This issue is sponsored anonymously.
Vol. 23 No. 52
Wishing all our readers and the rest of K'lal Yisrael
k'siva v'chasima tova
The Effect of Bad Thoughts
"Lest there is among you a man or a woman, a family or a tribe, whose heart turns away from Hashem our G-d today, to go and worship the gods of these nations, lest there is among you a root that nurtures poison or wormwood ([a man who is planning to sin - Targum Unklus]" 29:17).
The Torah is referring here to a person who has not actually sinned, but who has decided to go his own way. Outwardly, he appears to be a fine Jew, but whose thoughts, like decayed roots which cannot be seen, are rotten to the core, and threaten him with destruction.
Outside the world of Torah, one's thoughts, however wicked, are of no consequence, as long as they remain hidden inside. One is held responsible for one's deeds, but not for one's thoughts, irrespective of their evil content. As one keeps one's thoughts to oneself, nobody will take him to task for what he thinks.
Clearly, that is not the Torah's attitude. In the eyes of the Torah, not only are evil thoughts wrong, but, like bad roots, which directly result in poor-quality fruit, are the cause of wicked deeds, and will eventually result in "sulpher and salt bringing destruction upon the entire land" (Pasuk 22).
And so it is, bearing in mind that it is a person's thoughts that govern his actions. Someone whose thoughts are good will inevitably perform good deeds, whereas a person with bad thoughts will wreak havoc.
Bad thoughts, in and of themselves, are not considered sinful (with the exception of thoughts concerning idolatry and immorality), yet the Torah here warns against them on account of the potential harm that they can cause, as we explained.
And this is why Chazal have said that 'The Torah wants the heart'. Indeed, the Torah itself instructs us to 'Love G-d with all our hearts'. Because a person who loves G-d with all his heart will inevitably perform His commandments. One might add that this is synonymous with adopting Torah Hashkofos, which serve to guide one's thoughts.
Commenting on the next Pasuk, Rashi explains how, someone who adopts the current attitude - namely, to ostensibly accept the words of the covenant, but to decide in his heart that he will go his own way, will find that, whereas hitherto, G-d had been willing to forgive his mistakes, He would from now on punish him for his mistakes alongside the sins that he perpetrates on purpose. But why? a mistake after all, is a mistake! Why does it suddenly warrant such a harsh response?
The answer lies in what we just explained - that the body is controlled by the mind. A person whose mind is well-adjusted, will have control over his actions. Whereas someone whose mind and Hashkofos are weak, particularly one whose entire outlook is off-track, will inevitably sin, over and over again - sometimes on purpose, sometimes by mistake - since, due to his disinterest, he will never take the necessary precautions against sinning. In the same way as no intelligent person will run into a busy street without looking or put his hand into a fire - by mistake, because, even in his sub conscience, he is aware of the danger that this poses. Moreover, even after having inadvertently sinned once, he displays no remorse at what he did, and there is nothing to stop him sinning again and again.
What we learn from the current Pasuk is that our thoughts and our Hashkofos need to be trained and brought under control. As long as they are left to take their own course, we will find that they permit and even encourage the body to fulfill all its desires. Whereas if we work on them and train them to follow the path of the Torah, then we will discover that we have full control over our actions, as the performing of Mitzvos becomes second nature, as does our ability to refrain from sinning.
* * *
* * *
This issue is sponsored l'ilui nishmas
Rebbitzen Eva Wilschanski Esther bas Moshe Halevi z"l
on her fourth Yohrzeit, Tzom Gedaliah
by her husband and children
"A Day of Teru'ah (blowing … ) it shall be for you" (Pinchas, 29:1).
If the Torah wants us to blow the Shofar, why does it not write "And you shall blow a Shofar", like it writes "And you shall take … an Esrog …" in Parshas Emor (22:40)? See Rashi, as to why there (22:24), it writes "A remembrance of Teru'ah".
The Gemara in Ta'anis (14a), with reference to days proclaimed by Chazal because no rain has fallen by a prescribed date, cites two opinions to explain the term 'Masri'in' used there by the Mishnah, one is that one blows the Shofar/trumpets; the other, that one cries out to G-d for mercy.
Perhaps here too, the Torah is deliberately vague, in order to incorporate the two meanings of 'Yom Teru'ah' - Rosh Hashanah is a day on which we blow the Shofar and on which we cry out to Hashem for mercy.
Incidentally, we learn that it is a Shofar that one blows and not a trumpet from Yom Kipur of Yovel, where the Torah specifically writes (in B'har, 25:9) "Shofar Teru'ah".
Indeed, this is the beauty of Torah, in that it often presents a phrase or a word with a number of meanings, As Chazal have said 'There are seventy facets' - like a many faceted diamond. And these different meanings are often based on the variety of connotations contained in one word. In fact, that is why the Septuagint - the translation of the Torah into Greek in the time of P'tolomy was considered such a calamity.
Although the above Gemara in Ta'anis does not mention a third interpretation of 'Masri'in', the commentaries do in fact add a third interpretation; "Teru'ah" can also mean 'breaking', as we find in Tehilim (2:9) "Tero'em … " - Break them with a metal stick. In which case, "Yom Teru'ah" also means a day on which we break ourselves before our Creator. By breaking our desires and our evil character-traits we find favour before Him and merit to be written in the Book of Life. As the mantra goes - 'Man discards a broken vessel; Not so G-d, who cherishes the person who breaks himself'.
It transpires that a successful Rosh Hashanah entails blowing the Shofar and crying out to Hashem, by virtue of which we will gain the courage and willpower to break the evil within us and prepare to enter the New Year on a higher level than the outgoing one.
And perhaps we can even add a fourth interpretation of Yom Teru'ah - based on the Pasuk in Mishlei (27:10), which describes Hakadosh-Baruch-Hu as "Re'acho ve'Re'a ovicho" ('Your Friend and the Friend of your father'). For once we achieve the desired objective described above, we will come closer to G-d than before, and are able to refer to Him as a Friend.
A well-known Medrash queries the Pasuk in Tehilim "How praiseworthy is the nation who know how to blow ('yod'ei teru'ah')" - But surely, anybody can blow the Shofar? What is it that Yisrael knows that the gentiles do not? And it explains the Pasuk to mean - that Yisrael know how to entice their Creator to get up from the Throne of Judgement and sit on the Throne of Mercy. It is not initially clear how the Medrash has answered the question. The Kashya remains, what is it that Yisrael know that the nations do not?
The answer lies in what we have just explained. A gentile will interpret "Yom Teru'ah" as a day of blowing. But merely blowing the Shofar will not achieve any-thing - 'G-d wants the heart!' Yisrael however, understand that together with blowing the Shofar one needs to pour out one's heart in prayer, and to break one's evil desires. That is how one becomes G-d's friend and that is how one succeeds in becoming inscribed in the Book of Life in the forthcoming year!
* * *
Thoughts on Teki'as Shofar
(Adapted largely from the Arugas ha'Bosem)
'Blow for Me on a ram's horn' says Hashem, 'so that I will remember for you the binding of Yitzchak, in whose place Avraham subsequently sacrificed a ram. I will consider it as if you have bound yourselves before Me'.
We recall the Avos and their great deeds because their legacy inspires us to go in their ways. Thinking about Akeidas Yitzchak inspires us to be ready to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of our Creator. And recalling the same event by blowing the Shofar sparks off a positive response on His part, as if we have actually done so.
The Medrash relates how the Akeidah took place on Rosh Hashanah, and how Sarah, upon hearing of the impending sacrifice, began to wail. Therefore the Torah writes "It shall be a day of wailing ('yom yabovo' - Unklus) - as the T'ru'ah-note resembles the wail of a human-being, in order that G-d remember the cries of Sarah Imeinu, and atone for us, her children.
The Mishnah in Rosh Hashanah (Daf 26a) rules that the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah must be (of a mountain-goat and) straight - symbolizing serving Hashem in a straightforward uncomplicated manner (as the Torah writes "Youi shall be Tamim with Hashem your G-d"). The Gemara there however, concludes that the Halachah is like Rebbi Yehudah, who requires the Shofar to be (that of a ram and) bent - because, in spite of the importance of serving Hashem in a straightforward manner, the order of the day is humility (to bend before Him). Yes, on Rosh Hashanah we proclaim G-d our King (one of the ten reasons of R. Sa'adya Ga'on for blowing the Shofar), and it stands to reason that we humble ourselves before His Majesty, as we stand before Him in awe to be judged. Or as the L'vush explains, we bend our hearts in prayer on this Day of Judgement. Maybe this is also the source of the custom to Daven the Amidah on Rosh Hashanah partially bent over. Or, as others say in the name of a Talmid of the Rashbo, one should lower one's eyes whilst Davenning on Rosh Hashanah - for exactly the same reason.
The Roke'ach writes that we blow three times 'Tashrat' (Teki'ah, Shevarim, Teru'ah), three times 'Tashat' and three times 'Tarat' (min ha'Torah), to counter the Satan, who performs his work in three phases - he descends (in the form of the Yeitzer-ha'Ra) - to make us sin, flies up to Heaven (in the form of the Satan) - to accuse us, and he descends (as the Mal'ach ha'Ma'ves) - to carry out the death sentence.
Three of the main basic principles of our faith are 1). That G-d exists. 2). That He supervises the world, and 3). That He gave us the Torah - though each of these has sub-divisions.
And it is corresponding to these three fundamentals, that Chazal instituted the three sections of Tefilah, Malchiyos (that G-d exists), Zichronos (that He supervises) and Shofros (Torah [which was given amidst Shofar-blasts] min ha'Shamayim). Some commentaries maintain that one should have this in mind during Teki'as Shofar.
With reference to Teshuvah, Chazal quote Hakadosh-Baruch-Hu as saying 'Open for Me (a gap) as small as the eye of a needle, and I will open for you one that is as large as a hall'.
And this is hinted in the blowing of the Shofar, when we blow in the narrow end, but the sound comes out of the wide one.
The Avudraham puts it differently. He quotes G-d as saying ''Just as with a Shofar, one blows in one end and the sound comes out of the other, so too, let all the prosecutors in the world prosecute you before Me; I will listen with one ear and let their words go out of the other!'
* * *