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Approaching the Yomim Noraim

Author: Rabbi Yitzchok Cohen
Article Date: Monday July 31, 2006

 
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As we approach the yamim noraim, particularly the yom hadin, we must make a cheshbon hanefesh to analyze who we are and how we act, in our capacities as individual ovdei Hashem and as manhigim of our respective communities. We also must formulate a plan, lemaaseh, to improve ourselves, creating a strategy to accomplish this goal. As we work on ourselves, through limud hamussar, we will see that our entire ruchniusdik lives will be enriched, our limud Torah improved, and our ability to inspire and lead raised to new levels.

The Chovos Halevavos tells us that our strongest enemy is the yetzer hara, hu hasonei. Vayar Elokim es kol asher asa vehinei tov meod (Bereishis 1:31). We are told that tov is the yetzer tov and meod is the yetzer hara, that the two kochos are always present and inextricably linked. Are we aware of this constant presence of the yetzer hara in our daily activities? Are we aware of the yetzer hara who is misgaber aleinu bchol yom vayom? Rabbi Yitzchok Blazer, a talmid of Rav Yisroel Salanter, writes that our primary weapon against the yetzer hara, koach hayetzira vekoach hatumah and koach hamachshavos raos, is ahavas haschar veyiras haonesh, doing mizvos even shelo lishma, purely to receive a reward, and abstaining from aveira solely due to fear of onesh.

To develop our yetzer tov, we must work on being cognizant of the potential schar veonesh inherent in each and every action. This sensitivity is achieved through chochmah. Shlomo Hamelech, hachacham mikol adam, tells us that techilas chachmah yiras Hashem (Mishle 9:10), the very chochmah which differentiates man from the animal kingdom. But while in Mishle, chochmah is presented as the basis for yira, the Mishnah in Avos seems to claim that chochmah can only develop where yira already exists, as Im ein yira ein chochmah, im ein chochmah ein yira (Avos 3:17). Which progression is accurate? The Gemara resolves the paradox by saying that chochmah does in fact precede the development of yiras shomayim, but only with that yiras shomayim can chochmah then continue to appropriately lead our actions.

In Sefer Michtav MeEliyahu (volume 1 page 78) Rav Dessler explains that one expresses his recognition of the importance of chochmas yiras shomaim, and develops yiras shomayim, through limud sifrei mussar. This concept is expressed in the pasuk Veyodato hayom vehasheivoso el levavecho (Devarim 4:39). Limud hamussar is the vehicle for yediah, which awakens a person’s heart. The Mishna Berura (1:12) states: vetzarich haadam likvoa lo eis lilmod sifrei mussar bechol yom vayom, im meat veim harbei. Ki hagadol mechaveiro yitzro gadol heimenu. Vetavlin hayetzer aara hu tochachas maamarei Chazal. The Mesilas Yeshorim (2nd Perek) similarly writes that Haholeich beolamo bli hisbonenus im tova darko oh raa, hinei hu kesuma haholeich al sefas hanahar asher sakanaso vadai atzuma veraaso kerovah meihatzalaso. The Mesilas Yeshorim emphasizes that without constant din vecheshbon, one’s life is in deep danger, like a seeing person who willingly travels blind to all obstacles on the road.

Rav Yisroel Salanter, quoted in the Sefer Meoros Hagedolim, (page 58, #153) tells us that there are two components to limud hamussar. The first is to be misbonein in the words of Chazal, to contemplate and self-evaluate one’s actions. The second part is to learn with emotion and feeling through sing-song and kolos. As we learn, it is necessary to repeat the words, paragraphs, and perakim to make a pronounced effect on our hearts, such that limud hamussar is not merely an act of studying, but of changing our behavior, to change ourselves. It is not enough to merely study and understand yiras shamayim, and how to achieve it, rather it is imperative that we act and live lives of yiras shamayim, of actively aware and passionate Yiddishkeit.

One of the central areas of our lives that limud hamussar can affect is our talmud Torah. We must personally appreciate, and teach our talmidim, that talmud Torah defines a life committed to Yiddishkeit. We need to impress upon ourselves, our talmidim, and baalei batim, that talmud Torah keneged kulom, that limud hatorah is the most essential and vital element our experience. This should be manifested not only in our own limud, but also in our supporting talmud Torah, and in our admiration and respect for talmidei chachamim who devote hours to daily limud hatorah. It is also extremely important to impress upon our baalei batim the importance of kvias itim letorah, learning Torah daily.

We are making a grave mistake if we believe that Hashem’s gift of chochmah alone is enough for limud hatorah. Our talmud Torah must be passionate, and infused with yiras shamayim. Limud hamussar must be an integral part of the seder halimud, to foster a talmud Torah that contributes to a passionate yiddish life. We must learn as shleimim, not just intellectuals. To become proficient in Tanach, Shas, Rishonim, Acharonim, and Poskim without perfecting our midos tovos and yiras shamayim and setting aside time daily for limud hamussar, is to not fully develop as lomdei Torah. The Meoros Hagedolim points out that the Mechaber (OC 168:1) tells us when making hamotzi, if there is one challah before us that is shleima and a second which is larger but not shleima, we are to make the bracha on the shleima, that Halacha prefers the complete challah to the larger incomplete one, that shleimus chashuvah migadlus, completeness is valued over size, quality over quantity. We need to impress upon ourselves the importance of striving for shleimus in the avodas hakodesh of being a mashpia and marbitz Torah. Without striving for shleimus in our personal lives, our Torah will by definition be lacking.

We are now in the period of the Yamim Noraim, a period of hachanah for the yom hadin. While a strong awareness and knowledge of hilchos Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, and Sukkos are necessary and fall under the category of dvorim sheain lohem shiur, we must also realize the need to be koveya zman for working on ourselves, through Shaarei Teshuvah, Rabeinu Yona and other sifrei mussar. Caring for our ruchniusdik state is critical for our own sake, and also for our roles as manhigim and mechanchim.

As we work on ourselves, and mind our spiritual well being, we must analyze what we communicate to our communities. Tachlis implications for avodas Hashem need to be considered. We must make an effort to convey the importance of self-improvement and teshuvah to our students in both what we say and how we say it. How can we ignore the growing trend in the Torah world at large towards limud hamussar and tikun hamiddos? We need to ask ourselves if our derashos are filled with Torah that affects the hearts of our congregants, talmidim, and baalei batim. We must show emotion when we learn, when we teach, and in our everyday lives as role models for our communities, and we must evoke emotion from those that we impact.

Do we plan to show emotion when we utter our derashos and shiurim? How important is it to give derashos on Rosh Hashanah and especially Yom Kippur that result in having members of the Beis haKnesses in tears, emotionally and mentally moved to greater kavanah during tefillas mussaf, mincha, neilah, and maariv? Should not this be our aim for a derashah in the beis haknesses? According to poskim, one is not permitted to give a derasha unless it is a tzorech tefillah, which demands that our derashos impact the mispallelim to enhance their kavanos.

That being said, it is quite obvious that one cannot convey the importance of true love and fear of Hakadosh Baruch Hu unless he himself experiences it in his own life. Are we truly emotional with simchah at a chasunah? Do we have sincere simchah shel mizvah at a bris milah? Are we actually in great tzaar and crying with sincere tears when delivering our hespedim? Developing these emotions should become a primary concern in our lives and the lives of those whom we wish to be mashpia upon. How can we be mashpia if we ourselves are not working on developing our shleimus as individual ovdei Hashem? Even our own learning should be a part in this effort, as the pasuk tells us veyadato hayom vehasheivoso el levavecho (Devorim 4:39), that the goal of Torah and shemiras hamitzvos is to affect our hearts, and effect a sincere emotional experience not only for the benefit of ourselves, but for our wives, children and all those with whom we come in contact.

Everyone is familiar with the Rambam’s opinion concerning the mizvah of teshuvah: vehu sheyashuv hachoteh mecheto lifnei Hashem veyisvada. The Rambam states that viduy peh is an integral part of the mizvah of teshuvah. Machshavah alone does not suffice for teshuva, and we must verbalize our chataim to the point of shmias ozen to not only be cognizant of our aveiros but actually work to become embarrassed and utterly ashamed of them. Is this emotional component not also needed for tefillah? Is it not necessary for us to be moved when we pronounce the 13 Midos so many times during chodesh Elul and the aseres yemei teshuvah? We need to concentrate on our kavanah during tefillah, now and throughout the year, and in all aspects of our avodah.

As we approach these yamim noraim, filled with the requisite eima, yira, resses vezeia, we have to make a cheshbon of who we are and how we serve, as individuals and as manhigim, not only reflecting on what was, but on what will be. Many times, as rabbonim, our thoughts are concentrated on our sermons and how to impress our congregants, to the exclusion of paying appropriate attention to what we are communicating in a broader sense, and what we are trying to accomplish, a reality we should strive to change. To do so, we must work on ourselves and the entire nature of our avodah. It goes without saying that if we are koveya zman daily to learn Mesilas Yeshorim, Rabeinu Yonah, or other sifrei mussar and review what we have learned all the while saying the words with hispaalus and emotion, these actions will bring us to a greater degree of shleimus. With that improved personal shleimus, we will be able to better work with our baale batim and talmidim on their quest for shleimus, and serve them more completely in every way.

Bevirkas Kohanim vechasimah tovah veshnas chayim vesholom!