The Torah Podcast Transcript
029 Welcome To God’s World – The Goal of the High Holidays
I want to speak about Yom Kippur and the High Holidays. I’m going to bring a lot of things from Rav Shimshon Pincus. He explains that Yom Kippur is really just one holiday within a unit of four holidays. We have Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Shemini Atzeres or what we call Simchas Torah. These four holidays are a unit that work together. The question is – where are these four holidays taking us? What’s the destination of these holidays? What are we supposed to gain from these holidays? How are we going to feel different after the holidays?
We know the holidays conclude with Sukkos and Simchas Torah. What happened during this period? One thing that was happening was called the Simchas Beit Shoeva. This is a time when they used to draw water over the mizbeach, altar, and there used to be tremendous happiness at this time. The Gemara says, “Someone who never saw the Simchas Beit Shoeva never saw happiness in his life.” What’s the word shoev? Shoev means to draw. Chazal learns out, shoev, draw out what? Ruach hakodesh. At this point in time the Jews were able to reach a level of happiness that it would give them ruach hakodesh – nevuah, prophesy – a tremendous deveikus, connection, to the Creator of the Universe. It was standing next to a spring of water where you were able to just draw the water out simply and easily. It was easy to be close to the Creator, and you felt it.
The possuk in Yeshayahu says, “And you shall draw water in gladness.” After all the work we did on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, we become very close to God. It’s very easy to feel close to Him as you get the simcha, and even reach levels of ruach hakodesh – a spiritual experience at a very high level. We know that during the year it’s very difficult to reach high levels of spirituality. You can sit in front of a Gemara with blood, sweat and tears, work hard in learning, or davening, prayer; open a siddur, prayer book. It’s difficult to daven. But this time of year after all the hard work we did on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the Gates of Heaven open up for us. This is the goal in the end of all the holidays. The question is; what we need to do now before Yom Kippur, to get to these levels? We need to do the work now and later we have the siata d’Shamaya, the help from Heaven.
We think about doing teshuva, we think about repenting and we think about certain particulars in our life. We have to change this detail and that detail. Sometimes a guy has a hard time getting out of bed. Sometimes a guy can’t sit and learn. People have a hard time davening, praying. We think about changing these things, but what happens? Every year we think about changing them, and at the end of the year nothing changed. But really it’s not right. It’s not okay that for 30 years a person doesn’t get up for the minyan, prayers on time. Or for 30 years a person doesn’t daven properly. Really, we have to take it into our hands and do a real change, do something about it. The truth is, if we do something about it, we’re going to get to very high levels. When we get to Simchas Torah and we get to Sukkos, the payoff is going to be great. It will be like opening a faucet and a whole gush of water is going to come out. It’s worth it to do the work now. We know that the work is focused on accepting God’s kingship; accepting God as the King. That’s what we do on Rosh Hashana, and that’s the teshuva we need to do for Yom Kippur, that it becomes real to us.
The Gemara in Rosh Hashana says, “Make me a King over you, so that your remembrance shall ascend for the good.” How? Through the shofar, the ram’s horn. When we blow the shofar, that is the wake-up call that we should become servants to the King. God is the King, he’s the one running the world, and we have to serve him. But it’s not a negative thing that we’re servants. Chazal tells us, the Yalkut Shemoni says, “The servant of a King is a King.” God’s going to bring us into His house, into His world. Those who serve God on the highest level of humanity – the servant of a King is a King.” The question is, how do we accept this ol malchus shamayim upon ourselves? How do we accept God’s Kingship on ourselves? In Judaism, really there is a microcosm to Rosh Hashana. What? Shabbos. Shabbos is the seventh day of the week, and it’s symbolized by the aspect of malchus, which is God’s Kingship. Rosh Hashana is the beginning of the seventh month, so there’s a connection between the two.
The Gemara in Shabbos tells us that anyone who partakes in the delights of Shabbos will merit an unbounded estate. He will have tremendous blessing, mekor habracha. We know Shabbos is the mekor habracha – the source of all blessing. So too, Rosh Hashana which is the seventh month, it’s the source of all blessings for the entire year. Shabbos is the source of blessings for the entire week. But Rav Pinchus explains that even though we do have tremendous honor for the High Holidays – Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, we’re lacking in the honor of Shabbos. He says, “The less religious people they come to shul on Yom Kippur and on Rosh Hashana. They sit in the back and they don’t really know what’s going on.” He says, “We’re like that when it comes to Shabbos. We don’t really appreciate the Shabbos davening, and the blessings that are coming into the world on Shabbos.” So, we see that Rosh Hashana and Shabbos are intertwined – they’re two similar concepts. I want to expand on this.
The Gemara in Berachos 58A says like this. “The Kingdom of Heaven resembles the Kingdom on Earth,” which means what? What we see in the world, when we see a kingdom, that’s similar to the Kingdom in Heaven. There are many Kingdoms in the history of the world – you had the Persian Kingdom, the Greek Kingdom, the Midian Kingdom. Each one had its own culture. “Not only that,” the Rambam says, “But the King himself is an influence on the entire Kingdom.” In other words, the Kingdom goes after the King. But each King and each Kingdom is different. Each nation is different. For example, Chinese people, you see a person who is Chinese. You can see on him that he’s from the Chinese nation. An American you see as an American, a French is a French. A Jew should be in the Jewish kingdom. What does it mean, ‘to be in the Jewish kingdom?’ Each Kingdom has its own way of thinking, its own food, its own language, its own clothes, its own personality type. We see that in the world. When you travel from Germany into Italy, you go down through Austria, you see the change. There’s the German people, and the Italian people – their own food, clothes, way of talking, language, styles. There’s a difference in each Kingdom, but not only that, if you go to the government offices, if you go into the castles of each Kingdom, it’s emphasized even more. It’s like a country within a country. The culture is emphasized within the castle. The dress code is even more special. The way the castle looks is even more unique to its special Kingdom, and that’s because inside the castle you’re really standing close to the King. So, the people within the castle are representing the King. The government represents the King. The whole world knows this.
There was a case in the last Olympics I believe, that one of the Chinese representatives, one of the Chinese athletes came without a tie, and he had won. They disqualified him – he came without a tie. Why? He represented the Chinese people, and he came without a tie so they disqualified him. The world understands that the country is represented by the etiquette and the clothes and the food of its country. So now, imagine if we would go to the Temple, the Beis haMigdash, when it was built. We would see the representation of God’s Kingdom here on earth. Imagine the beauty, the grandeur. We’d see the pure Cohanim with their pure faces, and the korbanos, the sacrifices being brought. And all the tahara, everything had to be be’tahara, bekedusha, in purity. If there wasn’t purity in the Beis haMigdash, people would be chayav kores, they would be cut off from God. But it’s like a country within a country, within Yerushalayim you had the Beis haMigdash. And this encompassed the entire lives of the people that served there, for example the Cohanim, they had to wear priestly garments. They had special garments, and they ate korbanos, they ate special sacrifices. Every detail of their life was beyond recognition of what was going on outside the Beis haMigdash, because the Beis haMigdash was on a higher level than the rest of the world.
The same thing by Shabbos; Shabbos, we’re supposed to wear different clothes. We eat different food. Everything’s supposed to be different. Even if now you go to Amsterdam, you go to London, but if you go to the religious section on Shabbos you will pass through, you would feel something different. The people dress differently, act differently, talk differently. It’s Shabbos. It’s like crossing borders into a different country, if all of a sudden you’re walking in one part of New York and you walk through Brooklyn on Shabbos, you feel like you’re in a different country. Chazal tells us your speech on Shabbos should not be like your speech during the week. You’re supposed to talk differently. Chazal tells us that the idea of malchus, of kingship, is an entire partzuf, it’s an entire system. It takes over every detail of the place. The Gemara in Gittin on 8A said that “Rome was an improper Kingdom.” Why? Because Rome did not have its own language. It had Latin, but that crossed a couple of countries. They didn’t have their own language, so they were an improper Kingdom. The Kingdom has to take over the entire details of the place. Therefore, in the Beis haMigdash we had all the details of the Torah happening there, and on Shabbos also. What was the benefit of this? It was the mekor haberacha. Shabbos is the blessings of the entire week. The Beis haMigdash brought the blessings to the entire world. Why? Because they take on all the rules of the Heavenly Kingdom and from there comes the blessing.
That brings us back to Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. It doesn’t mean just to do teshuva, to repent on one particular detail here and there. No – it means an entire shift in lifestyle. It means a different life plan, different life goals. It means entering into the world of Torah, into the world of Judaism, of Yiddishkeit. It’s like going into a new country, and this is what it means, “To accept the Kingdom of Heaven” on us. We have to accept malchus shamayim which means, every single aspect of our life has to be towards the goal of serving God. It’s not just one little particular thing here and there. It’s the way we dress, it’s the way we eat, it’s the way we think, it’s the way we look. It’s all the details of our life. That’s what brings the blessing for the entire year, just like by Shabbos and Beis haMigdash, the same thing. The Rambam explains what it means when he’s explaining, “To accept the kingdom of Heaven – awake from your sleep, from your slumber.” Wake up. It’s like we’re sleeping. We’re living in an illusion. We’re living in the wrong world. We have to wake up into the world of Torah, the world of mitzvos, the world of malchus shemayim, of the Heavenly Kingdom, because the true world, the world that Hashem wants from us and from the Jews, is a world of kedusha, of holiness; tahara, purity, praying, learning. What’s going to come out of that? Ruach hakodesh, blessings; prophesy; tremendous spiritual levels. And now is the time to do it. Now is the mekor haberacha. Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, and if we do that, on Sukkos we can reach levels of ruach hakodesh. When a person is standing before the King, his whole life is focused on the King, on the Kingship, on the spreading of the Kingship; which means he went into a different world. He left the physical world and went into the world of spirituality. But for most of us, the High Holidays are a nightmare. Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, how difficult they are. How hard it is to pray, to stay in shul, synagogue for so long. How can we do it? But that’s because we’re living in two worlds, so it’s difficult. Once a person totally accepts upon himself, the prayers become easy. The time flows by. It becomes enjoyable, living the religious life is a pleasure. The problem is not how much we learn or how much we pray, the problem is that we’re simply living in a different world. This is a time to make the jump into the world of Torah and Yiddishkeit. And this is what’s going to bring the blessings for the entire year.
The possuk in Yeshayahu says, “A great shofar will be blown.” Some meforshim, commentaries explain that means, talking about techias hameysim, at the time of the revival of the dead. The concept is, every Jew lo aleynu, has to die and be revived and come back into the world of living again, a second time. What happens? The person dies. Completely deteriorates, they’re gone. And then they come back. It’s the same thing with Rosh Hashana. It’s like we’re leaving the physical world and we’re going into the spiritual world. And that’s what Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is about. That’s the teshuva. The teshuva is to enter into a new world, and that’s what’s going to bring all the success and the blessing into our lives. But there’s another aspect of living in God’s Kingdom. Rav Chatzkel explains, “The possuk says, ‘Asyrian will not save us. We will not ride upon horses, and we will no longer say our hands are our God’s. For it is with You the orphan finds mercy.’” Part of living in God’s Kingdom means that we really believe that God’s going to take care of us. The servant of a King is a King. If we’re God’s servants, and we live in God’s world, then we live in God’s castle, so of course God’s going to take care of us. That’s also part of the teshuva, that’s also part of entering into God’s world, is to realize that our hands are not our Gods. We have to admit that God is the King, and we’re in His Kingdom, not our own world with our own rules and our own hands, and everything we have to do ourselves. This is the teshuva we need to do. We have to really admit that it’s up to God.
Many people are chozer b’teshuva, come back to God – when? When they reach a point in their life where they become helpless. There’s nothing else they can do; at which point, they start to pray. Part of entering into God’s world is accepting that He’s taking care of us. That’s having real faith. This is the teshuva, the coming back we need to do on Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is the biggest blessing in the entire year. You are supposed to be happy for Yom Kippur. And if you go in with a full heart totally, not one foot in and one foot out, you will have an entirely different experience on Yom Kippur. The time will fly by. It will be a happy experience. It will be a very spiritual experience. I’d like to give everybody a blessing that they take this advice and accept upon themselves the ol malchus shemayim, the Kingship of God, and they go in with a full heart. And they’ll have mekor haberacha, they’ll have the blessings for the entire year. And they and their families will be blessed. The whole world will be blessed. Everyone should have a Gmar Chatima Tova.
A Powerful Parable
The Chofetz Chaim has a wonderful parable. He says, “One time a man met his friend in the street. He hasn’t seen him for a while. He says, ‘How are you doing?’ He says, ‘I’m not doing so well. I’m very sick.’ He says, ‘What do you have?’ He says, ‘I suffer from fever.’ His friend says to him, ‘You don’t really look like you have fever right now.’ He says, ‘You know, in a way you’re right. I don’t have a temperature right now.’ ‘So, what are you so worried about? What do you mean, you’re sick?’ He says, ‘You know what happens to me? I have no temperature, and all of sudden, pitom, I get a temperature. Then I have to go back to my bed, and I’m in pain. It lasts a couple of days, then I get better again. But it keeps coming and going. So, even now today when I feel fine, I’m still a sick man. I never know when the temperature is going to come.’”
The Chofetz Chaim explains like this. He says, “Spiritually speaking, there are some days we are very healthy. But what happens? Sometimes we slide back. We grow careless, we start doing nonsense. That means that really our sickness is lying dormant. We never know when the next chance is going to come, that it’s going to flare up. That’s why the possuk in Devarim 31:13 says, ‘And their children who do not know, they shall hear and they shall learn to fear Hashem your God, all the days that you live on the land.’ In other words, God is commanding us that all the time we should be spiritually healthy. It shouldn’t be one day like this and one day like that. Rather, we should worship Hashem all of our days and with all of our heart. Rachmana liba boi, Hashem wants our hearts. This way, we’ll be spiritually healthy.”
Great Stories – Chofetz Chaim
I want to tell a story about the Chofetz Chaim. The Chofetz Chaim said that a person should not rely on his children to say kaddish, the mourners’ prayer for him, after he leaves this world. The best thing to do is that he should study and learn himself, that he should be prepared with his own merits.
There is a story like this. One time a very rich man came to the Chofetz Chaim, to show him his will. His financial estate was worth 40,000 rubles. He gave 10,000 rubles to his wife and 30,000 rubles to his children. His other things, he had an extensive library, he gave that to a yeshiva. The Chofetz Chaim saw the will and he looks at it. He gives it back to him. “I want you to look at it again. I think you made a mistake.” The man looks at it. He doesn’t understand. “It looks fine,” he says to the Chofetz Chaim. “It appears fine.” The Chofetz Chaim says, “Maybe you should do it a little bit differently. The yeshiva doesn’t really need books. Most yeshivas have books. They need money. On the other hand, your children do need books. You should leave books to your children that they should learn. Secondly, I see you’re over a l’av, transgression. You’re over on a negative commandment. It says, ‘And your own flesh and blood do not turn a blind eye.’ The Gemara says that a person is related to himself. He said, ‘What about you? Where are you in the picture? Didn’t you leave anything for yourself? Aren’t you as worthy as one of your sons?” The man says, “What do you mean?” He says, “You should take a portion for yourself, and you should divide it. You should give half of it for Torah study, to help people learn Torah, and half of it to charity to help the poor. This way, it’s like you took a portion for yourself.” The man says, “Okay, that sounds like a good idea.” What he did is, he made five shares and he made it into 8,000 rubles each. The Chofetz Chaim gave a little bit more advice. He said, “That’s good. But you know what? Your share, you should still give while you are alive. You know why? Because what happens after a person dies? In a will like this when you start to leave things to charity, the children get all upset. They get lawyers, and they want to say that you were out of your mind. It will wind up that the money will never go to charity. This way, you should give it now while you’re still alive.”
Peace in Your Home
Rav Nachman Diament explains about stigmas and subjectivity in a marriage. He explains that what happens is, each person thinks he is totally right. They don’t see the fault in their reasoning when it comes to their wives or their husbands. They always set things that it comes out convenient and better for them.
He gave an example of one man saying, “Oh, my wife’s family, they’re always butting in. She tells them every little detail, she tells them everything. They’re ruining my life.” He says back to him, “But you told me that you asked your brother about this, and you asked your father about that.” He said, “No, my family doesn’t mix in. They’re just offering their opinions.” When it came to himself, he looks at his family butting in as just offering their opinions. But when it comes to his wife, no – they’re butting in and they’re ruining his marriage.
He says a famous joke, like this. There was once a case where a woman married off both a son and a daughter. Her friend asked her, “How are your children doing?” She says, “Oh, my son, he’s such a nebbach, he’s a slave to his wife. He has to bring her every day a glass of tea in bed, and warm her clothes on the radiator before she gets dressed.” She said, “How’s your daughter doing?” “Well, she’s doing amazing. She’s a real success. Every day, her husband brings her a glass of tea to her bed, and warms her clothes on the radiator.”
He brings a real life example of a mother who had a daughter and son, the same kind of thing. The daughter’s husband used to constantly travel and leave her alone, and she was complaining about her son-in-law, how he leaves her daughter alone along with four children, all the time. Her friend says to her, “But doesn’t your son also travel?” She says, “Yeah, he travels, but he has eight children. At least his wife is not alone.” You see how crooked people’s thinking could be when it comes to their own preferences. Sometimes a husband and wife don’t see any good quality in the other. He says, “It’s impossible. How can it be? I don’t understand, how can a person not see any good quality in another person?” We know for example, if there’s a Beis Din, if there’s a Court, and they all judge this person should be killed, so we don’t kill him. But if one of the judges finds a reason not to kill the guy, then we will kill him, because the majority said to kill. There is no way that everybody could be thinking in the same way. So, how can it be when it comes to a husband and wife, they have a complete view of them that’s absolute, and they don’t have any space to see their good qualities?
He says, what he does when he counsels, is he writes down any good qualities that the person’s said about them during the counseling. When it comes later and they say, “I can’t see any good qualities in my wife or my husband,” he brings out his notebook and says, “Yeah, but you’ve said this and this about them.” The question is; what’s happening here? Are people liars? The answer is no, it’s called a stigma. Once a person gets a stigma about somebody else, they cannot see past it.
He tells a story about one of his roommates when he was in Yeshiva who got engaged. The couple used to send letters to each other, because back then 40 or 50 years ago in Eretz Yisroel the telephone system was not good so they used to send letters to each other. He used to complain, he used to feel so bad every time he got a letter, he said, “She’s so cold, I don’t understand how she could write these letters. I’m spending so much time writing letters with such detail. I revise them, I express my emotions, and she’s so cold to me in these letters. I don’t understand,” and he felt horrible.
What happened? Everything worked out. They got married and a year later, they were going to read the letters that they used to send to each other. The boy said he started to read the letter. He couldn’t believe it. He didn’t notice the letters were written on such nice stationery. How is it possible I didn’t notice that? He started to read them and he said, “Oh, they’re beautiful letters. She’s expressing her emotions.” What was happening at the time? He explains what was happening at the time was, he had a feeling about her that she was cold. So, every letter that she wrote, he saw the coldness of the letter, but it was not true.
He explains, it’s like a pickpocket for example. What does a pickpocket do? He hits you on the shoulder. You feel that, and he pulls the thing out of your pocket. What happened, you didn’t feel your pocket? No, you were focused on your shoulder, so he was able to take something out of your pocket. It wasn’t like you lost feeling in your pocket. You had the feeling, but your focus was on the shoulder. The same thing with the stigma. If a person has a stigma about his wife or his husband, he’s not going to be able to see beyond that. A person gets stuck in his thinking.
He gives an example of his neighbor that wanted to buy the apartment next door. He kept thinking about the design of the apartment, and he couldn’t figure out how to get into these two rooms. Every time he started to think about those two rooms, he would get stuck and have to go back to the beginning of how the design looked. So, he took out a piece of paper and a pen, he wrote it down. He had it front of him, and he saw, “Oh, it’s really not a problem.” What happened to his thinking process? What happens is, you get stuck at a certain point and you go back to the beginning again.
He gives another example like this. He was dealing with some boys who had some emotional problems. So, he went and tried to talk to them. The ones that wouldn’t talk, he told them to write it down. Write down what you’re feeling. There was one boy who wouldn’t even write it down, so he told the boy, “Listen, you go in that room. Lock the door. Write it down, read it to yourself, and then rip up the paper. Nobody will know about it.” So, he did it. He says, “After that, the boy was able to talk.” What happened? Once the boy wrote it down on paper, read it out to himself and realized, “What’s the big deal of this problem that I’m having? This emotional problem is much smaller than I thought it was. Is this the whole thing? Why should I be so broken if this thing is smaller than I thought it was?”
A lot of fixing up the marriage and fixing up the relationship is to try to break through the stigma, try to see the other person really for who they are, and focus on their good points and bring light to those good points. What will happen is, somebody who thinks he has a tremendous problem in his marriage, if you bring light to it, you’ll see that it’s not such a big problem. Chazal tells us, “Just a little bit of light can dispel a lot of darkness.”
That’s it for this week’s podcast, I hope you enjoyed it. Please share it with your friends. And everybody should have a Gmar Chatimah Tovah.