This Dvar Torah was adapted from remarks made by Rabbi Yissocher Frand on Erev Rosh Hashanna many years ago. K’siva V’chasima Tova!
In Tractate Brochos (29a), the Talmud says that on Rosh Hashana, 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 special blessings of Malchiyos, Zichronos, & Shofros — the middle portions of the Rosh Hashana Musaf 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 Chana [Samuel 2:1-10].
The story of Chana [Samuel 1:1-2:10] is the Haftorah on the first day of Rosh Hashana. Chana was barren. She came to the Mishkan (Tabernacle) every year to cry her heart out. (The Mishkan was originally built during the years in the Wilderness, and was located up in Shilo during the time of the story of Chana. It eventually gave way to the Beis HaMikdash.) Chana suffered the humiliation of her husband having a second wife who was blessed with children, and who taunted Chana over her inability to have children, though for a noble reason (because she wanted to inspire Chana to pray more). Chana’s prayers were finally answered on Rosh Hashana. She eventually gave birth to a son who grew up to become the great prophet Samuel.
The story of Chana contains a lesson that is so vital and central to the message of Rosh Hashana that not only do we read this Haftorah on the first day of Rosh Hashana, but the whole Tefillas Musaf (Additional Prayer) on Rosh Hashana was structured around the nine mentions of G-d’s name in Chana’s prayer. What is so important about this episode that causes us to base the central prayer of Rosh Hashana on the prayer of Chana?
An analysis of Chana’s prayer reveals that it emphasizes that life is full of changing fortunes. Chana says “…while the barren woman has born seven, she that had many children has been bereaved (2:5)”.
Chana describes the fact that in the past she was barren and her co-wife, Penina had many children. But now Chana has 7 children and when each baby was born to Chana, 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.
Chana 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 Chana’s message to the Jewish People on Rosh Hashana: Life is so fickle. Fortunes are so fragile. Rosh Hashana is an unbelievably scary day!
Emotionally, Rosh Hashana 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 Hashana? Rosh Hashana is the Yom HaDin (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 do we 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 Chana 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”.
Chazal say that the 100 Shofar blasts which we blow on Rosh Hashana 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 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 Hashana, everything lies in the balance of Judgment — nothing less than totally changing out fates. And yet, we as Jews, have to surround these emotions with the Tekiah — the firm blast of confidence.
We cannot 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 the message of Chana. There are no givens, there are no “Chazakas” (presumptions 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.
Transcribed by David Twersky; Jerusalem [email protected]
Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Baltimore, MD [email protected]
This week’s write-up was adapted from remarks made by Rabbi Yissocher Frand on Erev Rosh Hashanna many years ago. A listing of various shiurim related to Yamim Noraim is provided below:
- #00-cc1438 – Teshuva 33 – Are We Living Consistent Lives
- #025 – Teshuva 1 – Preparation for Yom Kippur
- #080 – Teshuva 2 – Introspection and Teshuva
- #1044A – Aseres Yimai Teshuva – Making A Downpayment on Our Teshuva
- #113 – Rosh Hashana — The Bracha of Hamelech Hakadosh
- #114 – Yom Kippur — Yom Kippur vs. Tzom Gedaliah: Surprising Priorities
- #116 – Teshuva 3 – The Era of Teshuva
- #1393cc – Nitzavim/Vayeilech 32 – The Baal Tokeah Who Could Only Blow From His Left Side and Other Shofar Issues
- #1394cc – Teshuva 32- Preparing for the Ultimate Final
- #159 – Rosh Hashana — The Shehechiyanu and Other Issues
- #160 – Yom Kippur — Intravenous Feeding On Yom Kippur
- #162 – Teshuva 4 – The Secret of Resilience
- #205 – Nitzavim/Vayeilech — Kiddush Before T’kiyas Shofar
- #207 – Teshuva 5- Sieze the Moment
- #253 – Teshuva 6 – Four Questions for Yom Kippur
- #297 – Teshuva 7 – Teshuva and Midas Ha’Emes
- #341 – Nitzavim — The Brachos on the T’kious
- #343 – Teshuva 8 – Life How Precious It Is
- #385 – Nitzavim — Fasting on Rosh Hashana
- #387 – Teshuva 9 – A Matter Of Faith and Forgiveness
- #430 – Rosh Hashana — Women and Shofar
- #431- Teshuva 10 – It’s All About Change
- #475 – Teshuva 11 – Selflessness – The Key To Teshuva
- #517 – Nitzavim/Vayeilech – What Exactly Is The Mitzva of Shofer?
- #519 – Teshuva 12 – Just One Deed
- #563 – Teshuva 13 – Your Lasting Legacy
- #607 – Teshuva 14 – Teshuva and the Capacity to Forgo
- #651 – Teshuva 15 – It’s a Matter of Heart
- #695 – Teshuva 16 – We Dare Not Despair
- #739 – Teshuva 17 – The Neshama – Your Most Precious Asset
- #783 – Teshuva 18 – Midas HaGevura: The Hidden Strength We All Possess
- #827 – Teshuva 19 – It’s Not My Fault
- #871 – Teshuva 20 – Sefer Yonah – Painting Your Masterpiece
- #914 – Teshuva 21 – U’teshuva U’Tefillah
- #958 – Teshuva 22 – Yom Kippur – Getting Our Priorities Straight
- #cc1001 – Rosh Hashana 23 – Interesting Insights into Selichos and Rosh Hashana (plus Inspirational Thoughts on Rosh Hashana)
- #cc1002 – Teshuva 23 -Shabbos – The Key To A Lasting Teshuva
- #cc1045 – Teshuva 24 – Reaching Up by Reaching Out
- #cc1088 – Nitzavim/Vayeilech 25 – Learning During Tekias Shofar?
- #cc1089 – Teshuva 25 – Conflict Resolution: Within Our Community and Within Ourselves
- #cc1131 – Nitzavim 26 – Asking for Personal Needs on Rosh Hashana?and Inspirational Message for Rosh Hashana
- #cc1132 – Teshuva 26 – Rekindling The Spirit
- #cc1174 – Teshuva 27 – K’lal Yisroel – A Legacy of Strength
- #cc1219 – Teshuva 28 – In The End It Is All About Emunah
- #cc1261 – Nitzavim/Vayeilech 29 – Did I Say Hamelech Hakadosh?/ Nuts on Rosh Hashana
- #cc1263 – Teshuva 29 – Teshuva,Tefilah and Mesiras Nefesh
- #cc1306 – Teshuva 30 – “Is Your Master In Your Pocket”
- #cc1350 – Teshuva 31 – Unlocking Hashem’s Bounty
A complete catalogue can be ordered from the Yad Yechiel Institute, PO Box 511, Owings Mills MD 21117-0511. Call (410) 358-0416 or e-mail [email protected] or visit http://www.yadyechiel.org/ for further information.