Rosh Hashanah Dvar Torah

“For Hashem shall bring every action which man does into the judgment, evenevery hidden matter, whether it be good or evil.” (Koheles 12:14)

As we approach the Yamim Neroaim, we should already be in an introspectivestate, scrutinizing our actions to determine whether we are striving forspiritual improvement or simply coasting through life. In reviewing ourown actions, we rationalize many of them, thereby preserving our righteousself image. Other actions are simply ignored; we overlook them asunimportant, neither good nor bad. If we truly believe that we are to bejudged by the Ribono shel Olam and that our actions matter, then we must beactively engaged in scrutinizing our every action. The Chovas Halivavos(Duties of the Heart) quotes the above-cited pasuk (among others) asevidence from Tanach of the concept of reward and punishment. The Gemorahin Chagigah asks: What does the verse mean when it states: “EVERY hiddenmatter?” Rav says that this refers to one who kills an insect in front ofhis friend and his friend is disgusted by it. Shmuel answers that it refersto one who spits in front of (not at) his friend and his friend isdisgusted by it. The common denominator is that both actions, whiledistasteful, are not by themselves a sin.

For the modern person attempting to live a Torah life and striving forself-improvement, these standards seem hopelessly exacting. Nonetheless,carefully examining our behavior in an effort to be less careless in ourinterpersonal relationships should be within our abilities. R' LeibChasman z"l (1869-1935; rabbi in Lithuania and mashgiach of the ChevronYeshiva) points out that if Hashem is so exacting when our minor sins areinvolved, how much more so can we count on Him to reward even our minorgood deeds (Ohr Yahel II p.93). We are very good, at times, at performingsignificant acts of kindness. But we can be encouraged that even our verysmall acts of sensitivity towards others can yield incalculable rewardsfrom Hashem.

Furthermore, we see that even actions that fall squarely in the halachiccategory of “reshus” are judged. Chovos Halvovos says concerning thosethings classified as reshus: these are things that aren't a mitzvah;however, those things that are not mitzvos, per se, but that fulfill ahuman need are also a mitzvah. Other things that are, in the end, notreally necessary are simply not permitted (e.g., working too many hours forfunds well in excess of sums needed for basics).

According to this formulation, just about every area of human endeavor iseither a mitzvah or an aveirah, subject to Divine Judgment. In our society,we tend to rationalize many of our actions as “necessary” and we expend somuch energy on material pursuits, not considering their spiritualramifications. The Kotzker Rebbe (ZY”A) tells us that the Yetzer Hora[evil inclination] has two parts: first, it makes us sin and second, itmakes us believe the sin is a mitzva. It is imperative that we refocus ourattention to ensure that those things we do that are classified as a“reshus” (even in the most liberal definition of the word) are, in fact,done for the sake of Heaven (L’shem Shemayim). If so, then those actionswill also be treated as mitzvos and their merit will garner for us Hashem'sblessings.

Dovid Hamelech A”H says in Tehilim (119:120), ” My flesh shuddered fromfear of You, I dread your judgements.” Reb Chayim Voloshiner says thefirst fear refers to the trepidation one feels when making a request of theking. The next level of fear is felt by one who has wronged the king butneeds to make a request of him. A person’s Nefesh HaChaim, his soul,impacts all of creation (just everything we do to our body impacts our ownhealth). R’ Chaim tells us that when one wastes his power to affect theuniverse for good, that is a sin. Especially during the Aseres YimeiTeshuva (Ten Days of Repentance) we are obliged to do more, as we are inthe presence of the King.

A parable is given about a town in which the king was planning to visit.One of town's residents, anticipating the king’s arrival, began to dresseach day in his finest clothes. Others dressed in their everyday clothingand planned to dress up only when they were more certain of the date of theking’s visit. Of course, the king showed up one day and everyone wascaught unprepared, except for the one person that dressed in his fineclothes each day. Needless to say, the king was most pleased with thatindividual.

Chazal tell us that each season the Satan is clothed differently (that’sreally just good fashion sense). This really means that he takes adifferent approach depending on the time of year. During Elul, he uses theconcept of “yiush,” hopelessness. In essence, the Satan attempts to haveus surrender by making the argument that in spite of our best intentionsand no matter our efforts, we can never really improve. The Rambam tells isthat every day we must repent. But, teshuva involves resolving to neverrepeat the bad act again. We do resolve each year during the Yamim Neroimand may in fact engage in that teshuva each day, constantly trying tochange. Nonetheless, no matter how we try, we always seem to slidebackward. If so, then why bother to do teshuva? Perhaps we should, as theSatan tries to tell us, give up.

If, however, we eagerly anticipate the King’s arrival, then we will nevergive up, our motivation simply that, like the townspeople in the parable,we not be caught unprepared for the King's arrival. When we work onself-improvement each and every day, particularly during these days, weadorn ourselves with the mitzvos that will help us find favor with theKing. We can then have hope that these consistent attempts at spiritualbetterment will have a lasting impact and we will be judged favorably for ayear filled with health, joy and redemption.

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