Parshas Shmos 5757 - 1997
Chodshei Hashanah Following the Weekly Parsha
by Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein
The Ramban explains that the first book of the Torah, describing the
forefathers, is likened to the planting of a seed. All the incidents of the
patriarchs were symbolic for their descendants.
The second book is the story of the exile and redemption. It begins with
an account of the names of Yaakov's children who came to Egypt -- for the
exile began, not with the slavery, but with the departure from the Holy Land.
Similarly, the book does not end with the exodus from slavery, but with the
building of the Mishkan (the Tabernacle, the portable sanctuary in the desert).
Only then would the Jews return to the status of the forefathers -- upon
whom the Divine Presence dwelt. Shmos (Exodus) is thus the story of the recovery
of the spirit of the Holy Nation.
The Gates of Tears
Last week, we discussed the Zohar's statement that Yaakov's crying for
his son Yoseif was answered. What is the significance of "crying answered"?
Is crying over hardship a form of request? What is the relationship between
tears and tefilah -- prayer?
The Gemorah says that, although the gates of prayer may be closed, the
gates of tears are never closed. Apparently there is a relationship between
the two, although the tears may go further. At Beraishis (Genesis 43:20),
Rashi equated crying and beseeching; the Ramban took issue. The Mizrachi,
in his supercommentary to Rashi, explained that there are two aspects of
prayer. Prayer per se concerns ongoing and future events -- crying is in
regard to painful events as they happen, or after the fact. Hashem, in His
mercy, answers one who cries over bitter occurrences.
The discussion is appropriate today, for the parsha mentions Hashem's
attention to the crying out of the Bnei Yisroel (Children of Israel); see
2:23-24 and 3:7-9 (again, next parsha: 7:5). Ramban explains that it was
only due to the crying that the Jews were redeemed. Notice the verse in Vidui
Bikurim in Devarim (Deut. 26:7, recited at Seder Night), which states explicitly
that "we cried out to the G-d of our fathers and Hashem answered us" -- it
was only because of the crying out that the Jews were saved!
The Zohar Chadash in parshas Noach tells how Hashem reproved Noach for
crying after the wicked were killed, instead of praying before the fact.
It would seem that prayer and tears are similar, but prayer is beforehand,
while tears are later. Noach was told that prayer -- in advance -- could
have prevented the need for tears, afterward. Oddly enough, however, the
Zohar refers to Noach's crying as prayer: "Why do you pray now, when you
could have prayed at the beginning?" This is strange, because Noach was clearly
complaining: "Why did You create man if his end was to be destroyed?" Yet,
the Zohar referred to it as prayer!
Sisra's Mother, Devorah and Sarah: The Shofar
Indeed, the Talmud shows that tears are the source of the mitzva of Shofar
on Rosh Hashanah. Devorah told in her prophecy how the mother of the general
Sisra cried at his delay from battle, but her maids comforted her. >From
Devorah's description of the tears, the different sounds of the Shofar are
deduced. Sisra was a ruthless murderer; why are the sounds of the Shofar
derived from this incident?
The commentaries explain: Sisra's mother's cries were truly from the heart,
at the realization that her evil son had been raised for nought, and was
about to perish. If only she had not listened to the fallacious lines of
consolation! Her maids had their way, however, and convinced her that nothing
was amiss. So the wicked perish, concludes Devorah. They could have changed
their ways with the sudden realization that they themselves have been at
fault; no, they accept comfort with false excuses. On the contrary, Sarah
died with tears, thinking her son had not been found worthy (when indeed
he was). If, at the description of her death, Rashi relates that all her
days were equally regarded -- it surely was due to her attitude of introspection
and self-improvement. This is the life and death of the righteous...
Akin to an agonizing cry from the heart -- without words -- the Shofar
blast, the "Primordial Scream," shakes one's very being to its foundations.
The individual emerges as a new person... The cry is the most powerful prayer
Chodshei Hashanah (Part Six) Two Days of Yom Tov, Rosh Hashanah, Rosh
In ancient times, the new month was announced by the court, on the basis
of witnesses. Messengers were sent out to inform the public. By Yom Tov
(holiday), those people who had not yet heard the establishment of the month,
would be in doubt as to which day to observe the festival. The months vary
in length between 29 and 30 days, so the doubt would only be of two days
duration. Hence, two days of Yom Tov were observed outside of the immediate
environs of Eretz Yisroel (Land of Israel), out of doubt. (Exactly what the
borders were for the single day/two days of Yom Tov, is a debate.)
Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) itself was a different matter. From time
immemorial, the new moon had always been spotted and announced on the first
day. Rashi held that only one day had always been observed everywhere, because
Jewish Law relies on statistical majority (rov), and the chances that the
first day was the accurate one, were nearly 100%.
However, one year the witnesses arrived very late. The Levites panicked,
and erred in their responsibility of singing the daily song (not knowing
which day it would turn out to be -- Rosh Hashanah or weekday). [See at length:
PC Kollel Outline #7]
Two Days Rosh Hashanah (Jerusalem Versus the Diaspora)
To avoid this type of mixup in the future, it was decreed that, should
the witnesses arrive late, there would be two days of Rosh Hashanah, even
in the court. This was a definite decree that there be two days -- not because
of doubt. One day would be Biblically binding, the other, of Rabbinic status.
Since, outside of the environs of Eretz Yisroel, it would not be known if
the witnesses had come late, they would always keep two days of Rosh Hashanah.
This too, was not out of doubt, for surely (as in the past), witnesses saw
the moon on the first day. Rather, the keeping of two days in the Diaspora
was part of the definite decree to have two days of Rosh Hashanah. (Eventually,
two days would always be observed in Eretz Yisroel also, but exactly when
this change occurred is another dispute among the Rishonim [early authorities].)
Rosh Chodesh -- New Month: Two Days from Doubt or Definite Decree?
Approximately every other month, there are two days of Rosh Chodesh (beginning
of the month festivities). Last week, we discussed the mathematical logic
of this arrangement. In a legal sense, though, the two days of Rosh Chodesh
are quite an issue. What is the origin of two days? Does it have to do with
the above incident of the Levites -- since Rosh Hashanah is also the beginning
of a month -- or is it similar to the two days of Yom Tov (festivals)? The
difference between the two possibilities concerns whether two days would
be out of doubt -- as in the Yom Tov case -- or definite -- as in the decree
regarding Rosh Hashanah. To make matters more difficult, we find two days
Rosh Chodesh mentioned in very ancient times -- it is mentioned in verses
regarding Kings Dovid and Shaul (Shmuel 1:20:27), a generation before the
Bais Hamikdosh was constructed!
To Be Continued...
Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein
1 Babbin Court
Text Copyright © 1997
Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein
and Project Genesis, Inc.