Beit Midrash

  • Shabbat and Holidays
  • Yom Kippur
קטגוריה משנית
  • Shabbat and Holidays
  • The Essence of Rosh Hashana
To dedicate this lesson
We all are certainly familiar with that dramatic moment on Rosh Hashana & Yom Kippur, at the conclusion of the powerful U’n’taneh Tokef prayer, when we & the Chazan loudly proclaim: TEFILA, TESHUVA, TZEDAKA – Prayer, Repentance & Charity (help avert a negative decree).

But the Lubavitcher Rebbe points out that all three of these terms are grossly mistranslated! In fact, the terms "repentance, prayer & charity" may actually convey the exact opposite of their true & intended meaning!

"Repentance" implies regret, while Teshuva means "return." "Repentance" assumes that Man is inherently evil, that he must abandon his "normal" sinful state of being for a purer way of life - a fairly drastic and difficult transformation.

But the Torah sees Man’s soul as essentially good; his sins are rather the aberration, & not the reflection of his true character. To do Teshuva, then, is merely to return to oneself; a natural, much easier journey to take.

"Prayer" & Tefila also go in different directions. To "pray" is to beg for what one lacks, to ask a higher power to grant our requests & send blessings – which are beyond our reach - down to us from above. But Tefila derives literally from the word, "attachment." It implies that our neshamot are intrinsically connected to G-d, though that connection may have become sullied & blurred. Through the medium of prayer, we cleave & connect back to Hashem again, our souls rising up to G-d, hooking into His conduit of brachot which now are fully accessible, & so flow naturally to us.

The term "charity" implies that the giver, out of the goodness of his heart, is magnanimously bequeathing some of his hard-earned funds to someone in need. But Tzedaka actually means "justice." The money we have in our possession is not totally our own; it has been placed in trust with us by the Almighty – who is our "senior partner" - & is to be put to proper use by us. To give to those in need, then, is not really an act of "charity" at all, but rather a matter of basic justice & fairness.

Taken together, Tefila, Teshuva & Tzedaka are the instruments which allow us to operate on our damaged souls & repair them; the tools with which we can build – or better, rebuild – our holy relationship with Hashem.

Once we have done that, then everything else – wisdom, satisfaction in life, optimism, a sense of serenity with the universe – will flow to us as naturally as the waters of the Golan – OUR Golan - flow into & fill the Kinneret.
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