Love, Fear & the Yamim Noraim
Join Rabbi Dr. Stuart Fischman as he studies the Shem MiShmuel’s writings on the chaggim to make our holiday experiences more meaningful. The Shem MiShmuel, Rabbi Shmuel Bornsztain, provides ethical, spiritual, and Chassidic insights into the chaggim.
Love, Fear & the Yamim Noraim: Lesson 1
In this session we studied the Shem Mi’Shmuel on Rosh Hashanah.
Rosh Hashanah is an enigmatic and even a paradoxical sort of holiday. It is enigmatic because the Torah never tells us what we are celebrating on Rosh Hashanah. It is a paradoxical holiday because while it is a holiday when mourning is not allowed, the תורה שבעל פה teaches us that it is a day of judgement which opens the עשרת ימי תשובה.
The paradox of Rosh Hashanah is portrayed in a story in ספר נחמיה:
נחמיה פרק ח
(א) וַיֵּאָסְפוּ כָל הָעָם כְּאִישׁ אֶחָד אֶל הָרְחוֹב אֲשֶׁר לִפְנֵי שַׁעַר הַמָּיִם וַיֹּאמְרוּ לְעֶזְרָא הַסֹּפֵר לְהָבִיא אֶת סֵפֶר תּוֹרַת מֹשֶׁה אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה’ אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל:
(ב) וַיָּבִיא עֶזְרָא הַכֹּהֵן אֶת הַתּוֹרָה לִפְנֵי הַקָּהָל מֵאִישׁ וְעַד אִשָּׁה וְכֹל מֵבִין לִשְׁמֹעַ בְּיוֹם אֶחָד לַחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִי:
(ג) וַיִּקְרָא בוֹ לִפְנֵי הָרְחוֹב אֲשֶׁר לִפְנֵי שַׁעַר הַמַּיִם מִן הָאוֹר עַד מַחֲצִית הַיּוֹם נֶגֶד הָאֲנָשִׁים וְהַנָּשִׁים וְהַמְּבִינִים וְאָזְנֵי כָל הָעָם אֶל סֵפֶר הַתּוֹרָה:
(ח) וַיִּקְרְאוּ בַסֵּפֶר בְּתוֹרַת הָאֱלֹהִים מְפֹרָשׁ וְשׂוֹם שֶׂכֶל וַיָּבִינוּ בַּמִּקְרָא: ס
(ט) וַיֹּאמֶר נְחֶמְיָה הוּא הַתִּרְשָׁתָא וְעֶזְרָא הַכֹּהֵן הַסֹּפֵר וְהַלְוִיִּם הַמְּבִינִים אֶת הָעָם לְכָל הָעָם הַיּוֹם קָדֹשׁ הוּא לַה’ אֱלֹהֵיכֶם אַל תִּתְאַבְּלוּ וְאַל תִּבְכּוּ כִּי בוֹכִים כָּל הָעָם כְּשָׁמְעָם אֶת דִּבְרֵי הַתּוֹרָה:
(י) וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם לְכוּ אִכְלוּ מַשְׁמַנִּים וּשְׁתוּ מַמְתַקִּים וְשִׁלְחוּ מָנוֹת לְאֵין נָכוֹן לוֹ כִּי קָדוֹשׁ הַיּוֹם לַאֲדֹנֵינוּ וְאַל תֵּעָצֵבוּ כִּי חֶדְוַת ה’ הִיא מָעֻזְּכֶם:
(יא) וְהַלְוִיִּם מַחְשִׁים לְכָל הָעָם לֵאמֹר הַסּוּ כִּי הַיּוֹם קָדֹשׁ וְאַל תֵּעָצֵבוּ:
(יב) וַיֵּלְכוּ כָל הָעָם לֶאֱכֹל וְלִשְׁתּוֹת וּלְשַׁלַּח מָנוֹת וְלַעֲשׂוֹת שִׂמְחָה גְדוֹלָה כִּי הֵבִינוּ בַּדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר הוֹדִיעוּ לָהֶם:
אבן עזרא נחמיה פרק ח פסוק י
(י) כי חדות ה’ היא מעזכם – השמחה היא תעוז אתכם אם תקיימוה כי כן כתוב ושמחת בחגך:
On Rosh Hashanah, the people assembled to hear Ezra read the Torah. Ezra read from dawn until noon. After Ezra finished reading the Torah, the people, men and women together, broke down and cried. When we think about Rosh Hashanah as the first day of עשרת ימי תשובה then crying seems to be an honest and desirable response. The people were acknowledging their sins with their tears.
But Rosh Hashanah is not a day for tears. The leaders of the community, Ezra and Nechemiah and the לויים circulated among the people telling them that Rosh Hashanah is a holiday. Instead of crying the people should go home and eat festive meals. It seems that the festive nature of Rosh Hashanah was difficult for the people to grasp initially since the text says
“…כִּי הֵבִינוּ בַּדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר הוֹדִיעוּ לָהֶם:”
The שם משמואל sees the paradoxical nature of Rosh Hashanah expressed in a discussion in the Gemrah about the preferred shape for the shofar. One sage says a curved shofar is to be preferred while a second sage says a straight shofar is preferred. The Gemarah explains their disagreement like this:
בש”ס (ר”ה כ”ו סוע”ב) מר סבר כמה דכייף אינש דעתי’ טפי מעלי ומר סבר כמה דפשיט אינש דעתי’ טפי מעלי.
One sage says a person’s eyes showed be focused on the ground and the other sage says that one’s eyes should be directed towards heaven. What is the point that they are actually debating? The שם משמואל explains that these two sages are debating how we should approach Rosh Hashanah. The first opinion is that we need to be honest on Rosh Hashanah. We need to make an honest accounting of all our sins and shortcomings when approaching Hashem. This accounting will lead to a person realizing how far he has fallen from the proper path and this will cause the person to lower his eyes in shame. The second sage says that this is not the attitude that we should have on Rosh Hashanah. It is of course true that we have all sinned and have much to account for. But focusing on the negative leads to despair and despair must be avoided. Our task on Rosh Hashanah is to reach out to Hashem. Hashem wants us to seek Him out. Chazal taught us :
תלמוד בבלי מסכת מגילה דף לא עמוד א
אמר רבי יוחנן כל מקום שאתה מוצא גבורתו של הקדוש ברוך הוא אתה מוצא ענוותנותו
Rosh Hashanah is the day that we acknowledge that Hashem is the King, but as Rabbi Yochanan say, where we see Hashem’s majesty we see His humility. On the day that Hashem is greeted as our King we are encouraged to seek Him out from the depths of our sins. Despair will not allow us to seek out Hashem. We must look up and not down.
We may not understand why Hashem cares about us, we may not understand why Hashem is so willing to welcome us back after we sin, but we must believe that this is simply His will. We must not despair of re-establishing our relationship with Hashem. The שם משמואל quotes the words of כלב when he tried desperately to persuade the people to listen to him and יהושע and ignore the other ten spies:
במדבר פרק יג
(ל) וַיַּהַס כָּלֵב אֶת הָעָם אֶל מֹשֶׁה וַיֹּאמֶר עָלֹה נַעֲלֶה וְיָרַשְׁנוּ אֹתָהּ כִּי יָכוֹל נוּכַל לָהּ:
The ten spies came back with a negative report. The ten spies were defeatist and said that there is no rational expectation that the Jews could conquer the Land of Israel. But כלב tried his best to bring hope into the hearts of the people. Similarly on Rosh Hashanah we cannot allow ourselves to lose hope of finding Hashem. As Jews we must never give in to despair.
Thanks to everyone who participated in the shiur today.
Love, Fear & the Yamim Noraim: Lesson 2
In this session we discussed one of the most puzzling passages in the Gemarah. The Gemarah asks why we blow the shofar twice on Rosh Hashanah, once before the Musaf prayer and once during the Musaf prayer. This is what the Gemarah says:
תלמוד בבלי מסכת ראש השנה דף טז עמודים א-ב
אלא למה תוקעין ומריעין כשהן יושבין ותוקעין ומריעין כשהן עומדין כדי לערבב השטן
The mitzvah of shofar should be like every other mitzvah. Once I have fulfilled my obligation to hear the shofar blown, why should I need to hear it a second time?  So the Gemarah explains that we blow the shofar in order “confound” the שטן, but what does that mean? Can the שטן be confounded?
רש”י מסכת ראש השנה דף טז עמוד ב
כדי לערבב – שלא ישטין, כשישמע ישראל מחבבין את המצוות – מסתתמין דבריו.
Rashi says that the שטן is confounded because he sees that we embrace the mitzvoth. But why is the mitzvah of shofar the mitzvah which stops the שטן from speaking against us? We do many mitzvoth every day, why is shofar so special?
The שם משמואל explains Rashi based on a passage from ספר הזוהר. The ספר הזוהר which is full of surprising ideas has a surprising interpretation of the story of Yakov Avinu obtaining the blessings. According to the Sefer HaZohar the entire story of the blessing, is a metaphor for Rosh Hashanah. Rosh Hashanah is the day on which Hashem judges the world. Hashem commands the שטן to prepare a report on the deeds of humanity and the שטן goes out to perform his duty. As the שטןleaves, the שכינה instructs the Jewish people to prepare for Hashem’s judgement. The Jewish people immediately pray to Hashem for forgiveness, do תשובה and sound the shofar. These mitzvoth lead Hashem to bless us on the day of judgement.
The שם משמואל bases his explanation of the Gemarah and of Rosh Hashanah itself on this passage from the ספר הזוהר.
How can we defend ourselves in a trial where the evidence seems to point so emphatically at our guilt? We can cry. We can pray. We can do תשובה. We can be so overcome with remorse that our hearts break. This is the message of the shofar. The sounds of the shofar are the sounds of moaning and wailing. To use the language of the Gemarah the shofar’s sounds are :
תלמוד בבלי מסכת ראש השנה דף לג עמוד ב
מר סבר גנוחי גנח ומר סבר ילולי יליל
The שטן wishes to point out the impure state into which we fell because of our sins. But the Halacha teaches that when a utensil is broken it loses its impurity. When we repent and acknowledge how broken we are because of our sins, we are purified and the שטן can no longer prosecute us. The first sounds of the shofar are the sounds which represent our תשובה.
But the שטן has one more plan to bring about our downfall on Rosh Hashanah. He can hope that our teshuvah will lead to our despair. We can become so engrossed in examining our flaws that we lose any belief in Hashem’s forgiving us. Despair is the worst of all states and the שטן yearns to see us in that condition.
The second set of shofar blasts show the שטן that we have not despaired. We turn our attention to Hashem and pray to Him as our King. We sound the shofar with hope. This is what finally confounds the שטן. It was our fear of his indictment that led us to repent. The שטן fears that should he continue to threaten us then our motivation to return to Hashem will only grow stronger until we actually merit the final Redemption which will be the end of the שטן.
This is what the Gemarah means when it says that the sounds of the shofar “confuse” or “confound” the שטן. The שטן realizes that it is his own actions that prevent him from realizing his plan.
What are meant to learn from this explanation of the שם משמואל? It is a commonplace that Chassidut brought “joy” back to Judaism. There were always preachers who sought to bring people to teshuvah by emphasizing their faults. Later on towards the end of the 19th century there was a school of Musar known as “the Novardok school” which also emphasized extreme humility. It seems to me that the שם משמואל is trying to give us a balanced approach to teshuvah. We must not delude ourselves into thinking that Hashem loves us unconditionally and so will forgive us automatically. We must repent, and honest remorse is necessarily uncomfortable and perhaps even painful. But Rosh Hashanah is a holiday with two distinct natures. It is the day of judgement but it is also the day when we proclaim Hashem’s sovereignty. On such a day we approach Hashem with joy. If we can successfully observe both facets of Rosh Hashanah then we can allow ourselves to feel that we have properly celebrated Rosh Hashanah .
Thanks to everyone who participated. Stuart Fischman
 As someone pointed out during the class the current custom is to blow the shofar 100 times on Rosh Hashanah. This necessitates that we blow the shofar a third time (following Musaf). But this is a late custom. Compare the Rambam, Hilchot Shofar, 3:10 and the Tosafot to masechet Rosh Hashanah דך לג עמוד ב ד”ה שיעור.
 The Tosafot on that suggyah raise the issue of בל תוסיף .
 The Gemarah uses the word “לערבב” which usually is translated as “to confuse” but “to confound” seems to be a better translation based on the commentaries.
 זוהר – רעיא מהימנא כרך ג (ויקרא) פרשת אמור דף צט עמוד ב
ביומא דר”ה נפיק יצחק בלחודוי וקרי לעשו לאטעמא ליה תבשילין דכל עלמא כפום ארחוי……
My explanation is based on the commentary ידיד נפש .
Love, Fear & the Yamim Noraim: Lesson 3
In this session on the שם משמואל we discussed the odd positioning of Rosh Hashanah in the Torah. The holidays are discussed in פרשת אמור and this is how we read about Rosh Hashanah:
ויקרא פרק כג
(כב) וּבְקֻצְרְכֶם אֶת קְצִיר אַרְצְכֶם לֹא תְכַלֶּה פְּאַת שָׂדְךָ בְּקֻצְרֶךָ וְלֶקֶט קְצִירְךָ לֹא תְלַקֵּט לֶעָנִי וְלַגֵּר תַּעֲזֹב אֹתָם אֲנִי ה’ אֱלֹהֵיכֶם:
(כג) וַיְדַבֵּר ה’ אֶל מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר:
(כד) דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לֵאמֹר בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִי בְּאֶחָד לַחֹדֶשׁ יִהְיֶה לָכֶם שַׁבָּתוֹן זִכְרוֹן תְּרוּעָה מִקְרָא קֹדֶשׁ:
What is the connection between the mitzvah of פאה and Rosh Hashanah?
The שם משמואל points out that generally, the mitzvoth of the Torah involve “firsts.” Examples of the se mitzvoth are ביכורים, פדיון הבן, בכור בהמה טהורה, פטר חמור and ראשית הגז. The mitzvah of פאה is the exception to this pattern. The mitzvah of פאה is to leave a remainder of one’s field unharvested for the poor. This is a mitzvah that we fulfill at the end of a process and not at its beginning. The שם משמואל says that this is the basis of the connection of פאה to ראש השנה. At the conclusion of the year we may be inclined to think that our work is over, we are done. But what Hashem wants from us is to enter the new year with the intention of renewing ourselves. פאה is the final mitzvah of the harvest, but after the harvest the farmer performs the mitzvoth of תרומה ומעשרות. The first day of the new year is not a time for reflection on what we have done. Rosh Hashanah is a day for accepting responsibility for ourselves and our actions. The שם משמואל quotes the legendary Rabbi Bunam zt”l who said that on Rosh Hashanah we don’t patch ourselves up, we recreate ourselves as if we are re-born.
The idea of renewal is central to Rosh Hashanah. There is a custom to say the שהחיינו blessing over a new fruit on the second night of Rosh Hashanah. This custom symbolizes the idea of Rosh Hashanah being a holiday for renewal.
There is a midrash which discusses the significance of the mitzvah of פאה. The Midrash says that the mitzvah of פאה basically means that the farmer does not clear away all of his grain. As a reward Hashem promises not to clear away the Jewish people (חלילה) should we sin. The שם משמואל quotes his father ) the author of the Halacha works אבני נזרand אגלי טל) who explains this connection. The אבני נזר asked why is פאה ( which is apparently another form of charity) more significant than the other forms of charity. The אבני נזר said that when someone gives charity to the poor it is a merciful act and in turn Hashem shows mercy to us. But when a farmer leaves portions of his harvest for the poor to take from his field he creates a close relationship with the poor. This relationship is a reflection of the close relationship which Hashem has with the poor (as we can learn from ישעיה נז:טו ). Our closeness to the poor creates a closer relationship with Hashem. We are inspired to follow Hashem without question , naturally, and so we detach ourselves from our sins and climb to a higher level. This is the significance of the mitzvah of פאה and the idea which connects it to Rosh Hashanah.
Thanks to everyone who participated in the shiur. Shanah tovah. Stuart Fischman
Love, Fear & the Yamim Noraim: Lesson 4
In this session we discussed the mitzvah of eating on Erev Yom Kippur.
The mitzvah to eat on Erev Yom Kippur is in itself remarkable. This is how the Gemarah describes it:
דתני חייא בר רב מדפתי ועניתם את נפשותיכם בתשעה וכי בתשעה מתענין והלא בעשירי מתענין אלא לומר לך כל האוכל ושותה בתשיעי מעלה עליו הכתוב כאלו התענה תשיעי ועשירי
The דרשה of חייא בר רב מדפתי is remarkable for two reasons. First, it imparts significance to the ninth day of Tishrei, which is not a special day in and of itself. Second, not only does he teach that it is a mitzvah to eat on the ninth day of Tishrei, but eating on the ninth day of Tishrei is as significant as the fast of Yom Kippur. This is astonishing. The fast of Yom Kippur is day on which we anticipate Hashem’s forgiveness for our sins. How can eating on the ninth day of Tishrei have such significance?
The שם משמואל says that to understand the teaching of חייא בר רב מדפתי we need to understand its place in its suggyah. The suggyah discusses the difficulty in a פסוק in פרשת אמור:
ויקרא פרק כג
(לב) שַׁבַּת שַׁבָּתוֹן הוּא לָכֶם וְעִנִּיתֶם אֶת נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם בְּתִשְׁעָה לַחֹדֶשׁ בָּעֶרֶב מֵעֶרֶב עַד עֶרֶב תִּשְׁבְּתוּ שַׁבַּתְּכֶם:
This pasuk is discussing Yom Kippur. What is peculiar is that the pasuk says that the fast starts on the evening of the ninth day of Tishrei, when Yom Kippur is on the tenth day of the month. So Rabbi Yishmael derives a halacha from this incongruity:
ורבי ישמעאל מוסיפין מחול על קדש מנא ליה נפקא ליה מדתניא ועניתם את נפשתיכם בתשעה יכול בתשעה תלמוד לומר בערב אי בערב יכול משתחשך תלמוד לומר בתשעה הא כיצד מתחיל ומתענה מבעוד יום מלמד שמוסיפין מחול על קדש
Rabbi Yishmael says that the fast of Yom Kippur begins on the evening of the ninth day of Tishrei and extends throughout the following tenth day of Tishrei. Some of the holiness of the tenth day of Tishrei is imparted to the ninth day of the month. This is the principle of מוסיפין מחול על קודש, we add from the non-holy onto the sacred. The principle of מוסיפין מחול על קודש is not uniquely Rabbi Yishmael’s, Rabbi Akiva acknowledges it, but he derives it from a different pasuk. This being the case, the Talmud asks what Rabbi Akiva would derive from the anamoly in Rabbi Yishmael’s pasuk. The Talmud answers that from Rabbi Yishmael’s pasuk Rabbi Akiva learns the law taught by חייא בר רב מדפתי.
The insight of the שם משמואל is that he sees a common theme in the two laws learned from Rabbi Yishmael’s pasuk. The mitzvah of eating on the ninth of Tishrei is an extension of the idea of מוסיפין מחול על קודש.
מוסיפין מחול על קודש is a concept that in the literature of the Halacha applies only to time. Observant Jews know that though Shabbat begins at sundown, we light the Shabbat candles before sunset. We sanctify a bit of Friday by accepting Shabbat early. Chasidut extends this idea to all areas of life. Everything that I do can be done for a selfish, hedonistic reason or for a holy reason. I can eat because I am hungry, or because I simply enjoy eating. Alternatively, I can eat because I need to be healthy in order to serve Hashem to the best of ability. My motive can make even an apparently non-holy activity a holy one. This sanctification is based on the idea of מוסיפין מחול על קודש.
Yom Kippur provides the textual basis for the idea of מוסיפין מחול על קודש. The holiness of the tenth of Tishrei can be and is imparted to the ninth day. That is why eating on the ninth day of Tishrei has the holiness of the fast of the tenth.
The שם משמואל goes on to say that when we seek forgiveness on Yom Kippur, it is not limited to seeking forgiveness for sins. We also ask Hashem to elevate all of the acts which we did without the proper motivation. If we gave charity in order to impress our neighbors, we ask Hashem to ignore our crassness and to elevate the mitzvah. Similarly, we ask Hashem to accept our everyday activities as mitzvoth. This transformation was done in the time of the Temple by the High Priest.
The שם משמואל also quotes Rabbeinu Yonah’s explanation for the sanctity of eating on the ninth day. Yom Kippur is a holy day and as a rule we celebrate on holy days. We learned last week that when the Jews returned to Israel in the time of Ezra they cried on Rosh Hashanah after hearing Ezra read the Torah to them. Ezra and Nechemiah needed to persuade the people that for all its solemnity, Rosh Hashanah is a holy day. Crying on such a day is inappropriate. Rather, the people should have festive meals and share their meals with the poor.
Rabbeinu Yonah says that there should be a festive meal on Yom Kippur. However, Hashem decreed that on Yom Kippur we must fast. This being the case, when should we celebrate Yom Kippur? Rabbeinu Yonah says that the celebration of Yom Kippur is on the ninth day of Tishrei. The mitzvah of eating on the ninth of Tishrei is not a merely “practical” mitzvah, aimed at making the fast easier to bear. The ninth day of Tishrei is when we celebrate Hashem’s mercy.
May we all have a גמר חתימה טובה.
Rabbi Dr. Stuart Fischman graduated from Yeshiva University in 1980 and the dental school of Columbia University in 1985. In 1989 he began studying and teaching at Yeshivat Hamivtar and now studies and teaches at Yeshivat Machanaim in Efrat. He has rabbinic ordination from Rav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg.