We all know that there are some synagogues that, unfortunately, only reach full capacity several days a year. There is something about these days that arouses even many unaffiliated Jews to attend High Holiday Services. In fact, each one of us also feels the holiness, and it helps us to be on our best behavior. We make sure to come on time to davening and we daven slower than usual. We are extra careful in our observance of halacha and how we treat the members of our family. Indeed, in Shulchan Aruch (OC Siman 603) we find that during the ten days of repentance, even those who usually eat “Pas Palter” (i.e. bread from a non-Jewish bakery that is kosher), should now be stringent and refrain from doing so. However, a thought may sneak into our minds – is this all just a game? Who am I kidding? Hashem knows exactly how I have been acting until now, so why should I put on a show?
But in truth, this approach is our salvation, as the Gemara in Rosh Hashanah (16b) states. “Rav Yitzchok said, a person is judged according to his actions at that moment. As it says concerning Yishmael, ‘ki-shama Elokim el-kol hana’ar ba’asher hu-sham – because Hashem has heard the boy’s voice, there, where he is’.” Rashi cites the Midrash Rabba that before Hashem caused a well to miraculously appear in order to save Yishmael from dying of thirst and fever, the angels in heaven protested. “How can You perform a miracle to save the one who’s descendants will cause Your children to die of thirst?!” To which Hashem answered, “since at this moment he is a tzaddik; I will not look at anything else.” On Rosh Hashanah, Hashem also judges us based on how we are at that time. Our past is not examined, nor our future. However, all this is quite perplexing. We all know that in a normal judgment the judge takes every fact into consideration. Why on the great Day of Judgment does Hashem ignore everything besides the present moment?
The Costume Or The “Real McCoy?”
Let us explain with the following parable. There was once a successful Jewish businessman named Getzel who had many dealings with non-Jews. On Shabbos he would don his streimel and bekeshe and walk down the street. “Hey Getzel,” one of his business associates called out to him. “What is that rabbit doing on your head? I thought you were from our day and age – not one of those Jews from the shtetel!” Greatly humiliated, Getzel lowered his head and ran home. This continued week after week until he decided to stop wearing his special Shabbos clothing. When he went to his Rebbe, though, he was too embarrassed to show that out of shame he had forsaken the ways of his forefathers. He would take out his streimel, dust it off and once again look like all the other Chasidim. One year he decided that this game had gone on long enough and he will show the Rebbe who he really is. When he came to the Rebbe for a brocha, wearing his weekday clothing, the Rebbe exclaimed, “Getzel, what happened to your Shabbos garb?” “Rebbe,” answered Getzel, “I’ll tell you the truth, this is how I always dress on Shabbos. I decided that it is time to act honestly and show you who the real ‘me’ is.” “Getzel, Getzel,” chided the Rebbe, “do you really think I didn’t know how you dressed every Shabbos? But until now I thought that Getzel in a streimel is the real Getzel and all year long you were dressed up. Now you tell me that the opposite is true!?”
This is what the above Gemara is teaching us. Even though we may have distanced ourselves from Hashem all year long, and not acted as befitting sons of the King, there is hope. If on this day we raise ourselves to where we are supposed to be, we will have shown that until now it was just a costume, and now the real “Me” is showing. Hashem will therefore judge us favorably, as we now deserve special treatment. True, we still need atonement for our past sins, but we will deal with them during the Ten Days of Repentance and Yom Kippur.
However, this is easier said than done! How do we instantaneously remove the costume we have worn all year long?
The Theme Of Our Prayers
The venerable Mashgiach of the Lakewood Yeshiva, Harav Nosson Wachtfogel zt”l, would constantly reiterate that Chazal have revealed to us through the prayers of the day, what our approach should be on Rosh Hashanah. We all would have thought that on the day when our future is being decided, Shemoneh Esrei would be filled with requests for a good year. However, other than some small insertions, this is not the case! The main theme of our prayers is to beseech and request of Hashem to reveal to the entire world that He is the King of all Kings, and the true Master of the Universe. We speak about His Glory and Majesty and how great it will be when the whole world will see it! Why? Because on Rosh Hashanah we enter a different realm – the King’s inner chambers!
In a previous article (Entering The King’s Palace 8-10) we described how on Rosh Chodesh Elul the doors of the King’s palace swung open and we entered. We waited in the antechamber for the terrifying moment when we will pass one by one in front of the King. And now it has arrived! Our conduct now befits one standing in the King’s presence. In front of the King we think twice before each thing we do, making sure that it is exactly according to His Will. But even more importantly, we forget about ourselves and our past. All that interests us now is the King and His sovereignty, and all we ask for is that His Rulership should continue forever and ever. And this is our hope and salvation. When we show Hashem our true colors, that all that interests us is to fulfill His Will, He will bestow on us all the tools and benefits needed to be able to do so. Good health, happiness, tranquility, parnasah and much more will be sent our way, for all these help us to live a life of Torah and Mitzvos. We certainly do not lose out by not asking for ourselves.
This is the way to take off the costumes we have worn all year long. The many customs and laws of Rosh Hashanah all work together to create a royal ambiance. We blow the shofar as a symbolic coronation of the King. We adorn the shul with magnificent white tapestries and coverings. We sing majestic lyrics and melodies during davening and recite verses of “Malchiyos – Kingship” in the Musaf prayer. Let us use this atmosphere to imagine ourselves in the presence of the King of the Universe. It will help us to act our best for every moment of these days, the time when we are being judged.
And it will help us to show our true colors, and thus merit a K’siva V’chasima Tova.Rabbi Eliezer M. Niehaus
About the Author: Rabbi Eliezer M. Niehaus, raised and educated in Los Angeles and subsequently Yeshivas Toras Moshe in Yerushalayim, is the Rosh Kollel of the Zichron Aron Yaakov Kollel in Kiryat Sefer , Israel. He lectures for the public and is the director of the Chasdei Rivka Free Loan Gemach. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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