FAITHFUL TO HAKADOSH BARUCH HU

30 September 2016

"Leave it Up to the King"

27 Elul 5776
Erev Shabbat Kodesh

Leave it Up to the King
Elul / Rosh Hashanah

Posted on September 15, 2004 (5764) By Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann

One of the anomalies pointed out by the commentators regarding Rosh Hashana is that no where in the Torah is Rosh Hashana ever mentioned in connection with Yom Ha-din/A Day of Judgement; Scripture speaks only of a Yom Teruah/Day of Blowing the Shofar. It is only through the oral tradition of our Sages that we know that on the Universe’s anniversary, its Creator takes stock and makes His allocations and allotments for the coming year. Why does the Torah seemingly go out of its way to conceal the concept of Judgement? And why is it specifically the theme of the Shofar that receives the overwhelming focus in the Torah’s description of this day, when in fact the sounding of the Shofar is but a small, if very important, ingredient in the overall scheme of Rosh Hashana?

In the book of Nehemiah (8) we find a description of an ancient Rosh Hashana:

Then all the people gathered together as one man at the plaza before the Water Gate, and they asked Ezra the scribe to bring the Torah scroll of Moshe, which Hashem had commanded Israel. So Ezra the Kohen brought the Torah before the congregation… on the first day of the seventh month. He read from it… from first light until midday, and the ears of all the people were attentive to the Torah scroll. They read in the scroll, in G-d’s Torah, clearly, appreciating the wisdom; they helped the people understand the reading. Then Nechemia, Ezra the scribe, and the Levi’im who were helping the people understand, said to all the people – who were weeping as they heard the words of the Torah – “Today is sacred to Hashem, your G-d; do not mourn and do not weep. Go eat rich foods, and drink sweet beverages, and send portions to those who have not prepared – for today is sacred to our Lord. Do not be sad – Hashem’s pleasure is your strength!”

When the people listened to the Hashem’s word being read to them, they were overwhelmed by feelings of remorse and inadequacy, and began to weep. At first glance, this would seem to be most appropriate and praiseworthy – something we might all strive for on the most serious and introspective of days. Yet they are rebuffed. Rather, they are told to go eat lavish meals, because “Hashem’s pleasure is their strength.” We are left wondering what indeed is Hashem’s pleasure – from which they are to derive strength – if not their sincere reaction to hearing the Torah?

The Tur (Orach Chaim 581) describes a Jew’s preparation for the Day of Judgement:

Normally, a person who knows he is to be judged, dons black clothing, lets his beard grow unkempt, and doesn’t cut his nails. [He does so because he is overcome with anxiety] over not knowing the outcome of his judgement. Yet [before Rosh Hashana] we don’t do so. We don white clothing, trim our hair, and cut our nails. On Rosh Hashana, we eat, drink, and are happy, for we know that the Almighty will perform miracles with us…

Why shouldn’t we stand in trepidation before the mighty Yom Ha-din – instead of running around getting haircuts and preparing luxurious meals? What is the source of our assuredness that we will merit a good verdict – all the more so if we approach the Day of Judgement with such seeming nonchalance?

The holy Zohar (see Tikkunei Zohar 22a regarding Yom Kippur) criticizes those who cry out on the Days of Judgement, pleading for their needs. “Give! Give!” they cry, “like a dog begging for food.” What is so wrong if, recognizing the seriousness and imminence of the day’s judgement, we plead for our needs?

Perhaps we can understand the correct approach to Rosh Hashana with a parable:

A great and mighty king let it be known that on a given day, he would be passing through a certain city. During his stay, he would grace the inhabitants with an audience, during which he would deliver a royal address. He would then entertain requests and supplications from his subjects. Those who wished were to prepare their requests on the highest quality parchment, upon which they should write what it is they were asking of the king, and why they felt the magnanimous king should grant their wishes. They could ask for up to three things.

The city’s inhabitants busily went about preparing a royal welcome. Of course there was also much excitement about the prospect of a private audience, and the possibility of one’s most-longed-for dreams being granted by the king himself. The king arrived amidst much pomp and circumstance, and was duly impressed by the extravagant preparations made on his behalf. After delivering his royal address, a huge line formed in front of him. Each person held in his hand a carefully written parchment to present to the king, with the hope that his dreams would be granted.

The king was indeed magnanimous, and graced his subjects by granting any and all reasonable requests. One by one the people had their turn and made leave of the king’s presence, all with the satisfied looks of one whose dreams have come true.

The entire time, the king had been observing that one lone maidservant stood at the back of the palace, modestly observing the goings-on, yet never approaching the line. Even now as the line was already empty, she still did not approach. Intrigued, the king had her called before him.

“Tell me,” he said, “why is it that you stand there quietly, while all your townsmen come and go, each of them having their wishes granted in a most generous manner? Do you not trust that I have the ability to grant your desires?”

“Oh no,” she said sharply to the king. “It’s just that – well – I simply didn’t have the time to prepare a parchment with my requests. You see, when I heard the king would be visiting, I immediately became preoccupied with making sure everything would be ready to receive the king. Draperies needed to be sewn, rugs weaved, floors cleaned, swept, and polished… There was so much to do to make sure the city was ready for the king’s arrival, and I so busy, that I simply never got around to preparing my wish-list. Today, as I stood before the king, I realized it was already too late. Instead, I chose to spend by time in the presence of your highness, as he graciously dealt with his subjects.”

The king’s face now glowed with a radiance that awed the simple maidservant. “My dearest maiden,” the king said, “if there is anyone who is truly deserving of having their wishes granted, it must surely be you, who have put my honour before all else. I will not trouble you to ask, for in your modesty your requests would likely be simple ones. Rather, I will grant you the blessings of my hand – the royal hand. I have no doubt they will satisfy you beyond your wildest dreams.”

In the weeks and days before Rosh Hashana, Jews are busy cleaning up (teshuva cleanses sins), and preparing ourselves to receive the King of Kings. Although of course Hashem is our King all year long, on Rosh Hashana His dominion is underscored by the fact that it is then that He sits upon the Throne of Judgement and judges the world. It is on Rosh Hashana that Hashem says, “Call out before Me with the blast of the Shofar – to demonstrate your acceptance of Me as your King (Mishna Rosh Hashana 4:5),” like the king who enters the palace amidst trumpet blasts.

The Torah stresses the theme of Rosh Hashana as being a day of Shofar blasts, and down-plays the aspect of judgement, in order to keep us focused. The nature of a man being judged is to become self-absorbed; his mind is consumed with thoughts of what he can do to assure himself a favourable verdict. Or, if he feels there is no hope, he falls into self- pity and stops caring. Either way, all he’s thinking about is himself, and that misses the whole point of the day. Our focus on Rosh Hashana should not be on “what’s in it for us” and “how’s this going to turn out for me” but rather on accepting Hashem as our King, and being the best servants we can.

That’s why, when the people began mourning and crying, they were told to stop. It’s good that they were aroused by the reading of the Torah, but the Navi (Prophet) guided them to take that arousal and use it to celebrate the day that Hashem brought the world into being, thereby becoming its King, and on which He renews its lease each year.

With what will they merit a good judgement? Why are we so self-assured that we will be judged favourably that we get dressed up in our finest clothing, and, as the Zohar suggests, we spend the day celebrating rather than grovelling before Hashem to forgive our sins and grant our wishes? It’s not because we arrogantly believe we deserve it, but because of what we’re doing instead. As Hashem sits upon His throne to judge the world, He finds us in the synagogues, listening to the Shofar and reciting the prayers whose focus is that we accept Hashem as our King, and pray that one day the entire world will also recognize His dominion. We’re too “busy” to even take the time to contemplate where we fit in the picture, and what Hashem has in store for us.

Seeing this, Hashem’s countenance glows, and no doubt He inscribes all His faithful servants in the Book of Life and the Righteous, that they may indeed merit another year of health and prosperity. And He bestows upon them blessings far more numerous and generous than they ever could have thought to ask for.

28 September 2016

Can Gentiles Repent (Part 4)

26 Elul 5776

Shimon Peres Joins Rabin and Arafat

25 Elul 5776


He was there at the beginning of the Erev Rav regime. We can only hope that his passing indicates the end of the Erev Rav regime.

Among the international VIPs expected to attend the levaya are US President Barak Obama, Pope Francis, French President Francois Hollande, UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon, and British Prime Minister Theresa May. (Source)


Here are some excerpts from past blog posts:

Peres suggests holy sites in J'lem be declared 'world capital'

...His plan calls for declaring a holy area of sites sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims in Jerusalem's old walled city as a "world capital", with the UN Secretary-General serving as mayor, Peres' spokesman Yoram Dori said.


Pres. Peres Calls for 100,000 Yesha Jews to Migrate to the Negev

President Shimon Peres called on Jews from Judea and Samaria last week to send a cohort with their strength and skills to settle the Negev.

Addressing an event to mark the 70th anniversary of Kibbutz Revivim – located deep in the Negev – Peres noted that at present, there are only 6,500 residents in the Ramat Hanegev region.

Even if half the Jews living in Judea and Samaria (Yehuda and Shomron) lived in the Negev, Peres said, the regions would look different. 
 


We Need a United Nations of World Religions

...Globalization made it so the social and economic fates of the world's major powers were tied together. The U.N. and similar international organizations have played a key role.... 

If such an alliance can be used to unite independent states, could a similar model work for world religions? This was an idea proposed last year by former Israeli president Shimon Peres. He suggested that an organization called "the United Religions" could bring together leaders from various worldwide religions with the goal of promoting interfaith peace and understanding. In Peres' eyes, Pope Francis himself would head up this "UN for religions" because he is universally respected and could spearhead efforts to broker peace in the Middle East. 


Israel's Peres pitches "UN of Religions" to pope

Retired Israeli President Shimon Peres has proposed a new global peace initiative to Pope Francis: A "United Nations of Religions," given that most wars today have religious, not nationalistic, undercurrents.

The Vatican said Peres pitched the initiative during a 45-minute audience Thursday in the Apostolic Palace. The two men last met when Francis invited the then-Israeli president and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to pray for peace together in the Vatican gardens on June 8.


See also: The Indomitable Shimon Peres, The Most Evil Man in IsraelThree strikes! You're out, Mr. President!!The Most Despicable Person in IsraelA Leader and a Statesman

27 September 2016

"The Twenty-Fifth of Elul"

25 Elul 5776

From The Book of Our Heritage by Eliyahu Kitov:

The twenty-fifth of Elul is the day on which the world was created - according to R. Eliezer, whose opinion we follow as concerns the calculation of the calendar. That day, on which Heaven and earth were created, preceded the creation of Adam by six days, for Adam was created on Rosh Hashanah.

In some communities it is customary, between the twenty-fifth of Elul and Rosh Hashanah, to read the verses in Bereshit that recount the days of Creation.

On the twenty-fifth of Elul, Nechemiyah completed construction of the wall surounding the city of Jerusalem, as the verse states: (Nechemyah 6:15) "And the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul."

26 September 2016

"The Six Obstacles to Teshuvah"

24 Elul 5776

Why Is It So Hard to Change? The Six Obstacles to Teshuvah
by Abraham J. Twerski | September 19, 2012 

“Of course a person should do teshuvah, but I am a bit puzzled. I observe Shabbos, I keep kosher and taharas hamishpachah. I daven every day, I attend a Daf Yomi shiur and I am honest in my business dealings. What exactly should I do teshuvah for?”

People may not actually say this, but some certainly think this way. Yet King Solomon said, “For there is no man so fully righteous that he always does good and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20). Even the greatest tzaddik is not free of sin. How, then, can a person who is quite far from being a perfect tzaddik not feel a need to do teshuvah?

Several psychological defense mechanisms tend to discourage an individual from changing, from doing teshuvah. The obstacles to teshuvah are denial, rationalization, trivializing, projection, habituation and ego.

1) Denial
Throughout Tanach, the prophets repeatedly exhorted the Jewish people to abandon their errant behavior, but as is evident from the Scriptures, they were not very successful. Isaiah explains why. “Surely you hear, but you fail to comprehend; and surely you see, but you fail to know. This people is fattening its heart, hardening its ears and sealing its eyes, lest it see with its eyes and hear with its ears and understand with its heart, so that it will repent and be healed” (Isaiah 6:9-10). No psychology text can improve on Isaiah’s description of denial. Because people are intent on doing whatever they wish, they resort to denial, one of the best-known defense mechanisms so that they are unaffected by the reality of what they see and hear.

We are creatures of habit, and we are comfortable when we can do things without the need to exert much effort. Change is uncomfortable, and in order to avoid this discomfort, our minds block out those realizations that would call for change. The natural state of all matter—including human beings—is inertia, but one must force himself to overcome inertia in order to grow and change.

2) Rationalization
Denial enables a person to maintain the status quo. When reality threatens to overcome denial, the mind employs other defense mechanisms to reinforce the denial—such as rationalization. One of the themes in Proverbs is the tendency to rationalize. Ramchal says, “If a person is confronted with one’s laziness, one will doubtless come back with many quotations culled from the sages and the Scriptures and with intellectual arguments, all supporting, according to his misguided mind, his leniency with himself” (Mesillas Yesharim, Chapter 6).

Denial is not always possible, so the mind is very clever in rationalizing; in other words, justifying one’s actions by giving logical-sounding reasons for them. The Torah stresses the gravity of speaking lashon hara, for example, which requires both teshuvah vis-à-vis Hashem and forgiveness from the victim. Oftentimes one who speaks lashon hara may attempt to justify his behavior by claiming “But it’s the truth!” Defamatory speech is lashon hara, even if it is true.

3) Habituation
The Talmud says that when a person does a forbidden act several times, it loses its opprobrium. Habituation enables one to think that these transgressions are permissible. His conscience is lulled into thinking, It’s really not so terrible. Thus, even though the morning minyan begins promptly at 6:30 am and ends at 7:05, there are some minyannaires who habitually show up at 6:45 and leave before everyone else. They are so accustomed to arriving late and davening at breakneck speed, they see nothing wrong with it.

4) Projection
One who projects onto another will not be able to do genuine teshuvah. Sins committed against another person are not forgiven on Yom Kippur unless one has obtained forgiveness from the offended individual. The defense mechanism of projection turns things around: I did not offend him. He offended me. He should really be apologizing to me.

5) Trivializing
The tendency to trivialize halachah is another impediment in the road to teshuvah. I missed Minchah, but I was so busy at the office. Anyway, it’s not a big deal. Or, I chatted with my friend during the Reading of the Torah, but doesn’t everybody? (This is the only sin for which the Shulchan Aruch says, “There is no forgiveness.”)

6) Ego
Inasmuch as teshuvah for an offense against another person requires that one make amends and ask forgiveness, there is ego resistance to humbling oneself, apologizing and making restitution where required.

One of the axioms of human behavior is that a person will always choose to do that which is most comfortable for him. We find that an addict will not agree to change until he hits “rock-bottom,” i.e., that the pain incident to the addiction is greater than the pleasure it provides. This is equally true of the non-addict. Therefore, oftentimes individuals only agree to change when they have reached rock-bottom.

But what can constitute rock-bottom for the non-addict? A person who contemplates his life goals and sees that his behavior is jeopardizing his reaching those goals may reach rock-bottom. But this requires giving serious thought to defining one’s goals and purpose in life. Confronting death can usually lead to such introspection. I recently attended the funeral of a great talmid chacham. A man next to me said somewhat somberly, “Reb Z. is taking along with him much Torah and mitzvos. What will I be taking along?”

The first chapter in Mesillas Yesharim is entitled “A Person’s Obligation in His World.” The theme of Mesillas Yesharim is the refinement of one’s character. Changing one’s character traits is a major challenge and is usually met with great resistance. Many times real change won’t happen until one realizes that unless one does so, his life is meaningless.

Uncompromised honesty is necessary to see through the psychological defenses that are a barrier to teshuvah. Rosh Hashanah, the Ten Days of Penitence and Yom Kippur are days in which one should be inspired to evaluate the meaning of one’s life. Only when we are aware that we need “fixing” will we do teshuvah.

The founder and medical director emeritus of Gateway Rehabilitation Center in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, Rabbi Abraham Twerski, MD, is one of the country’s leading experts on drug and alcohol rehabilitation. He is the author of numerous books and his column is regularly featured in Jewish Action.

This article was featured in Jewish Action Fall 2012.

Rambam on Teshuvah

23 Elul 5776

Rambam's Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Teshuvah, Chapter 1, Halachah 1:

If a person transgresses any of the mitzvot of the Torah, whether a positive command or a negative command - whether willingly or inadvertently - when he repents, and returns from his sin, he must confess before God, blessed be He, as [Numbrs 5:6-7] states: "If a man or woman commit any of the sins of man... they must confess the sin that they committed."

This referes to a verbal confession. This confession is a positive command.

How does one confess: He states: "I implore You, God, I sinned, I transgressed, I committed inquity before You by doing the following. Behold, I regret and am embarrassed for my deeds. I promise never to repeat this act again."

These are the essential elements of the confessional prayer. Whoever confesses profusely and elaborates on these matters is worthy of praise.

Rambam's Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Teshuvah, Chapter 1, Halachah 3:

...Teshuvah atones for all sins. Even a person who was wicked his whole life and repented in his final moments will not be reminded of any aspect of his wickedness as [Ezekiel 33:12] states: "The wickedness of the evil one will not cause him to stumble on the day he repents his wickedness."

Rambam's Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Teshuvah, Chapter 2, Halachah 1:

[Who has reached] complete teshuvah? A person who confronts the same situation in which he sinned when he has the potential to commit [the sin again], and nevertheless, abstains and does not commit it because of his teshuvah alone and not because of fear or lack of strength.

Rambam's Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Teshuvah, Chapter 2, Halachah 2:

What constitutes teshuvah? That a sinner should abandon his sins and remove them from his thoughts, resolving in his heart, never to commit them again as [Isaiah 55:7] states: "May the wicked abandon his ways...." Similarly, he must regret the past as [Jeremiah 31:1] states: "After I returned, I regretted."

[He must reach the level where] He who knows the hidden will testify concerning him that he will never return to this sin again as [Hoshea 14:4] states: "We will no longer say to the work of our hands: 'You are our gods.'"

He must verbally confess and state these matters which he resolved in his heart.