Erev Rosh Hashanah 5778
A Letter for Rosh Hashanah 5778
from Harav Yitzchak Ginsburgh
As the new year approaches, we send everyone, wherever you may be, our best wishes that you be inscribed and sealed for a good and sweet year.
Complete Teshuvah and Complete Redemption
The Ten Days of Repentance begin on Rosh Hashanah and end on Yom Kippur, when God declares, “I have forgiven, as you asked.” The result of teshuvah (repentance) is redemption, as Maimonides states, “the Jewish people will be redeemed through teshuvah and the Torah has promised that in the end the Jewish people will do teshuvah at the end of their exile and will immediately be redeemed.”
In our daily prayers, we beseech God, “Bring us back to You, in complete teshuvah, before You.” Something is complete when it contains both its inner and outer dimensions, just as an individual is complete when he has both a body and a soul. Thank God, we are in a generation of teshuvah, but we still need to reach the level of complete teshuvah so that the Almighty will redeem us with complete redemption.
The external dimension of teshuvah is teshuvah from fear. This does not refer to fear of punishment, which is not the preferable type of teshuvah in our generation, if at all. The external dimension of teshuvah is when the individual is positively motivated by fear of heaven to observe the Torah and its commandments. The inner dimension of teshuvah is teshuvah from love through which we aspire to unite with God, “I am for my Beloved and my Beloved is for me,” like a bride and her groom.
Teshuvah from fear occurs when an individual takes responsibility for his own actions, making sure that he fulfills his obligations; personal teshuvah. But, when doing teshuvah from love, the welfare of the entire Jewish people takes higher precedence. Through love, we wish to see God’s Name sanctified by keeping the Torah in the public arena, including the broadest government-run systems. This is teshuvah at the national level. Together, personal teshuvah and national teshuvah will facilitate the complete redemption, which also comprises two dimensions: personal redemption and the redemption of the Jewish people, and all of humanity.
The Grand Dance
The haftarah (portion from the Prophets) that we read on Rosh Hashanah deals with complete teshuvah and complete redemption. There we read the verse, “Then a maiden will rejoice in dance.” The dance of the maiden encompasses all the Days of Awe, including the month of Elul. The two days on which virgin maidens danced in the vineyards were the fifteenth of Av (the month before Elul), and on Yom Kippur. These were festive days of matchmaking; therefore, they relate to the ultimate “wedding” of the Almighty and the collective soul of the Jewish people at the time of the redemption. We await the great dance that will follow the absolution of our sins on Yom Kippur, when no barriers remain between the groom and bride, like the ultimate joy of Sukkot and Simchat Torah, both of which are know as, “the time of our joy.”
The founder of Chassidut, the Ba’al Shem Tov, taught us the power of teshuvah through joy, and his teachings will usher in the ultimate redemption. He taught us that the secret of dancing is alternately taking a step forward and then a step backward, moving closer and then moving away. The step that seems to distance us from our goal is intended to bring us to renewed closeness, and greater unity.
Like the maidens’ dance, once we have achieved teshuvah through love, it becomes clear retroactively, that a sin that once distanced us from God was merely a step backward in the great dance, and its true purpose was to allow us to take the next step forward, attaining greater intimacy with our beloved. Taking a step forward by doing teshuvah from love reveals the hidden purpose behind our sins, thus turning them into good deeds.
The same dance occurs at the collective level, between the Jewish people and the Almighty. In recent generations, it seems that the Jewish people has taken a step backward in its relationship to God. But, now the general direction is to take another step forward, as we see that the teshuvah movement is gradually growing. Once the two dimensions of the dance are reconciled, we will merit complete teshuvah and complete redemption.
Positive Allusions for the Coming Year
It is the custom to find positive allusions in the number that represents the new year. This coming year marks 5,778 years since the creation of the world, usually reduced to 778 (תשע”ח). The Hebrew letters that represent this number form an acronym for the phrase “May this be the year of a new world” (תְּהֵא שְׁנַת עוֹלָם חָדָשׁ). We hope that this year will be one in which we experience true renewal—on the individual and the public scales—renewal that will speedily herald the complete redemption.
778 is the numerical value of the phrase, “Seek peace” (בַּקֵּשׁ שָׁלוֹם) as in the verse from Psalms, “Shun evil and do good, seek for peace and pursue it.” In Hebrew, “peace” (שָׁלוֹם) is conjugate with “complete” (שָׁלֵם). This phrase can therefore be rendered, “Seek completeness” (בַּקְּשׁוּ שָׁלֵם). By seeking peace between the inner and external dimensions of teshuvah and redemption, we reach completeness.
Another allusion to the two last digits of the coming year, 78 (עח), relates to a time to favor the Land of Israel, as the verse in Psalms states, “You will rise, You will have compassion on Zion, for it is a time to favor it, for the appointed season has arrived.” (אַתָּה תָקוּם תְּרַחֵם צִיּוֹן כִּי עֵת לְחֶנְנָהּ כִּי בָא מוֹעֵד). The initial letters of “a time to favor it” (עֵת חֶנְנָהּ) are ayin and chet, whose numerical value is 78. The following verse in Psalms states, “For Your servants desire its stones and they favor its dust,” in which the phrase “they favor its dust” (עֲפָרָהּ יְחֹנֵנוּ) also alludes to this coming year. Desiring the dust of Zion, the Holy Land, reflects the sense of lowliness that we must acquire, as Abraham said of himself in his ultimate statement of lowliness, “And I am but dust and ashes.” In order to merit God’s compassion on us, so that He grants us “a time to favor it,” in the complete redemption, we must nurture a sense of true lowliness, by means of which we form a bond with the sanctity of the Holy Land.
The Almighty is prepared to have compassion on us by giving us a wake-up call, but it can only take effect once we shake off the negative dust of laziness and depression, unhappiness and inactivity, “like a hen that shakes herself off from the dust.” By shaking off this dust and adopting in its place a true sense of lowliness, we will reach the joy and renewal of complete teshuvah and complete redemption, on the personal and national levels.
To conclude, we once again bless everyone with a happy and sweet new year!
כתיבה וחתימה טובה לשנה טובה ומתוקה!