Rabbi Eliezer MelamedThe writer is Head of Yeshivat Har Bracha and a prolific author on Jewish Law, whose works include the series on Jewish law "Pininei Halacha" and a popular weekly column "Revivim" in the Besheva newspaper. His books "The Laws of Prayer" "The Laws of Passover" and "Nation, Land, Army" are presently being translated into English. Other articles by Rabbi Melamed can be viewed at: www.yhb.org.il/1
Rosh Hashanah: Accepting God's Kingdom
There are many worthy points to contemplate on Rosh Hashanah, regarding the collective and the individual, however, the central axis is our acceptance of the kingdom of God. This is illustrated by the fact that in all of our prayers we say “Ha’Melech Ha’Kadosh” (the King, the Holy One) instead of “Ha’El Ha’Kadosh” (the Almighty, the Holy One), and if one made a mistake, forgetting to say “Ha’Melech”, he must return to the beginning of the prayers. This is because while praying, a person stands before God, and if he does not pay attention that during these days, His reign in the world is revealed, he has not stood before Him, and has not fulfilled his requirement to pray.
During these days, therefore, one should strengthen his observance of mitzvoth which express the acceptance of God’s kingdom, and our commitment to the fulfillment of Torah and mitzvoth, including arriving on time to prayers, answering ‘amen’ aloud, and dressing as a Jewish person should – ‘tzitzit’ (tassels) and a sizeable ‘kippa’ (head-covering) for men, and modest clothes according to halakhah, for women.
Some people tend to underestimate these mitzvoth because they deal with the external. In truth, however, they express the deepest foundation – accepting God’s reign. Thus, we find that although there are many highly talented Jews amongst ‘Am Yisrael’, our main praise is that when God offered us His Torah, we said: “Na’aseh ve’ nishma” (we will do first, and afterwards, understand); first, ‘na’aseh’, and only afterwards, ‘nishma’. In this manner, we articulated that our connection to God is absolute – beyond understanding and emotions.
This is the ‘brit’ (Covenant), and the mitzvoth in which we declare the acceptance of the yoke of His reign, give expression to this ‘brit’.
Reward in this World
“If only [‘ekev’ in Hebrew, which also means ‘heel’] you listen to these laws, safeguarding and keeping them, then God your Lord will keep in mind the covenant and love with which He made an oath to your fathers” (Deuteronomy 7:12). Our Sages explained that this refers to the mitzvoth that a person tramples with his heels (Rashi).
In other words, mitzvoth that seem simple, nonessential, ‘arkata d’misana’ (a seemingly insignificant religious custom which one must give his life for when religion itself is persecuted), not expressing the deep meanings of Judaism; but precisely by means of them, we express the ‘brit’ with God, and in their merit, one receives reward already in this world: “He will bless the fruit of your womb, the fruit of your land…in the land…You will be blessed above all nations. Among you and your livestock, there will not be any sterile or barren…”
The reason for this is because the primary reward for mitzvoth expressed by the mind and heart, such as learning Torah, or the mitzvoth included in “Love your neighbor as yourself”, is a spiritual one in the Upper Worlds, in ‘Gan Eden’, while here in the present world, the main reward is for the practical, visible mitzvoth. Mitzvoth that perfect our deeds in the present world, and by way of them, one declares to the world that he is faithful to the ‘brit’ which God made with Israel.
And thus, godliness descends from on high and is revealed to the world, and holiness is continued into worldly matters – through the blessing of children, health, and good living.
And so, on Rosh Hashannah, the day the world was created, and on the day we are judged for the New Year, we are required to accept His reign, strengthen our observance of mitzvoth which express the ‘brit’, and thereby, merit a good year.
Let Your ‘Tzitzit’ Show
‘Tzitzit’ (tassels) is the mitzvah given to us by the Torah so that by means of them, we can express our loyalty to Torah and mitzvoth, as it is written: “These shall be your tassels, and when you see them, you shall remember all of God’s commandments so as to keep them” (Numbers 15:39). The essential mitzvah is that the ‘tzitzitiot’ should be seen, as was codified in ‘Shulchan Aruch’ (Orach Chaim 8:11): “The main mitzvah of the ‘talit katan’ is to wear it over the clothing.”
Indeed, some authorities wrote in the name of ‘Arizal’, that the ‘talit katan’ should be worn under one’s clothes. However, ‘Magen Avraham’ explained that the Arizal’s intention was that the garment of the ‘talit katan’ should be under the clothes, but the ‘tzitziot’ themselves, should be outside so they are visible, and this is how Mishna Berura decided (8:26). Not only that, in their opinion, someone who conceals his ‘tzitzit’, it is doubtful whether he has fulfilled the mitzvah.
Our teacher and guide, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah HaKohen Kook ztz”l, Rosh Yeshiva of ‘Merkaz HaRav’, would constantly remind the students the halakhah that one must have the ‘tzitzit’ out, so they are visible.
True, the custom of Sephardic Jews is not to wear the ‘tzitzit’ outside the garment (Yichivei Daat 2:1). However, in my humble opinion, it seems that this is because people living in Eastern countries and North Africa were used to wearing robes (‘galebeya’) and since they had to conceal the ‘talit’ according to the custom of the Arizal, it was impossible for them to expose the ‘tzitzit’. But someone who wears pants and a shirt can conceal the garment and expose the ‘tzitzit’, thereby fulfilling the mitzvah ‘b’hidur’ (with enhancement). This can be inferred from the words of the Arizal himself, for he wrote that one should look at the ‘tzitziot’ every hour and every minute (‘Shaar Hakavanot’ 7:3).
This mitzvah is especially important for people working with others who do not observe Torah and mitzvoth. By means of exposing his ‘tzitziot’, one declares to himself and those surrounding him, that he is committed to Torah and mitzvoth and not embarrassed by it at all, thus, receives strength to face all adversity.
It is told in the name of Rabbi Neriyah ztz”l, that regarding students who were in a spiritual decline, he said that if one of them did not put on ‘tefillin’ for two weeks, there was no need to worry – such a student could be strengthened. However, if the student removed his ‘kippa’ – then there was great cause for concern. This, despite the fact that wearing a ‘kippa’ is merely a ‘minhag’ (custom), whereas ‘tefillin’ is a mitzvah from the Torah, and according to some ‘Rishonim’, one who cancels the mitzvah of ‘tefillin’ even one day, is called a “wrongdoer of Israel who sins with his body”, and “the cranium which does not put on tefillin” (Rosh Hashanah 17a).
In spite of this, the ‘kippa’ represents acceptance of the Kingdom of Heaven, and consequently, its removal is a ‘chillul Hashem’ (desecration of God’s name), and wearing one is a ‘kiddush Hashem’ (sanctification of God’s name), because it is a public declaration of loyalty to God and His Torah.
Therefore, it is worthy to enhance this mitzvah, and wear a ‘kippah’ that covers the majority of one’s head, as Rabbi Shlomo Kluger wrote. At the very least, one should wear a considerable ‘kippa’ that can be seen from all sides.
Modest Clothing for Women
For women, dressing modestly is a public declaration of loyalty to Torah and mitzvoth. And the test is difficult, because the desire to look good is healthy and positive, but the ‘yeitzer ha’ra’ (evil inclination) sways people’s hearts to be drawn after Gentile fashions. In wake of the New Year, one should strengthen herself in accepting God’s reign, deciding that above all, the most important thing is that her clothes are ‘kosher l’mehadrin’ (strictly “kosher”) in agreement with halakhah.
Some women think that the main problem is that immodest clothes are liable to trigger forbidden thoughts amongst men, and if this is the case, they claim: ‘Why be strict with us? Let the men overcome their inclinations!” However, it should be made clear that the problem of men’s thoughts is secondary.
The primary element is that modesty reflects Jewish holiness, turning one’s perspective inwards, loyalty to the Divine purpose, and faithfulness to one’s spouse.
The second foundation is not to follow in the ways of the Gentiles, because anyone who is drawn after their clothing fashion will also be drawn after their worldview, and thus, betray his role as a Jew.
Because there is nothing more visible than clothing, any compromise on this issue reflects a lack of allegiance to Torah and mitzvoth, and consequently, is a ‘chillul Hashem’. Conversely, anyone woman who strictly adheres to halakhah, while at the same time, pays attention to her handsome appearance, publicly sanctifies God’s name.
Respect for the Synagogue
Guarding the honor of the ‘Beit Knesset’ (synagogue), including being careful not to chat during prayers, is also one of the mitzvoth that reveal God’s reign in the world, because every in ‘Beit Knesset’ there is a certain revelation of the Holy Temple – “a small sanctuary” (Megillah 29a). By way of praying in the ‘Beit Knesset’, prayers are accepted, because out of one’s respect for the Divine Presence in the world, his requests for worldly interests are accepted as well (Berachot 6a).
Someone who regularly attends ‘Beit Knesset’, arrives before the prayers begin, and leaves after they are finished, merits longevity (Berachot 8a).
Answering ‘Amen’ Out Loud
Our Sages said: “He who responds ‘Amen’ with all his might, has the gates of Paradise opened for him, as it is written (Isaiah 26:2): “Open the gates, that the righteous nation that keeps faithfulness [‘shomer emunim’] may enter” Read not ‘shomer emunim’, but ‘she’omrim amen’ (Shabbat 119b). By responding ‘amen’, we express our faith in God, that He is ‘El Melech Ne’eman’ (‘God, a faithful King’, a Hebrew acronym for the word ‘amen’). A person who, despite the darkness and obscurity of this world, is faithful to God and responds ‘amen’ with all his might, truly cleaves to Him, and the gates of Paradise are opened on his behalf.
What is the meaning of “responding ‘amen’ with all his might”? Rashi and Tosephot explain: “B’kol ko’ach kavanato” [with all his concentrative intent]. And seeing as this refers to the intention of one’s heart, the reward is in Heaven.
However, there is also a positive aspect to responding ‘amen’ out loud and in a pleasant tone, for by doing so, God’s name is sanctified in the world. This is what our Sages meant when they said that blessing is drawn to a person according to the way he responds ‘amen.’ “One who draws out the ‘amen’, his days and years will be prolonged.”
On the other hand, one who is negligent in this matter does not draw blessing to himself in this world. “One who says an ‘orphaned’ ‘amen’ (he is not meticulous to say it immediately at the end of the blessing), his sons will be orphaned; if he says it ‘hurried’ (he responds ‘amen’ before the blessing is finished), his days will be snatched away; if he responds with a ‘curtailed’ ‘amen’ (he responds in a murmur, and a weak voice), his days will be curtailed” (Berachot 47a).
When the congregation responds ‘amen’ together and in a loud voice, this is an even greater ‘kiddush Hashem’, as Tosaphot wrote regarding the Midrash: “When Israel enters the synagogue and says ‘Yehey shmay rabba mevorach’ out loud, harsh decrees are cancelled” (Shabbat 119b).
‘And We Will Hear’
Accepting God’s kingdom is the foundation – it is the vessel for receiving blessing – but this is not enough. After ‘na’aseh’ (we will do), one needs to continue rising to the level of ‘nishma’ (we will hear), in order to imbue his deeds with substance, and guide them to perfection. This, we need to continue pursuing during the Ten Days of Repentance.
In the New Year ahead of us, may we all merit accepting God’s kingdom with love, and as a result, merit a good and sweet year. Accepting upon ourselves to fulfill of all the practical mitzvoth, and thus, to hear, understand, and relate to their profound meanings.
Expressing our loyalty to halakhah by way of our clothing, and thus, merit His ‘Ohr Makif’ (Surrounding Light), providing inspiration and elevation to our souls. And instead of imitating the clothing of the Gentiles, wrap ourselves in modest garments, and God will spread His ‘Sukkat Shalom’ (Shelter of Peace) on us, on all of Israel His nation, and on the entire world.