Life. It’s not a game or a cereal. But it is serious. On Rosh Hashanah, Hashem decides if we will have it for the coming year and what kind of life it will be. We all know what we want and what to ask for, but not always how to attain and receive the brachos we seek.
Entire seforim have been written by wonderful people with eitzos – advice and suggestions – how to achieve these universal goals. Undoubtedly, all of these guidelines can be helpful. But one seems to be extremely basic, even simple, tried and true, yet for some reason often ignored. It is the clarion call of this week’s parsha and the mandate for the days of Rosh Hashanah immediately ahead.
On the very last day of his life, Moshe Rabbeinu reminds us that “Atem nitzovim hayom kulchem – You are standing today, all of you” (29:9). The Zohar (Pinchos 231a) teaches that every time the Torah uses the term hayom, today, it refers to Rosh Hashanah. Many meforshim over the millennia have concluded that one of Moshe Rabbeinu’s messages to us on that fateful day was that to prevail on Rosh Hashanah and be judged favorably, we must be nitzovim kulchim, standing together with all of our brethren, not splintered and divided. Let us therefore explore this eternal counsel so that we can indeed emerge successful on the Yom Hadin ahead.
One source that sheds light on how to achieve this goal is the Rosh Hashanah visit of the novi Elisha to the woman of Shunamis. We know that it happened on Rosh Hashanah, because there, too, the posuk testifies, “Vayehi hayom – It happened one day that Elisha traveled to Shunam. There was a prominent woman there…” (Melochim II 4:8). Elisha offers this ishah gedolah – great lady – to intercede for her with Hashem (4:13), but she responds in the negative: “besoch ami anochi yosheves – I dwell among my people.”
Now, to our contemporary conventions, this response seems unusual, perhaps even foolish. If we were given the opportunity to receive a brachah from a novi – even more, to have him as our representative – what wouldn’t we give? Yet, this great woman, who has demonstrated her veneration and even reliance upon Elisha, turns him down cold! What was she thinking and what is the message for us all from that Rosh Hashanah long ago?
One answer that has often been suggested (see, for instance, Rabbi Boruch Rosenblum in Doreish Tov, page 288) is based upon Rav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler’s explanation (Michtav M’Eliyahu 2:74-77) of the two days of Rosh Hashanah. He quotes the Arizal as defining the first day of Rosh Hashanah as dina kashyo, harsh judgment, whereas the second is called dina rafyo, soft judgment. Rav Dessler gives the example of a person who is judged guilty on the first day based upon the empirical evidence of his merits and demerits, sins and mitzvos. However, on the second day, this verdict is revisited, when he is placed in the context of the greater Klal Yisroel, or at least a tzibbur, a sliver of the community of Klal Yisroel, to which he is making a major contribution. He may be the major force for tzedakah, chesed, limud haTorah or important achievements in some village, neighborhood or even city. Now he is being judged, not as “one lamb” (Rosh Hashanah 16a), but “b’sekirah achas” (ibid.) – in context, within a framework and as a part of the whole. Now he “wins” in judgment because of others. He is needed, required, and therefore saved. Day Two is his salvation because he is no longer alone. And so, even the Isha Hashunamis, who taught us a thing or two about respect for gedolim, opts to be judged on Rosh Hashanah (hayom!) “among my people,” even when she could be represented by the prophet of Hashem.
We might add the powerful words of my rebbi, Rav Yitzchok Hutner zt”l, that “every tzibbur is a microcosm of the greater Knesses Yisroel (Pachad Yitzchok, Rosh Hashanah 26:4, page 167). One need not be the most famous rosh yeshiva, rosh kollel, speaker or rebbetzin in Klal Yisroel, but if one is having an impact on his or her congregation or community, even if the dina kashyo of Day One did not go well, the dina rafyo of Day Two will overturn the initial heavenly ruling.
Rav Moshe Shapiro (Afikei Mayim, Yomim Noraim, page 116, note 55) adds the important thought that although we must stand alone when it comes to our plusses and minuses, to the extent that we subjugate our ego and personal needs to that of the greater good, “our individual shortcomings and defects will not stand out as much.”
The famed maggid, Rav Yaakov Galinsky zt”l (Vehigadeta, “Elul and Rosh Hashanah,” page 308), related an amazing application of this eternal advice. He recalls the harsh tortures imposed upon him and his friends by the evil Russian government. The worst of all, they unanimously concluded, was the isolation of solitary confinement, which broke many an otherwise hardy soul. Rav Galinsky revealed that the secret of his survival was that he “attached himself to his friends wherever they were, and so inexorably entwined, he emerged unscathed and spiritually healthy. He explained that in his native Novardok, they always repeated a certain teaching of the Vilna Gaon. Chazal teach (Brachos 31a) that “one should never part from a friend without a devar halacha.” The Gaon stated that this refers to the specific halachic ruling that when there is a disagreement between an individual and a group, the halacha follows the group” (see Toras Gavriel, Vayeitzei). The Gaon’s point was that even two Jews who are parting and will be alone for a period of time should always consider themselves part of the greater Klal Yisroel and are therefore never truly alone.
Besides making oneself indispensable to the community, there is another method of achieving the elusive goal of being judged favorably on Rosh Hashanah. The Lelover Rebbe (Be’er Hachaim, Yerach Ha’eisanim, page 122, note 69) tells the amazing story of two brothers who shared the mitzvah of blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. One year (5770), the brother who blew the “sitting tekios” and those during the chazaras hashatz (the chazzan’s repetition) blew all the sounds perfectly. The brother who generally blew during the silent Shemoneh Esrei (minhag Sefard) could not coax a sound out of the shofar. By default, the other brother had to take over and all went well. After the davening was over, the brother who had “failed” stood up and announced to all: “I would like to thank Hashem for the humiliation He heaped upon me today. I am today giving this great zechus to my brother Dovid. I could not even blow one shevorim (the “broken” sound) and I was embarrassed. In that zechus, may my brother be privileged to break three plates this coming year.”
Now, this Dovid had three children who were of age for marriage but had somehow not found their proper shidduchim. That year, indeed, all three found wonderful shidduchim.
The rebbe concluded that by accepting the will of Hashem that he should be publicly embarrassed, even as his own brother was being successful with the very same shofar, this man showed that he had subjugated his ego to the needs of his brother. This was a person being mevater of the highest order, accepting his fate and even transferring the power of his own suffering to the person who had seemingly upstaged him. He exhibited all the traits of one who breaks a potentially bad middah, turns it into something positive and thinks of others instead of himself. The rebbe concluded that this is an example of a person who was poel yeshuos, brought about miracles, through the method of yielding to someone else.
Rav Yeruchim Olshin, rosh yeshiva of Bais Medrash Govoah, in Yerach Lamoadim (page 448), quotes the Alter of Kelm, who came to the same conclusion from a different source. The Alter (Chochmah Umussar 2:152) had taught that we know that the mandate of Rosh Hashanah is “shetamlichuni aleichem – make Me your King.” This can only be done properly, he concludes, when everyone is working together for the monarch’s benefit. However, if there are petty fights and disagreements, the king’s will cannot be done. He cites in conclusion the posuk of “Vayehi bishurun melech – He became king over Yeshurun when the numbers of the nation gathered – the tribes of Yisroel in unity” (Devorim 33:5). Rav Olshin explains, based upon the Maharal, that a fragmented monarchy lacks in perfection, which is the hallmark of true kingship. Thus, every step towards achdus fulfills the mandate of Rosh Hashanah and helps us succeed in judgment.
May we all find the courage, wisdom and opportunity to think of others this Rosh Hashanah, thus helping us all usher in a year of yeshuos, refuos and kol mishalos libeinu letovah.