ROSH HASHANA DIVREI TORAH
Apples in Honey
Morah Nitza Adler
On Rosh Hashana, we dip an apple in honey that represents our desire for a sweet new year. The apple is a sweet fruit like many other fruits. Interestingly, however, the honey comes from an insect that that is not kosher, and it even stings! Moreover, the honey is even sweeter than the apple!
What is the message of the honey?
Often, we encounter events in our lives that are evident that they are good. They look good and their taste is good. However, throughout life, there are difficult challenges and struggles that can sting! They certainly don’t feel good. What we must remember is that even the events that sting, that don’t appear to be for our benefit, they are also for our good and they can push us to greater heights! Therefore, on Rosh Hashana, we daven to Hashem that we should have clarity to be able to see beyond the sting of the bee, to see and taste the sweetness of the apple.
Shana Tova! Ketiva Vachatima Tova
Rabbi Meir Lipschitz
Judaic Studies & Director of Special Initiatives
As we approach Rosh Hashana it is important to consider how we can improve for the coming year and we are meant to use Chodesh Elul for that purpose. In the month preceding the Yamim Noraim we think about ways we could be better in our relationships with HaShem, with others, and even with ourselves. By treating the word אלול–Elul as an acronym, the rabbis and chachamim through the generations have provided us with messages that can inspire us towards teshuva and real change. Here are four ideas that can positively impact our lives for the coming year and beyond.
- Perhaps the most familiar is Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li–I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine–reminding us of our close and loving relationship with HaShem. Reminding ourselves that we are in an eternal and mutually loving relationship, even if we may not feel that love at the moment, allows us to work on finding that closeness and connection once again.
- Focusing on the relationship between people, many connect Elul to the phrase from Megillat Esther, Ish L’rei’ei’hu Umatanot L’evyonim–a man to his fellow and gifts to the poor–which is the source for the two interpersonal mitzvot of Purim. This understanding of Elul encourages us to consider our dealings with others, the way we treat people, and how we care for those less fortunate than ourselves.
- As words of encouragement, some interpret Elul using the words from Asher Yatzar- Efshar L’hitkayem V’la’amod L’fanecha–we are able to stand before You. We must prepare for Rosh Hashana and HaShem’s judgment, and we are certainly capable of doing so. We each have tremendous potential for change, growth, and improvement, and HaShem wants to give us the opportunities to act on that potential and be judged favorably for doing so. In modern terms, HaShem is saying: “you got this!”
- This is not an acronym, but rather a backwards reading of the word. Spelled backwards, Elul becomes lulei (albeit possibly with poetic license of changing the aleph into a yud, as it appears both ways in TaNaCh), which means “if only” or “if not for”. Too often we express our desire to change with some variation of those words used as an excuse or justification. For example: If only so-and-so were not so annoying, I wouldn’t get so angry; or, if only there were more time in the day, I would learn Torah each day; or, if only the story weren’t so interesting I wouldn’t speak lashon harah; and so on. This is the opposite of what we should be doing in Elul. The lulei acts as the opposite of Elul and can prevent us from doing real teshuva. Only when we drop the excuses will we experience personal change.
These messages–a reminder of our mutual love with HaShem, a call to improved interpersonal relationships, a confidence boost, and a decrying of excuses–all based on the month’s name, Elul, can serve as powerful inspiration during this important season. Hopefully as we embrace these important ideas and ideals we can approach Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur with renewed commitment to personal improvement such that we will merit a happy and healthy sweet new year.
A Thought for the Yamim Noraim 5783:
On Overlooking Insult
Rabbi Eli Akerman
During these days of the Yamim Noraim, we are all looking for ways for Hashem to forgive us and accept our teshuva. What is one of the ways to achieve this forgiveness? The Gemara (Rosh Hashana 17a) relates: “for whom does Hashem pardon transgression? For the one who overlooks sins committed against him (being maavir al midosov).” Rabbi Paysach Krohn, shlit”a, notes that the Mesilas Yesharim explains this is because of midda keneged midda – one who is compassionate and kind to Hashem’s creations, will in turn be treated by Hashem with compassion and concern.
Chazal teach (Taanis 25b) that when there was a drought in Eretz Yisrael, and the people were afraid that no crops would grow, they beseeched Rabbi Eliezer to daven. He did, but no rain fell. Then the people asked Rabbi Akiva to daven. He did, and the rain fell! Because of this, some said this proved Rabbi Akiva was a bigger tzaddik than Rabbi Eliezer. However, a bas kol subsequently proclaimed that Rabbi Akiva was answered not because he was a bigger tzaddik, but rather because he was “maavir al midosov” (one who overlooked insult), and for that he received Hashem’s favorable response.
If we would like a positive judgment for the upcoming year, let us make sure we overlook the sins and insults that others may commit against us, and in that merit, may we receive a kesiva v’chasima tova!
Shofar: Small Opening, Big Opportunity
The shofar is narrow on one end and broad on the other. The broad end is where the horn was attached to the animal’s head, and the narrow end is the tip of the horn. The narrow end has a small opening while the broad end has a large opening. There is a puzzling halachah in the Shulchan Aruch regarding the two ends of the shofar. The halachah states that even when one does not make any physical changes to the shofar, but merely reverses it and blows through the wide end, he does not fulfill the mitzvah. To turn a shofar around and blow through the wide side is extremely difficult. So why is one who exerts such effort and who delivers the correct sounds not given any credit for fulfilling the mitzvah?
Rabbi Baruch of Mezibush, the grandson of the Ba’al Shem Tov, explains it in the following way. The Midrash Rabbah (Song of Songs 5:3) says that Hashem urges the Jewish people to do teshuvah, with the following metaphor: “Pitchu li petach kechudo shel machat ve’Ani potei’ach lachem petachim shetiheyu agalot nichnasot bo” — “Make a small opening like that of the head of a needle, and I will open for you an opening through which caravans can enter.” In other words, a Jew merely has to begin the teshuvah process, and Hashem will help him reach lofty goals.
It may be said that the two openings of the shofar, the narrow one and the wide one, represent the tiny opening a Jew needs to make when starting the teshuva process and the end result of this effort. While many may be afraid to do teshuvah, thinking that it is very difficult for one to return and come close to Hashem, the message of the shofar reminds us this is not the case! Just make a small opening, move closer to Hashem, and He will open up His gates and help you complete the process. This is why we must blow through the small opening of the shofar; to remind ourselves that Teshuva need not be a challenging task and even if we start with a small effort, Hashem will help us succeed.
Message of the Shofar
One of the main mitzvot of Rosh Hashana is to hear the shofar. What is the message of the shofar? There are many different explanations. To get a better understanding of one of them, let's go back to think of the other times in history that the shofar was blown.
- One of the times in the Torah when the shofar was blown was when it came to the 50th year called yovel. The shofar was blown declaring that all slaves are free from their masters and are now only serving Hashem.
- Another time the shofar was blown was on Har Sinai when the Jewish people got the Torah to show that the Jewish people were free from Pharaoh and Mitzrayim and once again were only serving Hashem.
- A third time is in the future, when Moshiach comes and we will all be free from galut and be able to serve Hashem the best we possibly can.
Now, what do these shofar blowings have to do with shofar on Rosh Hashana? In all these cases, the shofar is blown to show that we are serving Hashem and not anyone or anything else and that by serving Hashem we are accepting Him and only Him.
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