Thursday, September 21, 2023

Parshas Haazinu 5784




Erev Shabbos Kodesh Rosh Hashanah

29 Elul 5783/September 15, 2023


On the late afternoon of Erev Rosh Hashanah, I was in my kitchen busily taking care of last-minute things before Yom Tov. It was then that I glanced out the kitchen window and saw something that filled me with anxiety. I saw on the patio of the neighbor who lives behind us that the walls of his Succah were completely assembled.

I wanted to sue him for emotional damage. There I was trying to get ready for the imminent holiday, and he was already prepared for the holiday two weeks later.


I’ve noticed, mostly from personal experience, that umbrellas and raincoats are most likely to be forgotten when it stops raining after a person arrives at a temporary destination. Since it is no longer raining, he forgets that he brought the rain gear earlier, and leaves without it. It’s usually not until the next rainstorm that he realizes where he left it. At that point he’ll need to use spare rain gear to go out in the rain to retrieve his original rain gear. Hopefully it won’t stop raining while he’s at the place where he left the rain gear the first time.


There’s a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon depicting Calvin declaring, “G-d put me on earth to accomplish a certain number of things. Right now I’m so far behind I’ll never die!”

My rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein notes that our lives are more like a basketball game than a baseball game. We don’t get three strikes before being called out. Our life clocks are constantly running. No one knows how much time is left, but everyone knows that there is a time limit.


On September 13, 2023, the New York Times published an article entitled, “Rosh Hashanah can change your life (even if you’re not Jewish).” The article references the unnerving words of Unesaneh Tokef in which we recount the tense awe of the day as we stand in judgement. We state unequivocally that on this day no one knows whether he will be slated to live or die in the coming year, or circumstances surrounding his life or death.

“You might think this morbid prospect would further decrease contentment, but it ends up having the opposite effect. Why? Because it forces us to focus on the things in life that actually bring us more happiness. Research by the Stanford psychologist Laura Carstensen has shown that as we age, we move from caring most about our careers, status and material possessions to caring most about connecting with those we love, finding meaning in life and performing service to others.

“… But the particular brilliance of Rosh Hashana is that it combines thoughts of death with a new year’s focus on a fresh start. As work by the behavioral scientist Katy Milkman and her colleagues has shown, temporal landmarks like New Year’s Day offer an effective opportunity for a psychological reset. They allow us to separate ourselves from past failures and imperfections — a break that not only prods us to consider new directions in life but also helps us make any changes more effectively.”


Perhaps that’s part of the reason why it’s customary to daven at the graves of ancestors and righteous individuals before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Not only are we trying to invoke the merits of the departed, but we are also reminding ourselves of the finitude of life and the need to live up to our mission.


In hilchos Teshuvah (2:7) Rambam writes: “Yom Kippur is the time of teshuvah for all, both individuals and the community at large. It is the end of forgiveness and pardon for Yisroel. Accordingly, everyone is obligated to repent and confess on Yom Kippur.”

Rambam himself writes that a person can always do teshuva. What does he mean that Yom Kippur is the end of forgiveness and pardon?

On a simple level, Rambam is referring to the conclusion of the particularly auspicious time when all of Klal Yisroel is focused and engaged in teshuvah. It is the conclusion of “the season of teshuvah” when heaven grants added assistance to those who seek to rectify their past misdeeds.

Perhaps the Rambam is also helping us recognize the urgency of doing teshuvah. Often when something can be done tomorrow it keeps getting delayed. There is nothing that galvanizes people to act more than impending deadlines and imminent need.

Rambam wants us to feel that there is no time like the present to engage in personal teshuvah. Yom Kippur is a deadline of sorts, and we would be wise to take advantage of it.

We may not have to have our Succah up before Rosh Hashanah and we may not need an umbrella when the storm passes. But we can and should always live with a sense of mission, knowing how valuable every day is.

We don’t have to master all our shortcomings before the “Yom Kippur deadline”. We only have to make an earnest effort to begin the process.



Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

Gut Yom Tov & G’mar Vachasima Tova,

        R’ Dani and Chani Staum