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Vertluch: Rosh Hashana 5774

The date of July 21st, 1969 is one that is in all the history books. It was the day that the astronaut Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the moon. Everyone, wherever they were, stopped what they were doing to watch this historic event on television. Harav Yaakov Kaminestzky, Zt’l also went to a gentile neighbor to catch a glimpse of this spectacle; Reb Yaakov felt it important to see it with his own eyes as the expression goes: seeing is believing.

However, how many of us actually made the effort to see it for ourselves? Once we were told of it we believed it and had no doubt that it actually happened. This shows us that we have no problem believing anything. We can even believe events as crazy as a man walking on the moon.

Why is it then that people have such a hard time believing things that are written in the Torah? People have a hard time believing that Hashem judges our entire upcoming year on Rosh Hashana. Why is that so hard to fathom?

The answer is simple. Whether or not Neil Armstrong walked on the moon doesn’t change anything that we need to do. We have a harder time changing our ways than believing even the most extraordinary things. The moment that belief makes us change is when we turn off.

But change is what this time period is all about.

When discussing what types of leathers are susceptible to becoming tamei the mishna says (Kelim 17; 13) ‘all leather from a sea creature is tahor’. For example, if you make a wallet from leather of a dolphin it is tahor. There is one exception though known as the ‘kelev hayam’. Rav explains the reason that this sea creature is susceptible to tumah is because it is the only animal that lives, swims and breaths in the water until it feels threatened. Once they get that feeling they emerge onto dry land for survival. Says the Rav if its only hope for survival is on dry land then that’s what it is associated with. Its entire life it can be underwater and only for an hour can it be on dry land, but it is still considered a land animal.

A person throughout the year could be doing things they’re not supposed to be doing. That is until the pressure mounts and at that moment they change. They daven, learn, give tzedaka, say tehillim, etc. Regardless of how we act a whole year, when we’re in trouble we act a different way, we change for the better! That determines who we truly are. When things get rough and difficult, we respond positively.

Gemara in Berachos tells us that when R’ Gamliel was Rosh Hayeshiva he had a guard who wouldn’t let those who were not tocho k’baro into the Bais Medrash. The question is how did he know who was and who wasn’t?

The answer is that he had a guard standing at the door not allowing anyone to enter. The ones that said okay, we can’t get in today, were not tocho k’baro. However, the ones that didn’t let that deter them and found another way to get inside the Bais Medrash to learn, he was able to determine they were indeed tocho k’baro.

Rosh Hashana is about change and change is hard. But the awareness that these days are upon us causes us to feel a sense of urgency about what is to transpire and how our entire year is being determined. Our change for the better defines the essence of who we are.

Gemara in Chagiga says there are three people who cause Hashem to cry. One of them is a person who is able to learn Torah and doesn’t. Such as one who comes to shul two or three minutes early for maariv and instead of going inside to hear some words of Torah stays outside to talk. Why does it cause Hashem to cry?

The point is driven home in the following story:

We have all heard of the terrible and earth shattering story of what happened to Leiby Kletzky, hy’d. A young boy missing for two long days who had the entire state searching for his whereabouts. Mr. Kletzky was sitting in a room with detectives and some shomrim members about to look over some surveillance footage to see if they can find out where he may be. The room was extremely tense and quiet as the detective began to play the video. Suddenly they saw the image of a little boy walking and they watched him make a turn where he shouldn’t have. As soon as Mr. Kletzky saw that, he started screaming “Leiby, NO! DON’T GO! DON’T GO!’ When he saw his child making the wrong turn he knew it was a recipe for disaster.

Says the Chofetz Chaim, why does Hashem cry? Because he knows what happens when someone doesn’t learn! He sees people living it up with the attitude of ‘life’s a party’. But do we know what is at the end of the road? Do we know what happens to them all the way at the end? We aren’t privy to that information but Hashem knows and that’s why he cries. When he sees his child not learning or following a path of Torah he knows what awaits them at the end of his course. It’s not about what’s in front of us. We aren’t privileged to see the end and therefore can’t adequately judge what we see right now because there is so much more that lies ahead of us. Just because there no immediate punishment doesn’t mean it’s ok. Unfortunately, the ultimate judgment does come but it comes at the end.

We read in the haftorah ‘Shuva Yisroel ad Hashem Elokecha ki chashalta b’avonecha’. The words ‘ad Hashem elokecha’ would seem to imply ad v’lo ad bichlal, that you won’t be able to reach Hashem. Says Reb Shmelke m’Nickelsberg, someone who had lived his entire life doing forbidden acts may say I can’t reach perfection anyways so why try? I have been sinning for thirty years so how can I expect to reach perfection in one week?

The answer is do it slowly; Ad Hashem elokecha; pursue teshuva until you can reach Hashem. Let’s approach Rosh Hashana with the right mindset and know that we can’t change a whole year’s worth of not being so good in a week. Change is what we need and change, although uncomfortable, is what we can all do. Slowly, ad Hashem elokecha, will eventually get us to merit the coming of Moshiach, b’karov.


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