Rosh Hashanah Vertlach
Our Hand-delivered Gift
“Not with our good deeds do we stand before you…”
The Dubna Maggid related a powerful parable about this verse in selichos:
There was a great and influential minister who visited a certain city for a highly anticipated visit. The excitement reached a feverish peak; preparations for the city were high.
Everyone who wanted an “in” with the minister made sure to prepare a special gift, which would relay their high regard of the minister and his lofty position.
The minister, smiling broadly, tipped his hat in welcome, and then alighted the carriage to address the crowd. He was led to a special banquet hall, where an elaborate feast was prepared in his honor.
All those who had brought gifts were asked to place them in a special decorative bin, so as not to overwhelm the minister by having him open everything at once. Later, after the ceremony, he would retire to the room prepared for him, and marvel at the gifts.
One of the citizens present at the ceremony, who was desperately poor, held a meager gift, wrapped in brown paper and tied with simple twine. Despite the calls of the ushers for him to put his gift in the bin, Jonas, for that was his name, refused. He stubbornly held onto the gift, and tried desperately to push his way through the crowd, to hand-deliver the gift.
It took him nearly an hour to fight his way through the outer later of the common folk, until he reached the inner layer of the VIP’s, those close to the minister. When they noticed Jonas with his humble gift, the VIP’s were amused—and also irritated.
“What are you doing here, Jonas?” they asked.
“I’m delivering a gift to the minister,” he stubbornly replied.
“Why don’t you do what everyone does, and drop it in the bin?”
“Because, you see, I want the minister to notice how my clothing is in tatters, and my face is pinched from hunger. When he sees my situation, and realizes that even such a humble gift is beyond my means, he will appreciate my meager gift even more than the offerings of the wealthy.”
The parable of this story is obvious. “Lo B’chesed V’lo B’maasim,” not with chesed and not with deeds, can we come before Hashem.
Therefore, “Ba’anu lifonecho,” we come before You in person, in order to show You how impoverished we really are, and how our humble gift is so meaningful.
Asking for Credit
On another occasion, the Dubna Maggid offered an explanation as to why we say the last Ovinu Malkeinu, “Choneinu V’aneinu ki ain bonu ma’asim” quietly.
The Maggid gave the example of a poor man who goes shopping, since he desperately needs food, but has not a kopeck in his wallet to pay for it. When he lists the items he needs to the grocer, he announces them in a loud voice. However, when the grocer demands payment, he lowers his voice and says in a whisper, “Can you put it on the bill?”
The same applies to us. We go to shul and daven for whatever we need: Children, nachas from our children, parnossa, and health. But when we must admit that we have nothing to ‘pay’ our balance with, we whisper these words quietly, “Please give it to us on credit.”
Work now…. and reap the rewards later
Rav Mordechai of Lechovitch once had to go somewhere during the month of Elul. In the course of his travels, he stopped at an inn where several non-Jewish peasants were staying. The Rebbe overheard one of the peasants say to his friend, “Whoever doesn’t work hard this month, (tilling the soil before the cold weather hits,) will have nothing to eat this winter.”
The Rebbe turned to his chasidim and commented, “From here we can learn a powerful derech in Avodas Hashem. Whoever doesn’t work hard to improve spiritually during the Yemei Rotzon, will not have what to ‘eat’ the entire year…”
For Your Sake, Hashem
The great meilitz yosher, Rav Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev, would be melamed zechus on Klal Yisroel during these auspicious days, saying the following:
“Ribono Shel Olam, why does a Yid need money on this world? In order to raise his children in the path of Torah, to buy food for Shabbos, and give tzedakah. If so, why shouldn’t You help us do Your will?”
This is the meaning of the possuk, “Zochrein L’chaim,” remember us to life, because “L’maanchoh Elokim Chaim,” whatever we ask is only for Your sake, in order to allow us to serve You with plenty.
With the Shofar Blasts….
It was early dawn on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. The gaon Rav Eliezer Rokeach was traveling on a ship, along with two of his talmidim, on an important journey that could not be postponed. Suddenly, without warning, the vessel was caught in the midst of a vicious storm. The waves were as high as a two-story building, tossing the ship to and fro like a pile of matchsticks.
The captain, frantic, called an emergency meeting, and announced to all the passengers that their chances of survival were slim. “Prepare to meet your Creator,” he warned. “There is a very small chance that our ship will be able to emerge unscathed.”
The two talmidim burst into their Rebbe’s room, and found him serenely absorbed in his learning, completely oblivious to the wild pitching of the ship. “Rebbe!” they cried. “It is pikuach nefesh. In a few minutes, we will all drown, cholilah.”
Rav Eliezer gazed serenely at his talmidim and said, “Don’t be afraid. Just bring me a shofar, so that we can fulfill the mitzvah of tekiyas shofar.”
As soon as the morning star made its appearance, the tzaddik fought his way to the heaving, roiling deck, and with great self-sacrifice, began to blow the piercing shofar blasts. The two talmidim stood close by, shuddering in fear.
Suddenly, as the echoes of the shofar reverberated across the deck, a miracle occurred. Slowly, the vicious storm began to abate, the rains calmed down, and the ship, which had been tossing and churning, began to float calmly on the sea. The grateful captain, alerted by the sailors, came to personally witness the miracle. It appeared that the holy Rabbi, with his prayers and shofar blasts, had saved the entire ship, and its occupants, from disaster.
Once they had docked safely, the story was soon spread by the talmidim whose lives had been spared. Years later, when the Rebbe Rav Bunim was told this story, he had a different interpretation.
“In truth, when the tzaddik Rav Eliezer heard about the terrible danger facing them, he had only one thing in mind: to fulfill the mitzvah of shofar before it would be too late. The zechus of this powerful mitzvah, done l’shaim shomayim, with such purity, was what calmed the storm.”
Don’t eat the Singing Bird
There is an ancient minhag to eat various fruits on Rosh Hashanah, such as apples with honey and sweet carrots, and to say specific Yehi Rotzons, as a zechus for a sweet new year.
The sefer “Kesef Nivchar,” cautions against foolish people who think these Yehi Rotzons are enough to grant them a sweet and good year. To explain, he brings the following parable:
There was once a famous poritz, who ordered his wagon driver to drive him hundreds of miles to Paris, where he entered a specialty shop and emerged holding a cage. In its depths was a beautiful, delicate bird.
The wagon driver was astounded. “You came on this long journey just for this bird?” he asked.
“But of course,” the poritz replied proudly. “This is not just any bird. This is a rare songbird.”
“How much did the bird cost?”
“Five hundred gulden,” the poritz replied. “It was a steep price, but well worth it.”
The wagon driver mulled over this information. He had seen a lot of strange things during his years of driving the poritz, but this one took the cake.
When he arrived home, exhausted from the journey, the wagon driver told his wife about the poritz’s lavish expenditure. “This bird must be truly special,” he mused. “I’ll bet its meat tastes more succulent than anything I’d ever eaten before. But the price….who can afford so much money for a bird?”
“We do have three hundred gulden put away, to support us in our old age,” his wife replied. “If you borrow another two hundred, you can afford to buy this bird as well.”
“But what of our old age? How can I give away my life’s savings?” the wagon driver argued.
“A person only lives once,” his foolish wife encouraged him. “Why shouldn’t you taste this delicacy? Who knows when you’ll ever eat it again?”
A few weeks went by, and the wagon driver was commissioned to drive to Paris once more. This time, he came well prepared, with five hundred rubles in his pocket. While his boss went to take care of business matters, the wagon driver hurried to the bird shop and purchased the rare songbird. He didn’t say a word to the poritz, because he didn’t want to answer too many questions.
When they arrived home, the wagon driver wasted no time. He quickly took the bird, killed it, and roasted its meat. Then he and his wife sat down to taste this delectable treat.
The boorish man took one bite, and promptly spit it out. The meat tasted awful! It was dry and leathery, nearly impossible to swallow.
“You probably didn’t cook it properly,” he accused his wife.
She defended herself, saying that she’d only followed his instructions. There was still one piece of the bird left, and they decided to cook it a different way. This time, however, the bird tasted even worse.
Frustrated at having spent his life’s savings, and having borrowed money for a pipe dream, the wagon driver ran to the poritz to express his anger and disappointment. “I thought that for this price, the bird would be delectable,” he said. “Instead, it tasted worse than the plainest cut of beef!”
The poritz laughed heartily. “You fool!” he cried. “This was a songbird, whose value lies in the beautiful melodies it sings. It was meant to be treated with care, as a treasured pet, not to be eaten! If you wanted a hearty piece of meat, you should have chosen a duck, or perhaps a cow!”
The moral is clear. On Rosh Hashanah, we eat various foods, and say Yehi Rotzons corresponding to their simonim. However, we must remember that these are just foods—and are not eaten for their taste or quality. Instead, we should daven while saying the Yehi Rotzon, keeping in mind that it is the quality of our tefillos, and our pleading for Hashem’s mercy, that will determine the course of the new year.
Out of the Depths
The Dubna Maggid related the following moshol on the perek of tehillim said during the Ten Days of Teshuvah, “Shir Hama’alos Mimaamakim.”
Feivel was a miserable pauper, who dressed in rags, and subsisted on dry crumbs of bread. His family lived in penury and deprivation, surviving from day to day.
Somehow, his sorry tale aroused the sympathy of the local g’vir, Yankel, who decided to give him a generous monthly stipend. From that day onward, Feivel’s life improved considerably. The money was enough to buy food for the entire month, and cover some basic expenses.
One day, Feivel had the opportunity to be in Yankel’s waiting room, alone, and noticed a beautiful, luxurious fur coat. He could not control his desires, and snatched the coat off the rack, leaving the g’vir’s home before anyone could spot him.
Unfortunately for Feivel, the secret of the missing coat could not be kept silent for long, and the stolen item was traced to its current ‘owner.’ Furious, Yankel’s servants visited Feivel, giving him a beating for good measure. They relayed a message from their boss, Yankel, who warned Feivel not to show his face near his mansion again. “After all I’ve done for you, how can you have the chutzpah to steal?” he had raged.
For several weeks, the humiliated pauper remained closeted in his home, too embarrassed to show his face in the street. Soon, however, the month was over, and with it his last crumbs of bread. Now there was nothing to eat in Feivel’s home, and no means to obtaining more food.
Desperate, Feivel decided to appeal to Yankel once more. However, since the g’vir had warned him not to show his face near his home again, he had to think of another option. He knew the route that Yankel walked to his office every day, and hid behind a tree along the road.
When Yankel passed, Feivel began to cry, in a desperate voice, “Have mercy on a pauper who is dying from hunger!”
His compassion aroused, Yankel asked, “Who are you, and why do you hide your face?”
“I cannot reveal myself,” came the pitiful cry, “because I am too ashamed. After all, I am wearing the coat I stole from you.”
Can there be a greater embarrassment then that?
The nimshol is as follows: Our sages teach us, “One who benefits from this world without a brochah, is considered as if he stole from Hashem.”
Everything Hashem created on this world was meant to be used to sanctify His name. When one says a brochah on the food, the food becomes a vessel through which one can serve Hashem. When we use our speech to learn Torah, and to daven, or our money to help the less fortunate, we fulfill the purpose of the bounty which we were given.
However, if we utilize our gifts solely for our own benefit, or even to sin, G-d forbid, we are desecrating ‘hekdesh.’
When we contemplate our actions of the previous year, when our Creator has blessed us with an abundance of gifts to serve Him better, we begin to realize: What have we done with the bounty we were given? What makes us deserve another year of the same?
We are not much better than that miserable pauper, who entreats Yankel for another month of sustenance, while wearing his stolen coat.
Therefore, the Ari Hakodosh instituted the powerful tefillah, “From the depths I call to You, Hashem,” because we are ashamed to show our face.
May we merit that our tefillos be accepted On High.