First time in English: Fear of judgment and trust in Hashem

Second in a series of inspirational words of encouragement and faith for the days before Rosh Hashana by the late Chief Rabbi Avraham Elkana Cahana Shapira, Dean of Merkaz Harav Yeshiva, translated for the first time for Arutz Sheva.

Harav Avraham Shapira zts"l, | updated: 14:18

הרב אברהם שפירא זצ"ל
הרב אברהם שפירא זצ"ל
צילום: ישיבת מרכז הרב

Along with fear of judgment on Rosh Hashana, there is a need for trust in Hashem as well. In his book Sha’arei Teshuva, Rabbeinu Yonah expounds upon the passuk (verse) in Devarim, “When you go out to the battle against your enemy, and you see the horse and chariot – a people more numerous than you – you shall not fear them…”

Rabbeinu Yonah says that, “this is a warning to us, that if a person perceives disaster approaching him, his heart should be filled with trust in Hashem’s salvation, as it says in Tehillim, ‘Surely His salvation is close to those who fear Him,’ and as it says in Yeshayahu, ‘Who are you that you should be afraid of mortal humans?’”

As we see, in every encounter with fear, we are commanded to enhance our trust in Hashem, and strengthen ourselves with hope. That is how it is with the fear of judgment of the High Holy Days. Fear of the judgment of the Days of Judgment obligates us to increase our trust in Hashem.

It is possible to say that this is the source of the custom to recite Psalm 27 of Tehillim, “[A psalm written] By David, Hashem is my light and my salvation,” every day in the month of Elul. This psalm does not relate to the fear of judgment; rather, it discusses trust in Hashem: Hashem ori v’yish’I, mimi ira, Hashem ma’oz chayai, mimi efchad … im tachaneh alai machaneh, lo yira libi, im takum alai milchamah, b’zos ani voteach  – “Hashem is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? Hashem is my life’s strength, who shall I dread? ... Though an army besieges me, my heart will not fear; though war arises against me, in this I trust.”

The psalm continues, Achas sha’alti me’es Hashem, osah avakesh, shivti b’veis Hashem, kol yemei chayai – “One thing alone I asked of Hashem, that shall I seek: Would that I dwell in the House of Hashem all the days of my life.”

The question arises, what exactly is the meaning of the phrase, “in this I trust”? To what does “this” refer? The Ibn Ezra answers that the phrase, “in this” refers to the “one thing I asked” in the question posed immediately thereafter. A person whose every wish is one, basic thing, will have trust in Hashem. He has but one aspiration, “Would that I dwell in the House of Hashem all the days of my life.” When this desire encompasses all that a person wants, then this is trust, “in this I trust.”

At the end of the psalm, it says Lulei he’emanti liros bituv Hashem b’eretz chaim. Kaveh el Hashem chazak ve’ametz libecha v’kaveh el Hashem – “Had I not (Lulei) trusted that I would see the goodness of Hashem in the land of life! Hope to Hashem; strengthen yourself and He will give you courage, and hope to Hashem.”

The Gemara asks, “Why are there dots over the word Lulei [in the biblical text]? David said before Hashem, ‘Master of the Universe, I have trust in You that You will give just reward to the righteous in the future world; however, I do not know whether or not I have a portion among them, lest a sin cause me to lose the reward that I have earned.”

David Hamelech had no doubt regarding the existence of the World to Come; he was, however, concerned that he himself would not merit a portion in it. As such, came Hashem’s answer, “Hope to Hashem; strengthen yourself and He will give you courage, and hope to Hashem.” A person must hope, and return and hope again, as it says, “Rabbi Yitzchak says, everything is with hope: suffering is with hope, the holiness of the name is with hope, the merit of our forefathers is with hope, and the yearning for the World to Come is with hope.” We must be strong in hope and faith. One must be a person of great faith.

This is what this psalm in Tehillim is coming to teach us, and this is the source for the obligation to recite it throughout the month of Elul. The month of Elul is a special time, in which the state of Ani L’dodi, V’dodi Li – “I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine” is revealed, where we are more special to Hashem than anyone else on earth. As such, one can anticipate the revelation of Hashem’s presence, and so we must prepare ourselves to be worthy of such a revelation.

In the month of Elul, we must conduct special preparations for this fear and love of Hashem. Aside from arousing fear of judgment, the blowing of the Shofar in Elul awakens the Jewish people’s love for Hashem. Moshe’s ascending Har Sinai to receive the second Tablets, in which the entire concept of the Oral Torah was renewed, asserts Hashem’s love for the Jewish people more than anything else; that Hashem gave us His Torah according to the rulings of the Sages in every generation.

As such, the preparation for such an event must come about through fear and awe, as well as through the concept of, “I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine.”

Confusing the Satan – Confusion vs. Permanence

The Rosh and the Tur [Torah Sages] bring an additional reason in the name of the Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer for the obligation to blow Shofar in the month of Elul. They say that we blow in order to “confuse the Satan.” Regarding the Shofar blowing on Rosh Hashana, the Gemara explains: “Why do we sound a tekiah and a teruah when the congregation is sitting, and then again sound a tekiah and a teruah when they are standing? In order to confuse the Satan.”

The two sages Rashi and Rabbeinu Channanel expound on this, saying that when the Satan sees how strongly we regard the mitzvah, he is prevented from voicing his accusations against us. For the Satan was created to show that the Jewish people are not keeping the mitzvos they have been commanded. Yet, if we enhance our performance of the mitzvos beyond the letter of the law, the Satan cannot fulfill his purpose, and he becomes confounded.

The Rosh and the Tur explain that this is the reason we blow the Shofar in Elul. The Satan spends the entire year baffling us, confounding our intelligence, thoughts and perspectives. In Elul, our aim is to correct this confusion. Confusion is one of the signs of the destruction of the Temples, the Beit Hamikdash. The Gemara elucidates: “From the day the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed, scholars began to be like schoolteachers, and schoolteachers like synagogue attendants, and synagogue attendants like amei ha’aretz (unlearned commoners), and Amei Ha’aretz become steadily more impoverished in wisdom and observance.” Everything shifts, even the Amei Ha’aretz shift. There is such great confusion, that even the Amei Ha’aretz no longer remain on their previous level. Yet, the purpose of the month of Elul is to correct this confusion, and it is for this reason we blow the Shofar.

The passuk in Tehillim says, Achas sha’alti me’es Hashem, osah avakesh, shivti b’veis Hashem, kol yemei chayai, lachazos b’noam Hashem, u’levaker b’heichalo –  “One thing I asked of Hashem, that shall I seek: Would that I dwell in the House of Hashem all the days of my life, to behold the sweetness of Hashem and to contemplate in His Sanctuary.”

This passuk contains a request, “one thing I asked” – no more, with no sense of confusion. There must be one will, not two wills. Our resolve is to reach a state of, “one thing I asked.” Our obligation is to remain resolute in our decision to dwell in the House of Hashem, as our forefathers were resolute in their desire to receive the Torah, and not to change their minds each time anew.

This lesson is one we learn from Devarim as well, where we are commanded, Re’eh nasati lifanecha hayom es hachaim v’es hatov… u’vacharta bachaim – “See – I have placed before you today the life and the good…. and you shall choose life.” We must choose life, and not waver from one option to another. Only when the foundation is “one thing,” does the sweetness of Torah come forth, and we merit receiving extra Divine assistance. Elul is the designated time to achieve this level.

These are the concepts we must remember and try to absorb in the days of Elul. “Everything has its season, and there is a time for everything,” and the days of the month of Elul are a time for Torah and a time for Teshuva: they are days of personal introspection, and of fear of judgment.

Every person must perform a basic introspection, to think about what these are days that we are in the midst of – the days of Elul, as well as who we are – the children of the Master of the Universe, the offspring of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, and to strive for “when will my actions emulate the actions of my forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov?”

This contemplation is something every one of us can perform on a day of extra inspiration, and this is our obligation today. Our job is to strengthen ourselves in Torah learning, in acquiring greatness in Torah, and in complete Emunah.

Chazal (Talmudic sages) have revealed to us that the days of Elul are a time of Heavenly mercy, an auspicious time in which we can acquire Torah and Teshuva, and through this we are capable of achieving the closeness of “I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine.”

At this time we shall strengthen ourselves in our love of Torah, Torah learning, and in depth of Torah, and we shall merit attaining full Teshuva, out of fear of judgment and love of Hashem, Amen.

Translated by Yaffa Chaya Ben-Rachamim from Morasha, the set of books on Torah and Holidays written by Harav Avraham Elakana Cahana Shapira zts"l. The Hebrew text was edited by Rabbi Shamir Shintop and Rabbi Yehonatan Aviv. 

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