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Rosh Hashana 5770

By: Rav Yonatan Horovitz

Two Aspects of Rosh Hashana We are all familiar with the story of Chana. We have studied the episode many times and heard it read as the haftara on the first day of Rosh Hashana. We are likely to recall that one of the reasons for reading this section of Nevi'im is based on the statement of the Gemara in Massechet Rosh Hashana (11a) that Sarah, Rachel and Chana were all remembered on Rosh Hashana. The common factor between these three women is that previously they were barren and became pregnant because of being remembered by Hashem on Rosh Hashana. The kriat haTorah for the first day of Rosh Hashana describes Sarah giving birth to Yitzchak. The natural corollary of this event is the chapter in Shmuel which tells the story of Chana and the birth of her son, Shmuel.. There are several other reasons for reading this haftara on Rosh Hashana. We will focus on one of the more obvious suggestions. On this day, we stand before God and we are judged. Our previous actions are examined and a decision is made as to our fate in the coming year. We therefore rightly choose to spend much of the day in prayer, begging God to look at us favorably and to decree only good things for the year to come. We proclaim over and over that God is King and we hope that in doing so we will be looked upon positively and be inscribed in the book of life. Who better to emulate in this realm than Chana. She finds herself in complete despair. Not only does she not have children but, we read, how year after year she is forced to take part in ceremonious meals centered around Mishkan Shilo, events at which the difference between her and her husband's other wife become clear to all. P'nina sits at the table surrounded by her many children; Chana sits alone. P'nina tends to the needs of her offspring; Chana is involved only in herself. It seems from the text that the attempts by Elkana to reassure her are to no avail. Chana is awash with despair and sees no solution to her hopeless situation. Suddenly, there is a turning point in the story. Chana decides to take action and this is done through prayer. She pours out her heart to God in such a way that even Eli Hacohen was unable to discern her true intentions. In silent devotion, she cries out to Hashem and begs for a reversal of the decree which made her barren. God responds with a resounding yes. She gives birth to the son of whom she had only dreamt; her tefillah is answered. This is obviously an example from which we must learn. No matter how desperate our situation may seem, we always have the option to turn to God. Whether out of personal, communal or national concern, we are able and have an obligation to seek Hashem, to speak to Him through prayer and above all, like Chana, to pour out our hearts to God. The story of Chana tells us on Rosh Hashana of the power of prayer of the ability of our teffilot to change the world. But there are two days of Rosh Hashana and the haftara read on the second day is very different from the story of Chana. It is taken from Yirmiyahu, Chapter 31 and although it has various verses made famous by songs, it is a far less familiar perek than the haftara read on the first day. Let us take a closer look at this prophecy of Yirmiyahu. We note that it is a nevuat nechama, a prophecy which is designed to comfort the nation whilst in exile and to reassure them that redemption will soon come. It begins with the following words: " So says Hashem: the people who escaped from the sword, found favor in the wilderness when Israel was marching homeword." (Yirmiyahu 31:1) The chapter continues to describe the nature of redemption that these "seridai charev, those who escaped from the sword" will experience. We find phrases relating to the planting of vineyards, celebrations of all forms including weddings and a general feeling of a regular life in a homeland. The phrase "seridai charev" refers to that which remains of the nation following an attack by our enemies. These are the lucky few who have survived and Hashem is promising that they will eventually taste the fruits of redemption. What is particular about this nevua as oppose to better known prophecies about geula especially those found in Sefer Yeshayahu? The answer may lie in why Hashem decides to redeem Am Yisrael. In this chapter there is little mention of teshuva or a return to God. We get the sense that Hashem grants geula for some other reason and not because of the behavior of the people. The haftara ends with a verse with which we are familiar from the tefilla of Rosh Hashana and it is here that we learn of the cause of the upcoming redemption: "Truly, Efrayim is a dear son to Me, a child that is pleasant. Whenever I have turned against him, My thoughts would dwell on him still, that is why My heart yearns for him, I will receive him back in love – says the Almighty. " (Yirmiyahu 31:20) Hashem states that Efrayim, a term used to refer to all of Am Yisrael, is dear to Him and He therefore constantly yearns for Israel. Hashem refers to Efrayim as His son. In the same way as a father yearns for his son even after he has admonished him for his faults, Hashem pines for Am Yisrael and therefore eventually brings them back from galut. There are several other references in this perek to the father/son relationship between Hashem and Am Yisrael. We thus learn that this is the reason described here for the geula. As the loving father always welcomes his son back into the house no matter what sin he has committed, so Hashem returns us to Eretz Yisrael despite our having sinned. This too is an important message for Rosh Hashana. On the one hand we beg, we daven as did Chana and we hope to receive a positive response from God. On the other, we speak to God as would child to parent. We remind Hashem that as His children, He should treat us accordingly and inscribe us in the book of life. Let us add one further point which is relevant for this year. As the first day of Rosh Hashana falls on Shabbat we do not blow shofar on that day. Rather, when there is no shofar, we must expend all our efforts on tefilla, we must emulate Chana. The shofar which we will hear "Be'ezrat Hashem" on the second day adds a different dimension to the tefillah. According to Rav Soleveitchik the blasts of the shofar, which resemble the cries of an infant, are actually incorporated into our tefillah in the following way. When we have no further words, when we are at a loss as to how to express our feelings to Hashem, the shofar takes over. The blasts are our cries, our calling out to God in the simplest form. In this way, we are speaking to God as a son does to his father. When words fail us, when the son cannot convey his feelings to his father, he simply cries. This is how the shofar becomes part of our tefillah. We daven and speak articulately to God but we also cry, and the cry emerges from the depths of our heart. As we approach Rosh Hashana, let us remember the passionate prayer of Chana and the comforting words of Yirmiyahu. Let us pray and cry out to Hashem. And let us hope that all of our tefillot will be answered and we as well as all of Klal Yisrael will be inscribed in the book of life. Ketiva Vechatima Tova! Rav Yonatan

 

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