Parsha Pearls: Rosh Hashanah

No Redemption Without Repentance
Avraham - Not Iyov - Gave Honor to G-d

When Rosh Hashanah fell on Shabbos, they would blow shofar in the Temple but not anywhere else. (Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 4:1)

The Gemora explains that the Torah permits blowing shofar on Shabbos, but the Sages forbade it, lest someone come to carry a shofar ("shema yaavirenu") in the street. Rabbi Yosef Chaim Zonenfeld once commented, "Blowing shofar on Rosh Hashanah is a definite mitzvah, and carrying the shofar in the street is only a possibility. Yet we push aside a definite mitzvah for fear of a possible sin. Taking money from the wicked is definitely not a mitzvah, and when one takes money there is not only a possibility of "shema yaavirenu" – that the wicked might induce us to sin – but it is a certainty. So it is surely forbidden to take!" (Mishkenos Haro'im, p. 466)

Behold I will bring them from the land of the north, and gather them from the far reaches of the earth…With weeping they will come, and with mercy I will lead them… (Yirmiyah 31:7-8)

The Metzudas David explains that the "weeping" refers to repentance. G-d will redeem the Jews and gather their exiles after they repent and pray to Him.

The Rambam also writes in his Laws of Teshuva (7:5), "Israel will only be redeemed through repentance. And the Torah has already promised that Israel will repent at the end of their exile, and then immediately they will be redeemed, as it says (Devarim 30:1-3), 'And it shall come to pass when all these things come upon you…you will repent to Hashem your G-d…and Hashem will return your captivity…'" In his Laws of Kings (11:4) he writes that Moshiach will get all the Jews to repent and keep the Torah. Thus it seems that the Rambam's view is that Moshiach will appear before the Jews have repented, he will get them to repent, and only then will he begin putting the redemption into action – gathering the exiles and building the Temple, etc.

But in the Gemora (Sanhedrin 97b) there seems to be a dispute about this: "Rav said: All the times for the redemption have passed, and the only thing lacking is repentance and good deeds. Shmuel said: The mourner has spent long enough mourning. (Rashi explains that according to Shmuel, Israel have suffered enough exile, and they will be redeemed even without repentance.) This dispute is the same as the dispute of the following Tannaim. Rabbi Eliezer says: If Israel repent, they will be redeemed, and if not, they will not be redeemed. Rabbi Yehoshua said to him: If they do not repent they will not be redeemed?! Rather, the Holy One, blessed is He will cause a king to arise whose decrees are as harsh as Haman's, and then they will repent." The Gemora is saying that Rav is like Rabbi Eliezer, and Shmuel is like Rabbi Yehoshua. If so, we see that Rabbi Yehoshua really holds that repentance is not a prerequisite for redemption, just like Shmuel, and although he says that there will be a harsh king who will make them repent, this is not really a requirement. So the question is, why did the Rambam rule according to Rabbi Eliezer and not Rabbi Yehoshua? Usually the rule is that we follow Rabbi Yehoshua. And even if we say that Rabbi Yehoshua really does make this harsh king a requirement, we could not say that the Rambam is following Rabbi Yehoshua, because the Rambam says that Moshiach will get the Jews to repent; he mentions nothing about a harsh king.

Furthermore, Rabbi Yochanan also agrees with Shmuel and Rabbi Yehoshua, for he says (98a), "The son of David will come either in a generation that is entirely innocent or in a generation that is entirely guilty. A generation that is entirely innocent, as it says (Yishaya 60:21), 'And your people are all righteous, forever they shall inherit the earth.' A generation that is entirely guilty, as it says (ibid. 59:16), 'And He saw that there was no man, and He was silent but there was no one praying.' And it says (ibid. 48:11), 'I will act for My own sake.'" This is a prediction, not a cause-and-effect. Being "entirely guilty" (i.e. a large percentage – see Taz Orach Chaim 582:3) obviously does not cause the redemption to come; Rabbi Yochanan is making a prediction that if the Jews do not merit the redemption on their own and the exile drags out for a long time before the pre-determined time limit arrives, the people will be in a low spiritual state when the redemption comes. In any case, we see that Rabbi Yochanan also allows for the possibility of redemption without repentance. The halacha always follows Rabbi Yochanan over Rav; why then does the Rambam rule that repentance must precede the redemption?

Furthermore, it is odd that the Rambam's stated source - a clear verse in the Torah Devarim 30 – is not mentioned at all in the Gemora. One who reads further in the Gemora will see that Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua each quote several verses to support themselves, and the Rambam's source text is not among them. How, in fact, do Rabbi Yehoshua, Rabbi Yochanan and Shmuel get around the Rambam's verse? If the Torah foretells that the Jewish people will repent before the redemption, then how can Rabbi Yehoshua say that it is possible for the redemption to come without repentance?

The answer is that although the word "redemption" is used by both the Gemora and the Rambam, it is used to mean two different things. In the Gemora the word "redemption" means the appearance of Moshiach: Rabbi Eliezer holds that Moshiach will not appear until the Jewish people repents, and Rabbi Yehoshua holds that he might appear before they repent, and he will get them to repent. However, all agree that Moshiach will not take any action to start the process of gathering the exiles etc. until there is repentance. In the Rambam the word "redemption" means the process of gathering the exiles and building the Temple. This, the Rambam says, will not happen until the Jews repent. So the Rambam in his Laws of Teshuva is going according to all opinions. The Rambam in his Laws of Kings, where he says that Moshiach will get them to repent, could also fit with all opinions. Although Rabbi Eliezer says that there must be repentance before Moshiach even appears, he agrees that after Moshiach comes there will be a higher level of teshuva. This is mentioned in Pirkei Rabbi Eliezer Chapter 43, where Rabbi Eliezer's opinion is quoted with the following addition: "But the Jews will not do the great teshuva until Eliyahu comes, as it says (Malachi 3:23-24), 'Behold I am sending you Eliyahu…and he will bring back the hearts of the fathers…'" (Vayoel Moshe 1:40-41)

The nobles of the peoples gathered, the people of the G-d of Avraham, for to G-d are the shields of the land, He is greatly elevated. (Tehillim 47:10)

Rabbi Yaakov Chizkiya Greenwald, the Pupa Rov, once explained this verse as follows: The gedolim of the Jewish people must gather to find a way to resist the test of Zionism. Why is the test so great? Because the shields of the land, the Zionists who claim to be protecting the Holy Land, are to G-d – they claim to be acting for the sake of G-d. They encourage immigration to their state, saying "me'od naalah" – let us put great effort into aliyah. But the very fact that they stress this mitzvah so much and at the same time treat lightly the other 612 mitzvos is the proof that they are not acting for the sake of G-d, and the whole thing is no more than a ploy of the Satan to get Jews to sin. This is a general rule we have learned from our teachers, that when we see a man who is very enthusiastic about a certain mitzvah and feels no resistance to doing it, we must suspect that it is the work of the evil inclination, for if he were truly doing a good thing, the evil inclination would be trying to cool down his enthusiasm. (Bracha Us'hilah on Tehillim, p. 175)

And it was the day, and the angels came to stand against G-d, and the Satan also came among them. (Iyov 1:6)

The Zohar (Bamidbar 231a) says that "the day" means Rosh Hashanah, when G-d judges the world. The "angels" are the Heavenly Court, the seventy angels appointed over the seventy nations of the world. What does it mean that they came to "stand against G-d"? The first and most important subject on which people are judged is whether they give honor to G-d's name. If they did not give honor to G-d's name, His servants and the Torah, then they are considered standing against G-d. This includes anyone who did not care or do anything about the desecration of G-d's holy name in the earth.

What does this statement of the Zohar have to do with the story of Iyov? We continue reading: G-d said to the Satan, "Have you noticed my servant Iyov? There is none like him in the earth, a clean and upright man, who fears G-d and turns away from evil." The Satan said, "He is only righteous because he is enjoying prosperity. But if You stretch out Your hand and take away all that is his, he will surely curse You." The Gemora (Bava Basra 16a) explains that the Satan's intent was to defend Avraham Avinu, who lived at the same time as Iyov. G-d was praising Iyov more highly than Avraham (Avraham was called only "one who fears G-d" – Bereishis 22:12 whereas Iyov was given that praise plus three other praises), so the Satan proposed to test Iyov to show that he was not as great.

In the end, Iyov complained that G-d had punished him unfairly, and G-d said (38:2), "Who is this who darkens My counsel with thoughtless words? I wrote such great things about you in the beginning of this book, and you have ruined it all." Iyov replied, "You hid Your intentions. Had I known that this was all a test, I would not have said the things I said." G-d said, "Avraham did not know that his Ten Tests were tests, and yet he withstood them." (Rashi)

Iyov may have been more righteous than Avraham Avinu. But in the judgment of Rosh Hashanah, Avraham was favored, because the first subject of judgment is, as the Zohar says, whether a person gives honor to G-d's name or sits by idly while others desecrate it. Avraham lived in a time when the world was steeped in idolatry. He had the courage to stand up and proclaim that the idols were worthless and only G-d had power. He was willing to be thrown into a furnace in order to give honor to G-d's name.

"There were ten generations from Noach till Avraham, and all were sinful, until Avraham came and took the reward of all of them." (Avos 5:2) The Gemora (Chagigah 15a) says that every person starts out with one portion in Gan Eden and one portion in Gehinom. When one person becomes righteous and another wicked, the righteous one gets his own portion plus the wicked one's portion in Gan Eden, while the wicked person gets his own portion plus the righteous one's portion in Gehinom. Why this transfer of portions? The answer is that in order for a tzaddik to be a tzaddik, he must overcome the influence of the wicked. Avraham came into the world after the idolatrous ideology had already been built up for ten generations. To reach his goal of giving honor to G-d's name in the world, he had to counteract the cumulative effect of all those generations, so he deserved to get their portion of Gan Eden.

So we see that the great mitzvah of kiddush hashem, giving honor and holiness to G-d's name, is our key to emerging from Rosh Hashanah with a favorable verdict for two reasons: it is first subject of judgment, as the Zohar says, and it entitles us to get not only our own reward but also the reward lost by the people whose influence we are counteracting. For a century now the Zionists have been building up their ideology and now, with all their religious newspapers and propaganda books, they are stronger than ever. Fortunate is he who comes and denounces this idolatry!

We say in the morning prayers, "A man should always be G-d-fearing in secret and in public…sanctify Your name through those who sanctify Your name, and sanctify Your name in the world…blessed is He who sanctifies His name in public." What do we mean by asking G-d to sanctify His name through those who sanctify His name? If they already sanctify His name, what is there left to ask for? Furthermore, it seems that the ending of the prayer "blessed is He who sanctifies His name in public" does not match its beginning, contrary to the general rules of blessings.

The Shibbolei Haleket raises the question of whether to say the words "in secret" in the above prayer, because it would seem to imply that a person need only fear G-d in secret. His conclusion is that the words "in secret" are an integral part of the prayer and stem from its origin - according to the Tanna Dvei Eliyahu (chapter 21), this prayer was composed in a time when Torah was scarce and the government had passed decrees against keeping the Torah. Then a Jew should at least be G-d-fearing and keep the Torah in secret. But we know that that is not enough – the purpose of the world is to sanctify G-d's name in public. In such difficult times, when we sanctify His name only in secret, we pray: "Sanctify Your name in public through those who are now able to sanctify Your name only in private. Blessed is He Who will in the future sanctify His name in public!"

Faithful Jews have always been opposed to Zionism, but for many decades that opposition has remained largely hidden from the world at large. Our organization has been making efforts for several years to bring the sanctification of G-d's name into the public realm. We have had, thank G-d, a good measure of success, but our expenses are very high. As this Rosh Hashanah approaches, we ask our friends and supporters to continue funding our activities, and in this merit may they be inscribed for a good and sweet new year, and be blessed in all their endeavors.