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Rosh Hashana insights

By Rabbi Jonathan Tawil
September 11, 2015

A Jewish mother is walking with her small son along the shore, enjoying the sounds and smells of the ocean. Suddenly, without warning, a huge wave comes in and washes the boy out to sea. The woman screams, but no one is nearby, and she can’t swim. She sees her son’s head bobbing up and down as he cries for help and moves farther and farther away from the shore.

Desperate, she sinks to her knees in the sand. Pleading with G-d for mercy, she swears she will devote herself to good causes and be faithful in attending synagogue if G-d will spare her only child.

Suddenly another huge wave crashes in, and deposits her son, wet but unhurt on the sand.

She lifts her face to the heavens, extends both arms and cries, “He had a HAT”!!!!

Some things never please. We can be approached by situations that imply blessing, yet within, if we ourselves are not content, we will find something to complain about.

On Rosh Hashanah, we have a special Mitzvah of blowing the shofar.  What do those blasts mean to you? What are you thinking of when the shofar sounds for the first time?

For some it’s a time of introspection, an awakening call; time for acting on the past to improve the future. For others, it’s a time of fear, realising that one year has passed and not much has changed.

The Torah relates to the sound of the shofar in the famous prophecy of Bilam: “Uteruat Melech Bo” the blast for the King is among them (Bamidbar 23:21).

The shofar represents an announcement that the King of Kings is amongst us.

The shofar heralds in the presence of the King and we are excited that we are close to such a powerful King.

We celebrate this day as a Yom Tov with sumptuous meals and festive dress.

Yet on the same day, He will be judging us and our past record might not have been the best.  We experience the “dread of Judgement” as we pray for long hours on this Judgement day.

The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 16) relates that the angels asked G-d why the Bnei Yisrael don’t say Hallel on Rosh Hashanah. To which the response was that on a day of awe, where the books of life and death are open, how can we sing Hallel?

So, is Rosh Hashanah a day of joy or a day of awe?

R Paysach Krohn relates a story that occurred at the Kotel a few years ago.  Two men went to the Kotel together to pray Arvit. One was a very wealthy individual who was a noted Baal Tzedakah; the other was R’ Chanania Chollek, founder of Ezer Mizion, a prominent medical and social support organization in Eretz Yisrael.

They saw an older man praying fervently and sobbing. Moved by the man’s obvious pain, R’ Chanania turned to his companion and suggested, “Let’s offer to help this man with whatever he needs. If he needs medical help, I can be of service. If he needs financial assistance, you can lend a hand.” His companion agreed.

After the older man finished praying, the two men approached him with their offer. But the man insisted that he did not need anything — nothing was wrong. When the two men persisted, the older man explained: “I just returned from the Chatuna of my youngest child. I have ten children, and now Baruch Hashem, they are all married. I’m so filled with gratitude to Hashem Yitbarach that I felt I must come to the Kotel after the Chatuna to express my thanks to Him. What you saw were tears of joy, not tears of sorrow.”

It’s easy to complain, but it takes a special person to always remember to thank after a great occasion.

We are happy today because we know that today is a day of awe and judgement. The knowledge that we are getting judged today has enabled us to prepare and beseech G-d. At the same time, we know that our G-d is not just a King, He is also our loving Father. The shofar blasts send a shiver down our spine, yet at the same time herald the presence of our King that we are so proud and thankful of.

King David expressed his thanks to Hashem by saying, “Ashirah laHashem b’chayai, azamrah leiLokai b’odi.” R Shmuel Levine, a maggid shiur in Telshe Chicago, explained the Pasuk as follows: I will sing to Hashem b’chayai — for the regular kindnesses He does for me in life.

I will make music to Hashem b’odi — for the “Od”, for the additional Chasadim that He has done for me, above and beyond all my expectations.

Rosh Hashanah, a time of awe, yet a time of happiness. The King has arrived, he is here with us and we appreciate all that He has done and will do for us.

As we look back on our eventful year, let us remember we are still standing. We look back at a year full of events, and in awe and trepidation, in confidence we beseech our Creator for a year of happiness, health and success.

Tizku Leshanim Rabot Tovot VeNeimot!


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