On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, our nine year old son told us that he had read the reason why the Torah reading for the day was chosen: The reading deals with Yishmael's near-death, and his miraculous salvation. The angels protested (as we discussed last week). Yishmael was not punished for future events. Nor was he punished for the crimes he had committed, because he had performed teshuvah (repentance).
We were surprised. This is not in accordance with the Asarah Ma'amoros which we quoted last week, which held that Yishmael was not punished for his own crimes because he was considered a juvenile. On the second day, we checked our son's Machzor. It indeed gave this explanation, saying it in the name of Rashi.
Actually, Rashi himself does not say this, but we did find a similar idea in one of the supercommentaries to Rashi, the Sifsei Chachomim.
First, the commentary explains that Yishmael would not be punished for future events of his children, and that Yishmael could not be punished for his own transgressions, because he was younger than twenty. Then, it asked another question: Wouldn't it be logical to put both the past and future together? Let Yishmael be punished for his own crimes, in view of the fact that his descendants would also be murderers! To this, the Sifsei Chachomim answered that Hashem would not agree to this as well, because Yishmael would do teshuvah, at a later date. Again, the amazing point that future events may influence Hashem's judgment!
In all fairness to my son's Machzor, although it does not seem accurate to say that Yishmael had repented at age seventeen, perhaps a different intention was meant. The Sifsei Chachomim does quote Rashi that by the end of his lifetime, Yishmael had repented, and died a righteous man. Perhaps the Machzor meant to say that Yishmael would never be punished for the serious crimes he had committed before twenty, because he would eventually repent. This could therefore be seen as a reason for the story of Yishmael's near death to be read on Rosh Hashanah.
We also found in the commentary Peirush Marvah another answer to Rav Schwartz's question. (See last week on the relationship of Rosh Hashanah to the future judgment day.) We are familiar with the "Unasana Tokeif" prayer recited on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. "You have given the strength of the holiness of the day.." Peirush Marvah states: The subject in the previous paragraph was the judgment of the time to come. "You have given the strength of the holiness of the day.." refers to the time to come as well, meaning: "You have given the strength of the judgment of the time to come -- the 'Rosh Hashanah of the Future' -- to this day of Rosh Hashanah..." Rosh Hashanah is thus of the essence of the judgment day of the future.
In Hashem's kindness, He gives us a small taste of the fierce future judgment. Every year, in electrifying awe, we remind ourselves of the severity of the final examination. Rosh Hashanah allows the soul to begin the year with a clean slate, after a general inventory and house-cleaning.
Pachad Yitzchak explains a clear connection between the Days of Awe and the Final Judgment. According to Tosafos, the three books opened on Rosh Hashanah refer to life in the world to come. Yet, Tosafos maintains that there will still be a final decision regarding eternal life after one's death.
Regarding this world, decisions are made tentatively on Rosh Hashanah, but finalized only on Yom Kippur. Regarding the next world, all decisions, even those of Yom Kippur, are somewhat tentative; the final decision will only be on that Great Day of Judgment. (Pachad Yitzchak based on Asarah Ma'amoros.)
This is a world of growth and change. Not only can we grow and change now, here; until the Final Day of Judgment we can continue to improve our ways. The Pachad Yitzchak quotes Rav Chaim of Brisk, that even after death, one's status can still change -- until the final reckoning in the Future World.
It must be noted that the Jewish People have two beginnings: 1. Avraham, the first Jew, is called Rishon LeGeirim (the first convert). At an advanced age, he went under the knife -- to dedicate himself and his offspring to a life of service. 2. At Mount Sinai, the entire nation, along with a mixed multitude of various nations, went through a conversion process (the laws of conversion are deduced from here).
Things got off to a shaky start; it was only on Yom Kippur after the Golden Calf episode that Hashem accepted our apologies and our commitment to Torah.
The entire Jewish People are born from change, reappraisal and hope for the future.
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G'mar Chasimah Tovah!
Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein -- PC Kollel
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© Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein and Genesis, '97