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A Jewish man blows a shofar at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City

Although we are going to focus on Rosh Hashana in this article, we must first mention that this week’s parsha already alludes to the holiday of Rosh Hashana. This week’s parsha is Netzavim, and it begins with the words, “Atem Netzavim Hayom Kulchem Lifnei Hashem Elokeichem” (“You are all standing here today before Hashem your God; 29:9).

Many commentaries grapple with the word “Hayom” (today). What “day” was Moshe Rabbenu referring to? One popular answer given by many, including the Ropshitzer Rebbe (Rabbi Naftali Tzvi of Ropshitz, 1760-1827, Poland), in his Zera Kodesh is that the verse is referring to “The Day of Rosh Hashana.” On “that Day” we are all Nitzavim before Hashem Elokeichem.


This idea that the word “Hayom” refers to Rosh Hashana comes from a Zohar (vol. 2, pg. 32b) who makes a comment about a different verse in Sefer Iyov (1:6) that says, “Vayehi HAYOM (and it was on THAT DAY) that the sons of God (angels) stood around Hashem, and the Satan was amongst them.”

The story goes on to tell us that Hashem praised Iyov for being such a righteous person. The Satan retorted that he is a tzaddik only because he has a good life. He is healthy, married with children, and he is rich. Let’s see how righteous he is if those things would be taken away from him.

Hashem basically said, “The bet is on. Go and do to him what you have to and I will show you that he will remain a tzaddik.” That was when Iyov began to suffer.

The Zohar says that that “Yom” was none other than Rosh Hashana, the Day of Judgement. When it came to Iyov’s case, there was a harsh verdict decreed upon him.

Therefore, just as the word “Hayom” in the Book of Iyov refers to Rosh Hashana, similarly, the word “Hayom” in Parshas Netzavim refers to Rosh Hashana as well. This explains why Parshas Netzavim is read on the Shabbos right before Rosh Hashana. It is to prepare us for this great and awesome day.

This reference to Rosh Hashana in the parsha serves as a bridge for us to proceed to talk about Rosh Hashana.

The pasuk in Parshas Pinchas (29:1) says about Rosh Hashana “Yom Teruah Yihiyeh Lachem” (It will be for you a day of shofar sounding). Although only the word “teruah” was used in the verse; nevertheless, we must blow the other sounds as well: tekiya, shevarim, teruah, and the final tekiya (see Meseches Rosh Hashana, chap. 4, “Yom Tov”, pgs. 33b-34a).

The Tur (Orach Chaim, chap. 585) and Rambam (Hilchos Shofar, 1:1) say that the primary mitzva of shofar is the “hearing” of the shofar. The “blowing” of the shofar is just a means to an end. This is why the text of the bracha recited over the shofar is “lishmoah” (to hear) the sound of the shofar.

As such, we must explore what the message of the shofar sounds are. A famous Rambam (Hilchos Teshuva, 3:4) says that the shofar sounds convey to us the message of, “Wake up from your sleeping and slumbering, examine your deeds, return in repentance, and remember your Creator.”

However, the Shela Hakadosh (Meseches Rosh Hashana, Torah Ohr, 3; Rabbi Yeshaya Horowitz, 1555 Czech-1630 Safed) shares a more specific message that the shofar sounds convey.

A tekiya is a long straight and smooth sound without any interruptions. This sound is supposed to remind us of the day that we were born. At that time, our souls were so pure and innocent. Just as a tekiya is straight, we were straight. Just as a tekiya has no crookedness in it, were we not crooked in any way. We were pure and pristine. In our vernacular, this is called “glatt.”

But then the shevarim blast is sounded. A shevarim is three shorter sounds which the Gemara (Rosh Hashana, chap. 4, “Yom Tov”, pg. 33b) calls “genuchei ganache” (a long sigh). A shevarim represents the moaning that a person would groan on account of some physical pain he might be enduring. Therefore, the shevarim blasts represent the time in our lives when we grew up and became adults. That was when we chose to engage in sinful activity. As a result of sin, we became broken.

One reason why this world is such a broken place is because of all the sins that have been committed. Therefore, with the shevarim blasts, we moan and groan over the state of brokenness that has become our reality. This explains why these blasts are called “shevarim.” The root of the word “shevarim” is “shever” (broken). We moan and groan over becoming so broken.

The reason why there are specifically three blasts of a shevarim is because all sin can be traced back to three root causes. Rebbi Elazar Hakapar lists them as “kina (jealousy), ta’ava (lustful passions), and kavod (honor seeking)” (Pirkei Avos, chap. 4, “Ben Zomah”, Mishna 21 or 28 depending on your version of Pirkei Avos). Therefore, we groan with specifically three moans in a shevarim to express the pain that we have because of engaging in sinful activity which can be traced back to these three root causes of sin.

Then we have the teruah sound. A teruah is nine even shorter blasts which the Gemara (Rosh Hashana, ibid) calls “yelulei yalil” which means “short piercing cries.” This crying sound offers us a piece of advice as to how we can fix our state of brokenness. That is, by shedding a few sincere tears in the process of doing genuine teshuva. We must repent for having rebelled against Hashem. When we do, the next blast is sounded.

The final tekiya of a set is that long straight and smooth sound which has no interruptions in it, which represents the state of purity and holiness that the person will revert back to. By doing teshuva, we will regain that pure innocence that we had when we were little children.

The second Sochotchover Rebbe (Rabbi Shmuel Bornstein, 1855-1926, Poland) in his sefer Shem Mishmuel (Shabbos Teshuva) quotes his father, the first Sochotchover Rebbe (Rabbi Avraham Bornstien, 1838-1910, Poland), known as the Avnei Neizer, who says that when we blow our shofar below, Hashem blows His Shofar above. Hashem’s shofar blasts are clothed within our blasts.

The Shvilei Pinchas adds that we should try to concentrate on Hashem’s blasts hidden within ours. Although we might not be able to physically hear Hashem’s blasts, deep down, every Jewish neshama can detect that there is something other-worldly going on with the Shofar blowing. That feeling is a sign that we are tapping into Hashem’s blasts.

When Hashem blows His shofar, He is calling out to us. His message is, “Wake up. Examine your deeds. Do teshuva. Remember that I am your Creator. Remember that at one time you were as pure as this tekiya. Then you chose to sin and became as broken as a shevarim. But, it’s never too late. Cry in teshuva like the teruah says, because if you do, I guarantee that you will revert back to that pure state of innocence represented by the last tekiya.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that this is why the Torah calls Rosh Hashana a “Yom TERUAH.” It does not call Rosh Hashana a “Yom TEKIYA,” nor does it call it a “Yom SHEVARIM.” Rather, it calls it a “Yom TERUAH.” This is because the Torah is teaching us that the essence of the day is about “teshuva” which is represented by the teruah.

Since the essence of Rosh Hashana is about doing teshuva which is hinted at in the teruah, we will be able to understand another famous verse regarding shofar blowing. It says, “Ashrei Ha’am Yodei Teruah” (Praises to the people who know a teruah; Tehillim, 89:16). This sounds like Dovid Hamelech is praising the Jewish people because they know how to produce a teruah sound with a shofar.

The Midrash (Vayikra Rabba, Parshas Emor, 29:4; Rebbi Yeshaya) asks, “Do the nations of the world not know how to blow horns? They also possess trumpets with which they can produce a teruah sound. One need not be Jewish to produce a teruah sound from a wind instrument. Why, then, does King David praise the Jewish people because of their ability to produce a teruah sound?”

The Midrash answers this question by saying that the Jewish people know how to appease God with the sound of a teruah which moves Hashem from the Throne of Judgement to the Throne of Compassion, transforming a harsh decree into a merciful one.

The Shvilei Pinchas explains how the Jewish people accomplish this. It is because the Jewish people are not merely capable of producing a teruah sound, but they are “Yodei Teruah,” meaning, they “know” what the message of a teruah sound is. They understand what the sound of a teruah is trying to convey. They recognize that the teruah is calling out to them to do teshuva.

Yes, the nations of the world also know how to produce these sounds, but the messages contained within them might fall upon deaf ears. However, the Jews understand what the meaning behind the sounds are, and they act upon them by doing teshuva. Therefore, Dovid Hamelech, who was a paradigm example of a ba’al teshuva, was proud of his people when he saw them doing teshuva as well. This is why he praised them.

At this point, we must explore when Rosh Hashana became a day of judgement. We must also investigate why the Gemara (Rosh Hashana, chap. 1, “Arba’a Roshei Shanim”, pg. 16a) says that Rosh Hashana is not just a day of judgement for Jews, but it is also a day of judgement for the entire world.

The Midrash (Vayikra Rabba, Parshas Emor, 29:1) shares a teaching from Rebbi Eliezer who said that God began to create the world on the 25th day of Elul. Six days later, on that famous “Yom Hashishi,” Hashem created Man. This means that Adam Harishon was created on the first day of Tishrei, which is Rosh Hashana. The Midrash goes on to give us a play by play accounting of what happened on that day.

In the first hour of the day, Hashem entertained the thought about creating man. In the second hour, Hashem sought council with the angels regarding the creation of man. In the third hour, Hashem gathered the dirt with which He would sculpt man. In the fourth hour, He kneaded the earth as a baker would do to his dough. In the fifth hour, God shaped the clump of earth into what man was going to look like. In the sixth hour, God made him into a golem (statue). In the seventh hour, God blew a soul into him, thus graduating him from golem to Adam. In the eighth hour, God brought Adam into Gan Eden. In the ninth hour, Hashem commanded Adam not to eat from the Eitz Hada’as. In the tenth hour, Adam transgressed and ate from the Eitz Hada’as. In the eleventh hour, Hashem brought Adam to stand in judgement. In the twelfth hour, Adam left the Divine courthouse acquitted. Hashem said to Adam, “The events which occurred today will serve as a sign for your descendants. Just as you were judged today, so will your descendants be judged on this day. Just as you were acquitted, so will they be acquitted.”

This is how Rosh Hashana became the Day of Judgement. It all began with the first Rosh Hashana. Since there was a judgement on the first Rosh Hashana, it was set aside as a day of judgement on every Rosh Hashana since then.

This also explains why Rosh Hashana is a day of judgement for all walks of life. It is because Hashem told Adam that just like he was judged on this day, so would all of his descendants be judged on that day. Adam’s descendants do not just include Jews, rather, they include all people.

Now let us analyze what we are supposed to do teshuva on specifically on Rosh Hashana.

The Arizal (Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, 1534 Yerushalayim – 1572 Tzfas) in Sefer Halikuttim (Parshas Ha’azinu) says that sinning with the Eitz Hada’as was not so much the fault of Adam Harishon himself. Rather, it was the fault of all the souls that were wrapped up within Adam’s grand and all-inclusive soul. The souls within him that would one day be wicked told Adam to go ahead with eating from the Eitz Hada’as. The souls within him that would one day be righteous did not protest strong enough against the voices of the wicked souls which makes them guilty as well.

This explains why the penalty of death that came to the world (Parshas Bereishis, 2:17) and the punishment of parnassah problems that became an international difficulty (Parshas Bereishis, 3:19) are fair punishments for the sin of the Eitz Hada’as. One cannot argue that he should be exempt from those punishments because he did not commit the sin of the Eitz Hada’as, because in fact, we were all there and we all participated in that sin. Therefore, the collective punishment does fit the crime.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that it turns out that we all rebelled against God’s direct command about not partaking from the Eitz Hada’as on the first Rosh Hashana. Therefore, on every Rosh Hashana since then, Hashem judges us to see if we are still involved in rebelling against Hashem’s commandments which are found in the Torah. If we are, then the punishments of death and livelihood difficulties remain in place. However, if we choose not to rebel against God any longer, then those penalties will be lifted.

After Adam sinned, Hashem asked him, “Ayeka” (Where are you: Parshas Bereishis, 3;9). Obviously, Hashem knew where Adam was. So, why was there a need for God to ask him, “Ayeka?” Rashi (ibid, quoting Bereishis Rabba, 19:11) has one approach in addressing this question. Please take a look at Rashi yourselves.

However, The Ba’al Hatanya (Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, 1745-1813, Russia) and the GR”A (Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna, Lithuania, 1720-1797) offer an alternative explanation of God’s question, “Ayeka.” They say that Hashem was asking Adam, “Ayeka Baolam” (Where are you in the world). In other words, “What is your standing in the world? What is your status? Where are you holding? A short while ago you were on top of the world (see Sanhedrin, chap. 7, “Arba Misos”, pg. 59b), and now you have fallen to the lowest of places. You’ve lost your edge. Do you understand what just happened?”

This question is relevant to each and every one of us because on every Rosh Hashana since, Hashem asks every one of us, “Ayeka?” God asks us, “Where have you been? Remember how holy you were when you were born? What happened to you? Are you fulfilling the purpose for which I brought you into this world? Where are you holding?”

We know that Hashem asks us this question each and every Rosh Hashana because of a teaching which says that God’s word continues forever. When man speaks, the words travel, and maybe they bounce off of the wall, but then they disappear. This is not so when Hashem speaks. Once Hashem utters a word, it continues to reverberate throughout the universe. It never ends. This is how Rashi and Onkelos understand the meaning of the words, “The word of Hashem Lo Yasaf” (Parshas Vaeschanan, 5:19). They say that the words, “Lo Yasaf” mean, “Lo Fisak” (never ceasing, never ending).

One of Hashem’s first words was, “Ayeka.” Since God spoke that word, it still exists. In fact, we are asked this question by God every single day. However, on Rosh Hashana there is a special emphasis on the question of “Ayeka” because it was first uttered on Rosh Hashana. On each Rosh Hashana since, this question comes to life in a more emphatic way.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that this question, “Ayeka,” is clothed within the shofar blasts. Earlier we mentioned that Hashem’s shofar blasts are clothed within our shofar blasts. Now we are adding that Hashem’s question, “Ayeka,” is also clothed within the shofar blasts. This is because part of the “Ayeka” question is, “Do you remember when you were as pure as a tekiya? Do you remember how you became as broken as a shevarim? Never forget that you can do teshuva like a teruah, because when you do, you will revert back to that state of innocence like a tekiya.”

The question, “Ayeka,” is not just a word which contains all of the questions we just enumerated. Rather, the four letters which spell “Ayeka” also contain four pieces of advice that Adam had to follow in order to fix the sin that he had committed. We are going to see that these four pieces of advice do not only apply to Adam, but they equally apply to us as well.

The word “Ayeka” is spelled: aleph, yud, kaf, and hey. Each letter carries with it a message of tikkun that we are meant to adopt.

The aleph of “Ayeka” told Adam Harishon that he needs a dose of Torah study to ensure that he will not make another mistake by listening to the Yetzer Hara which the serpent embodied. The Gemara (Shabbos, chap. 12, “Haboneh”, pg. 104a) tells us that some children (Tosafos ibid, cites a Yerushalmi in Megillah 1:1 that says that those children were Rebbi Eliezer and Rebbi Yehoshua when they were children) expounded on the Aleph Beis in the following way.

“Aleph Beis” means “Aleph Bina” which Rashi (ibid) translates as, “Learn Torah.” According to this translation, the word “Aleph” means to “learn,” referring to the study of Torah. Torah study is the only antidote against the Yetzer Hara (Kiddushin, chap. 1, “Ha-isha Niknis”, pg. 30b). With the letter Aleph of “Ayeka,” Hashem hinted to Adam that if he does not want to fall into the Yetzer Hara’s trap again, he must study more Torah.

Even before Hashem asked Adam “Ayeka,” Adam had a sneaking suspicion that he needed a dose of Torah so as not to repeat such types of mistakes again. This is hinted to when it says that Adam hid among the “Eitz Hagan” (trees of the garden; Parshas Bereishis, 3:8). The word “Eitz” already hints to the Torah because of the famous verse, “Eitz Chaim Hi Lamachazikim Bah” (It is a tree of life to those who grasp hold of it; Mishlei, 3:17). In Pirkei Avos (3:17) this “Eitz Chaim” is understood to be referring to Torah. Therefore, when Adam ran to the “Eitz” of the garden, it hints to us that he ran to obtain a dose of Torah.

Rabbi Shlomo Rabinowitz (the first Radomsker Rebbe, 1801-1866, Poland), in his Sefer Tiferes Shlomo, says that the word “gan” in this verse (Adam hid among eitz hagan) also refers to Torah. This is because the Zohar (Midrash Ne’elam, Parshas Vayeira, pg. 104b) says that there are 53 parshiyos in the Torah. The numerical value of the word “gan” is 53. Therefore, when it says that Adam ran away to the “eitz hagan,” it means that Adam ran away to study the 53 (gan) parshiyos of the Torah (eitz).

So, even before Hashem hinted to Adam, with the letter aleph of “Ayeka,” that he needs a dose of Torah, Adam on his own had that very same idea. Hashem’s instruction reinforced Adam’s conviction.

With the letter yud of “Ayeka,” Hashem hinted to Adam that he needs a dose of humility. Since the letter yud is the smallest letter, it represents humility (Osiyos D’Rebbi Akiva, pg. 28). Adam most certainly needed a dose of humility because the sin of the Eitz Hada’as was an act of arrogance. This is because the serpent told Adam, “The reason why Hashem forbade the eating of the Eitz Hada’as was because Hashem Himself ate from that tree and, as a result, became a God. Since He does not want any competition, He told you not to eat from that tree so that you won’t become gods. But, if you eat from the tree, you will become a god who will also be able to create worlds” (Parsdhas Bereishis, 3:5; Rashi ibid, citing Bereishis Rabba, Parshas Bereishis, 19:4, Rebbi Levi).

Since Adam ate from that tree, we can deduce that his incentive, at least partially, was motivated by the prospect of becoming a god. For man to think that he can become a god is nothing short of arrogance. This explains why the punishment for the Eitz Hada’as was death. It is because death is an extremely humbling concept. When we think of ourselves returning to dust (Parshas Bereishis, 3:19), being surrounded by worms and maggots (Pirkei Avos, 3:1), it is a very humbling thought. So, Hashem sent Adam a message within the yud of “Ayeka” hinting to him that he needed a good dose of humility.

With the letter kaf of “Ayeka,” Hashem hinted to Adam that he needs to give tzedakah. When a person gives tzedakah, he must use “kaf hayad” (the palm of his hand). The word “kaf’ is not just the name of a letter, but it is also a word which means “palm.” Hashem hinted to Adam that he must use his hands to give tzedakah and do acts of chesed. After all, it says, “Redeem your sin through charity” (Daniel, 4:24), and it says, “Charity rescues from death (Mishlei, 10:2), and it says that teshuva, tefilla, and tzedakah removes a harsh decree (Nesaneh Tokef). This is what Adam needed to do.

With the letter hey of “Ayeka,” Hashem hinted to Adam that he must do teshuva. The Gemara (Menachos, chap. 3, “Hakomets Rabba”, pg. 29b, Rebbi Yehuda bar Rebbi Ilai) says that this world was created with the letter hey (Yeshaya, 26:4). The shape of a letter hey is such that there is an open space at the bottom. The message behind that space is that if we do not obey God’s commandments in this world, we will fall out through the bottom right down to Gehinnom.

However, the left leg of the letter hey does not reach the roof of the letter hey. This creates a small window at the top left corner. The message of that window is that if anybody wants to climb through that window in teshuva, he is accepted. In fact, the word “teshuva” is made up of the letters that can also be arranged to spell, “Tashuv – hey,” meaning, “return” like the letter “hey” is teaching us to do.

The four letters of the word “Ayeka” also teach us when the most propitious time for implementing these steps is. The Arizal (Sha’ar Hakavanos, Rosh Hashana, Drush Aleph, Succos, Drush Gimmel) points out that there are 21 days between Rosh Hashana and Hoshana Rabba (including Rosh Hashana and including Hoshana Rabba). These 21 days are one chain in time whose purpose is to fix the sin of the Eitz Hada’as that was done on the first of those days.

The four letters of “Ayeka” represent these 21 days. The letter aleph of “Ayeka” is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. As such, it represents the first day of the new year, Rosh Hashana.

The letter yud of “Ayeka” is numerically 10. Therefore, it represents the 10 Days of Repentance.

The letter kaf of the word “Ayeka” stands for the holiday called (Yom) Kippur (the word “Kippur” starts with a kaf).

The letter hey of “Ayeka” represents the holiday of Succos. This is because a succa is kosher if it has four walls, it is also kosher if it has three walls, and it is even kosher if it has two walls and a third “wall” the size of a tefach (the average size of the width of a man’s fist. About 4 inches; Meseches Succa, chap. 1, “Succa”, pg. 6b). The letter hey has the shape of two walls with another little “wall” which represents the shape of a succa.

Therefore, the four letters of the word “Ayeka” teach us when the most propitious time of implementing the four pieces of advice is. That is, during these 21 days.

In conclusion, the Gemara (Yoma, chap. 8, “Yom Hakipurim”, pg. 86b, Rebbi Yonasan) says that the power of teshuva is so great that it hastens the redemption. Therefore, if we fulfil the verse that says, “Yom Teruah,” which means that we use the day of Rosh Hashana to do teshuva, then, we will be zocheh to the following day. What is the “day” after “Yom Teruah?” Well, if a tekiya follows a teruah, then, it must be that the “Yom Tekiya” is the day that comes after the “Yom Teruah.” You might be wondering, “What is a “Yom Tekiya?”

We all know what the Yom Tekiya is because it says, “Vehaya Bayom Hahu, YITAKA B’shofar Gadol” (and it will be on that day that a great shofar will be blown; Yeshaya, 27:13). When that great shofar gets blown, it will signal the ingathering of those that are lost in the land of Assyria and those who were cast away in the land of Egypt. They will prostrate themselves on the holy mountain in Yerushalayim.

In other words, the “Yom Tekiya” is the “Day of Redemption.” The “Yom Tekiya” will only happen after there is a solid “Yom Teruah,” a “day of repentance.” This is because teshuva brings the Geula.

Practically speaking, on this Rosh Hashana, as we sit around the table, let us suggest that everybody asks themselves, “Ayeka?” Explain to them that this question was asked by God on this very day. Explain that the word “Ayeka” carries the following questions: “Where have we been? We were once so pure. Then we fell. Where do we want to go from here? How are we going to get there?”

Explain that the word “Ayeka” tells us how to get there. Through Torah (aleph), through humility (yud), through tzedakah (kaf), and through teshuva (hey).

Explain that the most propitious time to implement these ideas is during this time of year which is also hinted at in the word “Ayeka.” During Rosh Hashana (aleph), during the Aseres Yimei Teshuva (yud), during Yom Kippur (kaf), and during Succos (hey).

Additionally, during the shofar blasts, let us be reminded that we were once so holy (tekiya), but then we became broken on account of sin (shevarim), but we can always do teshuva (teruah), which will return us to our previous state of innocence (tekiya).

So, may we shavarim be blessed this Rosh Hashana with the openness and willingness to do teshuva through teruah, Torah, humility, and tzedakah, and return to that pristine state of tekiya that we were born with, so that when Hashem asks us, “Ayeka,” we will be able to respond affirmatively that we are on the right path towards fixing our participation of the Eitz Hada’as and toward fulfilling our unique purpose in this world to which God will say about these 21 days between Rosh Hashana and Hoshana Rabba, “Ach Tov L’Yisrael” (Tehillim, 73:1, meaning, “Israel” became “tov” during “ach” which is numerically 21, referring to these 21 days), at which time we will be zocheh to hear the great tekiya of Geula.


{Reposted from the the Rabbi’s site}

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Rabbi Aba Wagensberg, a close Talmid of Harav HaGaon Rav Chaim Pinchas Sheinberg, ZT”L, is a sought-after lecturer in institutions in Israel and abroad. Rabbi Wagensberg is the author of "Inspiring Change" (about self growth) and "A Shot of Torah" (a collection of shorter divrei Torah on the Parsha and holidays), as well as weekly Torah articles. He has created a Torah audio and video library and can also be heard weekly on the Lakewood radio station, Kol Berama 107.9 FM.