The Torah Podcast Transcript
111 – Boundless Change – Reinvent yourself on Rosh Hashanahh
Special Holiday Edition
I want to discuss a piece on Rosh Hashanahh that was written by Rav Shimshon Dovid Pincus. He says like this. He brings the Tur who quotes his brother, that Pesach, Shavuos and Sukkos correspond to Avraham, Yitzhak and Yaakov. And not only that, but the Pesak Eliyahu says, “The middos themselves correspond to different parts of the body.” So, based upon this he asks, “What’s Rosh Hashanahh?” We know Rosh Hashanah is the rosh, it corresponds to the head. It’s the head of the year, it’s the beginning. So he wants to explain that the head is very, very different than the rest of the body. The rest of the body is much more limited. How far can your feet and your legs extend, and how far can your walk? But the powers of the head are much different. You can smell things from far away, you can hear things from even further away. You can see things from a great, great distance. And surely, your thoughts are totally unlimited. You can think in an unlimited way if you wanted to. You could think about whatever you want. And not only that, but your thoughts can actually reach the kisay hakavod of Hashem, the throne of Hashem.
The Rambam says, “A person who directs his thoughts to Hashem is actually attached to Hashem at that time. When a person thinks about Hashem, he’s connected with Hashem.” That’s how far your thoughts can go. So, he wants to explain, “So too, Rosh Hashanahh as compared to the rest of the year. Rosh Hashanahh, your power is much greater than any other day during the year. There’s no comparison. Why? Because just like a person’s mind is unlimited, also on Rosh Hashanahh, our capabilities are unlimited. We can do things that we’re not capable to do during the rest of the year, and that’s because on Rosh Hashanahh the world was created. Really, the world was created on 25th Ellul, but since man was created on Rosh Hashanahh and he’s the pinnacle, he is the purpose of creation, we say that the world was created on Rosh Hashanahh, and this is where man’s power is at the time of his creation. Because before the chet of Adam HaRishon, it says that man spanned from one end of the universe to the other. His wisdom was expansive, and because of that, his sin destroyed the entire world. And if he wouldn’t have done this sin, it would have rectified the entire world. Man had tremendous power on the day of his creation, which was Rosh Hashanahh. And so too, us. On Rosh Hashanahh we have the ability to destroy the world, or we have the ability to build the world. And it’s really only on Rosh Hashanahh that we the ability at all to be judged. It’s because Hashem gives us special strength on Rosh Hashanahh, so we also have the ability to stand in judgement.
And when we blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanahh, Chazal tells us that Hakadosh Baruch Hu rises from the throne of judgment and seats Himself on the throne of mercy. It’s as if we, through our blowing of the shofar, we cause Hashem to sit on His throne of mercy. And that’s the power Hashem gave us on Rosh Hashanahh.
So, now he brings a Gemara in Shabbos 133B that says, “Ma hu a fata,” just like Hashem is gracious and merciful, so too we should be gracious and merciful. We should follow in the footsteps of God, and we have to try with the best of our ability, to go in God’s ways.” But the Rambam explains, “There are certain things that are unique to God, and only God. First of all, God can create yeish me ayin. When Hashem made the creation on Rosh Hashanahh, when He made the creation, He created it out of nothing. There was nothing before, and Hashem made the creation out of nothing. Man doesn’t have that capability. Our capabilities are to deal with what we have, and we can make new things but we can’t make something out of nothing.
And secondly, Hashem can make things that are infinite. Man doesn’t have the capability to make something that’s infinite. Everything that man does is limited. And it’s like the Gemara Bava Metzia 38B that says, “You cannot pull an elephant through the eye of a needle.” It’s impossible. There are certain things that man cannot do. We’re limited by the physical world. But there is one day during the year where these rules don’t apply, and that day is Rosh Hashanah. He brings the Gemara on Rosh Hashanah 10B that says, “What was the day that Sarah Imenu was blessed to have a child? That day was on Rosh Hashanah. On Rosh Hashanah, Hashem can change all the rules. On Rosh Hashanah there’s no limitations. On Rosh Hashanah, you can have yeish me ayin, you could have things that are created out of nothing. Just like the world is created out of nothing, every year it comes around again.” He wants to explain that if a person feels that they’re lacking yirat shemayim, they’re lacking the fear of God, on Rosh Hashanah they can gain that capability. If they feel they can’t learn, they’re not so smart if they want, they can gain new capabilities. If they feel they’re not emotionally connected, they’re not connected with religion, they don’t have religious feelings, but if they ask for these things in order to serve God, they can get them. Yeish me ayin, new creations could be created on Rosh Hashanah if we want them, if we desire for them, and if we ask for them for the service of God – we want these things in order to serve God, Hashem could give us new and unfounded capabilities.
And we also see this capability from the shalosh esrei middos, the 13 attributes of mercy which Hashem has on Rosh Hashanah. Hashem has mercy on us. We see that these attributes can break any limitations. He brings a Gemara from Shabbos 88B that says, “Wretched is the bride who acts unfaithfully at the time of her marriage.” That was a moshul of the Jewish people who did the chet ha egel where they’re receiving the Torah. It’s like a woman cheating at her own chuppa, marriage canopy. There’s no excuse for such a thing. There’s no way out. What could she possibly say? And even though the Gemara in Sota says of a wife who is unfaithful to her husband. It says there in the Mishna, “Wine does a lot. Joking around does a lot. Youth does a lot. Bad neighbors does a lot.” In other words, they want her to admit that she cheated. There is a reason, obviously morally there’s no reason. But you could put the blame on something, even though it’s unfounded. But here, there’s nothing to put the blame on. If a woman cheated at her own chuppa, what could she possibly say? So, that was like the sin of the Golden Calf, the Jewish people had no excuse. How were they saved? They were saved by the 13 attributes of mercy. Hashem had mercy on them.
The Kuzari explains that the reason why it was considered such a great sin is because the Jews were on such a high level. Came along Hashem with the 13 middos of mercy, and He forgave the Jewish people. Like Chazal says, “A covenant was established with the yud gimmel middos of rachamim, and they will not be unanswered.” So, a covenant means bris. There’s a bris between the Jewish people and Hashem, and a bris means no conditions. No matter what happens, it can never be broken.
And the Gemara in Shabbos 55A says that the merit of the Avos ran out. And Tosefos says there, Rabbeinu Tam says, “Maybe the merits of the Avos ran out, but the covenant of the Avos didn’t run out, because there’s a bris and a bris lasts forever. A bris is based on rachamim. So, even al pi teva, even though the nature is that a person should be punished, even though the nature is that a person is limited, if there’s a bris it’s unlimited. Hashem breaks all the rules. And where do we see this bris? We see it on Rosh Hashanah, because that was the creation of the world. It says, the possuk says, “Olam chessed yibaneh,” the world was built on kindness, on rachamim. And since the whole world was built on chessed, Hashem can change things. And when does He do that? On Rosh Hashanah. That’s the day we have the capability to go beyond our limitations.
So, he asks, “If that’s true, why people don’t change on Rosh Hashanah?” The answer is, “We don’t believe we can change.” But if we believed we could change, we would change. On Rosh Hashanah we’re given unlimited power. Just like the head, the rosh, the rosh has the ability to go beyond limitations, to think beyond, to recreate ourselves, how are we going to recreate ourselves on Rosh Hashanah, to redefine ourselves, to reinvent ourselves? Who do we want to be? Whoever we want to be, we have the capability to be that person on Rosh Hashanah, to move to new levels, and to gain capabilities that we didn’t have before, that we weren’t given al pi teva, we weren’t naturally given capabilities. But here on Rosh Hashanah, we have the ability to go beyond, to function on the highest level.
The Zohar says, “You’re not supposed to pray for individual needs, because then you’re like a dog that says ‘Chav, chav,’ he wants something. He always wants to take something.” But here, you’re praying and your desire is to serve God. It’s le shem shemayim, so of course God will give you new capabilities if you really want them, if you desire them, and if you believe that you can get them. And that’s what it says in tashlich, we ask for all these things that we need in order to serve You, in order to do Your will, God. We need things, obviously we need parnassah, we need health, we need all the good things that life has to offer. If we’re doing it le shem shemayim, Hashem will give it to us. But we have to want these things.
Rav Chatzkel brings Rav Yisroel Salanter, the famous Yisroel Salanter that says, “If a person missed a tefillah,…” he missed a davening, he didn’t concentrate. “Does he feel the same way as if he lost some money? Or a person didn’t learn so well, does he feel like he lost a good meal? Or no, it doesn’t matter to him. If it doesn’t matter, obviously Hashem’s not going to give it to you. But if it does matter, if you care about it, Hashem will give it to you.” Chazal says, “Every year which is poor at the opening will be reach in the end.” What does poor mean? Poor in spirit. We have to feel, Hashem, help us. We’re not spiritual enough. We don’t have the right desires, we don’t have the right values. But we want them. Please Hashem, put in my heart the right values, the right desires. Open me up to a new world of spirituality. Let me see Your ways, let me understand. If a person wants to do teshuva he has to seek judgement. He has to take a clear look at himself. He has to look at who he is in order to become who he wants to be. If he doesn’t even know who he is, so of course he’s not going to change.
But the scary part of this whole story is that just like things are now in a potential state where anything goes, it could also work in the negative. The future does not equal the past in the positive, but also in the negative. Who says all the things you have now are going to continue? Who says the world is now in a state of fluidity, things are changing. Rosh Hashanah is a time of change, where anything can go. So, maybe you could lose what you had, and maybe you could gain what you don’t have. But you have to be scared. A person has to have yirat shemayim. He has to know his yom ha din, it’s a day of judgement. The day of judgement is fearful. We don’t know what’s going to be in the positive and in the negative.
The Rambam says like this, “There’s important symbolism in the shofar, the piercing sound is intended to awaken the sleeping conscience.” We’re supposed to awake and realize, nothing is fixed. Nothing is stable. Life is not stable, and especially on Rosh Hashanah. On Rosh Hashanah anything goes.
And Rav Chatzkel explains, “To be awakened from the sleep of foolishness we must listen to the shofar and visualize gan edan and gehinnom in front of us. Heaven and hell is right there in front of us, it depends which way we go. On Rosh Hashanah anything can happen. Rav Chaztkel says, “The avoda we must perform on Rosh Hashanah is to uproot the sleep of this world from ourselves. In doing so, we joyfully and in great awe accept the absolute power of Hashem over our lives.” And this is what’s called malchius, making Hashem the melech, making Hashem the king – realizing that there is no stability, there is nothing fixed. Anything can go, and Hashem is in control. Therefore, we have to make Hashem the king and we have to realize that all the blessings, health and parnassah, and everything good, and our emotional mental health is all dependent upon God. And this is the time when it can change, and that’s what we have to do on Rosh Hashanah. We have to make Hashem the King, and therefore we will receive all the blessings.
Rabbi Eliyahu Mitterhoff