The Torah Podcast Transcript
The Torah Podcast 110 – Why you should Love to be Judged – Finding True Value
Special Holiday Edition – Rosh Hashanah
Rav Yehezkel Levenstein tells us that Hashem’s justice is very dear to Him. He brings a Midrash in Devarim Rabba 57 that says like this, “There was one time a king who had many children. But his youngest son he loved the most. And he also had an orchard which was very dear to him. So, he says, ‘I’m going to give my precious orchard to my precious son.’ So too, Hashem says, ‘I have a special love for the Jewish people. And of all the concepts by which I govern the world, the one I love the most is justice. And therefore, I will judge the Jewish people.” He explains that righteous people are very sensitive to the implications of justice in their lives, while simple people are not. But we know that if somebody loves somebody, he’s sensitive to his values. So too, should we be sensitive to the fact that Hashem loves justice. And therefore, the righteous people do not expect that Hashem should forgive them for no reason, because that would be contrary to justice.
So, in Ellul before Rosh Hashanah, we have to come closer to the understanding of what justice is. And he says, “A person who neglects to strengthen his humble acceptance of Hashem’s justice distances himself what’s dear to God. And such neglect is considered hearsay.” Not only that, but the Midrash also says that Hashem established a special relationship between the principle of justice and the human soul. In effect, He said to us, “You guard justice and I will guard your soul.” Because the soul and justice are tied together, the more a person strengthens himself to live his life under principle of justice, the more he will merit to having a worthy soul. So, we really need to understand this concept of justice, that even though most people are running away from justice, but this is the thing that’s going to strengthen our souls.
So, Rav Pinchus explains, he says there’s a contradiction. On Rosh Hashanah we see some Chazal that tells us that we need to be happy. And we see other Chazal that tells us we need to be fearful. It’s a contradiction. He brings a Gemara in Rosh Hashana 32b that says, “Rav Abahu said, ‘The ministering angels said before Hakadosh Baruch-Hu, Master of the Universe, why don’t the Jewish people sing before you on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur?’ And Hashem answered, ‘The King is sitting on the throne of judgement, and the book of those who will live, and who will die lie open before Him. Should Yisroel be singing?’” On the other hand, the Yerushalmi says on the verse, “Who is like this great people? What nation is like this nation? Normally, when a person knows he’s going to trial he dresses in black and wraps himself in black, and lets his beard grow. But the Jewish people, they come dressed in white, and wrap themselves in white. They trim their beards and they eat and drink and are happy, because they know that Hakadosh Baruch-Hu does miracles for them.” So, what are we supposed to be on Rosh Hashanah? Are we supposed to be afraid, or are we supposed to be happy?
Also, he brings down Tehillim. One verse says, “My flesh stiffened from dread because of You, because I feared Your judgements.” And another verse says, “Let the heavens rejoice and the earth be glad. Let the sea and all that is in it roar before Hashem, for He has come to judge the earth.” Dovid HaMelech is telling us that when Hashem comes to judge us, we should be happy that all the world’s creatures express great joy. So, how do you put these two things together?
So, we know there are three foundations on Rosh Hashanah. The first one is malchios, that we should make Hashem the king, zichronos, that Hashem remembers everything, and shofaros, the blowing of the shofar. So, he brings down the possuk in Tehillim that says, “What is a human that you should remember him, and a man that you should recall him? When God was about to create man the angels said, ‘Don’t do it. What’s the point? What desire does it have? Why should you care about man’s actions?” He says, “It’s like people say, ‘I care about that like I care about last year’s snow. Last year’s rain, do I care about it now? The grass from last year, does it mean anything to me? Also, man’s actions, what meaning does it have? What meaning does man’s actions have that Hashem should remember them?” He says, “It’s like when a boy first puts on tefillin, phylacteries. So, the first day when a boy puts on tefillin it’s a very special day, and everybody’s excited, and happy about it. But a year or two later it’s normal. You have to remember that he put on his tefillin, and you have to make a big deal about it?” Why does Hashem care about our actions?
So, the answer is, aino chinami, man’s actions would have no value unless Hashem gave them value. They would be like the fish in the sea. He would forget them. The fact that Hashem remembers all of our actions, that’s what gives them value. And the fact that Hashem remembers man’s actions, that’s what gives them eternity. And this is why one of the foundations of Rosh Hashana is zichronos, remembrance. Hashem cares about our deeds, Hashem remembers our deeds. He keeps them for eternity. And this remembrance is what reveals that Hashem is the Master of the Universe. When our deeds are written down for eternity, our good deeds will show yes, there is a Creator. Man recognized God. These deeds are there. Can you see what the man is doing? He’s doing those things because there’s a God in the world. That’s what brings the malchus, Hashem’s kingship into the world. And this is what brings us joy on Rosh Hashanah, the fact that our deeds have value and Hashem cares about them. If not, our deeds will be just like the deeds of animals, that nobody remembers. Our tefillah, our prayers would be like last year’s grass that passed away, that’s gone. But no, Hashem keeps it in front of him. He remembers everything. That’s what gives it the value, and that’s what gives us the happiness to understand that we have value. And therefore, it’s Hashem’s judgment, it’s Hashem’s looking at our deeds that gives us happiness, that gives us value. Baruch Hashem, Hashem cares about what we do.
And he brings a moshul, he says like this. Let’s say a person was told to hold the royal crown, and on the day of the king’s coronation, you are going to place the crown on the king’s head. But you should know, even though this is a tremendous kavod, if you make one wrong move you’re finished, because the whole world is watching. The same thing on Rosh Hashanah. Our deeds have value, and because they have value, that’s what should give us the fear. So, the same factor which is true value, the fact that Hashem values our deeds, should also give us tremendous fear because we don’t do the right thing, oy vavoy. And this is what zichronos is telling us on Rosh Hashanah, our deeds are eternal, be careful what you do. If you do good deeds it’s going to be your greatest glory. On the other hand, if you do bad deeds it’s going to be the greatest embarrassment. So, of course we have mixed feelings. Our life is a performance for eternity, and in the end, everything will be revealed. It’s like lehavdil, you have to sing the national anthem at the Super Bowl in front of millions of people, how would you feel? So, on one side you’re very excited. Wow, this is tremendous. On the other side you’re scared for your life. So, this is the answer to the question of why Hashem loves justice, because justice itself gives value. Justice is what gives meaning to man. But it also means we have to shape ourselves up. We have to fit into the form and the protocol of what it means to be a Torah true Jew. If we don’t act properly it’s an embarrassment. And this is why it’s so important how a Jew acts, and how a Jewish girl dresses, and how a Jewish man behaves. All these things have meaning because God gives them meaning.
I want to quote here Rabbi Falk from Gateshead, who speaks about the modest dress of women. He brings down a Mesillas Yesharim that says, “To wear tznius clothes means to wear clothes that are dignified and not showy.” So, modesty means to be dignified, to act in a dignified manner. And that’s why we call Jewish girls bas melachim. They are a princess. Every Jewish girl is a princess, and now we have a new definition of what it means to be tznius, to be modest. It’s not just a question of being uncovered. Being uncovered, that’s called pritzus, which means doing things that are forbidden, showing parts of the body which are not supposed to be seen. But the problem is, that since a girl says, “Listen, I’m covered up, what do you want from me? Isn’t that what Hashem wants?” The answer is, “No. Hashem wants more. He wants a positive quality, the positive quality of modesty, of dignity, of dressing in a way that shows yes, there’s a God in the world. And I’m going according to God.” He says, “Tznius is manifested by a positive nobility of character, truly refined behavior, and appreciation for the grateful, dignified and modest form of dress,” which he explains is the opposite of casual. Dressing down, let’s be casual. And casual translates into that things don’t have any value. “It doesn’t matter, what’s the big deal. What are you so uptight about? Why do I have to wear a white shirt and black hat, who wears a black hat anymore? Forget about it, let me dress casual, let me go out with flip flops. A man can wear shorts, what’s the issur in that? There’s nothing forbidden about that. Why do I have to dress like a religious person?” The answer is, that when you dress that way you are acting like you’re not in front of the king, the Master of the Universe.
And the chiddush, novel idea, is by doing that, you’re actually moving the value of your own life, because the only thing that really gives value to our lives is the fact that Hashem gives it value. Hashem is telling us, “I’m looking at you. I’m looking at how you act. I’m looking if you behave as if you’re before Me. Do you recognize me, I’m here. Do you recognize Me?” And therefore, it’s like a soldier who shows up with a uniform with a different color. He changed a little thing on his uniform, and now they’re going to march in front of all the generals and the president. If somebody sees that soldier with even a small change on his uniform, it shows such a lack of respect. What is he doing? He’s not giving honor to his country, to his president, to his generals. He says, “What’s the big deal? I just changed my uniform a little bit, I changed the color, I tie-dyed this little section over here. What’s the problem?” So, they say to him, “Don’t you see that if you don’t follow the protocol, you don’t follow the rules, you don’t line up to give kavod, to give honor to something greater than yourself, it’s an embarrassment.”
And therefore, the teshuva that we need to do before Rosh Hashana is to perfect our deeds, look in the Shulchan Aruch. What does Hashem want from me? How should I dress? How should I eat? What beracha do I say? Which blessing do I say before, which blessing do I say afterwards? What am I supposed to do with my day, what am I supposed to do with my life? What does Hashem want me to do, because everything you do is going to be judged, and it’s going to be there forever, for eternity. And if your actions don’t line up with the King of the Universe, it is so embarrassing. But on the other hand, it’s only because Hashem gives our deeds value. If our deeds had no value, what’s the difference? A fish swims in the ocean, the grass grows, so what? Nobody’s paying attention.
And the Maharal brings down the Gemara Nidda 35 that says like this. “Rebbe Sivla said, ‘How does an embryo appear in the womb?” One of the things he answered was, “The baby is positioned like a pinkas, a notebook, folded over. A baby in the womb is like a notebook that’s folded over.” So, the Maharal explains he says, “Because the essence of man, more than animals, is only because of the fact that he’s like a pinkas, like a notebook.” Because, what do we write in a notebook? How much you owe, and how much is owed to you. And in this notebook, they write down what man owes God because of his sins, and what God owes man because of his mitzvos, which is not true by an animal, because an animal doesn’t have any reward or punishment. And he brings down the Perkei Avos that says, “If a man doesn’t want to do an averah he should look on three things. One of them is, kol masecha besefer nichtavim, everything that you do is written down in the book. And which book is this? “The book is you,” he says. “It’s man himself. His own actions show exactly where he’s holding. And this is only true by man.”
So, this is what we need to do before Rosh Hashanah, we have to realize that our actions have value. Get rid of this headspace called “casual.” Casual is the antithesis of Torah. Torah is professional. Torah is serious. It’s for experts. It’s greater than the Olympics, it’s the spiritual Olympics, it’s your life. So, know that your life has value. And this is going to produce the two emotions that you need on Rosh Hashanah – happiness and fear. Happiness because God cares about you, and fear because you really do have value, and what you do really does make a difference.
Okay, that’s it for this week’s Torah podcast. Please share it with your friends, and please leave comments. And everybody should have a Shana Tova u’metukah, a wonderful, sweet year.
Rabbi Eliyahu Mitterhoff
Stephan Sundkvist says
It is really important, not to say most essential with justice. Not only to us as persons, but to the whole society and the whole world, which will echo through the World to Come.
Far too many today, do not realize that the law and the soul are part of each other. One cannot separate them without violating the fundaments of the creation.
Of course, it is also a serious thing that we are before the throne of the Judge, G-d Almighty, every day every moment of our life, and everything we do, think, or intend to do, is recorded in the books of our life.
This gives, however, also importance and meaning to our lives. And happiness, as we by doing the mitzos get closer to the Creator of the universe. And we also become happy as we wait for the “Promised Land”, Olam Ha-Ba.
Law and order are also important to imprint in our life, our true identity as the children of G-d. Every land has its protocols, so has Heaven. We dress, we eat, we behave due to our spiritual identity. We are not to stick out as individuals free from our common identity. It is not about our own vanity and importance, but to fulfill our duty to Him who has created us according to His will, and for a special perpose.
May, Hashem give us understanding and wisdom to fulfil these duties with happiness and joy, giving glory to Him that reigns for ever and ever.