“Go eat rich foods and drink sweet beverages, and send portions to those who have nothing prepared, for today is sacred to our L-rd. Do not be sad: the enjoyment of Hashem is your strength” (Nechemiah 8:10). Seeing this isolated posuk, one would think that the novi Nechemiah was talking about one of the three regalim or perhaps Purim. Actually, this is the way he instructed the Jews to celebrate the Yom Hadin, Rosh Hashanah. Enjoyment? Happiness on this Day of Judgment?
How does this correlate with what we say in that awe-inspiring tefillah of Unesaneh Tokef, “Let us now relate the power of this day’s holiness, for it is awesome and frightening… Angels will hasten, a trembling and terror will seize them, and they will say, ‘Behold it is the Day of Judgment…’ All mankind will pass before you like members of the flock…”?
How can we enjoy a day that evokes fear and quivering? What’s more, whom was Nechamiah addressing? Survivors of the 70-year exile after the rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdosh. Amongst them were people who had been married to gentile women, mechalelei Shabbos, and transgressors of other aveiros. When they heard Ezra Hasofer reading the mitzvos of the Torah that they had violated, they started crying. To this, Nechemiah told them not to be said, but to enjoy the day. Why shouldn’t they cry if they defiled themselves by acting contrary to the will of Hashem?
In a lengthy maamar, Rav Reuven Grozovsky explains that our inability to feel happiness on Rosh Hashanah stems from a misperception of what this world is about. We tend to think that it is meant to be a harsh world with difficulties and heartbreak. In truth, Hashem created this world for man to enjoy and not to have any afflictions whatsoever. A proof to this is that Chazal say that even the smallest discomfort – putting your hand in your pocket to take out three coins and only taking out two, or by mistake putting on a piece of clothing backwards (Arachin 16b) – is brought about because of sin (Shabbos 55). If so, the briah was ideally meant to be one free of even the tiniest irritation.
This is true of mankind in general, but for the children of Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov, the pleasure in this world was meant to be much greater. The Gemara tells us that if one committed himself to feed his workers, even if he were to provide for them a feast the likes of that of Shlomo Hamelech and serve the greatest delicacies, he would not fulfill his obligation, for they are the sons of Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov (Bava Metziah 83a). We are also taught that the earlier generations tasted hundreds of various dishes and flavors of fruits, but because of their aveiros, they were forgotten. The later generations, however, never even knew the true goodness of what was found in creation (Nedarim 50b).
If we are not able to enjoy these pleasures, it is because we have distanced ourselves from the Creator of all good, and from the Torah that is the blueprint for all of this. The Soton tricks us and causes us to lose the proper perspective about what is truly good for us. He fools us into thinking that what our human senses perceive as good is what’s best for us. But this is our great mistake, and we switch good for bad, sweet for bitter. Instead of enjoying eternal pleasure and happiness in this world, we chase after imaginary material gratifications that are of no lasting value and in the end leave us with nothing.
The key to our happiness in this world, the basis for our success, is to be close to Hashem, to thirst for His word, and to aspire to fulfill all of His commandments. As Dovid Hamelech says, “As for me, nearness to Hashem is my good” (Tehillim 73:28). The lack of experiencing the full good inherent in the briah is a result of the presence of sin in this world and the distance it creates between Hashem and us.
A person’s feelings and how he perceives life is dependent on his own free will and choice. If what is paramount in his life is closeness to Hashem and a thirst for His word, then even if he experiences pain and disappointment in this world, he maintains his happiness. Dovid Hamelech suffered tremendous hardship in his life. He faced the enmity of many who were jealous of him, pursued by his father-in-law, Shaul Hamelech, to kill him, and turmoil within his very own family. Yet, it was he who said that all he asks for is to sit in the house of Hashem all the days of his life to see the pleasantness of Hashem.
Accepting upon oneself the Malchus of Hashem means emulating His ways and taking on the middos of Hakadosh Boruch Hu. He then clothes himself in the tzelem Elokim. Consequently, the entire briah become subservient to him, as it says, “The fear of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, and everything that moves on earth… For in the image of Elokim He made man” (Bereishis 8:2-6). And just as the world trembles before Hashem, so it says, “Then all the peoples of the earth will see that the Name of Hashem is proclaimed over you and they will revere you” (Devorim 28:10).
This is why we are told to rejoice on this day and enjoy it, for when we fully accept the Malchus of Hashem upon us, we are bringing the ultimate blessing into our life, the source of all good, the key to all happiness. Of course, this comes with responsibilities, but we know that we are headed in the right direction with endless dividends both in this world and Olam Haba, and these are well worth the investments.
But how can we enjoy Rosh Hashanah when it is the Yom Hadin and we know full well that we have aveiros and they will come to haunt us? We know that the halacha states that it is prohibited to say viduy on our aveiros on Rosh Hashanah (Mishnah Berurah, Orach Chaim 584:3). The reason for this is because the kedusha of Rosh Hashanah involves crowning Hashem as our king. This causes us to merit a good judgment and avoid being pursued by our aveiros. When we accept Hashem as our Melech and to follow in His ways, we are elevating the entire briah and, through this, we ourselves become rulers over the world. Consequently, all evil flees from us, and even the nochosh, the source of evil, runs away from us. This is all a result of accepting Hashem as our ultimate Melech. Is this not a reason to celebrate with joy? (Adapted from Lev Reuven).
Of course, this comes with commitments. It means living a life where our neshamos (the tzelem Elokim) rule over our physical bodies. It involves honoring our fellow man, who is also a tzelem Elokim, and being considerate of his needs. It involves meaningful dedication to all of Hashem’s mitzvos. But the sincere acceptance of Hashem as Melech is a major first step that gives us the siyata diShmaya to follow up with action. Many of the Yidden in the times of Nechemiah were far from where they should have been in terms of their spiritual level, yet it was to them that he said, “The enjoyment of Hashem is your strength,” for the very acceptance of Hashem as our Melech is the key to brocha and simcha.
We tend to be overwhelmed by our obligations during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah. There is so much I have to rectify… Where do I begin? Because of this, we freeze and tend to take no action at all. But as the seforim say, even small tikkunim in our daily avodah, even minimal improvements in our mitzvos, go a very long way in bringing us closer to Hashem and helping us merit a favorable judgment during the yemei hadin.
Reb Yitzchok D., a businessman hailing from Modiin Ilit, invested a fortune in a massive bottle factory in France. He hired experts in the field with a vision towards making it one of the most advanced bottle factory in Europe. The machines, working twenty-four hours daily, at first produced eight hundred bottles an hour. But Reb Yitzchok wasn’t satisfied with this, wanting to raise the productivity to a much greater level.
He hired experts from the Far-East to work on the machines, and eventually the productivity more than tripled to over three thousand bottles. Now he was happy. His investments were really paying off and profits from the plant were booming. A number of years passed and Reb Yitzchok noticed that the productivity began slacking off. The machines were producing a hundred bottles less than when they were at peak performance. He summoned some of the best engineers and technicians to check the machinery and computers to get to the source of the problem, to no avail. They could not come up with a solution. Day by day, less and less bottles were being produced, until the machines yielded fewer than two thousand bottles an hour. Reb Yitzchok was frantic, as no matter which expert he brought into the plant, the problem remained a mystery.
One day, just as another technician left the factory without any answers to the problem, an old friend of Reb Yitzchok from Modiin came to visit him. He was in France on business and dropped by to say hello. Seeing the glum look on Reb Yitzchok’s face, he asked him what was on his mind. Reb Yitzchok explained to him that his machines were producing less than they had in the past and no one was able to help him with the problem.
“Maybe I can enter the depths of the machine and take a look,” offered the friend.
“And what do you know about advanced technology?” chuckled Reb Yitzchok. “The biggest experts, with all of their know-how, are mystified. How can you possibly help me?”
But the friend insisted. “What have you got to lose?” he said. “Let me take a shot at it.”
Once again, Reb Yitzchok tried to dissuade him, but the friend was adamant. To humor him, Reb Yitzchok stopped the machines and his friend entered the belly of the gigantic structure. A few minutes later, he emerged and asked for a screwdriver. Reb Yitzchok started laughing. “Are you serious? The greatest technicians have not a clue of how to rectify the problem and you think you can fix this with a mere screwdriver?” To get his friend off his back, he brought him a screwdriver. The guest disappeared and remained there for five minutes, then ten minutes, and finally came out after twenty minutes.
“Now turn the machine back on,” he said zith confidence.
Reb Yitzchok did so without any expectations whatsoever. Lo and behold, he was shocked to see that after an hour, the machine had produced well over three thousand bottles, back to peak performance.
“What did you do?” he asked his friend excitedly.
“I know I’m not a technician or an expert. And if specialists could not come up with a solution, then the problem is not with the computers or the advanced technology. It must be something simpler than that. So I went inside and saw some loose screws. It made sense to me that with the passing of time and constant movement, many of the screws in the machine were loosened. I went through the length and breadth of the machine, tightening all of the loose screws, and now it’s as good as new.”
Reb Yitzchok’s joy knew no bounds and he amply rewarded his friend.
We are basically good Yidden who want to serve Hashem and do what’s right. Our coming close to Him takes but the tightening of screws that are already in – a bit more kavanah in tefillah, a bit more seriousness about our learning, being a bit more meticulous in giving tzedakah and bein adam lachaveiro. Then our spiritual machine will be functioning at optimal level and we can truly rejoice with Hashem.
May we all have a kesivah vachasimah tovah.