We are poised to determine our fate in the ensuing year as we undergo judgment on Rosh Hashana once again. How fortunate we are to be standing before our Father, our King, and commit ourselves anew to accept the privileged yoke of responsibility in promoting His honor in the world, hoping that we will be granted another year of life, the strength and fortitude to carry that burden, and the resources to provide our needs so we may dedicate ourselves fully to this noble task.
There are three fascinating customs associated with the Yom Tov of Rosh Hashana.
The eating of סימנים — signs or omens, foods that are consumed with an added prayer that is based on the term used to identify the specific food and a sentiment of hope that shares a similar word.
Carrots are called רוביא in Aramaic, which sounds like the Hebrew word ריבוי — to increase. When viewing this רוביא, we express our optimism that it may be G-d's will שירבו — to 'increase' our 'merits' in the upcoming judgment.
If only it were that simple.
The Rama cites a custom that one should not sleep during the daytime on Rosh Hashana. The Jerusalem Talmud warns that one who 'dozes' at the beginning of the new year, one's mazal — positive heavenly flow, sleeps as well.
Is sleeping on Rosh Hashana truly a death sentence?
The saintly חוזה מלובלין — Seer of Lublin, would distribute freshly sharpened, new knives, as a סגולה — an omen, for financial success. We address G-d daily, פותח — You open, את ידיך — Your hand, and satisfy every living thing with its desire. The last letters in this sentiment spell חת"ך, which is the name of the angel entrusted with dispensing livelihood. The word חתך means to 'slice', as in the piyut we sing on Rosh Hashana, וכל מאמינים שהוא — All believe that He remembers the covenant, החותך — who slices [apportions], חיים לכל חי — life for all the living.
What about integrity and faith? Is all it takes to become a sharp and successful businessman the buying of a knife with a glinted blade?
The prophet Hoshea encourages us to return and adhere to the will of G-d.
Who is wise and will understand these, discerning and will know them; for the ways of the Lord are straight, and the righteous shall walk in them, and the rebellious shall stumble on them. (14 10)
Rav Yaakov Yechizkiya Greenwald, the son of the renowned Arugas Habosem, who served in many illustrious rabbinic positions in Hungary, concluding his career in Pupa, popular known by the name of the popular series of sefarim he authored, the Vayaged Yaakov, asks why the verse contrasts 'the righteous who walk' in the statutes, with 'the rebellious who stumble' over them, rather than 'who do not walk' in them?
He offers a brilliant and penetrating insight that should give us pause.
If you'll ask the average man on the street, who studied in his youth in Yeshiva and strived to grow in Torah, why he only devotes a minimum amount of time to its study today, he will likely tell you, אין לי זמן — "I don't have the time". He must devote time to his business, family, and personal pursuits.
If you'll challenge him why he takes a passive stand when being asked to join in a community project, or why he puts in minimal effort when investing in personal mitzvos, inevitably the response will be, אין לי כח — "I simply don't have the strength". Life is busy and draining.
If you'll confront him as to why he only offers meager donations to charity, cuts corners with tuition, and purchases the cheapest quality esrog; tefillin; matzah; tallis, etc., the old refrain will be אין לי כסף — "I don't have the money". Jewish life is expensive.
But aren't there people you know who despite a busy schedule; large family; lack of sleep, and meager resources, find time to learn more than fifteen minutes a day; is the first one to put a shoulder to a task; stretches finances to pay close to full tuition, and spend money on noble causes despite the strain?
The great Rav points out that both the righteous one and the rebellious one use the same response. It all depends on the inflection.
אין לי, זמן — It is not mine [to squander] — time. Time is a valuable commodity to be properly mined. If we would only realize its value, we would never claim "I don't have time", we would readily find it.
אין לי, כח — It is not mine [to gauge] — strength. Strength is not measured by muscle, but by determination, if we want something desperately enough, we will find a reservoir of power within us. If we pursued the will of G-d purely we could never claim "I don't have strength".
אין לי, כסף — It is not my possession [to govern] — money. We are entrusted with assets to preserve and implement in fulfilling G-d's will. When we waste those resources on wasteful activities or items, we have betrayed the One we pledged responsibility to.
The same prophet Hoshea encourages us, קחו עמכם — Take with yourselves דברים —words, ושובו — and return to the Lord. (14 3)
Take those very same words the rebellious one stumbles in and rectify the intonation by exclaiming how privileged you are to be trusted guard, who will find the time, strength, and resources to carry out your mission on behalf of a loving Father, Who will infuse us with vigor to serve.
The attention to the various simanim, the Sefas Emes explains, is not some magical omen, but rather our framing every priceless morsel of life as a moment to be inspired towards hope and purpose in every facet of our existence. It is our assertion that time should be used to discover in every engagement, G-d's will and encouragement.
We are to ward off sleep on the onset of our renewed pledge of allegiance, not out of fear of death, but rather out of fear of missing out! We can muster the strength when we are willing to wake up to the thrill of opportunities that are accessible to each one of us.
The sharp knife that slices with precision represents our cognizance that each parcel of materialism we merit is not to be wasted but utilized with directed purpose. When we yank off a piece of the physical world like an animal of prey, we have succumbed to our instinctive animal soul, losing our stature as mindful intelligent beings. If we contemplate how G-d 'opens His hand and satisfies every living thing with its רצון — a 'desire', its inner desire that is aligned with רצונו — His desire, we are guaranteed that G-d will grant us a generous 'slice' of life to happily fulfill our roles. It has been noted that the verse which summons us, והיית אך שמח — and you will be completely joyous, has embedded in its last letters the name of the angel who provides our needs, חת"ך !
The time is now! We have the strength! We possess all we need!
לשנה טובה תכתב ותחתם לאלתר לחיים טובים ולשלום
בספרן של צדיקים גמורים!
צבי יהודה טייכמאן