Written for life vs. the good life
זכרנו לחיים מלך חפץ בחיים וכתבנו בספר החיים למענך אלקים חיים: מי כמוך אב הרחמים זוכר יצוריו לחיים ברחמים
Remember us for life, the King Who desires life, and write us in the book of life, for Your sake, the living G-d. Who is like You, Father of Mercy, who remembers His creations for life, with mercy
וכתוב לחיים טובים כל בני בריתך: בספר חיים ברכה ושלום ופרנסה טובה נזכר ונכתב לפניך אנחנו וכל עמך בית ישראל לחיים טובים ולשלום
Write all of those in Your covenant for a good life. Let us be remembered and written before You in the book of life, blessing, peace, and a good livelihood. Us, and all of Your nation of the house of Israel, for a good life and for peace
The days of Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur are known as Aseres Yemei HaTeshuva, the Ten days of Repentance. As the name sounds, it’s a time of introspection and prayer. Insertions are added to the daily prayer services, and they certainly match the theme of these days. We are constantly praying for life, as the famous prayer says: “Inscribe us in the book of life”. However, a careful analysis of some of these insertions will show a discrepancy. In the first half of the Shemoneh Esrei, also known as the Amidah prayers, we have a couple of insertions asking for life. However, in the second half of the Shemoneh Esrei, our request changes to a good life. Why is there this change? Are we asking for two different things?
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Turning justice into mercy
זה היום תחלת מעשיך זכרון ליום ראשון. כי חק לישראל הוא משפט לאלקי יעקב
Today is the beginning of Your creation; a remembrance of the first day. For it is a decree of Israel, a judgement for the G-d of Yaakov
There are a few lines in the Rosh Hashanah prayers that are seemingly confusing. We say that today is the beginning of Your creation, and then we say it’s a commemoration of the first day. Isn’t that redundant? Furthermore, the next sentence, “For it is a decree of Israel, a judgement for the G-d of Yaakov”, is seemingly incongruous. Now, this happens to be a verse from Psalms. If we look at the previous verse, we do find some relevance to Rosh Hashanah: “Blow [תקעו] in the month of the shofar [שופר], on the covering of the day of our Festival”. How can we make sense of all of this?
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כה אמר יקוק צבקות צום הרביעי וצום החמישי וצום ההשביעי וצום העשירי יהיה לבית-יהודה לששון ולשמחה ולמעדים טובים וגו’
Thus says Hashem, Master of Legions, that the fast of the fourth, the fast of the fifth, the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, will be for the House of Yehudah for joy and celebration, for festivals…
The fast of Tisha B’Av commemorates the destruction of both the First and Second Temples. The day that both Temples were destroyed is the ninth of Av. A question that many wonder is during the time of the Second Temple, did they fast on Tisha B’Av? On the one hand, the destruction of the First Temple was devastating, as described in Megillas Eichah. On the other hand, they were in a state of redemption. The Jews were (somewhat) back in their homeland, and they had a Temple again. While this question doesn’t necessarily have any bearing on our own practice, considering we lack a Temple, still, it potentially could shed light on the nature of the fast.
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Recalling the Exodus
…למען תזכר את-יום צאתך מארץ מצרים כל ימי חייך
…In order for you to remember the day you left Egypt, all the days of your life
Besides the Festival of Pesach, where we recount the Exodus at the Seder, there is an obligation to recall the Exodus from Egypt every day. We fulfill this by saying the third paragraph of Shema both day and night, which mentions the Exodus. Now, the Magen Avraham innovates that reciting Shiras HaYam, the Song at Sea that the Jews sang when the Reed Sea split, fulfills this obligation. Now, at first glance, this seems a little surprising. The Song at Sea was recited after the Exodus from Egypt. Why would reciting it be considered recalling the Exodus? The Torah indeed says to recall the day we left Egypt, and the Sea split a week later. Furthermore, the Midrash says that part of the obligation of recalling the Exodus is to recall the final plague of the death of the first born. If one didn’t say it, they haven’t fulfilled their obligation.
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Wrongful Rabbinic reservations
ויוצא משה את-העם לקראת האלקים מן-המחנה ויתיצבו בתחתית ההר
Moshe took the people out from the camp to greet Hashem, and they stood at the foot of the mountain
Before the great revelation of the Divine at Mount Sinai, when the Jews were given the Ten Commandments, the Torah says that the Jews stood בתחתית ההר, “at the foot” of the mountain. However, literally read, the verse says that they stood “under” the mountain. Chazal learn from here that this teaches us that Hashem picked up the mountain and held it over their heads. He said to them: “If you accept the Torah, good. But if not, then this will be your burial place”. Thankfully, the Jews accepted the Torah. In fact, they later accepted it anew in the days of Achashverosh, out of love. However, this shows us that initially it was only through coercion. This seems to contradict a different verse, where the Jews proudly announced that they will do whatever Hashem commands them. This sounds like they were initially happy to accept the Torah. If so, why then did Hashem force them to accept it? How do we resolve this contradiction?
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…והיית אך שמח
…and you shall be only joyous
There’s an interesting Midrash that compares the time between Pesach and Shavuos, and the time between Sukkos and Shemini Atzeres. The time between Pesach and Shavuos is fifty days, whereas there is no break between Sukkos and Shemini Atzeres. Why is this so? The Midrash answers with a parable. This is similar to a king with many kids. Some are married and live far away, and some are married and live close by. When those who live close by come to visit, when came time to depart the King would let them go without difficulty, since anyways they live close by. However, those who live far away, when they would visit and it came time to leave, the King would hold them back. He would plead with them to stay one more day, due to the distance between them.
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זה היום תחלת מעשיך זכרון ליום ראשון
Today is the beginning of Your creation, a commemoration of the first day
There’s a well-known dispute between our Sages regarding when the world was created. Rabbi Eliezer says that the world was created in the month of Tishrei, whereas Rabbi Yehoshua says that the world was created in Nissan. Tosafos are bothered that we rule like Rabbi Yehoshua, and yet on Rosh Hashanah, the first of Tishrei, we say the phrase, “Today is the beginning of Your creation”. According to Rabbi Yehoshua, Tishrei wasn’t the beginning of Hashem’s creation. Nissan was. How can this be reconciled?
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The redemptive undertones of Megillas Eichah
איכה ישבה בדד העיר רבתי עם היתה כאלמנה רבתי בגוים שרתי במדינות היתה למס
Alas! [Jerusalem] sits alone. The city [that once] was filled with many, has become a widow. The greatest amongst the nations, an officer amongst the countries, has reverted for plunder
Megillas Eichah, the book of Lamentations, contains within it a description of the horrible tragedies that befell the Jewish people during the destruction of the First Temple. Who wrote it? Our tradition has it that it was written by the prophet Yirmiyahu, Jeremiah. In fact, he prophetically wrote it before the gruesome disaster even occurred. He knew that the destruction was imminent and tried his best to get his generation to improve their ways. Unfortunately, they did not take kindly to his rebuke, and ultimately, he witnessed the very prophecy he had foretold come to fruition. We recite Megillas Eichah every year on Tisha B’Av, as the most fitting way to recall the destruction, which took place on that very day.
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The wedding canopy of Mount Sinai
…ברוך אתה יקוק מקדש עמו ישראל על ידי חופה וקידושין
…Blessed are You, Hashem, Who sanctifies His nation of Israel, through Chuppah and Kiddushin
The blessing recited at every Jewish wedding, known as birkas erusin, ends with the idea that Hashem sanctifies His nation, through “Chuppah”, the wedding canopy, and “Kiddushin”, betrothal. How did Hashem sanctify us with Chuppah and Kiddushin? We could simply say that He sanctified us with the mitzvah of marriage through the process of Kiddushin, which is unique to Jews. However, some say that this is a reference to Mattan Torah, the National Revelation at Sinai, where we received the Torah. The verse says that תורה צוה לנו משה מורשה קהילת יעקב, Moshe commanded us the Torah, an inheritance of the congregation of Yaakov. Our Sages read the word מורשה, inheritance, homiletically to be מאורסה, betrothed. Meaning, the Sinaitic experience was one of a marriage between the Jewish people and Hashem.
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Accumulation, not Regression
היום שלשה ושלושים יום, שהם ארבעה שבועות, וחמשה ימים לעומר
Today is thirty-three days, which are four weeks and five days of the Omer
Lag BaOmer is the culmination of a mourning period that takes place during Sefiras HaOmer. Why have we been mourning? Our Sages tell us that in the days between Pesach and Shavuos, 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva’s students died. What was the reason? We are told that they didn’t treat each other with כבוד, often translated as respect or honor. How could this be? Furthermore, another version of the story says that עיניהם צרות בתורתם, they were selfish with their Torah. A third version says they didn’t fill the land of Israel with their Torah. How can we make sense of this?
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