Monday, Apr 15, 2024

Plain Talk about An Awesome Day

There's a story about a shtetel that found itself without a baal tokei'ah one year, and Rosh Hashanah was quickly approaching. The residents spread the word that they are looking for a qualified person to blow shofar, with, of course, commensurate payment. Before long, they had three serious potential baalei tokei'ah vying for the job. As the final decision rested with the rov, all three were brought to the rov'sstudy. He was to interview them and listen to a sampling of their tekios. The first fellow stood still, eyes closed in concentration, and blew strong and resonating blasts, one after another, without having to redo even a single sound. The demonstration was impressive.

When he was done, the rov had one important question for him.


“What are you concentrating on,” asked the rov, “while you blow these magnificent sounds?”


Looking down humbly, the fellow explained, “I try to picture malachim coming down, white and pure, taking hold of the tekios and bringing them back up to Shomayim, straight to the Kisei Hakavod.”


All those crowded in the rov’s study nodded, impressed by the fellow’s response.


Shortly, the second baal tokei’ah was called in to give his demonstration. He swayed fervently, eyes closed, forehead wrinkled in concentration. Then he stopped, stood ramrod straight, and began blowing sweet, hi-pitched, almost-musical tekios. The sounds left his shofar without any visible signs of effort on his part. It was as impressive a showing as the first one had been.


The rov, for his part, again asked the same question. What were the thoughts upon which this man dwelled as he blew his sweet sounds?


“I envision that this is the day of Hashem’s coronation as King,” the baal tokei’ah explained. “Malachim are carrying Heavenly crowns towards the Kisei Hakavod. With every tekiah I blow, I concentrate on another angel carrying one more Kesser Malchus with which to crown our Father, our King.”


Once again, the assemblage was duly impressed.


When the third man was brought in, he, too, blew perfect tekios. His blasts were neither overly powerful nor especially hi-pitched. They were straight and steady, sure and faithful. The man clearly had supreme command over every blast that emanated from his shofar.


When he was done, the rov asked his question one last time.


“On what thoughts do you dwell while blowing these perfect sounds?”


This man looked down a moment, seemingly unsure of how to answer. Finally, he looked up and said, “To be quite honest, I am not a man of means, and I have a wife and children to feed and to provide with the basic necessities. When I was blowing just now, I was thinking, ‘Ribbono Shel Olam, I really could use this job. I need the money to provide for my family. Please let my tekios find favor in everyone’s eyes.”


The rov smiled and jumped from his chair. “This man,” he exclaimed, “is the right man for the job! He will represent us well while blowing for our community. He is exactly what I was looking for.”


This story came to mind while I was thinking about something that Rav Chaim Brim zt”l of Yerushalayim would often tell us prior to Rosh Hashanah. He would recall how the Chazon Ish reminded those close to him that while they concentrated on the great thoughts of Rosh Hashanah – on being mamlich Hashem, proclaiming the Kingship of the Al-mighty, and asking for a year of life, health, parnassah, and all our other important needs – they should not overlook or forget to ask for even their smallest desires.


On this great and auspicious day, the Chazon Ish would explain, no request is too small or inconsequential. Hashem is our loving Father. Just as we ask our parents not only for great, big things, but also for our daily desires – i.e., for a ride somewhere, for permission to buy a sefer or book, or to help us with our homework or another task – so should we ask Hashem for assistance in any matter, big or small, that we feel would benefit us.


If Rosh Hashanah is great enough for us to ask for life itself, shouldn’t we take advantage of so great a day and turn to Him during this time for our many smaller requests?


There is no question that the essence of Rosh Hashanah is the avodah of Malchus – proclaiming and accepting anew the supreme Sovereignty of Hakadosh Boruch Hu. The tefillos of the day focus almost entirely on this avodah. The primary focus of Rosh Hashanah is clearly not to ask Hashem to fulfill any of our desires, but rather to contemplate His total and everlasting Sovereignty.


It is because this is the day of our renewed acceptance of Hashem’s Malchus that it is a yom hadin. As King over us all, Hashem judges our deeds and decides on our fates. This is why we accept upon ourselves to change and become better people (teshuvah) on this day, so that the judgment of our King, the Melech, be a positive one. Rosh Hashanah is thus not about teshuvah; it is about Malchus, which leads us to teshuvah.


In the same vein, our chachomim saw fit to add special tefillos to the Shemonah Esrei asking that our judgment be a good one (Zochreinu lechayim, etc.). Avinu Malkeinu and similar prayers are recited for this reason as well. They are a supplication to the Melech, our King, to remember us favorably on this day when we accept His Kingship. As we internalize that He is King over all and in His Hands – and none other’s – is every decision, big or small, we utilize the day to petition Him for our lives and all our needs.


After all, who else, if not the King and Ultimate Decisor, can grant us these wishes?


Surely, the more we internalize our feeling that He is our King and we His servants, ready and willing to do His will and be mekadeish His holy Name in the eyes of all who come in contact with us, the greater will be His desire to answer our pleas favorably.


Thus, in addition to our major focus on Malchus, we daven on this day for our very lives and the lives of our loved ones. We beg for mercy on those sick and infirm among our family, friends, community and Klal Yisroel. We beseech Hashem to grant children to those who long for them, shidduchim for those who need them, and parnassah for one and all. We ask for shalom bayis, for success in raising our children, as well as for guidance in these confusing times.


Did we ever ask, though, that our pre-Sukkos shopping go easily, so that we should not have to shlep to fifteen stores (or more!) in order to find decent and affordable items for ourselves and our children? Have we ever utilized Rosh Hashanah to ask that our car not break down so often, saving us from endless heartache? Have we asked for siyata diShmaya in dealing with a social entanglement, a basement prone to flooding, or sundry aches and pains?


Often, we feel that such ‘petty’ concerns have no place on so great and awesome a day. The Chazon Ish taught just the opposite. While of course we place priority on what’s really important in life, if we truly look upon Hakadosh Boruch Hu as our loving and doting Father, would we not ask Him for assistance in all of our needs, no less than we would ask our parents or best friends?


It’s not a matter of priorities; it’s a matter of closeness to Hashem. We don’t place our concern for the pettier aspects of our lives on nearly an equal footing as we care for what is truly important. Still, we can ‘trouble’ Him with our more trivial worries, not because of a misplaced emphasis on them, but rather because we know and understand that He loves us enough to care. Do we not ask our parents for assistance regarding both the great and small items in our lives because we know that their love and concern for us are great enough that we can trouble them not only with our major necessities but with our lesser concerns as well?


“Habein yakir li Efraim im yeled sha’ashuim,” we recite in the Mussaf Shemonah Esrei on Rosh Hashanah. “Is Efraim (Klal Yisroel) not my beloved child, whom I delight in as a father delights in his only son? The more I speak of him, the more I remember my love for him, I see no evil in him and I remember him mercifully” (Yirmiyahu 31:19, see mefarshim, ad loc.).


If we truly felt Hashem’s love for us; if our avodas Rosh Hashanah is more than just lip-service with us proclaiming Him as our Father and King; if we allow ourselves to actually feel that this is our chance, our personal, private audience with our Father Who loves us as an only child and can grant our every wish, would we not use the opportunity to grow closer by completely opening up to Him, sharing our big concerns and those less so?


Yes, Rosh Hashanah is a time for lofty thoughts and awesome concepts. The tekios are a time for powerful prayer and deep concentration. As we aim for those dazzling heights, let’s remember the Chazon Ish’s advice and the lesson of the rov in our opening story: Reaching those great plateaus should bring us to a closeness with Hashem where there is no longer any barrier between us and our loving Father.


“Tatte in Himmel,” thought that baal tokei’ah, “I really need this job.”


We, too, should use these great days to open up completely to our Creator, confiding in Him our worries, our concerns, our fears, our hopes and our aspirations, asking that He guide us, assist us, be with us, and bestow His Presence upon us always.


May we all merit a kesivah vschasimah tovah and a gut gebentcht yohr.



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