Beit Midrash

  • Shabbat and Holidays
  • The Essence of Rosh Hashana
To dedicate this lesson

A Day of Judgment and Kindness

“This revered day is the reason for the existence of the world, and it therefore deserves to be a holiday. However, because it is the day whereupon all creatures are judged, one should approach it with more trepidation than any of the other holidays.”


Rabbi Shmuel Holshtein

Elul 5768
"There is a positive commandment to desist from work on the first of Tishrei, i.e., Rosh Hashanah, as it is written, ‘In the seventh month, on the first of the month you will have a rest, a [shofar] blast remembrance, a holy convocation.’ (Leviticus 23)."

A New Suit for Rosh Hashanah
One year, as the Chofetz Chaim returned home from the Rosh Hashanah prayers, he noticed a group of Jews sitting and feasting together in a courtyard. The rabbi, who recognized the celebrants and knew that they were lighthearted people, approached them in order to wish them a Shanah Tovah (happy Jewish New Year). There were empty beer bottles on the table and it was apparent that they were feasting more for sheer pleasure than for the sake of Rosh Hashanah.

When they saw the shocked expression on the Chofetz Chaim’s face they told him they were feasting in honor of the holiday. In fact, they explained, they had delayed their feast a number of weeks in order to hold it on Rosh Hashanah. When the Chofetz Chaim heard this he offered them a parable:

There once was a fatherless child who was loved by all. He was renowned for his brilliance despite his young age, and all predicted he would go far. He was especially known for his dedication to his mother and his exceptional concern for her honor. One day, however, tragedy struck: The boy’s mother collapsed and died suddenly while he was studying at Talmud Torah school.

The neighbors gathered to discussed how to break the news to the boy without causing him to become ill from grief. Finally, one of the neighbors suggested buying the boy a new suit so that he become filled with happiness, and this happiness would in turn allow him to receive the news of his mother’s passing with a strengthened disposition.

However, because nobody was prepared to relate the bad news to the boy, they placed a note in the pocket of the suit which read simply "Your mother passed away this morning."

Here the Chofetz Chaim finished his story and said, "Just imagine the how the boy must have felt upon receiving the suit, and then, a moment later, finding the note…. It is true that there is a religious duty to feast in order to enjoy the festival, but who knows what sort of judgment will be recorded in Heaven on this day – maybe the feast is just a suit, and the pocket contains a note…?!

Heavenly Joy
Rabbi Chaim of Sanz once traveled to visit his in-law, Rabbi Eliezer, who was suffering from a chronic illness. Rabbi Eliezer asked Rabbi Chaim to pray on his behalf, but Rabbi Chaim said that, considering the saintliness of Rabbi Eliezer, perhaps it would be better if he passed on to the "world of truth" to delight in God’s presence.

When Rabbi Eliezer contended that he must stay in this world in order to support his children, Rabbi Chaim responded that he would be willing to bear the responsibility of raising his in-law’s young children and caring to all of their needs, physical and spiritual.

However, Rabbi Eliezer would not give up. He explained to Rabbi Chaim that each year when he sang "Ein Kitzbah" before "Kedusha" on Rosh Hashanah the heavens rejoiced greatly. If he were to pass out of this world, this joy would also disappear, and there would instead be sadness in heaven. This might even cause a stricter judgment of the Jewish people.

When Rabbi Chaim heard this, he acquiesced. He said that this was indeed a good reason to stay here in this world. Then he stood up and supplicated God until he was finally able to inform Rabbi Eliezer that he would be healed of his illness.

Rosh Hashanah
Sefer HaChinukh writes:
"Among the foundations of the commandment [to observe] this holiday is [the principle] that one of the ways God has mercy upon His creatures is to make an accounting of them and examine their conduct one day each year. This is so that their sins not become too numerous and they thus be given the ability to atone.
"[God] possesses great compassion and tends to be forgiving, and because [the number of sins in a year] is few, He pardons them. And should there be misdeeds that necessitate cleansing, He punishes them a little at a time…for if He were to wait a long time, the sins would become so numerous that the world would reach a state nearly deserving of destruction, Heaven forbid.
"This revered day, then, serves as the reason for the existence of the world, and it therefore deserves to be a holiday and to be counted among the other important days of the year. However, because it is the day whereupon all creatures are judged, one should approach it with more reverence and trepidation than any of the other holidays."
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