AIMem would like to wish all our subscribers a K'Siva V'Chasima Tova, a year full of mazel and bracha v'kol hayeshuos. May next year be even better than this one. Thank you for all your support over this year and may we continue to share Torah for many years to come. May we all be zoche this year to health, hapiness, and the final geulah!
In previous years, we have discussed how the avodah of Rosh Hashanah is not specifically for teshuvah but rather the coronation of Hashem over the world. This year I’d like to discuss how while it’s not exactly the same as the teshuvah we do during the Aseres Yimei Teshuvah (Ten Days of Repentance) leading up to Yom Kippur, there is some sort of teshuvah to be done on Rosh Hashanah itself.
During the Aseres Yimei Teshuvah, starting on Rosh Hashanah, there are a few phrases we add into the Shemoneh Esrei (Amidah) asking Hashem to grant us life. The first phrase reads like this, “זָכְרֵנוּ לְחַיִּים. מֶלֶךְ חָפֵץ בַּחַיִּים. כָּתְבֵנוּ בְּסֵפֶר חַיִּים. לְמַעֲנָךְ אֱלהִים חַיִּים” “Remember us for life, King who desires life. And write us in the Book of Life, for Your sake, God, (grant us) life”. Our whole request for life in this sentence is based off of us saying that God should grant us life for His own sake! The truth is that the only reason we have for why Hashem should grant our requests for anything we ask for this year is because we will utilize them in order to serve Him better. Let us examine this idea in depth to see exactly what this means.
The story is told in Sefer Yirmiyahu of a certain group of people who wanted to kill Yirmiyahu because of the bleak prophecies he foresaw of the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash. Yirmiyahu davened to Hashem, “[וְיִהְיוּ] מֻכְשָׁלִים לְפָנֶיךָ בְּעֵת אַפְּךָ עֲשֵׂה בָהֶם” “At the time of Your anger, act against them!” (Yirmiyahu 18:23). The Gemarah in Baba Basra (9b) explains that Yirmiyahu davened that when these people attempt to do mitzvos, Hashem should prevent them from completing them. How could this be? How could the holy prophet, Yirmiyahu, daven that Hashem should prevent a Jew, even a wicked one, from fulfilling a mitzvah?
Rabbi Shlomo Levenstein in his sefer, U’Matok HaOr, brings an amazing vort from R’ Aharon Leib Steinman SHLT”A. Dovid Hamelech writes in Tehillim, “אִישׁ בַּעַר לֹא יֵדָע וּכְסִיל לֹא יָבִין אֶת זֹאת. בִּפְרֹחַ רְשָׁעִים כְּמוֹ עֵשֶׂב וַיָּצִיצוּ כָּל פֹּעֲלֵי אָוֶן” “A boor cannot know, nor can a fool understand this: When the wicked bloom like grass and the doers of iniquity blossom…” (Tehillim 92:7-8). How come there are so many wicked people who are successful and live easy lives while so many tzaddikim toil and suffer terribly? Shouldn’t the merit of the tzaddikim grant them easy, pleasant lives? Dovid Hamelech answers, “לְהִשָּׁמְדָם עֲדֵי עַד” “it is to destroy them till eternity” (Ibid.). In the World to Come we will see true justice, where the reshaim (evil doers) will pay for their sins while the tzaddikim will finally receive the glorious reward that is coming to them. In the meantime however, the wicked will enjoy the benefits of this world, reaping the rewards for their mitzvos now instead of in the World to Come.
While this is a well-known concept in Judaism, it is strange how it works. First off, there is a Gemarah in Kiddushin which says, “שכר מצוה בהאי עלמא ליכא” “There is no reward for mitzvos in this world” (Kiddushin 39b). Secondly, there is a Mishna in Pirkei Avos which says, “ויפה שעה אחת של קורת רוח בעולם הבא, מכל חיי העולם הזה” “One moment of satisfaction in Olam Haba is greater than the entire existence of Olam Hazeh” (Avos 4:17)! Between these two sources, we see that this world is not big enough to contain all the reward of Olam Haba, so how can the reshaim possibly receive their just reward for their mitzvos in this world?
R’ Aharon Leib answers with an amazing idea. There is a fundamental idea in Judaism that the value of any good deed is measured only by the value the doer places on it. So when a person does a mitzvah, if he recognizes the true value of the mitzvah, that it is larger than the world itself, then his reward will be given only in the next world since that is where its’ full potential can be given. A rasha, however, when he does a mitzvah, does not value it for its’ eternal value, but rather for whatever honor and prestige he can get out of it immediately. To him, the mitzvah is only has physical value, and therefore, how he is rewarded with physical desires.
One example of this idea is found in Parshas Mishpatim. The pasuk teaches us that one who steals an ox and either kills or sells it returns five oxen in its’ place. One who steals a sheep, however, only returns four. The Gemarah explains that while an ox will walk on its own, a sheep must be carried if you want to move quickly. Because the robber will be embarrassed by having to walk around carrying a sheep, we only make him return four sheep instead of five. Rav Shach ZT”L, the former Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Ponovezh in Bnei Brak and one of the Gedolim of the previous generation, asks how is it that the embarrassment felt by a Jew is only worth one sheep? A Jew’s honor is so great that if it is damaged he should not have to pay back anything (besides the principle)! Rav Shach explains that what we see here is that the robber has defined how much his honor is worth when he went and stole. While to us, his honor maybe priceless, to him, it is only worth one sheep. And the proof to this is from the man himself! He degraded himself by carrying around the one lamb that he stole! We clearly see the principle shown us by R’ Aharon Leib that when it comes to spiritual matters, each person defines for himself what it is worth.
Coming back to Yirmiyahu’s prayer for the reshaim, we can now understand why he wanted to prevent them from fulfilling mitzvos. As we have explained, reshaim desire the rewards of this world and are therefore repaid in turn. But what will they do with that honor and prestige? Most likely they will continue to rebel against Hashem. Therefore, it follows that the more mitzvos reshaim do in this world, the more reward they will receive in this world, then the more opportunity they will have to sin, and the more punishment they will receive for their aveiros in the next world! So, ironically, it comes out that the more mitzvos reshaim do, the worse it is for them!
This, says R’ Aharon Leib, is why Yirmiyahu davened that these men should not be able to complete any more mitzvos. By asking that they not do more mitzvos, he was really asking for mercy on them that they should not receive any more punishment in the next world. That the tzaddik, Yirmiyahu, should daven for the benefit of these reshaim makes much more sense.
We can now understand the depth of our request when we say “לְמַעֲנָךְ אֱלהִים חַיִּים”. We stand in front of Hashem and proclaim that everything we do will be for His sake. Now we see an extra piece must be added, that anything we receive from Hashem must be valued at its’ proper level. We must understand clearly that anything we do in the next year will truly be for His sake (and only then will we receive what we pray for). This is the teshuvah of Rosh Hashanah; not asking forgiveness, but realizing what we want this year and what we will do with it once the new year starts. When we crown Hashem as King over these two days, we must commit to making all of our actions truly, “לְמַעֲנָך”, and recognize that not only is everything we do purely for Him, but also the value of what we are requesting which is the limitless, eternal reward of Olam Haba. In this way, our tefillos will surely be answered.
K’Siva V’Chasima Tova!
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