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Questions and Answers on the Prayers for Rosh Hashanah (Machzor)

Questions and Answers on the Prayers for Rosh Hashanah (Machzor)

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"המלך"
“The King.”

QUESTION: Why did Rabbi Aaron of Karlin (one of the eminent disciples of the Maggid of Mezritch) faint when he began to recite Hamelech?

ANSWER: The Gemara (Gittin 56a) relates that when the Roman armies under General Vespasian besieged Jerusalem, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai went out of the city to meet Vespasian to intercede on behalf of the Jews. When he appeared before him he said, “Peace be unto you, O King, peace be unto you, O King.” Vespasian said to Rabban Yochanan, “You are liable to death on two accounts. First, I am not a king, and you are mocking me by calling me ‘King.’ Furthermore, if I am a king, why did you not come until today?”

When Rabbi Aaron of Karlin recited “Hamelech” — “The King” — he reflected upon the statement, “If I am a king, why did you not come until today!” and fell into a deep faint.

(מחזור נוסח אר"י)

"ברוך אתה ... אלקי אברהם אלקי יצחק ואלקי יעקב ... ברוך אתה ה' מגן אברהם"
“Blessed are You, G‑d of Avraham, G‑d of Yitzchak, and G‑d of Yaakov. Blessed are You, G‑d, shield of Avraham.”

QUESTION: Why does the berachah start with mentioning our three patriarchs and conclude only with Avraham?

ANSWER: On the pasuk “I will make you into a big nation: I will bless you, and make you famous and you will be a blessing” (Bereishit 12:2), Rashi explains that this refers to what we say in Shemoneh Esreih, “Elokei Avraham, Elokei Yitzchak, Elokei Yaakov,” “but,” Hashem told Avraham, “the berachah will be concluded with your name only — magen Avraham.” Wouldn’t Avraham be happier if Yitzchak and Yaakov were also mentioned in the conclusion of the berachah?

In Pirkei Avot (1:2) we learn that the world stands on three pillars: 1) The study of Torah, 2) avodah — the service of G‑d, and 3) gemilut chassadim — acts of kindness, tzedakah. The patriarchs each epitomize one of these pillars. Avraham represents chessed (21:33), Yitzchak — avodah (24:63), and Yaakov — Torah (25:27).

According to Rashi, the pasuk is projecting the history of Klal Yisrael. There will be a time when the major relationship between the Jews and Hashem will be through the study of Torah (Elokei Yaakov). At other times it will be through the service in the Beit Hamikdash or through tefillah prayer (Elokei Yitzchak), and there will be a period when it will be through chessedtzedakah (Elokei Avraham).

However, the “concluding phase” of galut and the coming of Mashiach will not be dependent on all three pillars, but in the zechut of chessed alone, which is personified by Avraham.

(שמעתי מזקני הרב צבי הכהן ז"ל קפלן)

"זכרנו לחיים מלך חפץ בחיים וכתבנו בספר החיים למענך אלקים חיים"
“Remember us for life, O King Who desires life, and inscribe us in the Book of Life for Your sake, O Living G‑d.”

QUESTION: Inherent in man’s nature is a desire for life. Why, when praying for life, do we emphasize Hashem’s desire for life and that we are asking for life for His sake?

ANSWER: A Jew comes into this world with a mission to study Torah and do good deeds. When a person lives a lifespan of seventy years and accomplishes very little, his living is only biological but not the true life expected of a Jew.

When we pray for life, we emphasize that we are not referring merely to biological life, which every human being desires and for which he will give everything he has — rather we ask for the sort of life which “You O King” desire that we live - life filled with accomplishment, and not wasted away in vanity. Thus, we beseech, “Inscribe us in the Book of Life — for Your sake,” grant us life which we will use for Your sake — Torah and mitzvot.

(ספר החיים – לאחי המהר"ל מפראג)

"ובכן תן פחדך...על כל העמים ואימתך על כל מה שבראת"
“And so...instill fear of You upon all that You have made, and dread of You upon all that You have created.”

QUESTION: On Rosh Hashanah when we are concerned with ourselves, why do we pray that the entire world should fear Hashem?

ANSWER: The Gemara (Bava Kamma 92a) says that when one prays on behalf of his friend and he too is in need of the same thing, he is answered first. Since we, and the entire world as well, need Hashem to instill His fear in us, in merit of our praying for all those that He made and created, we will be the first in whom He will instill His fear and the first to prostrate ourselves before Him with a perfect heart.

(ר' חיים זצ"ל מצאנז)


"והופע בהדר גאון עוזך"
“And reveal Yourself in the majesty of Your glorious might.”

QUESTION: What do we stand to gain from this personally?

ANSWER: The Gemara (Mo’eid Kattan 28a) says that chayei b’nei u’mezonei — the length of a person’s life, children and sustenance — is not dependent on one’s merit, rather they are matters dependent on mazala (mazal is the influence that celestial bodies have over events in this world).

The first letters of the Hebrew words “hadar ge’on uzecha” (הדר גאון עוזך) numerically add up to 78 as does the word “mazla” (מזלא). Hence, we are asking Hashem that we have a favorable mazal which will assure us life, children and sustenance.

Incidentally, in our prayers in the Amidah we express many times the request for chaim — life. Basically, chaim includes primarily these three matters: life, sustenance and children, for one who is childless or poverty stricken is considered as not alive (Nedarim 64b).

(לקוטי לוי יצחק ע' שפ"ב)

"אבינו מלכנו חטאנו לפניך"
“Our Father our King we have sinned before You.”

QUESTION: Why does the individual say “chatanu”“we sinned” — in plural?

ANSWER The Gemara (Shevuot 39a) says that all Jews are responsible one for another. The reason for this is that the Jewish people are like one body. Thus, the Jew who sins affects the entire Klal Yisrael. Likewise, when a Jew does a good deed it has a good effect and benefits the entire Jewish people (see Rambam, Teshuvah 3:4).

A passenger on a boat once noticed another passenger drilling under his seat. In astonishment, he bellowed “what are you doing?” The other responded, “Mind your own business. I’m drilling under my seat. I paid for a voyage on this seat.” The man said to him “Fool, don’t you realize that if water comes in under your seat we are all doomed”!

(טעמי המנהגים בשם האר"י ז"ל)


"אבינו מלכנו, כתבנו בספר זכיות"
“Our Father, our King, inscribe us in the book of merits.”

QUESTION: If we have done meritorious acts we are already inscribed, and if we have not performed meritorious acts, how can we ask that the books be kept inaccurately?

ANSWER: The Gemara (Yoma 86b) asks that Reish Lakish seems to be contradicting himself. At one time he said that “Great is teshuvah — repentance — for because of it “zedonot” — “willful transgressions” — are accounted for the penitent as “shegagot” — “inadvertent errors.” (When one becomes aware of the negative consequences of sin and regrets his behavior, Heaven treats his offenses as inadvertent transgressions which do not merit punishment.) And at another time Reish Lakish said that “Great is repentance, for because of it zedonot — willful transgressions — are accounted for the penitent as zechuyot — merits?

The Gemara resolves the contradiction, concluding that Reish Lakish’s second statement refers to repentance motivated by ahavah — love of Hashem — the sin is completely erased and converted into sources of merit. In the first statement, he refers to repentance motivated by yir’ah — fear — and a trace of the sin still remains, similar to that of a shegagah — inadvertent sin.

Thus, we are beseeching our Heavenly Father that we be inspired to a level teshuvah motivated by love of Hashem, which in turn will cause us to be inscribed — besefer zechuyot — in the book of merits — thanks to the fact that all our previously committed willful transgressions will become zechuyot — merits.

* * *

Some have a custom on Rosh Hashanah to eat pomegranates and say “may we increase merits like a pomegranate” (see Shulchan Aruch Harav 583:4). According to the above, this too can be explained as a plea that we be inspired to do teshuvah out of love for Hashem and thus we will increase in merits since all our zedonot — willful transgressions — will be converted to zechuyot — merits.

(ברכת חיים על מועדים בשם תורת חיים)


"אבינו מלכנו הרם קרן ישראל עמך"
“Our Father, our King, exalt the glory of Israel your people.”

QUESTION: If “keren” means “glory,” why doesn’t the liturgist use the popular expression of hod or “kavod”?

ANSWER: When one invests in an enterprise, the principle invested is called keren. The keren is invested with the expectation of receiving interest or a share of the anticipated profits.

When the investor realizes that the business is failing and not only will he not receive the interest but he may lose the principle too, he will quickly pull out of the enterprise and forego the interest and be happy to secure his keren — principle.

The Gemara (Pesachim 87b) says that the reason Hashem put us through the galut — exile — is so that there may be geirim — proselytes — joining the Jewish people. Hence, the galut is, so to speak, an investment. The Jewish people are the keren — principle — and the geirim that will join are the anticipated profits and interest.

Unfortunately, while this endeavor is taking place, many Jews are lost from the fold due to assimilation with the societies of the nations. Hence, we beseech, “Our Father our King, lift up the keren — the principle — i.e., the Jewish people. Speedily send Mashiach to take us out of galut and bring us to the Holy Land, because the strong risk of losing our Jewish identity overweighs the potential gain of our living in galut.”

(ר' משה ליב זצ"ל מסאסוב)

"עלה אלקים בתרועה ה' בקול שופר"
“G‑d ascended with the blast, Hashem with the voice of the shofar.”

QUESTION: Why does the pasuk start with the term Elokim and conclude with the Tetragramaton — the Holy four letter Name?

ANSWER: This Psalm is alluding to the blast of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah (see Yalkut Shimoni). The word “teru’ah” is related to the word“rei’ah” — “friend.” The word “shofar” is related to the word “shipur” — “improvement.”

The name “Elokim” denotes severity and judgment, and the Holy four letter Name denotes mercy.

The Psalmist is saying that when Jews resolve to be friendly with each other and harmony prevails, alah Elokim — He ascends and departs from His Throne of judgment (the word “alah” can mean “ascend” as in Bamidbar 10:11, see Targum). When Hashem sees a resolve to improve and better our way, we immediately merit that Hashem b’kol shofar — He sits on His Throne of mercy and He converts harsh judgment to compassion.

(הליכות עולם, ברכת חיים - שיח צבי)


"רבונו של עולם ... ופרנסה טובה וכלכלה ולחם לאכול ובגד ללבוש ועשר"
“Master of the world, [grant me] good livelihood and sustenance, food to eat and clothes to wear, wealth.

QUESTION: Doesn’t one who has a good livelihood, sustenance and wealth have food to eat and clothes to wear?

ANSWER: There are people who have food in abundance and a wardrobe full of clothing yet are, unfortunately, bed-ridden and unable to enjoy their delicacies or garments. Yaakov prayed for good health so that he could enjoy his food and wear his clothing. To him “gezunt” was a primary objective.

(שפתי כהן)

* * *

Alternatively, man works very hard and goes to great length to earn his ‘bread’ (parnasah). For example, people work during the night denying themselves sleep; others perform hazardous jobs, and still others travel far distances and are separated from their families for long periods of time.

In reality one may wonder, are they working “for bread to eat” or is “their bread eating them?”

Yaakov prayed to Hashem to give him a tranquil source of parnasah through which he would have “bread to eat” and not an occupation where, G‑d forbid, the bread would consume him.

(מצאתי בכתבי אבי הרב שמואל פסח ז"ל באגאמילסקי)


"ברוך אתה...לשמוע קול שופר"
“Blessed are you...to hear the sound of the shofar.”

QUESTION: Why is it customary to keep the shofar covered during the reciting of the berachot prior to the actual sounding of the shofar? (See Bei’ar Heiteiv 593:3)

ANSWER: Prior to the Akeidah — binding of Yitzchak to be an offering — it says, “And they came to the place of which Hashem had told him, and Avraham built the altar there” (Bereishit 22:9). The Midrash (56:5) asks, “And where was Yitzchak?” Rabbi Levi answered, “Avraham had taken and hidden him saying, ‘Lest Satan may endeavor to seduce him from obedience and willingness to allow himself to be sacrificed, or perhaps he will throw a stone at him, maiming him and disqualifying him from serving as a sacrifice.’ ”

Since the sounding of the shofar of a ram is so that Hashem remember for our sake the Akeidah (Rosh Hashanah 16a),to recall Avraham’s hiding Yitzchak before the Akeidah, we hide the shofar.

(קדמות הזהר)


"מצות היום בשופר"
“The mitzvah of [Rosh Hashanah] day, is [sounding of] the shofar.” (Rosh Hashanah 26b)

QUESTION: Why is a lowly animal’s horn used to invoke the height of spirituality during the holiest time of the year?

ANSWER: Each person is driven by conflicting impulses: The soul yearns for spirituality, and the body is driven by mortal needs and instincts. Our purpose is to attain harmony — not dissonance — between body and soul, to unite their drives in Divine service.

The use of an animal’s horn on Rosh Hashanah reminds us that even the most hardened “animal-like” instincts within mankind — those comparable to the hardest portion of the animal, its horn — are to be included in service to Hashem.

This is why in the Shema prayer, rather than saying, “Love G‑d bechol libecha — with all your heart,” it says, “bechol levavecha — with all your hearts” — with the desires of both body and soul — the yeitzer tov and yeitzer hara — good and evil inclinations (see Berachot 54a).


שופר
Shofar

QUESTION: The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 26a) says, “All shofars are suitable for use on Rosh Hashanah except that of a cow because it is called “keren” — “horn” — as it is written in regard to Yosef, ‘A firstborn, his ox, glory in his; vekarnei re’eim karnov — his horns are the kerens of a re’eim [with them he shall gore nations]” (Devarim 33:17). Just as the keren of a re’eim are unfit [because it is not a hollow tube but bone] so the horns of an ox and its female counterpart, the cow, are disqualified’.”

Why does the name make such a difference?

ANSWER: The Hebrew word “shofar” which means “horn” is also related to the word “shipur” — “improvement.” The blowing of the shofar also serves as an awakening call to the Jew to introspect one’s self and resolve to rectify and improve one’s way of life and relationship with Hashem and man (Midrash Tehillim 81).

Regarding the keren the Gemara (Bava Kamma 2b) says that, “Ein negichah ela bekeren” — “Goring is done by the horn.”

By allowing only the use of a horn which is calledshofar and disqualifying one which is called “keren” — the Sages are telling us that the purpose of the shofar is an awakening call for improvement. Goring and hurting another, is not proper behavior for a Jew. Thus, the horn which alludes to goring should not be used on Rosh Hashanah.

(ברכת חיים)


"אשרי העם יודעי תרועה"
“Fortunate are the people who know the sound of the shofar.”

QUESTION: Instead of “yode’ei” — “who know” — it should have said “toke’ei” — “who blow” — or “shome’ei” — “who hear”?

ANSWER: It is preferable to hear one hundred blasts of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah (see Shulchan Aruch Harav 596:1, Shelah Vol. I p. 220b). Thirty are sounded before Musaf, thirty during the silent prayer of Shemoneh Esreih, thirty during the repetition of the prayer, and ten more during the Kaddish recited after the repetition of the prayer. (The additional thirty shofar blasts which Chabad does after the conclusion of all the prayers, is only a custom in order to confuse the Satan.)

The word “yode’ei” (יודעי) — “who know” — has the numerical value of one hundred.

(הליכות עולם בשם דורשי רשומות)


"וגם את נח באהבה זכרת בהביאך את מי המבול...מפני רוע מעלליהם"
“You also remembered Noach with love when You brought the waters of the flood...because of the wickedness of their deeds.”

QUESTION: Why do we base our plea on Noach; can’t we find any other Jewish tzaddikim?

ANSWER: The Torah describes Noach as a tzaddik bedorotav” — “righteous in his generation.” Some explain that this means, in comparison to his contemporaries he was righteous, but had he lived in Avraham’s generation he would be naught (Bereishit 6:9, Rashi).

In our prayer we are saying, “You remembered Noach with love when You brought the flood.” Though he, too, should have drowned, You separated him because You took into consideration the “wickedness of their deeds” and when he is measured against them, he is a tzaddik. Likewise, measure us against the people of the world we live amongst, and regardless how we may have failed You, in comparison to them we are tzaddikim and are worthy to be lovingly remembered by You.

(סידור דובר שלום)

* * *

Alternatively, Noach and the teivah — ark — have a connection to Rosh Hashanah (see Zohar, Bamidbar, 149). The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 11a) says that on Rosh Hashanah the Matriarchs, Sarah and Rachel, and the prophetess Chanah were remembered by Hashem, and it was decreed that they bear children. Their Hebrew names each consist of three letters (שרה, רחל, חנה). Two of the letters of each name are also present in each of the other two names and each contains a letter which is unique in her name (שרה, רחל, חנה).

The letters ש,ל,נ have the numerical value of 300, 30, and 50 respectively. These numbers are alluded to in the dimensions of the teivah — ark — Hashem instructed Noach to make, as the pasuk says, “This is how you should make it — 300 cubits the height of the ark, 50 cubits its width, and 30 cubits its height (Bereishit, 6:15).”

(לקוטי לוי יצחק ע' שפ"ב במכתב לבנו כ"ק אדמו"ר ה' תשרי תרצ"ז)

* * *

Perhaps the reason Hashem hinted to Noach about these three women is to indicate that though he would witness the destruction of the world, he should not fear because there would be a rebirth of the world in general and the Jewish people in particular, and these three women can be credited for the past, present and future of Jewry.

Sarah gave birth to Yitzchak, the first Jewish child. Rachel gave birth to Yosef, who was the trailblazer and the source of strength for Jewry to endure and survive throughout the long galut — exile. Chanah gave birth to Shmuel, who anointed David, the ancestor of Mashiach — the redeemer of our people who will speedily lead us out of galut to our Holy Land.


"כי זוכר כל הנשכחות אתה הוא מעולם"
“For You are He Who remembers forever all forgotten things.”

QUESTION: How does this attribute of Hashem work in our favor?

ANSWER: There are many good things that a person does without making any issue of them. Since he has long forgotten about them, when the day of judgment arrives, he does not make mention of them as merit for his deserving to be blessed with a good year. Fortunately, Hashem does not forget. Thus, we beseech Him, since You do not forget anything, take into consideration all the good things we have done and forgotten.

On the other hand, if one forgets about his sin and does not repent, Hashem will remember it and hold one accountable. But if a person committed a transgression, and is remorseful and conducts himself, as King David said, in a way of “Vechatati negdi tamid” — “My sin is before me always” (Psalms 51:5) — Hashem will disregard this sin since He only remembers “hanishkachot” — “what has been forgotten.”

(ר' ישראל זצ"ל מרוזין)


"בהגלותך מלכנו על הר סיני ללמד לעמך תורה ומצות"
“When You our King, revealed Yourself upon Mount Sinai to teach Your people Torah and mitzvot.”

QUESTION: Why did Hashem give the Torah while the Jews were still in the wilderness and not wait till after they arrived in their own land, Eretz Yisrael?

ANSWER: The Gemara (Tamid 32a) relates that Alexander the Great put ten questions to the elders of the South. One of the questions was “Were the heavens were created first or the earth?” They replied, “Heaven was created first, as the Torah states, ‘In the beginning of G‑d’s creating the heavens and the earth’ ” (Bereishit 1:1).

Why did he want to know the order of creation?

As a great philosopher and student of Aristotle, Alexander was understandably interested in the Jewish view of creation. However, the intent of his question here was much more profound. Alexander was the most powerful king of his times, and his goal of conquering the entire world was almost realized. Heaven represents spirituality and earth represents material pursuits. He was thus uncertain whether to emphasize physically acquiring as much of the world as possible or spiritually uplifting and enhancing the world already under his control.

Unable to decide on his own, he turned to our Sages for counsel. They responded that when G‑d created the world, He created heaven first, indicating that spiritual values are pre-eminent.

Therefore, Hashem gave the Torah in the wilderness prior to the arrival of the Jews in their own land to emphasize the Torah’s superiority to land. The nations of the world who refused to accept the Torah became extinct with the loss of their lands. The Jews, however, exist forever, even without a land, as long as they keep the Torah.

(מצאתי בכתבי זקני הרב צבי הכהן ז"ל קאפלאן)


"ובאו האובדים בארץ אשור והנדחים בארץ מצרים"
“And the ones who were lost in the land of Ashur will come and those cast away in the land of Mitzrayim.”

QUESTION: Why will the kibutz gali’ot — ingathering of the exiles — consist of Jews only from these two locations?

ANSWER: Jews become alienated or are lost to Yiddishkeit because of two reasons — affluence or poverty. Some affluent Jews live in “sophisticated” environments where the observance of Torah is unpopular and ultimately drift away from Yiddishkeit. The Torah says about them, “Yeshurun became fat and kicked” (Devarim 32:15).

On the other hand, there are those who disappeared from the Jewish scene because of poverty. Unfortunately, they were not shomer Shabbat out of financial need or did not receive a Jewish education due to their parents’ inability to pay tuition. As the Gemara (Eiruvin 41b) says, “Poverty can cause a person to violate his own will and the will of his creator.”

The word “Ashur” is not just the name of a country, but can also mean “pleasure and good fortune” (see Bereishit 30:13). Likewise, “Mitzrayim” is not just the Hebrew name for Egypt, but can be read as “meitzarim” — “limitations and boundaries.” Thus, the prophet is saying that on that day there will be a major awakening and all those who are “lost” in the land of Ashur — affluence i.e. — pleasure and good fortune — and those who are cast away in the land of Mitzrayim — i.e. they abandoned Yiddishkeit because of financial hardships and limitations — will bow down to Hashem on the holy mountain in Jerusalem.

(לקוטי תורה – ר"ה, ספר המאמרים אידיש)


"כבקרת רועה עדרו מעביר צאנו תחת שבטו"
“As a shepherd examines his flock, making his sheep pass under his staff.”

QUESTION: Why the emphasis “edro” — “His flock” — and “tzono” — “His sheep” — and not simply “eder” — “a flock” — and “hatzon” — “the sheep”?

ANSWER: A shepherd may be tending either a herd of sheep which belongs to someone else or his own herd. When the sheep are not his, he handles them more roughly and beats them more often, sometimes beating them viciously when they go out of line. With his own sheep, however, he is more gentle and merciful. When they need to be reprimanded, he does not hit them, but merely shows them a whip so that they get the message.

We beseech Hashem that He deal with us not as a shepherd who is watching over someone else’s sheep, but as a shepherd who is pasturing “edro” — “his own flock.” In such a case, when reprimand is necessary, all he does is lead his sheep under the whip. He picks up the whip over them and shows it to them, but out of love and concern for his own sheep he does not strike or inflict pain on them.

(פון אונזער אלטען אוצר, משמחי לב)


"ותשובה ותפלה וצדקה מעבירין את רועה הגזירה"
“Repentance, Prayer and Charity avert the severity of the decree”

QUESTION: In all Machzorim, above these three words the words “tzom, kol, mamon” (צום, קול, ממון) — “fasting, voice, money” — appear in small print. What is the significance of these three?

ANSWER: On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur there are many evil adversaries who seek to prosecute the person and have him condemned, G‑d forbid, and the person fights for his existence. Each of these three words have the numerical value of one hundred and thirty-six, and together they add up to four hundred and eight, which is also the numerical value of the word “zot” — “this.”

King David is alluding to this encounter when he says, “Im takum alai milchamah bezot ani botei’ach” — “If a war should be declared against me, I am secure with ‘zot’ ” (Psalms 27:3). The merit of the Jewish people is determined by how they excel in these three things, and they may rely on them to overcome all adversaries.

Hashem challenges the Jewish people, “Ubechanuni na bezot” — “Test Me, if you will, with ‘zot’ — ‘this’ ” (Malachi 3:10), i.e. perform the three things which add up to “zot” — four hundred and eight — and “[See] if I do not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out upon you blessings without end.”

Unfortunately, there are people who do not realize or refuse to recognize what can be accomplished through these three things. King David says of such people, “Ukesil lo yavin et zot” — “A fool cannot understand ‘zot’ — ‘this’ ” (Psalms 92:7), i.e. the power and merit of the three things, “kol, tzom and mamon” — “voice, fast, and money” — which have the same numerical value (408) as the word “zot.”

* * *

Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we read Parshat Ha’azinu, in which it is stated, “Lu chachmu yaskilu zot yavinu le’acharitam” — “Were they wise, they would comprehend this, they would understand what their end would be” (Devarim 32:29). The seemingly superfluous word of “zot” — “this” — may be alluding that, “Were they wise they would comprehend ‘zot’ — the achievements that are derived through — ‘kol, tzom, and mamon’ — ‘voice, fast, and money’” — and “yavinu” — they would understand — that it plays an important role — “le’acharitam” — “for their future” — i.e. through it they will merit to be inscribed in the Book of Life with all the best materially and spiritually.

(בית יעקב - מסלטון)


"באין מליץ יושר מול מגיד פשע תגיד ליעקב דבר חוק ומשפט"
“When there is no defender to intercede in our behalf against the accuser who reports our transgression, You speak for Yaakov [and invoke the merit of the observance of] the statutes and ordinances.”

QUESTION: Precisely what merit do we ask Hashem to invoke in our behalf?

ANSWER: Many mitzvot of the Torah are in the category of mishpatim — “civil law and ordinances” — and others are chukim — “statutes.” Shofar is actually both, as the Psalmist says, “Blow shofar on the moon’s renewal...because chok l’Yisrael hu — it is a decree for Israel — mishpat l’Elokai Yaakov — a judgment for the G‑d of Yaakov (81:4-5).

Thus, we beseech Hashem, if there is no one to defend us against the accuser, then You should take over and tell him of Yaakov — the Jewish people — the great merit they have for just fulfilling devar chok u’mishpat — the mitzvah of shofar — which is both a statute and an ordinance.

(פון אונזער אלטען אוצר)

Alternatively, if there is not one good emissary to intercede on our behalf, then You should tell the accusers, “devar chok u’mishpat” — there is a statute which has become the accepted law concerning one who is being judged in a matter of life or death. If no one of the Sanhedrin can find a merit for him and all rule that he is guilty, then the halachah is that he is exonerated (Rambam, Sanhedrin 9:1). If you tell them this, the result will be “vetzadkeinu bamishpat” — “You will vindicate us in judgment.”

(ר' בונם זצ"ל מפשיסחא)


"וזכרתי את בריתי יעקוב"
“I will remember My covenant with Yaakov.” (26:42)

QUESTION: Why is Yaakov’s name spelled with a vav?

ANSWER: Rashi (Vayikra 26:42) writes, “In five pesukim the name Yaakov (יעקב) is written with an extra 'ו' and in five Pesukim Eliyahu (אליהו) is spelled without its usual 'ו'. Yaakov took a letter from the name of Eliyahu as a pledge that he will come and announce the redemption of his children — the revelation of Mashiach.”

* * *

QUESTION: Why did he specifically take the letter "ו" as a pledge and not any other letter?

ANSWER: In Hebrew the word “vav” means “a connecting hook,” as we find in the Torah: “vavei ha’amudim” — “the hooks of the pillars” (Shemot 27:10). The curtains were attached by “vavim” — “hooks” — to the poles that supported them, and in Hebrew a "ו" serves the grammatical function of attaching and connecting one word with another. Thus, the "ו" symbolizes unity. Our present galut was caused by sinat chinam, unwarranted hatred and dissension — (Yoma 9b), and it will end when true ahavat Yisrael and unity will prevail in the Jewish community.

The last Mishnah in Eduyot (8:7) says that Eliyahu’s purpose is only to make peace in the world, as the prophet Malachi proclaims: “Behold I will send you Eliyahu the prophet, and he shall turn the heart of fathers to the children and the heart of children to the fathers” (3:23-24). Therefore, Yaakov specifically took a "ו" from Eliyahu’s name as if to symbolize that he should “hook together,” that is, speedily reunite the Jewish people so that they will merit the immediate coming of Mashiach.

(קול דודי – ר' דוד שי' פיינשטיין)


"זכרתי לך חסד נעוריך... לכתך אחרי במדבר בארץ לא זרועה"
“I recall for you the kindness of your youth, as you went after Me in the wilderness, in an unsown land.”

QUESTION: A midbar — wilderness — is an unsown land, so why the redundancy?

ANSWER: Before Hashem gave the Torah to the Jewish people, He offered it to the nations of the world. Each one of them rejected it, saying that it was impossible for them to observe it. For instance, Yishmael had a problem with “You shall not steal” and Eisav had a problem with “You shall not kill” (see Sifri, Devarim 33:2).

While every midbar — wilderness — is an unsown land, the wilderness in which the Jews traveled was unique. It was sown with the theory known as “Lo” — “No” — i.e. impossible for them. Hashem is particularly grateful to the Jewish people, for not only did we follow Him in the wilderness and observed His Torah, but we did it in an eretz lo zeru’ah — a land where the “no” was sown. Everybody claimed that it was impossible to observe Torah, and nevertheless we faithfully lived a true Torah life.


"וכל מאמינים שהוא דיין אמת ההגוי באהי'ה אשר אהי'ה"
“All believe that He is the true Judge, He is called, ‘I Will Be What I Will Be.’ ”

QUESTION: What is the connection between Hashem’s Name being “Eh-ye asher Eh-ye” and His being the true Judge?

ANSWER: The word “Eh-ye” (אהי'ה) — has the numerical value of twenty-one, and “Eh-ye asher Eh-ye” (אהי'ה אשר אהי'ה) — is twenty-one times twenty-one, which totals four hundred and forty-one. The word “emet” (אמת) — “truth” — also adds up to four hundred and forty-one. Hence, this particular Name emphasizes that Hashem is the epitome of truth and thus all believe that He is the true Judge.

(עיטורי תורה)

"וכל מאמינים שהוא חי וקים הטוב ומטיב לרעים ולטובים"
“All believe that He lives and is eternal, He is good and does good to the wicked and to the good.”

QUESTION: How does His doing good to the wicked prove that he is eternal?

ANSWER: A king of flesh and blood who is eventually going to die rushes to take vengeance during his lifetime, for either he or his enemy against whom he wishes to take vengeance might die, and he would miss the chance to be avenged. Since Hashem lives forever He does not have to rush to take His due, because He can collect whenever He wants, even after the person’s death, if necessary (see Devarim 32:40, Rashi).

Hashem does not desire that the wicked perish, but rather that they repent and live. Thus, since He patiently does good even to the wicked though they do not deserve it and does not rush to take His vengeance, it proves that he is eternal.

(ברוך שאמר)


QUESTION: The word “latovim” — “to the good” — is superfluous; if He does good to the wicked, He surely does good to the good?

ANSWER: Some people are aware that they were wicked during the year and resolve on Rosh Hashanah to repent and change their ways in the future. There are, however, others who don’t even realize their wickedness and think that they are good and what they are doing is good.

Hashem has mercy on every Jew. He is good and does good not only “lara’im” — to the wicked — who are cognizant of their past and resolved to improve, but also “latovim” — to those [who in their own eyes] are good — and who seemingly have no need to change or improve.

(פון אונזער אלטן אוצר בשם ר' צבי הירש זצ"ל מזידיטשויב)


"וכל מאמינים שהוא עונה לחש"
“And all believe that He answers silent prayer.”

QUESTION: Hashem can read what is in the mind and heart of a person, so what praise is this for Hashem?

ANSWER: On Rosh Hashanah, Satan and vicious angels come before His Heavenly Tribunal to prosecute the Jewish people. They complain about the iniquities the Jews have committed.

Hashem is the All Merciful and loves His chosen people regardless of their merit. He does not enjoy hearing any critique about them and despises those who endeavor to besmirch them.

The liturgist is saying in Hashem’s praise that all believe that when He hears them prosecuting, oneh — He responds “lachash” — “be silent. Stop your complaining. I do not want to hear anything negative said about My beloved children.”

(פון אונזער אלטן אוצר)

Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky has been a pulpit rabbi for over thirty years, and is author of more than ten highly acclaimed books on the Parshiot and holidays. His Parshah series, Vedibarta Bam, can be purchased here.
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