Rosh Hodesh Tishrei 5781
Elul is famously a time of introspection. The word Elul comprises letters aleph, lamed, vav, lamed, corresponding to the phrase ‘Ani ldodi v’dodi li’, meaning ‘I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me’. We ask ourselves, ‘Am I really for my beloved Hashem? Did I really make the changes I promised I would? Did I work on that relationship and have more kavana in my tefilla? Did I give up everything for Him? Did I give up anything at all? This pursuit of truthful reflection can be tricky to undertake. The word ‘emet’ holds the first, middle and final letters of the aleph bet. When we want to look inside and evaluate ourselves truthfully, we must take into account where we have been, where we are now and where we want to be, corresponding to the positions of these letters. We must look from every possible angle to gain a true perspective of ourselves and to figure out our next steps. That is the work of Elul.
R’ Gedalia brings an idea from Massechet Rosh Hashana (10b) discussing when creation occurred. There is a dispute over whether this creation occurred in Nissan (R’ Yehoshua) or Tishrei (R’ Eliezer). R’ Yehoshua brings proofs to his claim that we recite birkat hachama, which only occurs every 28 years and always falls out on 4th Nissan, marking the exact location of the sun when it was created, thereby proving his claim. In fact, we usually pasken according to R’ Yehoshua. R’ Eliezer on the other hand, states that Rosh Hashana occurred on aleph Tishrei and marks day 6 of creation. Both agree that the creation of man was the entire purpose of the world’s coming into existence, in order to crown Hashem as king and glorify His name, but this leaves us confused – who is correct?!
Tosfot quotes Rabbeinu Tam, explaining that both were correct, and that creation required two stages: machshava and ma’aseh. Initially, Hashem thought about creating the world in Tishrei and did so in actuality in Nissan. Tosfot explains that this ‘divine thought’ of Hashem to create the world occurred in Tishrei, thus we celebrate creation in ‘olam hamachshava’. This world was created via the middah of din, as seen in the use of the name ‘Elokim’ in perek 1 of Bereishit.
This contrasts with the physical creation in Nissan, when Hashem created man and consequently granted him free will by contracting Himself through zimzum. This act of chesed is typical of Hashem’s middat rachamim and is signposted throughout the pesukim in perek 2 Bereishit, where Hashem’s name appears in the form of yud-hey-vav-hey, indicative of rachamim.
If we only existed today in the realm of din, we would be zapped by lightening every time we sinned. We need His rachamim in order to make mistakes and come closer to Him, again using our free will. Thus, the prevailing theme of Rosh Hashana in Tishrei reflects this element of din, (enter scary excerpts from the machzor here…)
Q: So how do we apply this to Rosh Hashanah and actually what this day is about?
A: We must remember as we approach Rosh Hashanah, that this was the creation of olam hamachshava, the realm of thought, and therefore our judgment on this day is on our machshava! We will be judged on our thoughts and desires. Scary maybe, but in reality, how many times have we planned with good intention and yet something gets in the way? In truth, our thoughts are far more in our control than the outcome/action. This depends heavily on Hashem’s plans and the world around us. Rather, our thoughts can be harnessed and controlled with much work. So, we need to know at least what our desires are before we can attempt to do a clear out. The Zohar states that nothing can stand in the way of desire, as
if to say, no one can stop you from wanting something, even if they can stop you doing it. This is illustrated beautifully by R’Sadya Gaon who explained that blowing the shofar on this day reminds Hashem of the mesirat nefesh of Avraham, that he would sacrifice his beloved son. Hashem saw that Avraham was so willing to do ratzon
Hashem, that he did not need to go through with it. Machshava was enough.
Chazal tell us that when we deeply introspect, we find ‘ratzonenu la’asot ratzoncha’ – our will is to do His will. Simple! We no longer have to worry about changing all our actions this week, but rather, recalibrate our innermost desires and take stock of what and who we truly want to become next year. Deep down, we want to coronate Hashem, do all the mitzvot we said we would, daven more, give more tzedakah and the list goes on. This helps us to reinvent the image of the heavenly scales weighing up our good and bad sins, and replace those sins with good or bad thoughts! Do they lean to the side of rasha or tsadik? Where do I want to be is the question we must ask ourselves and if you’re panicking because you haven’t done this yet – don’t. Sit with a pen and paper and contemplate the aleph, mem and taf of who you are. How did you do over the last year, how are you doing now? How do you want to do? Do we even remember what was on our list last year, let alone accomplish it?
The comfort of Tishrei through this lens is His middah of rachamim. All that counts now in the moments before Rosh Hashanah (however we will spend it this year), is our thoughts. So, remember, the source of action is thought. Maybe, if you didn’t accomplish last year’s goal of saying the amidah, you didn’t want it bad enough? Or maybe you wanted to sleep in more. If we say sorry but don’t mean it, our actions will be fruitless. Vitally, mean what you say and say what you mean. Think of something small that you know you want to be better at and tell Hashem that you are willing to coronate Him through this change! Focus, plan, prioritize and remember if there is a will, there is a way. Find your will. Listen to the shofar and know that Hashem believes that today, ratzon is enough.
May we merit to bring our thoughts into action l’tova and be signed in the book of life! Shana Tova Umetuka to all!