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Better Together

Our perception of the particular need to experience Rosh Hashanah as part of a tzibbur is correct

 

Everywhere one goes these days, there is only one topic: What’s going to be with Rosh Hashanah? Every question directed to the shul gabbaim receives the same answer: “We’re working on it, but we don’t know. We’re waiting to hear from the government.”

One proposed solution in one shul in which I daven involves alternating which tefillos members can attend, in order to keep within the government guidelines on overcrowding. Meanwhile, various smaller minyanim — under buildings, outside in the street under a canopy (temperatures are now hovering in the mid-90 degree F.) — are forming and baalei tefillah and baalei tokeia being recruited.

The uncertainty is giving rise to panic. The unspoken fear on every face is the same: “I can’t do without my regular Rosh Hashanah. Yes, I’ve gotten used to davening b’yechidus during the lockdown, and even an occasional Shabbos davening. But Rosh Hashanah is different. We all desperately feel the need to be together with the tzibbur, with the familiar niggunim and baalei tefillah.”

Even if the technical question of hearing the tekios could be taken care of, no one feels that would be enough. I have yet to hear a single person suggest that they could daven better at home on Rosh Hashanah, without a mask and without worrying about the numbers of those who wander too close during davening.

 

THE PASSIONATE DESIRE for a “normal” Rosh Hashanah davening is itself meritorious. One of the many explanations of the power of the shofar is that it confers merit by virtue of the fact that we are, as it were, summoning Hashem to judge us. The shofar blasts proclaim our recognition of how much we need this day (not to mention the month preceding it) to focus on the direction in which our lives are heading and whether that is the direction in which we want to go.

And as searching and frightening as the din of Rosh Hashanah is, it is at the same time a cause for rejoicing. For a world in which every action, large or small, is before HaKadosh Baruch Hu and carries with it consequences, is by that very definition one in which our lives have meaning and purpose.

Similarly, our perception of the particular need to experience Rosh Hashanah as part of a tzibbur is correct. Our judgment depends in large part on the degree to which we attach ourselves to the community. Rav Dessler and others ask an obvious question: How can there be two days of Rosh Hashanah, two Days of Judgment? He answers that the tzaddikim prevail on the first day on their merits. But most of us can prevail on the second day by attaching ourselves to the tzaddikim and dedicating ourselves to furthering their efforts.

That second judgment can be understood as well in terms of the degree to which we attach ourselves to Klal Yisrael and dedicate ourselves to furthering the historic mission of the Jewish People to reveal Hashem in this world. That requires understanding ourselves not as isolated individuals but as members of His Chosen People — chosen to further His goals for Creation.

Harmony between Jews, the Alter of Kelm taught, is a precondition for true love of Hashem, and its absence reveals that no full acceptance of the Kingdom of Heaven has yet taken place. Achievement of that harmony begins with recognition of our fundamental connection to every Jew.

A yellow poster hung on the wall of the Talmud Torah of Kelm the entire month of Elul on which was written: “All the Rosh Hashanah prayers are designed to glorify the Kingdom of Heaven, and we, for our part, are called upon to crown the L-rd as King of Kings. With what shall we crown Him? With love for others and charitable acts, as Moshe said in his parting blessing: ‘There will be a King in Yeshurun when the leaders of the people gather together, with the tribes of Israel as one.’”

May we be zocheh to rejoice this Rosh Hashanah as a tzibbur.

 

THE LESSONS THEY LEFT US

One of Rav Yisrael Salanter’s recommendations for achieving the requisite seriousness on Yom HaDin is to think about all those who were alive last Rosh Hashanah and are no longer. One might add to that suggestion to think about all those whose lives hang in the balance as we approach Yom HaDin.

That suggestion has rarely been so easy to put into effect for members of our generation as this year. Both as a community and as individuals, we’ve all suffered the loss of many who were not only alive, but who were living vigorously last Rosh Hashanah.

In this regard, I have found the “Every Soul a World” section of Mishpacha’s webpage to be an invaluable tool. The portraits have been uniformly moving and educational — and not only as reminders of the fragility of life. No less important, they remind us of how much ordinary greatness there is in our various communities, how many “simple” Jews, who were not household names, who touched the lives of all those with whom they came into contact and who now, after their passing, are still enriching the lives of thousands of Mishpacha readers with their personal legacies and offering us guidance about how to live a life filled with goodness.

Last week, for instance, I read with astonishment Ariella Schiller’s portrait of Reb Yakov Henigsman a”h. I immediately sent the piece to three friends in Passaic, assuming that they must have known a rare tzaddik dwelling in their midst. None of them did, though each agreed that they wish they had.

 

I KNOW MYSELF WELL ENOUGH to know that getting up at 4:30 a.m., as he did every morning — unless he had not fulfilled the previous day’s learning quota, in which case he got up earlier — would not work for me. I cannot imagine being able to stay awake the rest of the day, much less function at a high level as a vice-president of a major insurance company, after rising so early. Much harder to dismiss as not applicable was Reb Yakov’s practice of leaving each child a personal note each day. While too late for me to implement, I can at least pass on the suggestion to my children.

Some people seem to be born with special antennae to find all the chesed opportunities abounding in their back yard. Riki Goldstein’s description of Reb Meir Lobenstein a”h of Manchester, England, provided one such example. Where did Reb Meir develop such sensitivity to others that it even occurred to him to take the neighbors’ excess garbage after a simchah to the city garbage dump. Halevai, I should make the same daily effort to speak to my mother, who lives close by, as he put into waking at 4:00 a.m. in the morning to wish an elderly aunt in Australia “Gut Shabbos.”

I also kind of knew that the silver breastplates of the sifrei Torah need polishing and the shul must be vacuumed at least one a week, but who realizes that it is usually a member of the shul who undertakes these tasks, as Reb Meir did?

Reb Yaakov (Yankel) Kaufman presumably was well-known, as rosh kahal of Gateshead, with responsibility for every communal institution, given the centrality of Gateshead to English Jewry. But what startled me about his portrait was that his sense of responsibility extended not just to the community as a whole, but to every individual within it. That was captured by the story of a woman who was informed on a late Motzaei Shabbos of the passing of her father over Shabbos in London. She frantically called Reb Yankel because the last train had already left Newcastle for London, and the levayah the next morning in London could not be delayed as the niftar was being taken to Eretz Yisrael for burial. Shortly after receiving the call, Reb Yankel showed up at the home of the woman, car keys in hand, to drive the entire family to London that night — a drive of five hours.

Chazal teach in Pirkei Avos that the definition of wisdom is “to learn from every person.” We owe Mishpacha an inestimable debt in showing us precisely how much is to be learned, and for providing the larger Jewish community, who never knew the remarkable individuals profiled, with so many lessons to be emulated from their lives. They are gone, but certainly not forgotten.

Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 828. Yonoson Rosenblum may be contacted directly at rosenblum@mishpacha.com

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