Rosh Hashanah by Rabbi Dov Schochet
The Beth Jacob V’Anshei Drildz Congregation
Something has changed in the way people travel nowadays. I was reminded of this a few days ago when I stopped at a red light in the intersection of Bathurst St. and Wilson Ave going northbound. The driver in the car next to me kept looking at me. I figured they have something to ask so I rolled down my window. “Do you know where Bloor Street is?” the driver asked me. I told her she needed to drive roughly ten kilometers in the opposite direction!
I smiled to myself, “how can people get so lost nowadays” I thought. I thought back to my childhood (not too long ago, but before the days of Google, MapQuest and Yahoo) before the great (s)age of the Internet. Our family trips to NY, Montreal or elsewhere… were never without incident of getting lost, missing an exit or rolling down your window countless times to find out where you need to make that turn… Each time we stopped at the toll booth or gas station there was the question “how far until the….” Or “how do I get back onto the…” The children (quite a few of us!) had their faces glued to the window looking out for that sign making sure father does not miss the exit. When the directions you received from your friend did not exactly match what was on the highway signs that only added to the confusion…
Today, with the information revolution and GPS technology, we get lost no more. Not only can you read the map in advance, have your turn by turn trip plan printed in advance, have multiple options to reach your destination (shortest distance, scenic, toll free and so on) but you have satellite imaging, street view where you can visually see the buildings and streets you will be passing. With at least six satellites staring down at you from space and watching your every move, turn and speed you cannot even think of making a wrong turn. Repeated reminders of an impending turn guarantee its execution. A wrong turn or passing an exit results in immediate admonition and reminders to turn around, get off at the next exit, execute this maneuver or another… All you need to do is decide and input a destination, someone will then be watching, guiding and directing you.
One of the focal points of the High Holy Days is reflected in its name “Asseret Yemei Tshuva”, the ten days of repentance spanning from the start of Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur. Repentance or Teshuva is recognising the mistakes, bad things we did or wrong paths we trotted on. Teshuva is not only about regretting past mistakes but most importantly the resolve of being proper for the year to come. When one is faced with a similar circumstance in which they have failed previously and manage to withstand enticement and temptation they have demonstrated one of the important aspects of Teshuva.
Most importantly however the word Teshuva means to return. The sound of the Shofar resembles a child lost and separated from his father and crying out to him, longing to return and be reunited. Teshuva is that burning desire for direction, the yearning of the Neshama to be reunited with Hashem. So, is it then possible for us to know the direction? Can we find our way if we have gotten lost? Is there an alternate route back to Torah if we have gone astray? So many things in our lives that might not be up to par, can we still make it “home”?
Parshat Nitzavim which is always read the week before Rosh Hashanah contains the timely GPS coordinates for Teshuva. Firstly the verse describes to us the choice we are faced with. It details how everything in this world, blessings, wealth or any other matter comes from Hashem. The verse offers us the insight and perception to be able to choose the blessings that come with keeping Torah and not the opposite…
What does one do when one has gone astray? When one finds themselves amongst the ‘nations’ how does one return to their roots? The verse describes Hashem’s instruction for us to find our own way back. ושבת עד ד’ אלקיך ושמעת בקולו, and you shall return to Hashem with all your heart and all your soul and you will listen to his voice.
What if that’s not sufficient? What if one does not know how and where to return to? What if someone does not know what is the ‘voice’ of Torah? The verse continues “and Hashem will bring back your exiles, and He will have mercy on you”… One may be lost, perhaps even captive and they feel themselves as being trapped, unable to execute the right maneuver… Hashem will direct you, will take you out of captivity and have mercy on you!
But you still have those people who are truly far. People that may feel it’s too late for them. No degree of Teshuva can return them to where they truly belong. Their soul has been tainted and tarnished… Can they be helped as well? The verse continues yet “Even if your exiles are at the end of the Heavens, Hashem will gather you from there and will take you from there… and He will bring you to the land…”
There is no point at which one can say I’m too lost to come back home. Hashem is constantly guiding you, constantly showing you the way home. Torah directs a person on the correct path, reminds them when they made a wrong turn and even shows them
how to turn around. All a person needs to do is (as the verse concludes) ובחרת בחיים and you shall choose life. We need to at least choose this way of life. If one refuses help they cannot be helped, but when one chooses the correct way, then even if they all they manage is to open the door the size of an ‘eye of a needle’ Hashem will open it as wide as entrance to a great hall.
All you need to do is decide and choose the correct way of life, Hashem will then be watching, guiding and directing you.
You need to ובחרת בחיים – choose life! Torah is life “they are life for those who find it” (Proverbs 4:22)
Wishing you and yours a Ktiva Va’Chatima Tova, LeShana Tova u’Metuka! make the Shechiyanu over the candles having the new fruit or garment in mind, and not interrupt with speaking etc. until after they taste the new fruit.
One more noteworthy item as a result of the above discussion is at what point in the meal we eat the new fruit. Generally speaking when one makes Kiddush they need to immediately begin their ‘meal’ (wash for bread etc.) and not have an interruption (hefsek) between Kiddush and the meal. Thus on the first day of Rosh Hashanah the custom of eating the apple dipped in honey is only after we make the bracha on the Challah.
The 2nd night of Rosh Hashanah however, being that there might not be a need for a Shechiyanu at all, we make sure to have a new fruit present during (candle lighting and Kiddush). Therefore one would need to eat the new fruit immediately following the Shechiyanu and not wait until after washing and making the Hamotzie on the Challah. One should also not interrupt with other
matters between the Kiddush and eating of the new fruit.
Note, that for someone who does not have a new fruit etc. on Rosh Hashanah, they would nevertheless recite Shechiyanu. Likewise it is worth mentioning that there are various customs pertaining to the above discussion