How Old is the World?

The secular world continually disputes our belief that the world is less than six thousand years old. Their arguments are supported by the many stones and fossils which have been found, dating, according to their scientific calculations, millions of years back.

How can our belief that the world is less than 6,000 years old and their findings be reconciled?

Surely, the G‑d-given Torah, not developed by the human mind, is more accurate. Human beings may err, using means of measurement and understanding which are only human. Even if we accept the opinion of the secular world, there are many explanations which we can offer to eliminate the seeming contradiction to Torah.

According to the Gemara (Chullin 60a), Hashem created the world in an already developed state. The trees were fully grown and already bearing fruit. Likewise, Adamwas not created a new-born baby, but rather a fully-grown man. Thus, according to our measurements, if we were to find the remains of Adam, it would be “correct” to claim that they are older than the actual age of the world.

Similarly, it is possible that during creation, Hashem created stones which had the characteristic of ones millions of years old, and therefore, the scientific calculations are “correct.” This does not, however, mean that the world was created millions of years ago, but that the stones bear the traces of the years since creation, plus their “age” at creation.


The Master Key — A Broken Heart

One year, Rabbi Yisrael Ba’al Shem Tov said to Rabbi Ze’eiv Kitzes, one of his senior disciples, “You will blow the shofar for us this Rosh Hashanah. I want you to study all the kavanot (kabbalistic meditations) that pertain to shofar, so that you should meditate upon them when you do the blowing.”

Rabbi Ze’eiv applied himself to the task with joy and trepidation: joy over the great privilege that had been accorded him, and trepidation over the immensity of the responsibility. He studied the kabbalistic writings that explain the multifaceted significance of the shofar, and what its sounds achieve. He also prepared a sheet of paper on which he noted the main points of each kavanah so that he could refer to them when he blew the shofar.

Finally, the great moment arrived. It was the morning of Rosh Hashanah, and Rabbi Ze’eiv stood on the bimah — reading platform — in the center of the Ba’al Shem Tov’s synagogue amidst the Torah scrolls, surrounded by a sea of tallit-draped bodies. At his table in the southeast corner of the room stood his master, the Ba’al Shem Tov, his face aflame. An awed silence filled the room in anticipation of the climax of the day — the piercing blasts and sobs of the shofar.

Rabbi Ze’eiv reached into his pocket and his heart froze: The paper had disappeared! He distinctly remembered placing it there that morning, but now it was gone. He desperately searched his memory for what he had learned, but his distress over the lost notes had incapacitated his brain; his mind was a total blank. Tears of frustration filled his eyes. He had disappointed his master, who had entrusted him with this most sacred task. He had to blow the shofar like a simple horn, without any kavanot. With a despairing heart, Rabbi Ze’eiv blew the sounds required by halachah, and avoiding his master’s eye, resumed his place.

At the conclusion of the day’s prayers, the Ba’al Shem Tov made his way to the corner where Rabbi Ze’eiv sat sobbing under his tallit. “Gut Yom Tov, Reb Ze’eiv!” the Ba’al Shem Tov called to him, “That was a most extraordinary shofar blowing we heard today!”

“But Rebbe...Why...?”

“In the king’s palace,” said Rabbi Yisrael, “There are many gates and doors, leading to many halls and chambers. The palace keepers have great rings holding many keys, each of which opens a different door. But there is a master key that opens all the doors. The kavanot are keys, each unlocks a door and accesses another chamber in the supernal worlds. But there is one key which unlocks all doors and which can open the innermost chambers of the Divine palace. That master key is a broken heart.”

(סיפורי חסידים, מועדים)


Grand Opening — Going Out of Business

A story is told of a foreigner who came to America and wanted to open a department store. Not knowing the American lifestyle, he walked the streets to learn how business is done in America, and he noticed that a certain store was attracting a much larger crowd than all the others. When he inquired as to the reason, he was informed that there was a sign above the store which read, “Grand Opening,” and that this usually attracts many people. He continued on his stroll and noticed another store a few blocks away which was also attracting more customers than all the other stores. Again he inquired and he was told that above this store was a sign “Going Out of Business,” and such a sign tends to attract many inquisitive people.

Wanting his store to be a tremendous success, and unfamiliar with the English language, he hired a sign maker to copy both signs and place them above the entrance to his store. Business was terrible; people did not come in because they were convinced that his store was operated by a “meshuganer” — “lunatic.”

This story, which has an amusing note to it, unfortunately portrays many facets of life in general, and Jewish milestones in particular. Bar Mitzvah is the first celebration in which a young Jewish boy actively participates. But how sad is it when the Bar Mitzvah boy and his family, after attending services in the synagogue drive away on Shabbat to a non-kosher restaurant for a festive repast. In actuality, for this boy and his family, the “grand opening” and “going out of business” took place at the same time.

You and I have seen the lavish Bar Mitzvot where a huge birthday cake is rolled in with fourteen candles on it. The candles are lit up and then the Bar Mitzvah boy takes a deep breath and blows out all the candles. When this happens all are very happy and applaud the young man. How often is it that with blowing out of the candles he is proclaiming that on the day of his “grand opening,” he is also “going out of business” and drawing the curtain on his interest in Torah and Yiddishkeit?

I am sure you all know of many weddings which were entered into with much love and anticipation, and unfortunately end immediately afterwards with strife and animosity. The same holds true with businessmen who enter into a partnership which immediately turns into a disastrous battle in court. I can go on and on, but it is not necessary because I am sure you can all think of many examples of the “grand opening” and the “going out of business” taking place in quick succession.

In the Musaf liturgy we declare, “Hayom harat olam — “Today is the birth of the world.” In reality, the creation of the world started a few days earlier, but Rosh Hashanah is the birth of Adam — the first man — through whom the creation of the world reached fruition.

Annually, on Rosh Hashanah, Hashem gives each man and woman the chance to start afresh and make a “grand opening.” There are also some people who have a “grand opening” followed very quickly by a “going out of business.” They make lofty resolutions and commitments regarding their relationship with other people and Hashem in the year to come, unfortunately, however, these are often very quickly disregarded and forgotten.

Let us resolve to stay in business throughout the year, and go from strength to strength in our devotion and observance of Torah and Yiddishkeit. With such an approach our “grand opening” will bring happy and prosperous results.


A Call From Hashem

Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of the creation of Adam, the first man. The Torah does not record what he did on his first day except for the account of how Hashem took him and placed him in Gan Eden to work it and guard it, with explicit instructions not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil.

The Torah relates that Adam and his wife Chavah were both naked, but they were not ashamed. When they violated Hashem’s command and ate from the Tree of Knowledge, the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked, so they sewed together fig leaves and they made aprons for themselves. Suddenly, they heard the voice of Hashem and they hid. Hashem called out to the man and said to him, “Ayekah?” — “Where are you?” He replied, “I heard Your voice in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid” (Bereishit 3:1-8).

This seemingly simple story is very enigmatic. While at times a person may allow himself to lie to his friend, no one would have the audacity to lie to Hashem! When Adam and Chavah realized they were naked, they made aprons. When Hashem addressed Adam, he is dressed in his apron, yet he tells Hashem, “I hid because I was naked?!”

Man has been sent to this mundane and earthly world “to work it and guard it.” It is incumbent upon him to study Torah and perform mitzvot and conduct his life in accordance to Torah instructions. For this he will ultimately merit a respected place in Gan Eden.

While some people are faithful to their mission, there are those who get side-tracked. The glitter of success blinds them into thinking that “I am a self-made man, an independent individual and have everything that is needed to assure myself of the very best.” Little by little man forgets about his dependence on Hashem and begins to make for himself “garments” — security blankets which he is sure will protect him.

This is all good until one day he is awakened from his slumber by a “kol Hashem” — “the voice of Hashem.” This could occur, G‑d forbid, if he is taken to the hospital with a cardiac arrest or another serious ailment. Sometimes, a catastrophe in his business shatters the entire security on which he confidently relied. At times it may be a tragedy in his family which casts him into gloom and despair. All these are different manifestations of “kol Hashem” — the voice of Hashem calling man “Ayekah?” — “Where are you?” — wake up. At that time man realizes his nakedness without Hashem. Everything he thought he had, all that he built and amassed, amounts to nothing.

This is what transpired with Adam. Living in Gan Eden and having everything at his disposal, he “opened his eyes” and thought that he was secure and successful. Now he could do whatever he wanted, he thought, and not fear anything. When suddenly he heard a “call from Hashem” he came to the realization that he was insignificant and “naked.”

Hopefully no one should ever, G‑d forbid, get “a call from Heaven” to awaken him. May the call of the shofar of Rosh Hashanah be sufficient to bring us out of our slumber. Let us resolve on this day, to direct our lives according to the will of Hashem.

(הרב יוסף דוב הלוי ז"ל סאלאווייטשיק, מבוסטון)


Pay Up Your Pledges

The Haftorah for the first day of Rosh Hashanah is the story of a woman named Chanah who yearned for a child. Together with her husband Elkanah, she made an annual pilgrimage to pray in the Tabernacle of Shiloh. Eventually she was blessed with a child, whom she named Shmuel because, “I borrowed him from Hashem.” The most well-known reason for designating this story for the Haftorah on Rosh Hashanah is that it was on Rosh Hashanah that Hashem remembered Chanah and made it possible for her to conceive (see Rosh Hashanah 11a).

One may, however, wonder, is this the only event recorded in Scriptures which took place on Rosh Hashanah? For instance, it was on Rosh Hashanah that the prophet Elisha came to Shunam and blessed the woman with a child (see II Kings 4:8, and Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 597:1, Taz). It was also on Rosh Hashanah that the people gathered around Ezra to hear the Torah being read and resolved to follow its teachings. When the listeners wept because they realized that they had been neglecting the teachings of the Torah, Ezra and Nechemiah told them not to be sad since it was Rosh Hashanah. “Go eat rich foods,” they said, “and drink sweet beverages... for today is sacred to Hashem” (see Nehemia, chap. 8).

Perhaps we can add another reason for the selection of the story of Chanah to be read on Rosh Hashanah. Rosh Hashanah is a day when many come to shul with a trepidation, not knowing what the New Year will bring. They make resolutions and even vows of loyalty to Hashem and donations to charity, etc., hoping that in this merit, their wishes will be granted and they will be blessed with a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year. Unfortunately, when the inspiration of the crisis disappears and when the danger is over, many pledges remain unredeemed and many vows are violated.

I am reminded of the story of the old woman who was about to walk across an old, rickety bridge. She said, “O G‑d, if I get across safely, I will give one hundred dollars to charity.” When she was a quarter of the way across and all seemed well, she said, “O G‑d, I do not have so much. You won’t mind, I know; fifty dollars are also enough.” As she walked a little further, the bridge suddenly began to shake underneath her feet. “Oh,” she said, “I only made a joke and G‑d took me seriously!”

Chanah lacked fulfillment as a woman. She wanted very much to have a child of her own, and for years she came to the Tabernacle, poured out her heart, and beseeched Hashem to grant her a son, vowing, “If You will look upon the anguish of Your maidservant and give Your maidservant a male child, then I will give him to G‑d all the days of his life.” Finally her wish was granted, and when the boy was still very young, she brought him to the house of Hashem in Shiloh.

Though she could have procrastinated and waited until he became much older, claiming, “A young little boy needs the tender loving care of his mother,” she did not look for loopholes in her vow, but made every effort to fulfill her pledge promptly.

This may be a reason for reading Chanah’s story, which took place on Rosh Hashanah. It is a reminder to all of us that when in the midst of our inspiration and fervent prayers we make resolutions, vows, and oaths to improve our relationship with Hashem and man, we should remember to carry on tomorrow in accordance with those resolutions. Chanah was blessed with an abundance of nachas for keeping her word, and we too, will be greatly rewarded when we fulfill our promises.


Don’t Discourage Your Child

On Rosh Hashanah we read only the first chapter and part of the second of the Book of Samuel, which discusses Chanah’s praying to Hashem and how she honored her vow without any reservation. The third chapter relates an episode with little Shmuel when his mother left him in the Sanctuary to be inducted into the service of Hashem.

In the narrative it is related, “And it came to pass at that time, when Eli was lying in his place — for his eyes had begun to become dim, he could not see. Hashem called Shmuel and he said, “Here I am.” He ran into Eli and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me?’ and [Eli] he said, ‘I did not call you, go back and lie down.’ Again the young lad heard the voice of Hashem calling him, but, the aged Eli sent him back telling him, ‘Lo karati beni, shuv shechav’ — ‘I did not call you my son, go back and lie down.’ ” Shmuel had not yet known Hashem and the word of Hashem had not yet been revealed to him. When this repeated itself a third time, Eli realized that Hashem was calling the lad.

This narrative of an episode that took place a few thousand years ago is very related to our contemporary times and conveys a poignant lesson.

We are living in a time when many Jewish children hear the voice of Hashem. They have experienced inspiring moments in their life and have expressed to their parents a desire to learn about our golden heritage. The child tells the parent that he or she heard a call and would like to respond, but the parent may say, “Shuv shechav” — “Go back to sleep.” Instead of nurturing this awakening and helping it grow into something positive, the parent stills the child and dampens the flame.

A story is told of a father who wanted to influence his young son with heretical views. While the child was asleep, he wrote on the side of his bed: “G‑d is nowhere.” When the youngster awoke and began to spell out his father’s message, he jumped out of bed, ran to his father and excitedly exclaimed, “On my bed I saw the message written ‘G‑d is now here.’ ”

Fortunately, the young members of our generation are hearing the Divine call and refuse to listen to their parents who tell them, “Shuv shechav” — “Go back to sleep.” In all corners of the world there is a very strong ba’al teshuvah movement — young people from all walks of life are returning to the fold. They are coming in throngs to study Torah and have accepted authentic Torah teachings as their way of life. Let us encourage them and help them achieve their goal of learning about our golden heritage. We should be immensely proud of this generation, “Ki heim zera beirach Hashem” — “They are the seed that Hashem has blessed” (Isaiah 61:9).


The Beauty of the Teruah

In the Musaf Amidah (Shemoneh Esreih) there are three berachot known as Malchiyot — verses of kingship, Zichronot — verses of remembrance, and Shofrot — verses referring to the shofar. In each section there is a compilation of pesukim discussing its respective subject, and at the end of each is a concluding berachah. The last sentence before the recital of the berachah for shofrot is somewhat strange. In it we declare the greatness of Hashem, “Ki ata shomei’a shofar uma’azin teruah ve’ein domeh lach” — “For You hear the sound of theshofar and listen to the teruah and there is none who can be compared to You.”

Why for shofar do we use the expression “shomei’a” — “hear” and for teruah the term “ma’azin” — “listen”?

Rabbi Yosef Tumim in his commentary Pri Megadim on Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim offers the following explanation in the name of Rabbi Chaim HaKohen Rappaport, chief Rabbi of (Lvov) Lemberg and a senior disciple of the Ba’al Shem Tov.

Regarding the blowing of the shofar, the Torah uses the term “teruah” (Bamidbar 29:1), and our sages have taught that there must also be atekiah preceding it and following it (see Rosh Hashanah 34a). The tekiah is a smooth, simple, and straightforward blast. The teruah is the voice of one who is sobbing and moaning bitterly. Thus, it may be said that the tekiah represents the tzaddikim — righteous — who have a clean record and have lived according to the Torah all their years. The teruah on the other hand, represents the ba’al teshuvah, who unfortunately spent part of his life not in accordance with Torah, and who decided to change his ways and return to the fold. He, like the teruah, sobs and moans bitterly and is full of remorse and pain for the lifestyle he led until he saw the light, and made his return.

In Parshat Ha’azinu Moshe says, “Ha’azinu hashamayim va’adabeirah vetishma ha’aretz imrei pi” — “Give ear O Heavens and I will speak and may the earth hear the words of my mouth” (31:1). Commentaries ask, why to shamayim — Heaven — did Moshe say “ha’azinu” — “give ear” — while to aretz — earth — he said “tishma” — “hear” — while Isaiah said the reverse, “Shimu shamayim veha’azini aretz” — “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth” (Isaiah 1:2)?

The term “ha’azinu” applies to hearing something close by, and the term shema is to hear from a distance. Moshe, being closer to heaven than to earth said “ha’azinu” to earth and “tishma” toaretz, but Isaiah, who was closer to earth than to heaven, said “shema” to heaven and “ha’azini” to earth (see ibid., Rashi).

Hashem has a special love for the ba’al teshuvahteruah — and He is very close to him, much more than to the righteous, as our sages have told us, “In the place where the ba’al teshuvah stands even tzaddikim gemurim — the greatest of the righteous — cannot stand” (Berachot 34b). Therefore, when we speak of the teruahba’al teshuvah — as opposed to the kol shofartzaddik —the term “ma’azin” is used very appropriately for the teruah to emphasize Hashem’s closeness to the ba’al teshuvah.

The concluding words “Ve’ein domeh lach” — “And there is none who can be compared to You,” superficially are enigmatic. One does not have to be Divine to be able to hear the sounding of the shofar. Anyone whose hearing is not impaired can hear it. If so, what uniqueness does Hashem possess that makes us declare, “And there is none who can be compared to You”?

Theuniqueness of Hashem is that mortal kings usually do not like to use vessels which are broken or tarnished. The ba’al teshuvah is a repaired vessel, and only Hashem, King of Kings, has special love for this particular vessel.

(עי' פרי מגדים סי' תקצ"ב א')

Another explanation to “Ve’ein domeh lach” — “And there is none who can be compared to You” — may be the following: The Jerusalem Talmud (Makkot 2:6) relates that a question was posed: What penalty is appropriate for the sinning soul? Prophecy (nevu’ah) answered that the soul who sins should be put to death. Wisdom (chochmah) answered that the sinning soul should be punished with suffering. Torah responded, “He should bring a sacrifice and be forgiven.” Hashem Himself said, “The sinner should repent and he will be pardoned.”

Hence, teshuvah is something which was prescribed only by Hashem, and therefore we say “Ve’ein domeh lach” — “And there is none who can be compared to You.”

King David says, “Ashrei ha’am yode’ei teruah” — “Happy is the people that know the sound of the teruah” (Psalms 89:16). The Midrash Rabbah (Vayikra 29:4) asks, “But do not the nations of the world know how to sound the blast? What a host of horns they have! It can only mean that [the Jewish people] know how to win over their Creator with the blast, so that He rises from the Throne of Judgment and goes over to the Throne of Mercy; He is filled with compassion towards them and changes for them the Attribute of Justice to the Attribute of Mercy. When? In the seventh month [Tishrei].”

Teruah represents the person who is doing teshuvah, which is a most powerful Divine gift to the Jewish people. Therefore, King David says, “Ashrei ha’am” — “Happy is the people” — “yode’ei teruah” — “who know of the concept of teruah [i.e. teshuvah].” Through it they win Hashem over, and He is filled with compassion for them.

May we all be inspired on the auspicious day of Rosh Hashanah to sound the teruah — do teshuvah — and undoubtedly, Hashem will reciprocate and with mercy bestow upon us the best of everything.


The Shape of the Shofar

The shofar is narrow on one end and broad on the other. The broad end is where the horn was attached to the animal’s head, and the narrow end is the tip of the horn. There are two rules in the Shulchan Aruch regarding the two ends of the shofar. One is that if someone alters the shape of the shofar by applying heat, making the narrow end wide and the wide end narrow, the shofar is pasul — disqualified — because the Torah states, “veha’avarta shofar teruah” — “you shall sound the blast of a teruah,” and the word “veha’avarta” teaches that it must be “derech ha’avarato” — “in the same shape as when it was removed from the animal” (Orach Chaim 586:12).

Another halachah states that even when one does not make any physical changes in the shofar, but merely reverses it and blows through the wide end, he does not fulfill the mitzvah. A hint for thishalachah is found in the pasuk, “min hameitzar karati Kah annani bamerchav Kah” — “from the straights [lit. narrow] I called to G‑d, and then G‑d answered me with expansiveness [lit. wide open]” (Psalms 118:5).

The first halachah is very easy to comprehend, but the second one is puzzling. To turn a shofar around and blow through the wide side, is extremely difficult. Why is one who exerts such effort and who delivers the prescribed tones rejected, receiving no credit for fulfilling the mitzvah?

When Bilaam was hired by Balak to curse the Jewish people, he said in amazement, “Mah tovu ohalecha Yaakov mishkenotecha Yisrael” — “How goodly are your tents O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel” (Bamidbar 24:5). Rashi comments that Bilaam was amazed when “he saw that the openings [of their tents] were not lined up with the other.” Why was he so impressed by their “openings”?

Rabbi Baruch of Mezibush, a grandson of the Ba’al Shem Tov, explains it in the following way. The Midrash Rabbah (Song of Songs 5:3) says that Hashem urges the Jewish people to do teshuvah, saying: “Pitchu li petach kechudo shel machat ve’Ani potei’ach lachem petachim shetiheyu agalot nichnasot bo” — “Make a small opening like that of the head of a needle, and I will open for you an opening through which caravans can enter.” In other words, the Jew merely has to begin the teshuvah process, and Hashem will help him attain the most lofty goals. Thus, the “openings” that Jews have to make and Hashem’s reciprocal opening are not comparable.

Therefore, in praise and envy Bilaam said, “You Jews are so lucky; your opening and Hashem’s opening are not ‘lined up’ — i.e. not identical — to each other. You only have to put in a little effort, and Hashem opens for you the vast gates of teshuvah. If your G‑d loves you so much, how can my cursing possibly have an effect?”

The Rambam (Teshuvah 3:4) writes that though the sounding of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah is one of the six hundred and thirteen commandments of the Torah, it also conveys a call to the people to awaken from their slumber and do teshuvah — repent to Hashem.

It may be said that the two openings of the shofar, the narrow one and the wide one, represent the minute opening the Jew makes and the reciprocal broad opening of Hashem. While many may hesitate to do teshuvah, thinking that it is very difficult for one to return and come close to Hashem, the message of the shofar refutes this. It is simple to do teshuvah. Just make a small opening, move closer to Hashem, and He will open up His gates for you and facilitate your return.

The halachah about turning the shofar around and blowing through the wide end is a metaphor for those who think that teshuvah is difficult and that even if one goes through much effort he will accomplish very little in the end. This approach is contrary to our belief and, therefore, unacceptable and disqualified. The message conveyed by our way of blowing the shofar is that teshuvah is not difficult; a person simply has to make a small opening — a little effort, and he will reap immense reward.


“No Deposit No Return”

When a Jewish boy reaches the age of thirteen and celebrates his Bar-Mitzvah, it is customary for him to receive gifts. The most popular gift, of course, is a check, but some also receive books and other valuable items. When Yanky became Bar-Mitzvah he was eagerly awaiting the gift that his grandfather, a wealthy man and noted philanthropist, would give him.

Upon returning home after the celebration, he began to unpack the gifts. His grandfather’s gift came in a box. Inside, was an envelope with a check for a large amount. As he dug down deeper, he found an old-fashioned glass bottle of Coca Cola. On it was a note from his grandfather telling him that the bottle carried an important message for him to remember all the days of his life, and which will be his key to great success.

Unable to decipher the message, he waited until the morning when he went to his grandfather’s home, thanked him for the check, and then asked, “What was I to learn from the bottle?” The grandfather gently told Yanky, “Nowadays in most cities when you buy a bottle of soda you leave a deposit, which you receive back when you return the bottle. Etched in the glass of this old bottle that I gave you, are the words, ‘no deposit no return,’ and it is a important message which you should always remember. In life, if one expects a ‘return,’ it is necessary to make a ‘deposit.’ ”

“Miracles do happen, but only from time to time and only to certain people. To sit idle and wait for them to happen is improper. It is necessary to do, to put in one’s best effort, and undoubtedly Hashem will bless one with happy returns. This is true in every facet of life.

“When difficulties occur in a marriage, it is necessary to determine whether the husband and wife really made a ‘deposit’ and gave of themselves to each other. When a partnership in business goes sour, one should see if each partner really made honest deposits — earnestly devoted himself, his time, and his interest to the business. If one is disappointed with the way his children are turning out, he should ask himself, ‘Is it their fault or is it mine? Did I deposit into them an education and appreciation of Yiddishkeit which would produce the returns I would like to see now?’ ”

Rosh Hashanah is the time of the year when one makes resolutions, but resolutions in themselves are meaningless and insufficient. A resolution must be supported with sincere efforts. First and foremost, we must not forget: “no deposit, no return.” One cannot sit back and just rely on a miracle. It is up to us to put forth the effort and make the deposit, and when we do, the return is usually well worth it.

(הרב יעקב יהודה ז"ל העכט)


“Here I am, my Son”

The Torah reading for the second day of Rosh Hashanah is the Akeidah — the testing of Avraham to bind his son and prepare him as an offering to Hashem. Many have wondered, throughout history Jews were not just tested, but literally martyred for the sake of Hashem, so “What constitutes the greatness of Avraham?”

Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad Chassidut, in his famous sefer, Likkutei Amarim — popularly known as “Tanya — offers the following explanation. “It was not the act itself, for there are numerous saints who gave their life for the sanctification of Hashem, even though He did not speak to them. However, Avraham did this with ‘zerizut’ — ‘wondrous alertness’ — as the Torah states, ‘vayashkeim Avraham baboker’ — ‘Avraham rose early in the morning’ — to express his joy and desire to fulfill the will of his Master and to cause gratification to his Master ” (Iggeret Hakodesh 21).

According to Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Horodok, one of the foremost students of the Maggid of Mezritch, the uniqueness of Avraham is expressed in the fact that he was the first to face such a difficult challenge, and when he triumphed he “opened the channel of mesirat nefesh — martyrdom” — for future generations (see Pri Ha’aretz, Vayeira).

There is another dimension to our appreciation of Avraham’s greatness, and the message being conveyed to all of humanity particularly in contemporary times. There is no doubt that anyone would obey if Hashem spoke to him personally and asked him to do what He asked of Avraham. Undoubtedly, the person would prepare himself accordingly for the fulfillment of this monumental task. For weeks he would seclude himself to sanctify and elevate himself, and, needless to say, he would not want to be interrupted by anyone during this period.

Let us now take a look at Avraham’s conduct. After years of childlessness, Avraham’s unequivocal reply to the Divine test was “Hineini,” — “Here I am” — I am ready. As father and son ascend the mountain, we read, “Vayomer Yitzchak el Avraham aviv, vayomer avi, vayomer hineni b’ni” — “And Yitzchak spoke to Avraham his father and said, ‘My father’; and he said, ‘Here I am, my son.’ ”

We can well imagine how engrossed Avraham was in his thoughts and meditations and how unwilling he was to be interrupted. Nevertheless, when his son called him, he abandoned his lofty activities and responded immediately, “Hineni b’ni” — “Here I am, my son.” The devoted first Jewish father and teacher of humanity realized that his child was his first priority and deserved preference over all other matters.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe once related the following incident involving Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the founder of Chabad Chassidut and his son Rabbi DovBer, who later succeeded him as Rebbe and leader of Chabad. Rabbi DovBer was known for his unusual power of concentration. Once, when Rabbi DovBer was engrossed in learning, his baby, sleeping in a cradle nearby, fell out and began to cry. The infant’s father did not hear the cries. However, the infant’s grandfather, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, who was in his study on the upper floor, and who was also engrossed in his studies at that time, did hear the cries. He interrupted his studies, went downstairs, picked up the baby, soothed it and placed it back in its cradle. To all this, the infant’s father remained oblivious.

Subsequently, Rabbi Shneur Zalman admonished his son: “No matter how engrossed one may be in the most lofty occupation, one must never remain insensitive to the cry of a child.”

In contemporary times, parents are preoccupied and often do not have time for their children. The child may be trying to get his parent’s attention and the parent, who is relaxing or pursuing his usual pastimes, rebuffs the child and tells him, “Don’t bother me now.”

Throughout history many have died “al kiddush Hashem — “sanctifying Hashem’s name.” When the time came for them to perform a magnanimous act for the sake of Hashem they complied valiantly, but unfortunately, not many have had time and patience for their children. Avraham however, passed his test with flying colors.

Reading the story of the Akeidah on Rosh Hashanah is a reminder that our challenge is to be always attuned to the call of our children and to respond immediately “Hineni b’ni” — “Here I am, my son.”


Confusing Satan

The uniqueness of Rosh Hashanah lies in the blowing of the shofar, which is not blown onany other holiday.

Why is the shofar blown on Rosh Hashanah? The sages of the Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 16b) consider this question and suggest a peculiar answer: The shofar is blown so as to confuse Satan. Rosh Hashanah is Judgment Day, and Satan on that day acts as accuser. Having seduced man to sin, he then returns to accuse him of the very sins which he incited. But when he hears the sounds of the shofar, he becomes so confused that he loses track of the proceedings and is unable to prosecute effectively.

The obvious question, however, is what could there possibly be in the shofar that has such a devastating effect upon Satan? He, who all year round is full of fire and fury, fearing no one, suddenly trembles on Rosh Hashanah — just on account of a few blasts from the shofar?

Our sages explain that his confusion is caused by the numerous sounds produced by the shofar. In addition to the smooth and long blast known as tekiah, there is a broken-up blast of shevarim, followed by a tremulous sound of the teruah. That confuses him!

But even that is hard to understand. How could it be that the perennially old and forever-the-same clever Satan, who induces man to sin, could not by now have learned about thepower of the Shofar.

The shofar sounds on Rosh Hashanah represent different types of Jews. First comes the tekiah, a simple, straight and even sound, comparable in nature to the tzaddik, who is righteous, uncomplicated and honest.

Shevarim means “broken” and represents the rasha — evil-doer — who is not satisfied with his own evil ways, but, being crooked himself, wants to see all that is whole broken and all that is straight made crooked.

The teruah, which means “torn-apart,” represents the tormented soul of the ba’al teshuvah, who bemoans his past and is now struggling to become an enlightened Jew. He is no evil-doer; he does not seek to break; he just knows very little about being a Jew. His soul is torn because of its past, yearning to enter a better and refined Torah way of life.

Finally there comes a shevarim-teruah, which is a mixture of the two. Not fully committed to one way of life, this Jew wavers and fluctuates from one extreme to the other.

Rosh Hashanah is the Day of Judgment for all. Satan realizes that it is in his interest to overlook the “tekiah Jew.” He agrees to rest his case against him but anticipates destroying the Jews represented by the shevarim, teruah, and shevarim-teruah. They unfortunately have provided him with enough ammunition to prosecute and destroy them.

Therefore, our great sages have devised an ingenious legal procedure on Judgment Day, which even that devious prosecutor, Satan himself, cannot overcome, that disrupts him to the extent that he is unable to proceed.

And what is this procedure? Quite simply this: They established a rule that a shevarim, or a teruah, or the shevarim-teruah is never blown alone; each shevarim and each teruah is preceded by a tekiah and followed by a tekiah. Thus, we never see the evil-doer, the rent soul, or the wavering Jew step up alone before the Court-on-High. They know very well that, were they to be judged alone, they would not come off very well. They are fortunate in having two companions, the tekiot, one on each side, and they all step up before the Court-on-High and say: “We wish to be judged together. We are brothers, inseparably attached and responsible for one another!”

And so, what is there left for Satan to do? How can he produce a valid case against all three, particularly when two of them are righteous, even though the third is not quite so ‘kosher’? If he accuses the shevarim of a certain “break-up,” it is quickly covered up by the evenness and straightness of the tekiot. The same happens in the case of the teruah, and shevarim-teruah. All come up to the tribunal flanked with the tekiot supporting them on each side, and Satan loses.

Therefore, it is understandable why Jews flock to shul on Rosh Hashanah more than all year round. Even those who are deeply immersed in sins and even those who never come to shul all year round are present. Jews feel innately that only together do they stand a chance. Against all of them standing together, even the crafty Satan cannot prevail. They come to pray together with the great community of Israel and are confident that in their merit, they too will be blessed with a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year.

(הרב יצחק חיים שי' אביגדור – From Prison to Pulpit)


Asking Versus Wanting

From the beginning of the month of Elul until Hoshanah Rabbah we recite twice daily the 27th Chapter of Psalms, in which King David says, “Achat sha’alti mei’eit Hashem oto avakeish” — “One thing I ask of the G‑d that is also which I desire.”

While on the surface, it appears to be repetitious, the truth is that King David is teaching us a lesson of cardinal importance concerning our communication, via prayer, to Hashem.

Unfortunately sometimes the things which “sha’alti” — “we ask for” — and “avakeish” — “what we desire and strive for” —are not really “achat” — “one,” i.e. identical. King David is proclaiming, “that which I ask for” and “that which I want and desire” are “achat” — identical. You may wonder, is there anyone who is foolish enough to pray for one thing and work to defeat his own prayers? The answer is “yes.” Some examples follow.

Throughout the year, we pray for good health and for a tranquil life. After our prayers, we plunge into work and worry, in which our physical health and nervous system get an awful beating. Thus, the “sha’alti” — “what we asked for” — is not complemented by the “avakeish” — “our desires.”

We pray, “Our G‑d, Our Father, return us to You in full repentance.” Can we honestly say that we want Hashem to grant this prayer? Do we seriously intend to alter our ways and really do teshuvah? Is the “avakeish” compatible with “sha’alti”?

We pray for the speedy redemption of our people and that Mashiach should bring us to our Holy Land. But are we really ready for Mashiach? Do we seriously want to give up our pseudo-security and our comforts to follow Mashiach to our Holy Land?

In the olden days, there were tzaddikim who took self-imposed exile upon themselves. They would travel from city to city and not reveal their identity. Once, such a tzaddik spent a night in an inn which belonged to a Jew who was alienated from Yiddishkeit. At midnight, the tzaddik began to recite the prayer of Chatzot. He sat on the floor with candles around him and wept over the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash, praying for Mashiach and the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash. The innkeeper, hearing cries, followed them to the room of the tzaddik. With his master-key he opened the door and, beholding the strange scene, asked, “What is wrong? Why are you crying? Are you not feeling well?” The tzaddik explained that he was crying over the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash and praying for the speedy revelation of Mashiach. With the assurance that his guest was not ill, the innkeeper went back to sleep.

In the morning, he related to his elderly mother the strange episode he witnessed the night before. His mother who happened to know about Yiddishkeit but had become estranged from it, instructed her son to go to the tzaddik and ask him to suspend his prayers for Mashiach for three weeks because there was a three week’s supply of lard in the barrel which she did not want to have to throw out.

Unfortunately, there are many who verbally pray for Mashiach without really being ready to give up their attachments to behaviors and lifestyles which may not be “kosher.”

In conclusion, sometimes we utter prayers without consciously hearing what we are saying. Let us strive during these days of prayer and teshuvah, to be earnest in the requests which we place before Hashem and not only “sha’alti” — “ask of Hashem” — but also “avakeish” — “desire and strive” to change our daily life for the better.

(הרב דוד שי' הולונדער)


The Potential of the Individual

In six days the A-mighty created the heavens, earth, and its inhabitants. According to the sages, creation commenced on the 25th day of Elul and six days later, Adam, the first man was created (see Vayikra Rabbah 29:1).

Rosh Hashanah commemorates the creation of Adam, the first man and the ancestor of humanity. Accordingly, this singular anniversary was designated to serve as the day of judgment for Adam’s descendants throughout the generations. On this day it is incumbent upon Adam’s children to reflect and contemplate whether man, as he evolved throughout history, has justified the hopes and aspirations of his Creator.

One of the main distinguishing features in the creation of man is that he was created single, unlike all other species, which were created in large numbers. This emphasizes the fact that one single individual has the capacity to bring the whole of creation to fulfillment. Adam, following his creation, single-handedly rallied all creatures in the world to recognize the sovereignty of the Creator. When Adam was created, all creatures who saw him were gripped with fear and bowed to him in mistaken belief, that he, Adam, had created them. Adam said to them, “Do not think I created you. ‘Come, let us worship and bow down before Hashem our Maker’” (Psalms 95:6) (see Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer 11).

Adam, the first man, was the prototype and example for every individual to follow. Every Jew, regardless of his time, place, and personal status, has the capacity to rise and attain the highest degree of fulfillment and to elevate the entire creation.

Rosh Hashanah — the anniversary of the first human — disproves the contention of those who sit idly by and follow the tide, with the excuse that it is impossible for one person to change the world or society. Many of us give up when it comes to introducing more Yiddishkeit in our neighborhood, in our children’s homes, or even in our own lives. We do this saying, “es iz farfalen, men ken garnit tan” — “It is a lost case, nothing can be done about it.”

The message of Rosh Hashanah is that each and every Jew has tremendous potential and, with sincere efforts, he can improve and elevate himself, his family, society, and indeed the entire world.

(לקוטי שיחות ח"ט)


Significance of Apple Dipped in Honey on Rosh Hashanah

When any apple is cut in half horizontally one sees five grooves with pits, encircled by ten dots. Using the alef-beit as numerals, the hei (ה) is five and the yud (י) ten. Thus, the five grooves and the ten dots are an allusion to the “yud-hei” (י-ה) — the first half of the Holy four-lettered Name.

The reason for the emphasis on the “yud” and “hei” of His Holy Four Lettered Name is that “Hayom harat olam” — “Today is the birthday of the world” — and with these two letters the worlds were created. The Gemara (Menachot 29b) explains that the passuk, “Be’yah Hashem tzur olamim” — “For in G‑d, Ado-noy, is the strength of the worlds (Isaiah 26:4), should be expounded as if it means, “With ‘yah’ (the letters yud and hei) Hashem formed worlds.” With the letter “yud”Olam Haba — “the World to Come” — was created, and with the letter “hei”“Olam hazeh” — “this world” — was created (see Bereishit 2:4, Rashi).

Thus, eating an apple is particularly appropriate on Rosh Hashanah, the birthday of the world and the day of Hashem’s coronation as King of the world.

(שמעתי מאבי חורגי הרב אליהו משה ז"ל ליס)

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According to Kabbalists Hashem’s name “Yud — Hei” has a special connection with the month of Tishrei. In fact, the mazal — astrological sign — of Tishrei is moznayim — scales — and the numerical value of the words “mazal moznayim” (מזל מאזנים) is two hundred and twenty-five, the same as “yud hei” (י — ה) times “yud hei” (15 x 15 = 225).

(בני יששכר מאמר ב' סעי' י"ב)

* * *

It is interesting to note, that in the zemirot of Shabbat (Atkinu Seudata and Azameir Bishevachim) the mention of “Chakal Tapuchin Kadishin” — “the Field of Sacred Apples” — refers to the Kingdom of Hashem.

(עי' רש"י בראשית כ"ז:כ"ז)

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The apple is dipped in honey because the Hebrew word for honey is “devash” (דבש) and its numerical value is three hundred and six, which is also the numerical value of Av harachaman” (אב הרחמן) — “merciful Father.”

(ר' פינחס זצ"ל מקוריץ, בני יששכר)