Dreaming of Moshiach

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Chizzuk Stories for Rosh HaShana

Legal Defense
When the first day of Rosh Hashanah occurred on Shabbat, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev zs'kl ascended the podium in the center of his synagogue and addressed the heavens: "Master of the Universe! Today, all Your creatures pass before You like a flock of sheep, and You pass judgment upon them. Two great books lie open before You, the book of life and the book of death. The righteous are inscribed in the book of life, and the transgressors are written in the book of death, G-d forbid."

"But today is Shabbat. Did You not command in Your holy Torah that is forbidden to write on Shabbat?"

"True, it is permitted to violate Shabbat in order to preserve a life, so You are permitted to inscribe the righteous in the book of life. But no such clause permits inscribing those who have transgressed Your will in the book of death. I therefore inform You, dear Father in Heaven, that according to the law of the Torah, You must inscribe all Your children for a year of life, health and prosperity!"

Purest Prayer I
In the shul of The Baal Shem Tov, zsk'l, a boy entered the synagogue on Rosh HaShanah and being ignorant of the prayers, just kept saying the Alef-Beis at the front of the Siddur. He was observed crying and laughing and from time to time clapping much to the consternation of the serious congregation. After Rosh HaShanah concluded, it was announced that the Jewish world in Russia that year was saved because of this boy. The boy told HaShem that he did not know how to daven, that he did not know how to learn, but that he knew the Alef-Beis. He resolved to spend all day saying the letters and asked Hashem to rearrange them. His davening was accepted as the best davening for the whole of Jewry Rosh HaShanah that year.

Purest Prayer II
Everyone assembled in the synagogue was awaiting this moment. Their spiritual leader, the sainted Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev zs'kl was going to sound the Shofar himself this year. They knew of his dedication to HaShem. They knew of his piety. They knew that there was no more worthy person to lead the congregation in this special Mitzvah on this holy day.

Reb Levi Yitzchak readied himself for this task of utmost importance. He immersed in the Mikvah, purifying himself in preparation for this hallowed duty. When the time came for him to blow the Shofar, he looked angelic, garbed in his white Kittel, enveloped in his Tallis. He recited the introductory prayers with utmost concentration, inspiring the entire congregation to do so with him. He then read a prefatory portion of the Zohar with heartfelt emotion. Now was the time for the blowing of the Shofar. The entire congregation stood with anticipation and trepidation, awaiting the blessings and the first sounds of the Shofar. But they did not come.

Rav Levi Yitzchak did not recite the blessings. Instead, he placed the Shofar back down on the table before him. A few moments passed, and he again picked up the Shofar. He readied himself to recite the blessing. He hesitated, and then placed the Shofar down once again. After some time had passed, Rav Levi Yitzchak turned to the confused assembled.

"My friends," he said, "there is seated here today a man. This man is not like you or me. He was separated from his family in his youth, and has no background or familiarity with his religion. He does not know how to read Hebrew, let alone pray. He knows that today is Rosh Hashanah, a day to pray to HKB'H, and he therefore joined us. Standing here, he saw the entire congregation immersed in meaningful and earnest prayer. He felt a jealousy, a burning feeling of envy, because he could not participate with the congregation."

"This man turned his head towards heaven, and cried his heart out. 'Our merciful Father, You know all the sincere prayers, the depths of the feelings with which they are uttered, the meanings and implications of each and every word. The only thing I know are the 22 letters of the Alef-Bet. My prayer to You, on this holiest of days, is all that I know: Alef, Bet, Gimel, etc.. Please G-d, in Your abundant kindness, join together these letters to formulate a prayer for me.'"

"You should know," Rav Levi Yitzchak said, "that this is the reason for my hesitation. HaShem is in the midst of assembling this purest of pure prayers. While HaShem joins together the letters uttered from the mouth of this righteous man, we must wait."

Shofar's Siren
An aged Rabbi from Poland smuggled into the camps a small Sefer Torah and a Shofar. Every Shabbat he would read the Parsha of the week from the Torah before the prisoners left for their back breaking 20-hour work shift. It somehow gave them the courage and faith to stay alive.

Shortly before Rosh Hashana, the Rabbi told the inmates that they would have a special minyan on Rosh Hashana and even blow the Shofar. One of the prisoners protested that blowing the Shofar would surely put their lives in danger. The Rabbi explained, "We are in danger no matter what we do. Even our bodies don't belong to us, for these murderers can do with us as they desire. Only our spirit remains with us. Let us not give that over to them too."

On the morning of Rosh Hashana they got up early to pray. Never had they prayed so fervently. Then they held their breath as the Rabbi blew the Shofar. He blew a few blasts when, suddenly the door of the barracks was smashed in. A battalion of storm troopers appeared with leveled guns.

"Now I've caught you, you traitors," roared the commander. "You're sending signals to the enemy to bomb us."

"This is not a signal," replied one of the inmates. "This the sound of the Shofar and is part of our holiday prayers."

"Quiet!" screamed the commander. "Tell me who smuggled in that horn and who was the Jew who blew it. The rest of you can go free."

No one responded.

"Answer me," the commander demanded, "or else I'll choose twenty men from among you and shoot them immediately."

When they still remained silent, he gave the order to line up twenty men outside and shoot them. Then, just as the Rabbi was about to step forward, the air raid siren sounded. A raid! Everyone began to run, as a plane dove down upon them and dropped a bomb. The Germans ran for cover like scared rabbits, and many were killed. In the confusion, the prisoners managed to escape into the forest.

Later, when the inmates gathered around the Rabbi to discuss this miracle of Hashem, he said, "The Germans were right when they said that the Shofar was a signal. It was not a signal to the Allies, but to our Father in Heaven. We signaled Him that He should see our misery and punish our oppressors. Hashem Yisborach listened to our signal!"

Emotionally, Rosh Hashanna is one of the most difficult days of the year. We can deal with Yom Kippur. We do not eat. It is a day of Mercy. We separate ourselves from the rest of the world and we pour our hearts out. But what are we supposed to do on Rosh Hashanna? Rosh Hashanna is the Yom HaDin [the Day of Judgment]. Everything is riding on this day. Life and Death. Success and Failure - everything lies in the balance of Judgment.

We can not wear our emotions on our sleeve. But we must realize that what will be determined on this day is nothing less than the fate of our lives, of our family's lives, of our community's lives, and indeed the life of the entire world. Anything can happen...

Our Merciful Father gives us another opportunity - the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur give us a time to change the judgment for good. We are given the chance to improve our coming year through Teshuvah (asking forgiveness), Tefillah (prayer), and Tzedakah (charity).

HaShem values all pure prayer. Our Sages formulated prayers in a specific fashion, with a precise composition, as they were aware of the deep implications and spiritual ramifications of the words. Yet, prayer without heart is prayer without soul.

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