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Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur: The Ideal Time for Ideal Spirituality

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Sep 17, 2017

The Mishna in Rosh Hashana (16a) indicates that Rosh Hashana is the day that all of humanity is judged like sheep passing through a corral.  At other intervals during the year, such as Pesach, Shavuos, and Sukkot, humanity is judged on its wheat, fruit and water, respectively.  The Gemora notes that this Mishna does not seem to reflect the views of four different Tannaim who alternatively hold that mankind is judged regarding everything on Rosh Hashana with the final judgment sealed on Yom Kippur (Rabbi Meir), or that mankind is judged regarding everything on Rosh Hashana with the final judgment sealed for mankind on Yom Kippur, and sealed regarding wheat, fruit and water on their respective holidays (Rabbi Yehuda), or that man is judged each day (Rabbi Yossi), or that man is judged each moment (Rabbi Nosson).

The Gemora concludes that the Mishna is in accordance with the opinion of Rabbi Yishmael that man is judged on Rosh Hashana regarding himself, and the judgment is sealed on Yom Kippur, and that the Mishna is referring to the starting time of the judgment, rather than the sealing of the judgment.

The Ran asks an obvious question.  If man is judged regarding himself on Rosh Hashana, does this not also include judgment regarding wheat, fruit and water, which are needs of man?  The Ran answers that the amount that these items will be available for all of mankind is determined at the times of their respective holidays, but the allocation for each individual person is decided at the time of Rosh Hashana.

Interestingly, it is not clear that the halacha is in accordance with the apparent conclusion of the Gemora anyway.  The Gemora proceeds to ask why we pray throughout the year, such as in the brocha of “Refaenu”, for sick people to get better, when mankind is judged on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur?  The Gemora in its first answer suggests that this is consistent with the opinion of Rabbi Yossi that man is judged each day.  This is consistent with Rabbi Yossi’s opinion in the Gemora in Shabbos (12a) that upon visiting a sick person on Shabbos it is appropriate to pray for his recovery even throughout the year.

Tosafot on the Gemora in Shabbos (12a) notes a discrepancy because the Gemora there records that Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yehuda also stated that it is appropriate to render prayers for a sick person who is visited on Shabbos (with the proviso of stating שבת היא מלזעוק) despite their view that mankind is judged solely on Rosh Hashana (with a sealing of judgment on Yom Kippur).  To this question, Tosafot remarkably states in their first answer that the Gemora may be referring only to the Shabbos between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur (Shabbos Shuva).

Elsewhere (Rosh Hashana 16a), Tosafot provides another answer in the name of Rabbeinu Tam – that prayer is not rendered during the year for a person not to become sick, because that has already been decreed between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, but only that a sick person get better, because the time of healing is not definitively determined on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.  Rav Yaakov Emden elaborates that even though the Gemora in Avoda Zara 55a indicates that the time that a sickness departs is also pre-ordained, that is only with respect to the outer limit of the duration of the sickness, but prayer is effective to have the illness depart earlier.

However, Tosafot in Shabbos notes that the Gemora in Rosh Hashana provides another possibility regarding the source of our praying each day for sick people to be healed.  The Gemora says that it is possible that this practice is in accordance with all opinions, as expressed by R. Yitzchok who states that יפה צעקה לאדם, בין קודם גזר דין בין לאחר גזר דין – that a person’s “crying out” is efficacious, even if takes place after judgment has already been rendered.

Finally, Tosafot in Rosh Hashana articulates one more reason for rendering the prayer to heal the sick throughout the year according to all authorities.  The prayers of the “Rabbim” – of the broader community – can succeed in rescinding a final decree of judgment, and therefore can be efficacious at any point in time.  Tosafot notes that a close read of the prayer rendered by Rabbi Yehuda on Shabbos for the sick is consistent with this thesis, because he added the words ועל חולי ישראל – that the prayer is not rendered solely for one sick individual, but for the sick among the entirety of the people of Israel.   This notion is also reflected in the Gemora Brachos 30a that לעולם לישתף איניש נפשיה בהדי ציבורא  – a person should always include the larger community in his personal prayers, and in our common practice.

Which opinion do we follow?  There is an interesting discussion among later commentators about this question.

The Eliyah Rabbah (584) proves that the halacha is not like Rabbi Yossi based on a question posed by the Sefer Amarkel that since the Gemora in Rosh Hashana (32a) explains that we do not say Hallel on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur since they are days of judgment, how can we say Hallel on other days during the year according to Rabbi Yossi in light of the fact that each day is a day of judgment?  Since we do in fact say Hallel on certain days during the year, the Eliyah Rabbah concludes that the halacha is not like Rabbi Yossi.  Rather, the reason we pray each day for sick people to get better (and even for Rabbanim not to get sick) is because we rely on the Gemora’s statement that crying out is always efficacious, even for an individual, throughout the entire year.

However, others are not as bothered by this question.  Some, for example, distinguish between the judgment day of Rosh Hashanah which applies to the entire community, and the judgment days during the year, which only apply to people in their individual capacity and therefore do not have the same specter of being judgment days.  Accordingly, the Pri Chadash rules that we do rule like Rabbi Yossi, and therefore if someone said המלך הקדוש by mistake in Shemoneh Esreh during the year (even though it is not the ten days of penitence) they would not need to repeat Shemoneh Esreh since on some level each day is considered a day of judgment.

We can take away the following messages in preparation of the upcoming Yomim Noraim: (a) there is unquestionably a special quality to the judgment of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur that requires our fervent focus during this period of time; (b) the more that we cry out in earnest and sincere prayer, the more efficacious our prayers will be during the entire year even with respect to matters that may have been decreed on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur; (c) there is no deadline for the effectiveness of public prayer, and we should always include others throughout the Jewish community in our prayers.

Finally, we should be fortified by the words of the Meiri who states הכל אמת למבינים – it all reflects truth to those who truly understand (both the nature of the judgment of Rosh Hashanah, and the potential to bring about favorable judgment each day of the year) and thus לעולם יהיו עיניו של אדם  – נשואות בתשובה בכל יום – every day should be suffused with an outlook of teshuva.  May this season inspire us to constantly be in a state of teshuva throughout the year and enable us to merit a closer relationship with the Almighty that will serve as a constant source of strength and growth for each of us and for Klal Yisroel.


References: Rosh Hashana: 16a 

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