Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur 5757
Chana (Roxanne) Formey
from her family: Shimshon, Malka and Reuven Formey
Rav Yoel Schwartz of Jerusalem composed a treatise regarding the shofar. (Zichron Teruah, 5744). One of the traditional reasons given for the shofar, is that it serves to remind us of a future day of judgment. (Menoras Hamaor) Rav Schwartz asked, "What is the need to remind ourselves of a future day of judgment -- we are already in synagogue because Rosh Hashanah is a day of judgment?" (See p. 18).
Rav Schwartz suggested an answer: Even though we are judged every year, that's not the end of the matter. Our mistakes can have an enormous effect on future events. Even though our errors are long past, we may still suffer the consequences of those actions for years to come. Therefore, the shofar is sounded to remind us of another day of judgment, a day of reckoning in the future era, in order that we realize in our hearts the tremendous effect of our actions.
This is surely an idea of staggering proportions. Our sins are not only for the past and present, but may have an infinite effect on the future as well.
Nonetheless, the thought needs further discussion. Did Rav Schwartz mean to imply that on Rosh Hashanah we are judged regarding the future effects of our actions? If so, we enter into a quandary -- there is an apparent contradiction in the Talmud regarding this point.
In Tractate Rosh Hashanah, the Talmud states that the angels protested the sparing of Yishmael. His descendants would later mistreat the Israelites, forcing them to die of thirst. How could Hashem save Yishmael from thirst, knowing what his descendants would do? Hashem replied that a man is only judged at the state which he is at the present time. He cannot be judged because of what the future will bring.
The commentaries question from another talmudic discussion. The "Ben Sorer Umoreh" is a thirteen-year-old drunkard and thief. The Talmud in Tractate Sanhedrin explains the severe punishment which the Torah prescribes him: "The Torah reaches the final mind-set of the Ben Sorer Umoreh -- in the end he will commit armed robbery in order to sustain his habits (and the most severe crimes along the way). Let him die (fairly) innocent, but don't cause him to die with guilt." The Ben Sorer Umoreh is to be executed because of future events! Here we see that one may be judged on the basis of future ramifications!
Many answers have been stated for this question. The Asarah Maamoros puts three famous answers together. (Maamar Choker Din, part 2, chapter 23.)
1. The Ben Sorer Umoreh has lost control of himself. He already has the personality of the killer. It is not that he is being judged for future events; rather, he is ready to kill now, if he feels he needs to do so. Why wait for him to commit murder and other hideous crimes? That is not to say that anyone is judged for what they presumably will become!
2. Besides, Yishmael was not being judged by the angels for what he would later do, but what his children would later do. No one should be punished because of his later descendants! However, the Ben Sorer Umoreh is being judged because of his own actions.
3. However, there is a difficulty here. Yishmael had already committed severe crimes. The angels didn't have to argue that his descendants would be worthy of punishment, he himself was already culpable! The solution to this dilemma is that the heavenly court does not punish a child less than the age of twenty (Yishmael wasn't twenty as yet). The human court punishes at a different age: thirteen for a male, twelve for a female. The angels, however -- representing the heavenly court -- were powerless to intervene.
How can it be so, that the heavenly court does not punish until twenty? We hear of children dying (G-d forbid). Asarah Maamoros answers that such early deaths are not punishments for the child. Death before age twenty is to teach the parents and ancestors. Between age thirteen and twenty, death is for the benefit of the child. Hashem himself has prevented future errors, and left the child innocent and righteous. This is not considered a punishment at all, for the main life remains for the world-to-come.
It must be also, as Tosafos claims, that the "books of life and death" opened on Rosh Hashanah refer to life in the next world, but not to life in this world. Apparently, G-d's decrees concerning life in this world is another account entirely. (Tosafos explained that the statement "the righteous are immediately inscribed and sealed for life on Rosh Hashanah," refers to the next world.)
Putting all the answers together, we have: 1. A person may be judged for the potential evil of his personality, even before he has committed any real crimes. This explains the Ben Sorer Umoreh, who already has acquired the personality of the cold-blooded killer. 2. No one would be blamed for what their descendants will do later. 3. Even for crimes already committed, the heavenly court doesn't punish until age twenty, although the human court can prosecute from bar-mitzvah. Nonetheless, the heavenly court's restriction concerns the world-to-come, but Hashem is not restricted regarding His decrees in the world.
The Satmer Rav has a fascinating and thorough explanation of this entire subject. (We have discussed his words at length in the past, and will only present a small portion here.) This very point, that a person is only judged according to the present state, is the very reason the Talmud concludes that the laws of "Ben Sorer Umoreh" will never be actualized. In actual law, the court cannot judge based on presumption of future events. Hashem's court also -- the angels -- cannot judge based on future events. However, Hashem Himself is unrestricted, and may bring about punishment in order to prevent future catastrophes. (See Divre Yoel, parshas Kiseitzei pp. 120-129; Savannah Kollel Insights vol. 6 #23 and #24, and vol.7 #49.)
Therefore, it may actually come out according to various commentaries, that future events do have an effect on our "judgment" at Rosh Hashanah. It is not clear that Rav Schwartz intended to imply this, however. He may simply have meant that if we consider the effects of our actions, not only on the present, but on the future as well, we will think carefully about our deeds. The shofar drives this point home. By contemplating what we have done and are about to do, we can alter the effects of our actions upon the world at large.
Don't think that the effects of our errors are "out of our hands." The Jewish concept of teshuvah -- repentance -- is a miraculous phenomena. With a thorough teshuvah, the effects of the evil deed can be completely removed; not only would it be considered as if it had never been done, but even better: Rambam writes that Hashem forgives so completely, He draws Himself closer to the penitent then previously.
What about the incident of the Golden Calf? Why has the damage not been repaired? To do a thorough teshuvah is not an easy matter. We were only saying that it is possible to do. Certain crimes have never been atoned for only because the people have not thoroughly repented for their crimes! The shofar reminds us that we will be held accountable for future ramifications of our crimes unless we do a complete and sincere repentance.
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