“Now available — the new and improved 2014 model!”
We live in a time when something just six months old is considered outdated. Our generation strives for the most comfortable and easy way of life, and thus we are never satisfied with the “old-fashioned” devices. We, as Torah-abiding-Jews, definitely try our hardest not to get caught up in this wild and mad pursuit of worldly pleasures and comforts, but we can certainly learn an important lesson from this craziness. If this is the mindset people have concerning material things meant to serve us on our short stay in this world, how much more should we apply this approach towards acquiring our portion in the World to Come, which lasts for eternity! As the years pass, the enthusiasm we had for doing mitzvos after our bar/bas mitzvah starts to wane. Mitzvos done by rote are performed with less perfection, and the lack of enthusiasm drastically lowers the level of closeness to Hashem that should result. Therefore, we cannot merely rest on our laurels and do them the same way all our lives. We must turn to our great leaders to find ways to refresh our love of mitzvos.
Rosh Hashanah is Coming (!?)
When it comes to preparing for Rosh Hashanah, this concept is even more crucial. Any good lawyer knows that he must prepare thoroughly for each court case and cannot rely on old victories and successes. He must always looks for new arguments to be certain that his client will be found not guilty. So too, as we approach the Day of Judgment, we must try to find new methods in order to ensure a good verdict for the upcoming year.
What should be our new and improved approach for Elul 5773? Harav Yechezkel Levenstein zt”l, the famed Mashgiach of Mir and Ponevezh, says (Ohr Yechezkel Yomim Noraim, page 302) that a good way to prepare for Rosh Hashanah is to be extremely meticulous in keeping all the halachos of Shabbos. He explains that we might think, “Nu, so Rosh Hashanah is coming. What’s the big deal?! It came last year and the year before and everything turned out fine.”
In Parshas Nitzavim (29:18-19) we find a reference to a person who thinks along these lines: “V’hisboreich bilvavo laymor sholom yiyeh li, ki b’shrirus libee eileich . . . — and he will bless himself in his heart, saying, Peace will be with me, though I walk as my heart sees fit . . .” Hashem’s response is quite terrifying: “Lo yoveh Hashem siloach lo ki uz ye’eshan af Hashem v’kinaso ba’ish hahu v’ravtza bo kul ha’alah hakesuva b’sefer hazeh, u’macha Hashem es shimo m’tachas hashamayim — Hashem will not be willing to forgive him, for then Hashem’s anger and jealousy will smoke against that man, and the entire imprecation written in this book will come down upon him and Hashem will erase his name from under Heaven.”
But where does this erroneous belief come from? Isn’t it extremely clear that all the startling and tragic events that occurred this past year were decreed on Rosh Hashanah 5773? Hurricane Sandy, the Oklahoma tornados, train accidents and plane crashes, factory explosions, etc. . . . This is besides the more personal tragedies like illness and sudden deaths. And of course the decrees against the Torah world in Eretz Yisroel and the proposed prohibition on milah and shechitah in parts of Europe.
And let’s not forget that all the good things were also decided then – the babies who were born and shidduchim that were made after years of waiting, the enormous amounts of food that Hashem gave us, and so on . . . So why aren’t we concerned?
R’ Chatzkel writes that one of the reasons is that we lack emunah — faith. Of course we all believe in Hashem and in the truth of His Torah — but we don’t live with it as a reality. For example — we all know that if you stick your finger in fire you will get burnt. Therefore we take many precautions to ensure that it won’t happen. But when it comes to avoiding transgressing mitzvos like keeping Shabbos, we aren’t as careful. Why? Don’t we know that when one profanes Shabbos, even by mistake, his soul becomes greatly blemished and will require much painful cleaning in the World to Come? The answer is that Hashem and the Next World are something we know about, not a reality. We don’t feel that Hashem is constantly with us and watching us. Our lifelong job is to make all this real. Once that happens, the judgment of Rosh Hashanah will also be real and not just theoretical. Then we will feel that everything important to us is at stake.
Constantly On Guard
This is where Shabbos comes in, because keeping Shabbos declares that there is a Creator. There is a famous story of a Jewish businessman who was about to close on an extremely profitable sale of a property one Friday afternoon but saw that it was getting close to Shabbos. When he asked the buyers if they wouldn’t mind finishing next week, they answered curtly that if he didn’t close that day they would go elsewhere. This didn’t stop him, though, and he stood up and said: “Gentleman, my deepest apologies but it is almost the Sabbath and I must stop now.” Even though he seemingly lost out on a huge monetary gain, the spiritual windfall he landed was the deal of the century! For he made it clear, not only to them but also to himself, that there is a Higher Power ruling over him, a Power to whom we are totally subservient. The Creator had become even more real in the life of this special Yid.
But we don’t have to go so far. When we sit down to the Shabbos meal we must constantly make sure that we are not violating any halachos. For example, if someone put a napkin on top of some soda which spilled on the table, may we move that sopping wet napkin? If something falls into our soup, how can we take it out? How may you mash a potato from the cholent for your child? By delving into hilchos Shabbos we are taking the intellectual knowledge that Hashem created the world and is our Master and turning it into a reality.
We now understand why Shabbos is an excellent way to prepare for Rosh Hashanah. The first thing we must do is to learn hilchos Shabbos. There are many seforim written in English that explain the laws in a clear and practical manner. This will not only teach us many things which we were never aware of — sometimes even Torah prohibitions — but it will also raise our level of awareness of our actions. Many people also have the custom to learn one halacha at each of the Shabbos meals.
Second, let us try extra hard for the next few Shabbosim to be extremely careful in our adherence to the rules of Shabbos. By doing so, we will strengthen our awareness of Hashem’s active presence in our lives and thus bring ourselves a bit closer to feeling that the Day of Judgment is rapidly approaching.