we can do it in a very minimal way. Yes, I agree that He is the King and I will serve Him. But we can also accept His kingship with great enthusiasm and love. We can spend our whole day keeping all the mitzvos in the best possible way. We can act in a way that others will be influenced to serve Hashem as well. Our thoughts can be so full of love for Hashem that nothing else is important to us. This is why the mitzva of loving Hashem is mentioned first, even though it is arguably the most difficult, because we are being reminded that kabolas ol Malchus Shomayim is not a static concept. We can grow in the level of our acceptance of Hashem as our King from the very minimum, to the level of loving Hashem with our heart, soul and strength and with every fibre of our being. It may not be achievable in one day but is rather a level to strive for throughout our lives.

The Mesilas Yesharim says that our aim should be that our devotion to Hashem should be at least at the level of Shechem’s love for Dina. Let us imagine that just as Shechem was busy negotiating with Yaakov for his permission to marry Dina, his friend came in and started telling him about some political news in their community. Shechem would dismiss him in a moment. “Not now,” he would shout. “I’m busy with Dina.” Another friend came in with news of a cheap offer on Egyptian horses. “Not now,” he would shout even louder, “I’m busy with Dina. Nothing else interests me.” “Is our love and devotion to Hashem as great as Shechem’s devotion to Dina at that moment?” asks the Mesilas Yesharim.

This could be our third thought as the Baal Shacharis calls out, “Hamelech.” Has our level of crowning Hashem improved since last year? Are we just card-carrying subjects of Hashem or are we loyal, active supporters? Do we turn up to crown Hashem just on Rosh Hashana or is He constantly in our thoughts? At this moment, a decision to try to love Him and honor Him even more than before, might just be the reason that Hashem will inscribe us immediately in the Book of Life.

Our Greatest Comfort

This final haftora of comfort envisages the highest possible level of simcha – rejoicing with Hashem. Sos osis B’Hashem tagel nafshi b’Elokai. (Yeshaya 61:10). I will rejoice deeply with Hashem, my soul will exult with my G-d. He has dressed me in the clothes of salvation… like a bridegroom who exalts himself with splendor, like a bride who bedecks herself with her jewelry. The imagery of profound love is used a few pasukim later: “As a bridegroom rejoices with his bride, so will Hashem rejoice with us.” (62:5)

We anticipate this formidable simcha every month when we say kiddush levana. We look forward to the time when the moon will again be an equal partner with the sun and compare this to the renewal of the close relationship between Hashem and Knesses Yisroel after the years of estrangement in golus. This is why we dance after kiddush levana as we dance at a wedding.(Rama 426:2).

During Kiddush Levana we quote Shir Hashirim: “The voice of my beloved, behold it came suddenly leaping over mountains, skipping over hills. My beloved is like a gazelle or young hart. Behold he was standing behind our wall, observing through the windows, peering through the cracks.” (2:8-9) The pasukim testify that even during golus, the connection between us and Hashem was never broken. Even when we couldn’t see Him, He was always watching over us, observing through the windows, peering through the cracks. Yeshaya also said in our haftorah(63:9), “Bechol tzorosom lo tzar – in all their troubles He was troubled. He sent messengers to save them and with love and compassion He redeemed them.”

Lemaan Tzion lo echeshe, leman Yerusholayim lo eshkot,” says Yeshaya in our haftora (62:1).For the sake of Zion I will not be silent, for the sake of Yerushalayim I will not rest.” Hashem ensured that the nations of the world would not live in peace as long as Yerusholayim was bereft of her children. The eighty years’ war for Dutch independence from Spain, the Hundred Years’ war between England and France, the two hundred and fourteen years of war between the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires, the first and second world wars and many others have regularly punctuated history. Many wars still continue in Africa and South East Asia.

Why has the golus been so long? No-one can say for sure. But the survival of the Jewish People despite the length of the golus is possibly the greatest miracle. Reb Yonason Eibeschitz famously said that the miracle of the survival of the Jews despite the golus is greater than the miracles of Yetzias Mitzrayim. In the Hagada we say that in every generation, the nations rise up to destroy us but Hashem saves us from them. What greater proof could there be that the love between Hashem and His People has never ceased? While it is not possible to interpret current events without ruach hakodesh, we see today how millions of Jews have come to live in Eretz Yisroel; so many beautiful communities of religious Jews exist and are growing. We see the words of the navi coming to life: “Old men and old women sitting in the streets of Jerusalem each with his staff in his hand because of advanced age and the streets of the city are filled with boys and girls playing.” (Zechariah 8:4-5).

Every day in times of success or failure, good health or illness, peace or troubles, we affirm our love for Hashem. Ve’ohavto es Hashem Elokecha bechol levavcho, bechol nafshecha uvechol me’odecho. We are prepared to give up our lives in loyalty to Hashem and His Torah and many have done so. Ironically our love for Hashem has deepened precisely because of the long golus and many trials and tribulations. This is because a love which is based on constant blessings is more likely to be superficial. It could well be a form of self-love. “I love G-d because He is always giving me things.” Someone with such a shallow ‘love’ of G-d will change if he is faced with difficult challenges. But we have gone through slavery in Egypt, exile in Babylon, persecutions and pogroms. We know that Hashem sometimes rebukes us, sometimes tests us. We do not always see a positive response to our tefilos. But our love of Hashem remains deep because we appreciate that “His thoughts are not our thoughts.” What He sees as good for us or what is good for the world is not necessarily within our grasp. And we remain loyal to Hashem even at the darkest moments.

This haftora of parshas Nitzavim, the last of the shiva denechemta is always read just before Rosh Hashana. Just as we prepare to accept Hashem again as our King, we are reminded by the navi of our deep and ancient connection with Hashem. Blowing the shofar reminds us of our emuna that the ingathering of the exiles will happen. Hashem, who has been caring for us for many centuries “through the cracks,” will soon be visible to us and the whole world in all His resplendent glory. “Soon,“the fear of You will be upon all peoples”. Soon, “Your people will be honored, those who fear you will be praised.” Soon,“the tzaddikim will rejoice, the yesharim will exalt and the chassidim will rejoice in song.” Soon, “all wickedness will evaporate like smoke.” Soon Yeshaya’s prophecy will be fulfilled that ”Your grain will no longer be plundered as food for our enemies and strangers will no longer drink the wine which you have toiled for.”(62:8). We will be a crown of splendour in the hand of Hashem and a royal diadem in His palm. (62:3) Just as the sun will rejoice again with the renewed moon after their long estrangement, Hashem will soon rejoice with us, His loyal People, with unparalled love, as a chosson celebrates with his kalloh.. And this is our greatest comfort.