Rosh Hashana & Yom Kippur

For the week ending 16 September 2017 / 25 Elul 5777

Offering of Rosh Hashana

by Rabbi Chaviv Danesh
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The Mishnah says:

Four times during the year the world is judged: on Pesach, for the grain; on Atzeret (Shavuot), for the fruits of the tree; on Rosh Hashana all the people of the world pass in front of Him like sheep, as it says: “Who fashions their hearts together, Who perceives all of their actions”; and on the Chag (Succot), the world is judged on water. (Rosh Hashana 16a)

The Ran asks: if everything is judged on Rosh Hashana, then grain, water, and fruits are also included in the judgment. If so, what purpose do the judgments of Pesach, Shavuot, and Succot serve? The Ran offers an approach that creates a whole new understanding for the judgment of Rosh Hashana. Explaining the above mishna, the Ran says that on Pesach, Shavuot, and Succot, the world is judged on how much grain, fruits, and water the world will receive collectively. However, on Rosh Hashana each individual is judged to determine how much of the grain, fruits, and water will be allotted to him personally (Ran to Rosh Hashana 3a (b’dapei Harif), “b’arba’a perakim”; see also Maharsha, Chidushei Aggadot to Beitza 16a, “kol”, who answers similarly).

Based on the Ran, we can begin to understand the following gemara:

Rabbi Yehuda said in the name of Rabbi Akiva: Why did the Torah say to bring the Omer (offering on Pesach)? Because Pesach is the time (when we are judged regarding) grain; therefore Hakadosh Baruch Hu said “Bring before Me the Omer on Pesach so that the grain of the fields will be blessed.” And why did the Torah say to bring the bread offering on Atzeret (Shavuot)? Because Atzeret is the time (when we are judged regarding) the fruits of the tree; therefore Hakadosh Baruch Hu said “Bring before Me the bread offering on Atzeret so that the fruits of the tree will be blessed (see Rashi there how bread is considered a fruit).” And why did the Torah say to bring the water offering on the Chag (Succot)? Because the Chag is the time for rainfall; therefore Hakadosh Baruch Hu said “Bring before Me the water offering on the Chag so that the rains of the year will be blessed for you.” (Rosh Hashana 16a)

The above gemara illustrates that the way to have a good judgment is by dedicating to G-d the very thing for which we are being judged. Through the offering we declare our inner desire to use the grain, fruits, or water — which is what G-d is judging us for — toward His service. In turn, just like a father provides his son with everything that will help him succeed, so too, G-d will abundantly provide us with all that we need to serve Him. Based on the Ran’s understanding above we can also understand why one offering suffices for the entire Klal Yisrael. Since on these days the world is judged collectively, the obligation of the offering falls on the entire congregation as a whole. Therefore one offering fulfills the obligation of the entire congregation. With this idea we need to ask ourselves: What should be our offering to G-d on Rosh Hashana when each individual is being judged for everything he will receive the upcoming year? How do we apply the formula of offering the very thing that is being judged on the day when we are being judged for our very own lives?

The gemara continues further:

Similarly Hakadosh Baruch Hu said: “Say before Me on Rosh Hashana malchiut zichronot and shofrot… with what? With the shofar. Rabbi Yitzchak said: why do we blow the shofar of a ram? Hakadosh Baruch Hu said: “Blow before Me the shofar of a ram so that I will be reminded of the sacrifice of Yitchak the son of Avraham for you, and consider it as if you offered yourselves before Me.”

Just like by offering the karbanot of the Chagim we sweetened their judgments, so too on Rosh Hashana, where we are being judged for our entire lives, we must dedicate ourselves entirely to G-d (see Eliyah Rabbah 581:6). How is this done practically? One way of having a favorable judgment on Rosh Hashana is by dedicating everything in our lives, all that G-d gives us, as a tool to serve Him.

For example, one can ask for parnasah (livelihood) to sustain himself so that he may serve G-d and spend money on mitzvot, like mehudar tefillin, mezuzah, lulav and etrog; to perform mitzvot that involve money, like paying one’s workers on time, ma’aser, tzedakah, supporting Torah learning; keeping kashrut; paying yeshivah tuition. One can ask for health so that he may be able to do acts of chesed, to take care of one’s children, and to learn Torah and perform mitzvot. One can pray for G-d to grant him a home so that he may be able to perform the mitzvot of mezuzah and ma’akeh (building a fence around one’s flat roof or porch), for a place to host Torah shiurim, and for a place for the Shechinah to dwell. One can pray for G-d to grant him a marriage partner to give him the opportunity to fulfill the mitzvah of procreating; so that one may build a bayit ne’eman b’Yisrael; to save one from sinning; and to help him emulate G-d by having someone to give to. One can ask G-d for children so that he can educate them properly and nurture a new generation of yirei Shamayim, talmidei chachamim and neshei chayil.

The idea of offering oneself can also take the form of giving up something that is dear to us for G-d. Every person has things that he is very attached to and finds very hard to give up, even though they are halachically unacceptable, such as immodest clothing, and in this way one can fulfill the concept of making an offering to G-d. This is all one way we may emulate Avraham Avinu, who was willing to sacrifice the son he was praying for his whole life, and Yitzchak Avinu, who was willing to give up his very body by assisting Avraham Avinu fulfill his commandment of bringing him up as a korban (see Rashi on Bereshet 22:6).

On this day we must reflect within and declare wholeheartedly that we are willing to sacrifice even those things that are very dear to us so that we may serve G-d properly. This is one way we can fulfill the idea of offering our lives on the day we are being judged for life. Through this willingness, G-d will, in turn, write us for a year full of goodness, both physically and spiritually, so that we may dedicate ourselves to His Torah and mitzvot. May we all merit receiving a sweet judgment on Rosh Hashana!

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