Rosh Hashanah 5775 --
by Jonathan Rosenblum
September 24, 2014
Developing a G-d Consciousness
Our primary avodas hayom on Rosh Hashanah is to crown HaKadosh Baruch Hu as King. That process begins with increasing our G-d consciousness. A king who is far from our thoughts and the awe of whom does not permeate our lives is, after all, not much of a king
We might think that such a G-d consciousness is easily attained. After all, do we not pray to Hashem regularly, recite a hundred blessings a day, and otherwise guide our lives according to His mitzvos? Yet if we are honest with ourselves, most of us would have to admit that too little of our day is spent thinking about Hashem.
One of Rabbi Noach Weinberg's favorite jokes was about a yungerman who told a friend one day that he had dreamed about Hashem the preceding night. His friend responded that there was nothing surprising about that: "Of course you dream about Hashem," his friend said, "after all, you spend your entire day thinking about Him."
"What do you mean," the yungerman replied, "I wake up early every morning, and have a learning seder before and after the haneitz minyan. Then I grab a quick breakfast and take the kids to school. Then I rush to yeshiva and learn until Mincha, followed by lunch and a brief nap. By then, it's time for the afternoon learning seder."
And in that fashion, he continued describing his day up until the recitation of the bedtime Krias Shema, concluding, "You see, every minute is accounted for. When should I think about Hashem?"
THE RAMCHAL (Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto) provides guidance as to how we can reorient ourselves to think constantly about Hashem. In Chapter 19 of Mesilas Yesharim ("On the Elements of Chassidus"), he describes the chassid as one who seeks to magnify and increase the honor of the Master, blessed be he, in everything that he does. When he performs a mitzvah, it is with the awareness that every time we obey Hashem's commands, His honor is increased. Bringing about that increase in Kavod Shomayim, without personal benefit – even a spiritual benefit – is the chassid's motivation.
Now, most of us are far from the level of the chassid described by the Ramchal. Yet the Ramchal's explication of all that is involved in focusing on Kavod Shomayim can point us in the direction of a heightened awareness of Hashem throughout our day.
If Kavod Shomayim, not just our own spiritual well-being, were paramount, then the mitzvah observance and Torah learning of every Jew would be as important to us as our own, teaches the Ramchal, for in every mitzvah that any Jew performs there is an increase in Kavod Shomayim and in every aveirah an aspect of chilul Hashem. Can there be a greater chilul Hashem, Reb Noach constantly asked, than that the overwhelming majority of Hashem's children know nothing of His Torah and mitzvos?
Were we sufficiently attuned to Kavod Shomayim we would spend far more time than we do mourning the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash and praying with real fervor for its rebuilding, for when Hashem's House lies in ruins and mosques stand where the Bais HaMikdash once stood, Hashem's glory is hidden from the world.
Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin, in his classic Nefesh HaChaim (II:11), provides an example of the power of concentrating on Kavod Shomayim. Amalek was the only nation to dare attack the bnei Yisrael after all the great miracles Hashem had performed in Egypt. Amalek's intention was to diminish the Kavod Shomayim inherent in yetzias Mitzrayim. In Chazal's metaphor, Amalek was a like a man who jumps into a boiling bath: While he is scalded by the hot waters, he cools down the bath so that others can follow. Amalek further showed its contempt and created a chilul Hashem by throwing the sign of the covenant toward Heaven.
The Torah states that when the hands of Moshe Rabbeinu were elevated during the battle with Amalek, bnei Yisrael prevailed, and when his hands were lowered, Amalek prevailed. Reb Chaim explains that when bnei Yisrael concentrated not on the danger they were facing or on their own individual situation but solely on Amalek's affront to Kavod Shomayim – i.e., when they looked heavenward to the raised hands of Moshe Rabbeinu – they triumphed, and when they lost their focus on Kavod Shomayim, Amalek prevailed.
Nothing so determines the degree of Kavod Shomayim in the world as the state of the Jewish people, both spiritual and physical. On Rosh Hashanah, we will beseech Hashem "uv'chein tein pachdecha Hashem Elokeinu al kol ma'asecha -- And so, O Hashem, instill Your awe upon all Your works" and immediately thereafter "uv'chein tein kavod Hashem l'amecha -- And so,O Hashem, grant honor to Your people." "For it is impossible," according to the Ramchal, "for the honor of the Most High to increase except through the Redemption of Israel and the magnification of their honor."
As a consequence, he writes, every Jew should have constantly in mind that any good deed he does and any mitzvah he performs should be for both the spiritual and physical benefit of the Jewish people.
If we tell ourselves, "Who am I to imagine my prayers or mitzvos will bring about the end of the long galus or hasten the geulah?" that is not the counsel of our humility but of our lack of concern with Kavod Shomayim. Chazal have already answered that question, says the Ramchal, when they taught (Sanhedrin 37a) that man was created as a single individual so that each person should say of Himself, "For my sake was the world created." That means that each of us has a responsibility for the entire world, and the state of the Jewish people in particular. All that is encompassed in placing our focus on Kavod Shomayim.
THE JUDGMENT OF ROSH HASHANAH is one between existence and non-existence: Are we worthy of being created anew? Yet before we are created, there is nothing we can do to justify or earn our existence. Only by attaching ourselves to Hashem's original ratzon (will) in bringing the world into existence – i.e., so that every created being would proclaim His malchus and that he is accountable to Him – do we become worthy of being created once again.
By making Hashem a constant presence in our every thought and action, in the direction the Ramchal points us, we crown Him melech (מ-ל-ך) and defend ourselves against Bilaam's kaleim (כ-ל-ם), "Annihilate them," and thereby secure our existence.
Preserving the Unity
Achdut and how to preserve it has been a subject very much on the minds of most Israelis since the kidnapping in June of Eyal Yifrach. Gil-ad Shaer, and Yaakov Naftali Fraenkel, Hy"d. It also happens to be a subject central to our avodah on Rosh Hashanah. There is no King without a nation, and a nation presumes something that unites the various individuals who comprise the nation. Without some degree of unity, there is no nation, just a collection of individuals occupying a common space.
That is why the ba'alei mussar placed such a great emphasis on mitzvos bein adam l'chaveiro in connection with Rosh Hashanah. Such mitzvos join us together. In the Talmud Torah of Kelm, hung an old, yellowing poster from the days of the Alter, throughout the month of Elul. On it was written: "All the Rosh Hashanah prayers are designed to glorify the Kingdom of Heaven, and we for our part are called upon to crown the L-rd as King of Kings. With what shall we crown Him? With love for others and charitable acts, as Moshe said in his farewell blessing of the people: 'There will be a King in Yeshurun when the leaders of the people gather together, with the tribes of Israel as one.'"
When I wrote two weeks ago about Rabbi Aryeh Sokoloff's visits to seriously wounded soldiers still in hospital from wounds suffered in Operation Protective Edge, it was not to alert the world to the existence of a tzaddik, though I did not mind doing that as well. It was because of Rabbi Sokoloff's challenge to Jews living in Israel to emulate him in reaching out to severely wounded soldiers in a context that encourages talking "to each other and not at each other."
As soon as I had written that piece, I started thinking about who would take up Rabbi Sokoloff's challenge. It did not take me long to come up with Mrs. Tzila Schneider, the founder of Kesher Yehudi. I knew she would leap at the idea, and I was not disappointed. She quickly dispatched Rabbi Elazar Freulich, who heads the male volunteers for Kesher Yehudi to Tel Hashomer Hospital, where the major rehabilitation unit is located. Her injunction to him was: "This is not a one or two-time event, but for the long-term."
Rabbi Freulich arrived with five other volunteers for the first time on a Thursday night, when many of the soldiers had returned home for Shabbos. Left in the ward were the most seriously injured, including eleven soldiers with head injuries that have left them for now unable to speak. The volunteers nevertheless sang to them, recited Tehillim and just kept them company.
Many of the volunteers had anticipated that they might meet some hostility as chareidim. But just the oppposite took place: Their visits touched a responsive chord. The Kesher-Yehudi group has returned twice more, each time with more volunteers -- they now number close to thirty -- so that they can set up individual chavrusas with the 32 soldiers on the ward who are capable of maintaining a chavrusah. Some of soldiers are religious, but even those who are not were enthusiastic about the idea of learning together.
Besides the learning and the singing, the Kesher Yehudi volunteers handed out materials for the organization's pre-Rosh Hashanah program: the Last Shabbos of the Year. Over 500 hundred Jews participated this year either observing Shabbos with their families with the aid of the Kesher Yehudi materials, or as guests of religious families, or in a seminar at a Jerusalem hotel (only for those who have never observed a Shabbos before).
Baruch Hashem, Rabbi Sokoloff's challenge did not go unanswered.
Related Topics: Chareidim and Their Critics, Jewish Ethics, Jewish Holidays, Rosh Hashana & Yom Kippur
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