There is something about Elul and the Yomim Noraim that smacks of war. Starting with Rosh Chodesh Elul, we recite the kappitel Tehillim of L’Dovid, Hashem Ori Veyishi. In it we say, “When evildoers approach me to devour my flesh, my tormentors and my foes against me, it is they who stumble and fall. Though an army would beseech me, my heart would not fear. Though war would arise against me, in this I trust…” What is it about this time of year that is associated with war? And is it mere coincidence that the first two parshiyos of the weeks of Elul are Shoftim and Ki Seitzei, both addressing situations of battle?
The mitzvah of tekias shofar on Rosh Hashanah also has a connotation of war. One of the 10 reasons given by Rav Saadya Gaon for this mitzvah is to remind us of the churban Bais Hamikdosh and the sounds of trumpets of the wars of our enemies, as it says, “For you have heard the sound of the shofar, o’ my soul, the shofar blast of war” (Yirmiyah 4:19). The Chofetz Chaim in Biur Halacha (Orach Chaim 585) quotes a reason given by Rav Meir Simcha Hakohein for why we place the shofar on the right side of the mouth. Shofar is associated with the trumpets of war, and when Gideon waged a war against Midyan, it says, “In their left hand they grasped the torches, and in the right hand the shofar to sound” (Shoftim 7:20).
Furthermore, the hundred blasts of the shofar allude to the hundred whimpers of the mother of Sisra when her son didn’t return from battle in Klal Yisroel’s miraculous victory over Midyan. Why the constant reminder of war?
The seforim hakedoshim say that the forces of tumah wage a war against the forces of kedusha constantly. Since Klal Yisroel is the embodiment of kedusha, the people upon whom Hashem desires to rest the Shechinah, the Soton and his armies do everything in their power to battle against us and to prevent our bonding with Hashem. They are constantly mekatreig against us, both against the klal and against every individual Yid. And they throw distractions in our way. The fact that most people are oblivious to this war shows just how successful they are.
If this is true throughout the year, it is most certainly true as we approach the Yemei Hadin. These forces know very well how much Hashem loves us and how our avodah during these precious days can bring us so much blessing and so much siyata diShmaya in raising our levels of kedusha that they intensify their efforts in battling us and do everything in their power to prevent us from utilizing these opportunities for our benefit.
As we get closer to the coming of Moshiach, these forces fight harder than ever. Their battle against us manifests itself in the terrible moral abyss in which the world finds itself today, and the situation is only getting worse. It can also be seen in the spread of anti-Semitism worldwide.
This is why we have the numerous allusions to war. There is a battle raging against us and we must be aware of it. There is a war going on to destroy us and we must fight back, for the stakes are very high. Right before the blowing of the shofar, we recite a number of pesukim. The first letters of these pesukim spell kra Soton, meaning tear the Soton apart, for he is our enemy, our nemesis. All of this is meant to awaken us to the paramount nature of this time of year and its consequences. We must act as soldiers fighting for our survival and for our future success, battling a vicious enemy out to destroy us.
Right after Dovid Hamelech speaks of war, he says, “One thing I ask of Hashem that I shall seek. That I dwell in the House of Hashem all the days of my life to behold the sweetness of Hashem and to contemplate in His sanctuary.” Why does this request immediately follow Dovid’s speaking about the wars that face him?
The Chofetz Chaim writes that the advances of modern technology and new inventions are meant to bolster our emunah. In earlier generations, it was a given that Hashem watches all of our actions and they are recorded so that we will have to give an accounting for them when we stand before the Heavenly Court. In later generations, however, people’s belief in this was weakened, so the inventions of recorders and video cameras are meant to show them that this is indeed possible.
Similarly, today, modern technology has made it possible for people to conduct a war far away from the battlefield. It is possible for someone to shoot missiles while sitting in a room in front of a panel of switches great distances away from the enemy without imperiling himself. We also know of cyber wars, which are taking place today, where one can disengage the enemy’s nuclear capabilities or water and electrical supplies by hacking into their systems.
When we sit in the bais medrash and learn Torah, every word is a missile shot at the enemy. Every word of tefillah is an arrow in the eye of the Soton. Every moment of serving Hashem in His holy sanctuaries disengages the powers of our enemies and gives us protection. This is why Dovid Hamelech makes his request while speaking of war. He asks that Hashem give him the opportunity to sit in the House of Hashem his entire life so that he will be able to fight the war against the enemy, not on the battlefield but from within the portals of the bais medrash. And this is a lesson to us that the best way for us to fight the war against the forces of evil is from within the House of Hashem.
How does a soldier fight in a war? He must be totally dedicated to his cause. Every fiber of his being must concentrate on vanquishing the enemy, and he must avoid any distractions whatsoever. This is why it was announced before the Yidden went out to war, “Who is the man who has built a house and has not inaugurated it? Let him return to his house… And who is the man who has planted a vineyard… And who is the man who has betrothed a woman… Let him go and return to his house” (Devorim 20:5-7). These were all distractions from the war, causing a soldier to lose concentration, and he would not be able to fulfill his mission properly. Therefore, he was sent home (see Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 7:15).
This is a lesson for us in how we must carry out our war against our enemies at least during this crucial time of year. We must try and avoid all distractions and concentrate every fiber of our being on fulfilling our mission. Every word of tefillah, every amein yehei shmei rabbah, every moment of learning Torah, should be with utmost focus, for our very lives and those of our family and friends are on the line. Our health and menuchas hanefesh for this coming year are hanging in the balance and we must fight a valiant battle for them.
The Yismach Moshe, Rav Moshe Teitelbaum of Uhel, would describe what transpires in the Bais Din Shel Maalah on the Yom Hadin. Every single one of the 70 nations is represented in heaven by their own administering angel. Each malach pleads the cause of his people and requests that all their needs be granted for the coming year, as it says, “Hashem will deal with the hosts of heaven in heaven…” (Yeshayah 24:21).
After these requests are taken care of, the Melech HaMoshiach appears before the bais din and pleads on behalf of Klal Yisroel. He waits anxiously for the ruling to come forth that Moshiach will finally arrive. He asks, “When will my time finally come to redeem Klal Yisroel?” The foreign angels scoff at him and ask, “Why are you here? You see that every year you have been turned away. Why even try?” But he persists and presents the bais din with all of the hardships that our nation has suffered throughout the generations and in this past year…the afflictions of the nation as a whole and those of each individual.
The foreign angels are afraid of this presentation. They understand the ramifications if he is successful. They will then be forced to fall under the yoke of Klal Yisroel forever. And if, chas veshalom, Moshiach is told once again that the time is not yet here, he leaves with great embarrassment and anguish, and all of the other angels laugh and deride him.
Based on this, the Satmar Rebbe, the Divrei Yoel, answered a famous question. The Gemara states: Why do we blow shofar while sitting (before Mussaf) and then repeat the blowing during Mussaf while standing? In order to confuse the Soton (Rosh Hashanah 16a). How does our repetition of the tekios confuse him? Tosafos quotes a Yerushalmi that when he hears the shofar the first time, he is shaken, but he knows that this is the regular mitzvah of shofar, but when he hears it the second time, he thinks that it is the shofar of Moshiach. Knowing the consequences that face him, he is silenced.
The obvious question asked is that we pull this same trick every single year. Wouldn’t the Soton have caught on by now that we are merely blowing the shofar again and that it is not about Moshiach?
The Satmar Rebbe answers that the Soton knows just how powerful Moshiach’s plea is and how auspicious a moment it is. He knows that since the previous Rosh Hashanah, we have suffered so much pain, so many tragedies both for the tzibbur and every individual. He realizes that despite it all, we remain faithful to Hashem, and this awakens Hashem’s overwhelming love for us. It is clear to him that with every new year, our burden in golus gets greater and greater and our zechuyos multiply exponentially. This is why he trembles and he is silenced. Because maybe, maybe, this time the geulah will really be here and it is indeed the sounding of our redemption.
May it be the ratzon of Hashem that we have the koach to fight the battle with our full concentration, that we all merit a kesivah vachasimah tovah, and that, indeed, this is the year when we hear the sounds of the shofar shel Moshiach.