From the World of Rabbi Avraham Kook
“Repentance rests deep within the experience of day to day life, for it preceded the world. Before sin arrives, repentance for that sin is already waiting. Therefore, there is nothing in the world so certain as repentance, and in the end, all sin will be rectified…” (Orot HaTshuva 6:2)
Rabbi Dov Begon – Rosh Yeshiva of Machon Meir
Message for Today:
To Hear the Shofar Blast – in Our Land
Rosh Hashanah is like its name. It is the head [rosh] of the entire year [shanah]. Just as a man’s head influences his entire body physically and spiritually, so does Rosh Hashanah influence the entire year. This explains the customs we have on this day, like greeting one another with blessings that we should be signed and sealed for a good year; eating apples with honey; the special wishes we make on Rosh Hashanah night as we eat certain special foods. All these customs serve to leave their stamp on the entire year. All of these blessings and wishes are of earthshaking significance, and we mustn’t make light of them. Quite the contrary, we must treat a layman’s blessing with the full weight due it.
We must especially listen well to the shofar blasts, for they possess much content and significance. If someone hears his full measure of shofar blasts, not only will he be awakened from his spiritual slumber of the preceding year, and not only will he improve his deeds and character, but he will be privileged to draw nearer to G-d. In him will sparkle the light of faith, the belief that Hashem the G-d of Israel is King, and that His sovereignty rules over all.
How can the shofar blasts have this influence? As is well known, the shofar blasts open with a “tekiah”, followed by a “shevarim”, a “teruah”, and finally a “tekiah” again. And, at the end of all the shofar blasts comes a “tekiah gedolah”. Our sages in setting out to describe these blasts, relate to the “tekiah”, the most uncomplicated blast, as alluding to G-d’s trait of kindness, and they relate to the “shevarim” and “teruah”, which recall the sound of moaning and weeping, as alluding to G-d’s trait of Strict Justice. These divine blasts serve to teach us and remind us, and indeed to strengthen our faith in the principle that G-d truly rules over His world and ours with His trait of kindness: “The L-rd is good to all, and His mercies are over all His works” (Psalm 145:9).
“G-d made man upright” (Ecclesiastes 7:29). In other words, man is essentially good, only that “he seeks out many inventions” (ibid.). The flow of life in this world, complicated by a plethora of calculations, conceals from us G-d’s benevolent will, which is present everywhere. For the world is full of G-d’s glory, and His sovereignty rules over all.
Israel, however, are believers and the sons of believers. Even with G-d’s concealing His countenance, even in situations when we moan and weep, we can realize and see that all is for the best. We therefore end the shofar blasts with another “tekiah”, the simple blast that alludes to G-d’s traits of kindness and mercy, traits that never cease at any time or under any circumstances, and which are revealed like the sun’s shining after a night of darkness.
The shofar blasts relate not only to man as a private individual, but to the general situation of the Jewish People and the entire world. The “tekiah gedolah”, the long, simple blast at the end, relates to this point, for it alludes to the shofar blast of the Messiah, as we recite each day in the Shemoneh Esreh: “Sound the great shofar for our freedom. Lift up the banner to bring our exiles together, and assemble us from the four corners of the earth.”
How fortunate we are to be privileged on Rosh Hashanah to hear the sound of the shofar in the land of our life’s blood. The day is not far off when we will merit the coming of the righteous Messiah, and redemption, amidst complete repentance.
Looking forward to complete salvation,
May the entire Jewish People be signed and sealed for a good, sweet year.
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Rabbi Shlomo Aviner – Chief Rabbi of Beit El
Don’t Believe Your Evil Impulse
Question: I have a strong evil impulse, stronger than that of any of my friends. No matter how much I try, I fail. I truly thirst for G-d. I truly want to draw near to Him, but I don’t succeed. I have already given up.
Answer: Nonsense! The evil impulse is just tricking you. That’s what it does. It tricks people. It uses all the weapons of warfare, including psychological strategies to make you despair. I am familiar with its ways. It is an old and foolish king (see Ecclesiastes 4:13).
Your own evil impulse is not stronger than that of your friends. You just don’t know their secrets any more than they know yours. Everyone imagines that he has the most powerful evil impulse on earth, yet all of that is just one of the evil impulse’s tricks.
Yet even if it were so, that you had an enlarged evil impulse, then we have a major principle regarding all of G-d’s works: “G-d created the one to offset the other” (ibid., 7:14). If you have a strong evil impulse, then you possess an equally strong good impulse. If suddenly the evil impulse becomes stronger, then precisely at the same time, the good impulse will become stronger as well. Or, conversely, when the good impulse becomes stronger, the evil impulse will become stronger in order to fight it.
All this is explained at length in Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto’s work “Derech Hashem”, where he teaches that G-d fashioned a good impulse and an evil impulse of equal weight, in order to grant a person free choice. If someone claims that he has an unconquerable evil impulse, he is, so to speak, accusing G-d of a terrible injustice, in which the game is lost from the start, such that G-d makes his creatures sin and then comes with accusations against them.
Yet that is not so! You have great power! If it is true that you possess a strong evil impulse, then you have to realize that you, yourself, are strong, for the greater one is, the stronger his evil impulse, and, conversely, the stronger his evil impulse, the greater he is. All those passions driving you are a sign of the great powers of holiness waiting within you and ready for action.
So, pay no heed to all the arguments you hear from within yourself, and all the old wives tales that are weakening you and providing you with false consolation. They are all just the tricks of the evil impulse. Be a great warrior. Go off to battle without fear and without dread, and you will see that you will win.
The Ba’al Shem Tov told a parable in this regard. A man longed to see the king, yet when he approached his palace, he saw a high wall. For a moment he was deterred, yet he immediately recovered and decided to scale the wall. After he climbed down from the other side, he turned around and behold, the wall had disappeared! Then he saw a deep chasm in the ground. He wasn’t afraid, and he jumped over it. He then turned around, there was no chasm. Next, a mighty army blocked his path, yet he fought the army with all his strength, and when he turned around, once more there was no army.
In the same way, all the challenges a person faces in approaching G-d are just illusions set up by the evil impulse to make him give up hope in advance. Every difficulty looks like an enormous obstacle, yet when a person believes in himself and approaches the problem with strength and valor, the difficulty disappears as though it never existed. Only when a person convinces himself that he will not succeed, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, issued by a false prophet – the evil impulse.
The Ba’al Shem Tov told still another parable. A king wished to know if his citizens were loyal to him and he charged his viceroy with investigating this. The viceroy disguised himself as a rebel, inciting against the king everywhere he went. Some people clapped their hands and offered encouragement (and the viceroy recorded their names in exasperation). Others vociferously protested against him (and the viceroy listened with contentment and recorded their names as well). The viceroy stirred up more and more of an uproar until one day one old man stood up and said, “Fellow citizens, I know this rebel, and he is none other than the viceroy. He is only seeking to test you.” Immediately all the rebels left him.
So, if the evil impulse turns to you, abandon it immediately. It is just an emissary of the Master of the Universe, out to test you.
You, however, must prevail over it.
Rabbi Azriel Ariel– Guest Lecturer at Machon Meir
G-d’s Kingdom, and Our Fear of Him
“Today the world was created. Today G-d will judge all the world’s creatures.” Today is the world’s “birthday”, and this obligates the entire world to engage in its yearly soul searching. Does the world justify its existence? It is not easy to answer that question. The “Aderet”, Rav Kook’s father-in-law, writes about his birthday (Igarot HaAderet, Siman 14):
“My birthday is Atzeret, the day of assembly, the day our holy Torah was given. Yet each year I have avoided mentioning this fact even to myself, because it would cause me pain and sorrow, knowing that with my numerous sins my birthday is no cause for rejoicing. It was certainly regarding the likes of me that our sages said, ‘Easier if man were never created.’”
The Aderet was referring to the Talmud in Eruvin 13b:
“The Rabbis concluded, ‘It would have easier for man had he never been created. Yet now that he was created, he should examine his deeds.”
We must contend with a reality. The world was created, and man was created. Maybe this is not “easy” for him, but it is certainly “good”. Therefore, having been created, we must examine ourselves regarding the extent to which we fulfill our purpose, so that we can advance on the ascending path towards the House of G-d, the G-d of the world that is all good.
Yet how can a person search his soul? Surely it is man’s nature that he tends to justify himself. And even if an individual tends towards self-criticism as well, how can all mankind be expected to do it? Surely it can only judge itself in accordance with its own yardstick of values and ethics. And if those very moral conventions demand improvement, how can society know what to improve? How can it know what to strive for?
To deal with that there is a term that for the person who has adopted the culture of Democracy, and all the more so the culture of postmodernism, is hard to digest. That concept is “G-d’s kingdom”. Indeed, how can a person find happiness under G-d’s sovereignty? Can he be happy once more to forfeit his autonomy? Can he rejoice over undertaking an external yoke? Perhaps he should feel as though a strangling vice has been placed around his neck to deny him his freedom?
In “Good Citizenship” class we learned that a kingdom has three branches: legislative, executive and judicial. Scientific development has expanded man’s autonomy. It seems as though technology has wrested from G-d the “executive powers”, as though a system of human moral values has taken from G-d His “legislative powers”, and the modern courts have wrested from G-d His “juridical powers”. Where is all this leading us? In the year 2007, is a man really master of his physical, moral or spiritual fate? Is he really a better person? A happier person?
Despite everything, man feels impotence when he confronts the might of nature, terror, the corruptness of the government and legal systems, the flowering of ideologies that threaten the existence of mankind, while “the dictates of pluralism” prohibit our fighting them. He feels impotence before the harsh sense of estrangement, loneliness, meaninglessness, and before the loss of solid earth beneath all thinking about morality. If everything is man-made, if everything is relative, if this world has no contact with the world beyond it, how then can anyone determine what is really good and moral? That being the case, where is our world headed? Where is it progressing? Is there any yardstick for measuring progress? Where is man, as an individual, headed? Surely he is full of contradictory desires. He doesn’t know what he really wants from himself. He has no absolute yardstick for distinguishing good from evil.
We are therefore happy to take upon ourselves G-d’s kingdom. “We therefore place our hope in You, L-rd our G-d, that we might speedily see Your glorious majesty” (Aleinu)…. “Rule over the entire world in Your glory. Be exalted over the entire land in Your splendor.” The divine values, the absolute values, the absolute truth – all of this has to appear: kindness and righteousness; truth and peace; uprightness and wisdom; mercy and love; valor and mercy. These are the values that must lead all of mankind, all the nations and cultures, and every individual person on earth. “May all the inhabitants of the world realize and know that to You every knee must bend, every tongue must vow allegiance. May then bend the knee and prostrate themselves before You, L-rd our G-d, and give honor to Your glorious name.” (Aleinu).
On Rosh Hashanah we are open to that which is beyond this world, beyond mankind. We consciously limit our human autonomy, our ego, and we thereby acknowledge that there is a greater, loftier, more absolute good than anything we are capable of creating ourselves. At that moment we are open to undertaking the yoke of G-d’s kingdom. This openness is called “the fear of G-d”. It is this, which gives the world and the individual the meaning of their existence, and the direction towards which they must strive. “For it is Your kingdom, and it shall rule in glory forever and ever.”
That is the meaning of our standing before G-d on the day the world was created, the day all creatures stand in judgment.
Translation: R. Blumberg