This Dvar Torah was adapted from remarks made by Rabbi Yissocher Frand on Erev Rosh Hashanna several years ago. K’siva V’chasima Tova!
Thoughts for Erev Rosh Hashanah
In Tractate Berochos (29a), the Talmud says that on Rosh Hashanna we daven a Shmoneh Esrei [referring to the “standing prayer”] of nine blessings (the standard opening three blessings, the standard closing three blessings, and the middle three are special blessings of Malchiyos, Zichronos, & Shofros — the middle portions of the Rosh Hashanna Mussaf service dealing respectively with Kingship, Remembrances, and Shofar Blasts). The Gemara says that the source for the number of these blessings, nine, comes from the nine Azkoros — the nine times that G-d’s Name is mentioned in the prayer of Channa [Samuel 2:1-10].
We read the story of Channa [Samuel 1:1-2:10] as the Haftorah for the first day of Rosh Hashanna. Channa was barren. She came to the Mishkan every year to cry her heart out. [The Mishkan, or Tabernacle, was originally built during the years in the Wilderness, and was set up in Shilo during the time of the story of Channa. It eventually gave way to the Beis HaMikdash.] Channa had to suffer the humiliation of her husband having a second wife who was blessed with children, and who taunted Channa over her inability to have children, though for a noble reason (because she wanted to inspire Channa to pray more). Channa’s prayers were finally answered on Rosh Hashanna. She eventually gave birth to a son who grew up to become the great prophet Samuel.
The story of Channa contains a lesson that is so vital and central to the message of Rosh Hashanna that not only do we read this Haftorah on the first day of Rosh Hashanna, but the whole Tefillas Mussaf (Additional Prayer) was structured around the nine mentions of G-d’s name in Channa’s prayer. What is so important about this episode that causes us to base the central prayer of Rosh Hashanna on the prayer of Channa?
An analysis of Channa’s prayer reveals that it emphasizes that life is full of changing fortunes. Channa tells us “…while the barren woman has born seven, she that had many children has been bereaved (2:5)”.
She describes the fact that in the past she was barren and her co-wife, Penina had many children. But now Channa has 7 children and when each baby was born to Channa, Penina lost a child.
G-d makes some people poor and he makes some people rich. He makes the haughty low and the humble high. Fortunes keep changing.
[Over the last few weeks, I have found a new “mussar sefer” (book on ethics) which has done a wealth of good for me. The “mussar sefer” is called the Business Section of the newspaper. One reads of people and institutions that were riding high and suddenly find that their fortunes have turned. Other people who had nothing, are suddenly overnight millionaires.]
Channa cautions and says (2:3) “Al Tarbu t’dabru gevoha gevoha…” [You mighty ones — don’t speak with haughtiness] “…Keshes Giborim chatim, v’nichsalim ozru chayil” [because you may fall and the weak will be girded with strength] (2:4).
This is Channa’s message to the Jewish People on Rosh Hashanna: Life is so fickle. Fortunes are so fragile. Rosh Hashanna is an unbelievably scary day!
Emotionally, Rosh Hashanna is one of the most difficult days of the year. We can deal with Yom Kippur. We do not eat. It is a day of Mercy. We separate ourselves from the rest of the world and we pour our hearts out. But what are we supposed to do on Rosh Hashanna? Rosh Hashanna is the Yom HaDin [the Day of Judgment]. Everything is riding on this day. And yet there is an obligation to observe this day as a Festival — looking and acting and eating like a Yom Tov. How does one cope with this dichotomy?
Rav Tzadok HaCohen (1823-1900; Chassidic Sage and thinker; one of leading Torah scholars in the 19th century; author of Pri Tzadik) points out that the Shevarim and Teruahs, which are the broken sounds of the shofar (representing the crying out of a broken spirit), must always be sandwiched between two Tekiahs. The firm, unbroken, Tekiah sound represents Simcha [joy]. This, Rav Tzadok says, captures the theme of the day.
On the exterior, we must act and feel like it is a Yom Tov. But on the interior — between the Tekios — we must have a terrible, terrible, fear: a fear that anything can happen.
If anyone doubts this for a minute, they just need to think back about these past few years. Think back on what happened in the world, what happened to individuals, what happened to communities. It is nothing less than frightening!
This is what Channa is trying to tell us. For some people, this year will bring the greatest sorrow… and for some people this year will be one of “the barren woman turning into a mother of seven”.
Chaza”l say that the 100 Shofar blasts which we blow on Rosh Hashanna correspond to the 100 cries that Sisro’s mother cried on the day of battle [Shoftim 5:28-30, based on Medrash]. Rav Schwab asked, what is the significance of associating our Shofar blasts to the wailings of Rav Sisro’s mother? Rav Schwab explained that the wailings of Sisro’s mother represented the uncertainty of the future. If Sisro would come back victorious, this would represent the greatest triumph of his military career. On the other hand, he might come back in a coffin. Sisro’s mother did not know which scenario would occur, so she wailed out of uncertainty and fear.
Life and Death. Success and Failure. On Rosh Hashanna, everything lies in the balance of Judgment — nothing less than totally changing or fates. And yet, we as Jews, have to surround these emotions with the Tekiah — the firm blast of confidence.
We can not wear our emotions on our sleeve. But we must realize that what will be determined on this day is nothing less than the fate of our lives, of our family’s lives, of our community’s lives, and indeed the life of the entire world. Anything can happen. This is what Channa is telling us. There are no givens, there are no “Chazakahs” [presumed right based on historical precedent], nothing can be taken for granted.
May it be G-d’s will that we as a community, together with the entire House of Israel, be written for a good, lengthy, and peaceful life.
Tefillas Mussaf — The “Additional” Prayer (of Sabbath and Holidays)
Malchiyos, Zichronos, Shofros — 3 middle portions of the Rosh Hashanna Mussaf service dealing respectively with Kingship, Remembrances, and Shofar Blasts.
Mishkan — Tabernacle, originally built under the direction of Moses during the years in the Wilderness, set up in Shilo during the time of the incident of Channa. Eventually gave way to the Beis HaMikdash (Temple of Solomon).
Chazakahs — presumed right based on historical precedent
Personalities & Sources:
R. Tzadok HaCohen – (1823-1900) Chassidic Sage and thinker; one of leading Torah scholars on the 19th century; author of Pri Tzadik, a collection of Chumash discourses.
R. Shimon Schwab (died 1995) – Leader of “Breur’s Kehilla” in Washington Heights, N.Y.
This week’s write-up is adapted from remarks made by Rabbi Frand on ErevRosh Hashanna several years ago. Rabbi Frand has several tapes on topicsrelating to Teshuva in his Hashkafa-Jewish Thought series. These includethe following:
- Tape # 025 – Preparation for Yom Kippur
- Tape # 080 – Introspection and the Teshuva Process
- Tape # 116 – The Era of Teshuvah
- Tape # 162 – The Secret of Resilience
- Tape # 207 – Seize the Moment
- Tape # 253 – Four Questions for Yom Kippur
- Tape # 297 – Teshuvah and the Midas Ha’emes
- Tape # 343 – Life–How Precious It Is
Tapes or a complete catalogue can be ordered from:
Yad Yechiel Institute
Call (410) 358-0416 for further information.
Also Available: Mesorah / Artscroll has published a collection of Rabbi Frand’s essays. The book is entitled:
and is available through Project Genesis On-Line Bookstore:http://books.torah.org/