Elul / Rosh Hashanah
The Meaning of Life
YomTov, vol XVI, # 2
By Rabbi Yehudah Prero
Dedicated to the memory of Raabi Yaakov Anton, HaRav Yaakov Yishayahu ben
Mordechai HaLevi z"l, who passed away last week. May his memory be a
Throughout the Aseres Ye’mai Teshuva, the Ten Days of Repentance that run
from Rosh HaShana through Yom Kippur, we find a number of additions to the
Shmoneh Esrai prayer. We add a number of passages, such as: “Remember us for
life, King who desires life, and write us in the Book of Life, for Your
sake, the G-d of Life;” “Who is like you, our merciful Father, who remembers
His creations for life, with mercy;” “And write for a good life all the
children of Your covenant.” The theme of asking for life runs through all of
Rav Yehonasan Eibshitz (Yaaros D’vash 14) notes that this requires
explanation. The Tikunai Zohar (6) writes in unflattering terms of these
requests made, that we call out “give us life, sustenance, forgiveness.” We
appear to be asking for our needs at in a period of judgment, and on Rosh
HaShana, at a time when we are supposed to be focused on proclaiming the
kingship of Hashem and our dedication to Him. The repeated requests for
“life” do not appear to be consonance with the spirit of Rosh HaShana, and
even more, with what should be the logical focus on first asking for
forgiveness and having one’s repentance accepted.
What is life? R’ Eibshitz explains that it can mean two very different
things. Asking for life can mean asking for an appropriate degree of
comfort, tranquility, honor and respect in this world, the type of
substantive request that most people would make of G-d on a regular basis.
It is this type of request that the Tikunai Zohar finds to be inappropriate.
The second type of request for life can be a request that we be afforded the
opportunity to do the will of G-d. We should ask for life not so that we
have the opportunity to amass more wealth, so that we can make a name for
ourselves in our community. Our viewpoint should be consistent with the
first passage that we add in the Shmoneh Esrai – “remember us for life . . .
for Your sake, the G-d of life.” We ask that we should be remembered for
life so that we can do that which G-d wants us to do, that which brings Him
pleasure and happiness – the learning of Torah, proper performance of
mitzvos, and countless acts of kindness. We want to opportunity to right
wrongs, repent, and come close to Hashem. If this is truly one’s intent when
asking for life, the prayer one utters is good and sweet to the ears of G-d.
This is appropriate for this time of year.
Asking for life can mean two different things. When the words come out of
our mouths, and from our hearts, the words can be appropriate, pure and full
of good intent. Although it could mean otherwise, we pray the words are
understood properly. And when our fellow man hears us speak, or sees certain
actions, he should remember that we are members of G-d’s holy nation. We
endeavor to come close to Him. Before deciding with certainty that something
inappropriate has been done, we are obligated to remember who we all are,
what we all in our heart want from life, and only then try to determine how
to respond to the words or actions.
It is for this reason that when offering words of rebuke, one has to
extremely careful. Hashem loves His children and cares for them. Even when a
parent is upset or disappointed with a child, if someone wrongfully
chastises the child or casts aspersions, that parent will be angry and come
to defend the honor of the child. Hashem is no different. He does not want
to hear inappropriate rebuke of His children, let alone slander, gossip or
malicious rumors. If He does, woe to the offender. The rebuke must be
appropriate and proportionate. It must be justified.
Perhaps there is an allusion to this lesson from the famous verse in
Tehillim (34) “Which man desires life, who loves days of seeing good? Guard
your tongue from evil, and turn your lips from speaking deceit, turn from
evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it.” The man who desires the true
life, the life of service to Hashem, is the one who guards his tongue from
evil, from wrongly understanding how another asks for and values “life.”
May we all be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life this coming year.
Text Copyright © 2010 by Rabbi Yehudah Prero and Torah.org.
The author has Rabbinic ordination from Mesivta Tifereth Jerusalem, NY.