Rosh Hashanah

The Unique Light of Rosh Hashanah

The past year has been a very difficult one. There is so much pain and suffering out there. So many fine, wonderful families are undergoing debilitating difficulties. Whether it is difficulty with shidduchim, which has reached crisis proportions; difficulty in chinuch with children who don’t follow in the path of Yiddishkeit taught to them by their parents; or difficulty in having a child accepted in school or a yeshivah, these and many other difficulties are real and have only been exacerbated in the past year.

In addition, klal Yisrael both in North America and in Eretz Yisrael are undergoing acutely difficult parnassah issues. For many, the words of Chazal, “Ein hakometz masbia es ha’ari—The minimal amount that we have does not suffice to feed the lion,” is a fact of life…

And what about the situation in Eretz Yisrael? I think it is fair to say that since the founding of the State of Israel, there has never been such a difficult period for acheinu bnei Yisrael, chareidim li’devar Hashem in Eretz Yisrael. Without a doubt, the current government is seeking to gain influence over the chareidim, not through mutual discussion and dialogue, but by using the crude cudgel of legislation to make it all but impossible for many G-dfearing Jews in Eretz Yisrael to continue living their lives as they presently do.

As a result of the government’s designs, those families are undergoing profound economic suffering and mental anguish. Indeed, it has been an arduous, challenging year.

And now we are on the threshold of a New Year. Rosh Hashanah is almost upon us and we so deeply desire a better year, a happier year, a year of blessing. We so fervently wish for a clean slate, for a divine hanhagah of rachamim and ratzon… but how do we get there?

In order to answer that question, let us focus somewhat on the essence of Rosh Hashanah. The most fascinating thing about the Yom Tov of Rosh Hashanah is that despite it being among the ten days of the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah, despite the fact that we prepare for Rosh Hashanah with teshuvah during the entire month of Elul and even more so during the days of selichos; nevertheless, in the tefillos of Rosh Hashanah, we do not find any reference to teshuvah. In contrast, on Yom Kippur, we recite Vidui numerous times during the day as we try to clean the grime that has encrusted our souls. Yet on Rosh Hashanah the primary tefillah reflects our deep desire for the revelation of Hashem’s Kingship over the entire world. Similarly, during the month of Elul we say “L’David Hashem ori v’yish’i—Hashem is my light and my salvation.” Chazal teach us, “When is Hashem my light? On Rosh Hashanah. When is He my salvation? On Yom Kippur.”

What is the “light” of Rosh Hashanah? How is it that we spend an entire month preparing for Rosh Hashanah with teshuvah while, on Rosh Hashanah itself, our prayers seem to totally change direction?

Perhaps we can come to a better understanding of the unique nature of Rosh Hashanah by citing an interesting halachah. The Shulchan Aruch dictates that even one who is not careful about eating bread baked by a gentile baker throughout the year should nevertheless refrain from eating such bread during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah. The question arises: What are we trying to do, fool Hashem? If we know that right after Yom Kippur we will resume eating such bread, is there any reason to refrain during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah? Teshuvah is not a hypocritical game, it is a sincere matter. Why then would the Shulchan Aruch encourage us to undertake an unsustainable chumra just for this time of the year?

A fascinating midrash on the pasuk in Tehillim 32, sheds light on this concept.  The pasuk says, “Praiseworthy is one whose transgression is forgiven.” The midrash teaches that the word for forgiven, “nisui,” can also mean “raised above,” transforming the meaning of the pasuk to “Fortunate is the person who rises above his sins.” His sins are not greater than him; rather he is greater than his sins.

It is so important for us to understand— particularly during this time of the year— that we are capable of elevating ourselves above our sins. Yes, I may have transgressed this or that sin, but it is not the real me; that is past history. I am now above that.

This is what we are doing on Rosh Hashanah. Our tefillos express our profound yearning for Hashem and the revelation of His mastery and absolute dominion. Our prayers overflow with the deep desire to cling to Him and become His exalted nation.  We are showing Hashem that whatever we did in the past is behind us. Our new selves are far above those little matters. “Hayom haras olam— Today is the day of creation,” and today we ourselves are created as new people.

This is the depth of the meaning of the “light” of Rosh Hashanah. On Rosh Hashanah, at the outset of the year, we want to show Hashem that this year’s hanhagah is a new one. We are different and the hanhagah is different. Certainly, there will be a time to clean up the old sins, but that time is relegated to Yom Kippur and the other days of the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah. Rosh Hashanah, however, is the time designated for “Fortunate is he who rises above his sins and iniquities.”

This is why we take on the chumra— even on a temporary basis—of refraining from eating bread baked by a non-Jewish baker. Perhaps we will not be able to sustain this chumra for the entire year, but we want to show Hashem that, at this juncture, we are above our previous level. We are more elevated than our aveiros. We are close to Him, we are clinging to Him in a way that makes previous transgressions seem inconceivable. What may have been beyond our reach last year is attainable this year. We are different and lofty goals are no longer beyond us.

This may possibly be the message for us this Rosh Hashanah. We so want a better year than the last year. We so want a new hanhagah of midas harachamim. Toward that goal, we must show Hashem that we are above last year’s pettiness. We are above the sins of our past.

When we attach ourselves to Him, when we transform ourselves into better and loftier people, perhaps the nisyonos that weighed so heavily upon us will no longer be necessary, for we are now a nation that has risen above our past limitations. 

May it be Hashem’s will that we indeed rise above our sins this Rosh Hashanah in a way that will spill over into the entire year. In this way we will, with Hashem’s help, achieve a kesivah v’chasimah tovah and a year where previous tzaros and difficulties will be a thing of the past. Amein, kein yehi ratzon!

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