Rosh Hashanah, the first day of the New Year, is, this year, the first day
of the Shemittah / sabbatical year, when agricultural activities in Eretz
Yisrael is prohibited or strictly limited. R' Chaim Yeshayahu Hadari
shlita (rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Hakotel in Yerushalayim) observes that
the Rosh Hashanah prayers take on a special meaning during the Shemittah.
R' Yosef Albo z"l (Spain; died 1444) explains that the three themes of the
Rosh Hashanah mussaf prayer - Malchuyot / Kingship, Zichronot /
Remembrances and Shofarot - parallel the three fundamental beliefs of
Judaism. These are according to R' Albo): The existence of G-d, His
interest in man's affairs (which includes the existence of reward and
punishment), and the Divine nature of Torah [which was giving amidst the
sounds of shofarot]. By acknowledging these fundamental tenets, we crown
G-d as our King on Rosh Hashanah. (Sefer Ha'ikarim I: 4)
R' Hadari continues: The Zohar teaches that man can have only one master.
For this reason, slaves are exempt from the mitzvah of Kriat Shema. They
cannot acknowledge G-d as their true Master since they are subjugated to
another master. R' Yehuda Aryeh Leib Alter (the Gerrer Rebbe known as
the "Sfas Emes"; 1847-1905) writes that this is the idea behind the
Shemittah as well. Originally, the Jewish People were slaves in Egypt.
At the same time, Eretz Yisrael was occupied by the Canaanite nations.
Hashem arranged for the Jewish People to be liberated from Egypt and to
then liberate the Land. Then, when shemittah comes, we are liberated from
the Land, and the Land is liberated from us. And then, when the Jewish
People and Eretz Yisrael are both free of any other master, we are both
able to more fully crown G-d as our sole Master, our King. (Shabbat
U'mo'ed Ba'shevi'it pp.358-363)
From the Haftarah (for the 2nd day of Rosh Hashanah) . . .
"So said Hashem: `A voice was heard on high -- wailing, bitter weeping -
- Rachel weeps for her children, she refuses to be consoled for her
children, for they are gone.'
"So said Hashem: `Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from
tears; for there is a reward for your accomplishment -- the words of
Hashem -- and they shall return from the enemy's land. There is hope for
you ultimately' -- the words of Hashem -- `and your children shall return
to their border'." (Yirmiyah 31:14-16)
R' Moshe Sofer z"l (the Chatam Sofer - leading Hungarian rabbi and rosh
yeshiva of the early 19th century; died 1840) asks: Our verses imply that
G-d has promised our Matriarch Rachel that, in the merit of her tears, her
children will return to Eretz Yisrael. If so, what has He promised her
that virtually every single prophet has not already prophesied? Also, our
verses seem to describe a two-step process - first, "they shall return
from the enemy's land," and second, "your children shall return to
their border." What are these two stages?
R' Sofer explains: All of the prophets, including Moshe Rabbeinu in the
Torah, speak of a process in which our eventual return to Eretz Yisrael is
preceded by a national teshuvah / repentance. The implication of those
prophecies is that if we never repent, we will never return to the Land.
Rachel - a reference to the Matriarch, but also to the Shechinah -
"refuses to be consoled for her children, for they are gone." She
looks at the Jewish People of the future [- perhaps of modern times -] and
does not recognize them as her children. Perhaps, then, her children will
never repent and will never return to their Land.
"So said Hashem: `Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from
tears'." I, Hashem, promise you that your children will repent and
will return. In the initial stages, they will repent and return not
through voluntary teshuvah, but "from the enemy's land." [R' Yisroel
Reisman shlita observed that that was perhaps fulfilled in the 20th
century when Jews returned to Eretz Yisrael from the lands of the
Holocaust, from Arab lands, and from the Soviet Union.]
But still, says Rachel, they are not recognizable as my children. Have no
fear, says Hashem. "There is hope for you ultimately." After they
have returned to Eretz Yisrael initially, even before mashiach has come
and before the Bet Hamikdash is built, "your children shall return to
their border," meaning to their rightful heritage - the Torah. The
reunification of the Jewish People in Eretz Yisrael will itself inspire a
return to brotherhood and to Torah study and observance. And, then, the
Bet Hamikdash will be rebuilt as well. (Derashot Chatam Sofer Vol.III:
Derashah for 27 Elul 5580 /1820)
From the Parashah (Ha'azinu) . . .
"Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak; and may the earth hear the
words of my mouth." (Devarim 32:1)
One year on Shabbat Shuvah, R' Elchonon Wasserman z"l (rosh yeshiva of
Yeshiva Ohel Torah in Baranovitch, Poland; killed in the Holocaust) went
to shul to hear the derashah that was scheduled to be delivered by the
town's rabbi. However, a messenger arrived saying that the rabbi was ill
and would not be speaking.
Immediately, the assembled congregates turned to R' Wasserman and asked
him to speak. He refused repeatedly, but the congregation would not
take "no" for an answer.
So R' Wasserman ascended the pulpit and began his remarks as follows: The
Torah reports that Moshe Rabbeinu was the humblest of all men. How then
did he call upon the awesome heavens and earth (in the above verse) to
bear witness to his words?
R' Wasserman answered his own question: The key is found two verses later,
where we read, "When I call out the Name of Hashem, ascribe greatness to
our G-d." I am not speaking for my own honor, nor are these my own
thoughts, Moshe Rabbeinu was proclaiming. The words of rebuke that I
(Moshe) will speak are the words of the Torah, and they are spoken for G-
You, too, may wonder - R' Wasserman concluded his introduction - who I am
to rebuke you. Know, therefore, that everything that I will say will be
the words of the Torah and will be spoken for G-d's honor alone.
(Otzrotaihem Shel Tzaddikim p.621)
"For they are a generation of reversals . . ." (Devarim 32:20)
R' Yisrael Alter z"l (the Gerrer Rebbe; died 1977) would not permit the
shteibels / small prayer and study houses of his followers to expel any
member, even if he seemed to behave in a manner unbecoming of a chassid
and member of the community. The rebbe explained that so long as the
individual continued coming to the shteibel, that alone was reason to hope
that he would someday mend his ways.
As support for his position, R' Alter quoted the interpretation of our
verse offered by R' Zusia z"l of Annipol (late 18th century chassidic
rebbe): "They are a generation of reversals" - the Jewish People of our
time are wont to change their nature suddenly and unpredictably. Thus,
someone who was, one day, headed in the wrong spiritual direction may
unpredictably change course at any time. (Otzrotaihem Shel Tzaddikim p.622)
Letters from Our Sages
The following letter was written by R' Yisrael Salanter z"l (died 1883)
and is printed in Ohr Yisrael, No. 15. The letter was written in
The foundation of the days of repentance is to accept upon oneself to
abandon sin. This is the most difficult of all the tasks that we have on
Yom Kippur. And, the weightiest sin of all [which is most difficult to
abandon] is theft, as Chazal said, "Of a box full of sins, which one
accuses first? Theft."
Man must seek [ways] to repent on Yom Kippur, especially from the most
serious sins. What is "serious" depends upon the circumstances; the
easier a particular sin is to avoid, the more serious the sin is
considered to be and the greater is the punishment. This is what Chazal
meant when they said, "The punishment for not wearing the white strings of
the tzitzit is greater than the punishment for not wearing the techelet /
blue string." The severity of a sin also depends on the identity of the
victim; for example, stealing from a poor person is worse than stealing
from a wealthy person . . .
The same is true with regard to other sins, including bittul
Torah /neglecting Torah study. The easier it is for a person to study,
for example, on Shabbat, when one is free, the greater is the sin of not
doing so. Likewise, the sin of not studying that which one needs to know
in practice is greater than the sin of not studying other parts of the
Torah . . .
One needs to search his ways and make a strong commitment - in almost
every area of his life - to guard at least from those things that are easy
to avoid. In this way, one's teshuvah will cover the majority of his
deeds. Rambam teaches that sins are not weighed by their quantity, but
rather by their quality; one sin that was easy to avoid counts more than
several sins that were difficult to avoid. Also, within each sin, there
are aspects that are easier to avoid than others are . . .
One should study mussar works that speak of the severity of bittul Torah .
The editors hope these brief 'snippets' will engender further study
and discussion of Torah topics ('lehagdil Torah u'leha'adirah'), and
your letters are appreciated. Web archives at Torah.org start with 5758 (1997) and
may be retrieved from the Hamaayan page.
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